Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned remarks by the Archbishop of Greece against Islam and Muslims.
Islam is a religion of peace based on tolerance and compassion that ensures the coexistence of other religions and civilizations, the ministry said in a statement.
“It is regrettable to defame our sacred religion. Everyone should strive to develop an environment of mutual respect and tolerance amid the global pandemic that the whole world is going through,” it said.
It emphasized that the provocative statements of Archbishop Ieronymos II, which incite the society to hostility and violence against Islam, also show the frightening level that Islamophobia has reached.
It noted that the reasons behind increasing racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Europe arise from such malign ideas.
The statement added that it was a deliberate and unfortunate step toward undermining preparations for exploratory talks.
Top Turkish and Greek officials have said they will meet Jan. 25 in Istanbul for exploratory talks on bilateral disputes, which include maritime boundaries and drilling rights in the region.
Greek Muslims also condemned the Archbishop’s comments on Saturday, stating that a more “constructive” rhetoric is needed for a peaceful environment, especially in contemporary days plagued by the pandemic.
The country’s unwelcoming stance toward its Muslim population is not a new phenomenon. For instance, up until recently, Athens was known as the only European capital without a mosque, even though there are an estimated 300,000 Muslims in the greater Athens area. Back in November 2020, for the first time since the 19th century, Athens witnessed the inauguration of an official mosque, as years of efforts by the Muslim community finally paid off.
Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, until 1829 when the Greek population succeeded in gaining independence from the empire. At the time, there were many mosques and other Ottoman architecture all over Greece. However, the riots and independence triggered a wave during which all such architecture was damaged or removed, eventually leaving Athens without any mosque.
In fact, Athens’ lack of mosques is a norm for the majority of the Greek cities as the only officially sanctioned mosques in the country are in the northern border region with Turkey where up to 150,000 members of a Muslim minority live.