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Turkey urges Greece to end pressure against elected muftis in Western Thrace

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Algiers, Algeria on 14 August 2021 [Cem Özdel/Anadolu Agency]
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on 14 August 2021 [Cem Özdel/Anadolu Agency]

Greece must put an end to its interventionist practices and policies of pressure against Muslim religious leaders elected by the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, Turkey's foreign minister said on Saturday, reports Anadolu Agency.

Mevlut Cavusoglu's statement came on Twitter after Ibrahim Serif, the chairman of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority Advisory Board and elected mufti of Komotini, shared a post on Twitter saying that he would be put on trial for alleged "usurpation of office" over a religious ceremony he attended five years ago.

Decrying the recent decision by the Greek court, Cavusoglu said: "We stand by our kin in the protection of their rights arising from the Treaty of Lausanne and religious freedoms."

Dating back centuries, a population of 150,000 Muslim Turks lives in the Xanthi (Iskece) area in Greece's Western Thrace region.

The election of muftis, or Islamic clerics, by Muslims in Greece is regulated by the 1913 Treaty of Athens, a Greek-Ottoman Empire pact that was implemented by Athens in 1920.

READ: Turkey condemns Greece for closing 12 more primary schools of Turks

But in 1991, in violation of international law, Greece annulled its law regarding the 1913 treaty and unlawfully started to appoint muftis.

The muftis appointed by the Greek state have since usurped local Muslims' rights of jurisdiction on family and inheritance matters.

Most Muslim Turks in Western Thrace do not recognise muftis appointed by the Greek state and instead rightfully elect their own muftis.

However, since 1991, the Greek state has refused to recognise the elected muftis, and authorities have even put clerics on trial.

Turkey has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslim and Turkish minority, from the closing down of mosques and letting historic mosques fall into disrepair to refusing to allow local groups to use "Turkish" in their name.

These measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, as well as European Court of Human Rights verdicts, making Greece a state that flouts the law, say Turkish officials.

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