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Greece: Developments, Delays for Construction of Mosque, Muslim Cemetery in Athens
To Vima Online
February 21, 2013

Muslims living in Athens pray in a small apartment used as a makeshift mosque March 2, 2006. About 130 such makeshifts mosques scattered throughout Athens are all Muslims in the city have until the Greek capital`s first mosque is erected. A mosque has long been planned for the estimated 150,000 Muslims living in Athens but has been held up over objections from the powerful Orthodox Church, and the public. Picture taken March 2, 2006. To match feature Greece-Mosque. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Report by Athanasopoulos: Who Will Build the Mosque?

ND (New Democracy) is negative, worrying that the construction of the mosque will strengthen far-right reflexes.

The recent statement of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey is willing to finance the construction of the mosque in Athens raised the issue again; an issue that causes serious damage to the international image of Greece. Nevertheless, the government (and especially ND) does not appear to be willing to proceed with the construction of the mosque, fearing the reactions of the far-right audience, Golden Dawn, as well as the hardcore circles of the Church that have turned the non construction of the mosque into a vehicle with which to upgrade their role. Nevertheless, according to To Vima sources, the Greek side has received interventions from many sides to take initiatives to make process on the issue of the mosque. Intense interest has been expressed by both western countries, such as the United States, as well as Middle East countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, even Iran), without forgetting the intervention of Turkey.

Apart from Ankara, other countries have sent a message to Athens to give the go-ahead for the construction and saying that they will take on the funding, without making this public. Finally, Cairo is expected to dynamically enter the game, since the takeover by the Muslim Brothers of President Mohammed Morsi is radically changing the situation.

According to sources that would like to remain anonymous, the delay may trigger tension, especially at a time when a number of immigrants, Muslims, are becoming the victims of racist attacks. The lack of an official place of worship, which will indeed be under the control of the Greek State and more specifically the Greek Education Ministry, as well as a Muslim cemetery, worsens the climate and exposes the country internationally in terms of human rights protection.

Religious Diplomacy

Furthermore, behind the scenes, a complicated diplomatic game is underway. Also, we must not forget that the Muslim community in Greece has increased greatly (not counting the Muslims of Thrace since they are a recognized minority). When in 1976 Konstantinos Karamanlis promised, within the framework of an opening to the Arab world, the construction of a mosque to the Saudis, there was in our country a small community of Arab businessmen (mostly Lebanese) and diplomats. Later, in the 1990s, the Muslims who permanently lived in Greece were around 63,000. Now, however, they are hundreds of thousands.

Ankara, from the minute when the Party of Justice and Development came to power, aims to displace countries that have traditionally had an influence over Muslim populations, such as Saudi Arabia, from the center stage. Besides, the strong mobility of the government of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is not coincidental. Furthermore, through the Service of Turkish Cooperation and Coordination, which is part of the Prime Minister`s office, and more specifically part of the responsibility of deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag (who has recently visited Thrace), Turkey has helped in the construction and reconstruction of many mosques of the Ottoman period in the Balkans.

The Turkish side, as shown by the recent intervention of the Turkish Prime Minister to Greek Prime Minister Antonios Samaras, links the construction of a mosque with the situation of the Muslim minority in Thrace or the reopening of the Theological School of Chalki. The grand prize, according to diplomatic circles, is of course to succeed in establishing Thrace, in the minds of the Muslims of our country, as the center of Islam, with reasonable consequences in the event of the institutionalization of the election of muftis. Conservatism and “Right of the Lord” The government of Samaras does not appear to be willing to proceed with any move. Both because within ND there are hard cores that ideologically oppose the construction of a mosque, as well as because of the fear of Golden Dawn (and secondarily Independent Greeks) receiving electoral benefits by maintaining a negative stance and by “cornering “Syngrou Avenue (ND headquarters). All this was made clear since the government of Papadimos, when Minister of Infrastructure at the time was present parliamentary representative of ND Makis Voridis, who refused to give the go-ahead for the competition and the construction of the mosque. Besides, he had previously voted in the House against the construction of a mosque.

However, at the Education Ministry now there are conflicting views as to whether and how soon moves should be made about the mosque. This is one of the reasons that Education Minister K. Arvanitopoulos appears to be stalling. Similar reluctance is manifested also by the Development Ministry, which includes the Special Service of Public Buildings Works (EYDEK) that is the relevant service for implementing the project. The official excuse is that the 750,000 euros ($ 990,000) that the project will cost have not been transferred yet to the Development Ministry, from the funds of the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework) of the Education Ministry.

