Athens rejects Ankara criticism over Muslim cleric election process

Greece has rejected claims by Turkey that new regulations on the election of Muslim clerics known as muftis in the country’s northeastern Thrace region prevents the minority community the right to elect their own religious leaders, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Thursday.

The new legal framework on Mufti cleric elections are “fully compatible with the constitution of Greece and the country’s international obligations,” it cited the Greek Foreign Ministry as saying.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry earlier on Thursday described a new law passed in Greek parliament as “unacceptable,” while urging Greece to “respect international law and fulfil its obligations” under the Treaty of Lausanne.

Ankara has long accused Athens of refusing to recognise the mufti elected by the neighbouring country’s some 150,000 ethnic Turkish Muslim community, saying it is unconstitutional that the Greek government appoints the mufti itself.

Greek Parliament late last month approved a regulation allowing for the country’s Muslim minority to form an advisory board of 33 people, selected from among scholars of Islamic sciences and imams, which would in turn assess Mufti candidates before submitting a list to the Education Ministry. The ministry will have the final say on the matter. 

The new law was drawn up after a long consultation with representatives of the minority and that it “creates a modern and integrated institutional framework for muftis in Thrace,” Kathimerini cited the Greek ministry as saying in a statement.

“Our Muslim fellow citizens in Thrace live in a European country. They enjoy everything that a democratic and well-governed state provides to all its citizens, without exceptions,” it added.

 Turkey maintains that there is no provision in the Treaty of Lausanne, a 1923 peace accord which, among other things, forged modern Greece and Turkey’s borders, stating that the muftis of the Muslim minority in the country are elected.

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