Erdogan meets Greek Muslims

Published December 9, 2017
Komotini (Greece): Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) shakes hands with members of the public on Friday.—AFP
Komotini (Greece): Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) shakes hands with members of the public on Friday.—AFP

KOMOTINI: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Friday with members of Greece’s Muslim minority on the second day of a visit to the country that saw tensions in bilateral relations resurface.

Erdogan attended Friday prayers at the Kirmahalle Cammi mosque in the northeastern town of Komotini, where he was greeted by more than 2,000 supporters chanting his name.

The Turkish leader visited a Muslim high school after prayers before heading to a nearby hotel for lunch with local officials. He was to return to Turkey later Friday afternoon.

Greek officials will be watchful of Erdogan’s actions during his meetings with the Muslim community, whose minority status has been one of several contentious issues dividing Turkey and Greece. The two Nato allies and neighbours have come to the brink of war three times since the early 1970s.

On Thursday, Erdogan rattled his Greek hosts by saying the 1923 treaty that set the borders of modern Turkey and outlined the status of minorities the Muslim minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey should be “updated.” The two sides went on to verbally spar in live televised appearances over several issues.

The status of the minorities has frequently been a source of tension in Greek-Turkish relations over the years. Greece recognises the roughly 130,000-150,000-strong community in its country as a religious minority, while Turkey considers much of it to be ethnically Turkish. Greece’s population is around 11 million.

In testy appearances in Athens on Thursday, Erdogan clashed with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, putting aside diplomatic niceties to publicly air a series of grievances. He made repeated references to the Muslim community, which lives mainly in the northeastern Greek province of Thrace.

He noted the minority has a lower standard of living, and complained its religious leaders, or muftis, are appointed by the state instead of being elected by the community. Muslim communities in northeastern Greece have two muftis: the official state-appointed one and one elected locally and not recognised by the Greek state.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2017

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