However, there is yet another reason that explains the delay. It is the appeal that has been filed to the Supreme Council by Bishop of Piraeus Serafim (with whom the Minister of Education has a special relationship because of the constituency). With this, which is jointly signed by another eight people as well as the Naturalist Cultural Association “Athens”, he asks that law 3512/2006 that refers to the construction, establishment, and operation of the Islamic mosque be declared unconstitutional and anti-Greek.

The trial of the appeal was to take place last Tuesday, but it was postponed. Now, it is expected to be heard later --probably in April. Nevertheless, there are many who believe that a possible vindication of the Bishop of Piraeus and those who have appealed with him to the Supreme Council will cause disunity within the Holy Synod, mobilizing at the same time a tough right audience. They essentially stress that it will be directly contesting the mild line that is followed by Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos and the start of the creation of a discrete pole within the Church.

It is also noted that even former Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos, who was considered to be conservative, had agreed that the Church of Greece should donate a plot of land in the area of Paiania (Attiki area) for the construction of the mosque. At the same time, a possible vindication of the Bishop of Piraeus could severely damage relations between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which for its own reasons favors rapprochement between Greece and Turkey. Basic Rights The law and the History of the Cemetery According to law 3512/2006 a committee is established under the name Islamic Mosque Management Committee (NPID). The Islamic Mosque Management Committee will have a seven-member board that will be appointed by the Minister of Education for a three-year term. It also provides for the appointment of an imam with a two-year term.

The law was supplemented by an amendment that was passed as a bill of the Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate Change (YPEKA) in 2011, which provides the conditions for the construction of the mosque on the premises of the Navy in the area of Votanikos (Athens). The mosque will have a capacity of 250 people and will not have a minaret, along the same lines as the Great Mosque in Brussels. The construction, according to the plans of the architectural firm Tompazis, will be simple and its cost, including the fees of the consultants and VAT, will reach 1 million euros.

Those who know very well the case of the mosque believe that it should be combined with move s for the construction of a Muslim cemetery. At this moment, there are three proposals.

The first concerns a plot of land owned by the Church near the present cemetery in the area of Schistos; something that would facilitate its rapid construction and would not create problems in its operation. The second plot of land, also owned by the Church, is located slightly further away from the cemetery of Schistos, but higher on the mountain, where the need for the removal of rocks raises the costs substantially. Finally, the third plot of land belongs to the Navy and is located near the shipyard of Skaramagkas.

(Description of Source: Athens To Vima Online in Greek -- Website of the established left of center daily; URL:

© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.

Athens mosque in exchange for Istanbul convent, Erdogan says
January 30, 2013

In November 2010, Muslims held open-air prayers in 15 locations across Athens. In one case, over 1,000 Muslims took over the square in front of the main building of the University of Athens and held public prayers inside the portico on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. More than 7,000 police officers were needed to keep the peace.

Turkish PM offers funds for Islamic holy site in Greek capital

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS, JANUARY 30 - With Muslims in Greece angered by the government`s failure to build a large mosque in Athens, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is said to have offered to pay for a proper place of worship for the Greek capital`s large Muslim community as well as the numerous tourists of the same faith who visit it every year.

According to Greek media outlets, the offer was addressed to his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras in a 40-minute meeting yesterday in Doha, where they were both on official visits for talks with Qatari authorities, and is the latest move by the Turkish leader to appear ever more as ``the guardian of the Arab and Muslim worlds``. Samaras reportedly replied that the plan to build the Athens mosque (in a city with a 300,000-strong Muslim community) had already been approved by Parliament in September 2011, after almost 40 years of proposals and plans discussed but never approved.

In any case, several analysts say that Samaras is unlikely to take Erdogan up on the offer, given the age-old hostility between the two countries. Other observers instead claim that the Turkish prime minister`s offer might become part of diplomatic maneuvering (also aiming to promote Erdogan`s image as someone attentive to the problems of the Muslim world) to settle a number of unresolved issues between Ankara and Athens, including two of particular significance.

The first is the seminary of Greek Orthodox studies in Halki, on the Turkish island of Heybeliada in the Marmara Sea (near Istanbul), shut down by Turkish authorities 42 years ago. Ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I has been trying to get it reopened for many years. The second - to which Erdogan has given special attention since becoming premier - concerns the conditions of the Turkish minority living in Western Thrace. Numbering about 120,000, they speak Turkish but are considered by Greek authorities to be ``Greek citizens of the Islamic religion``. Connected is also the dispute over muftis (Muslim judicial authorities) and imams (religious leaders) between the Greek government and its Turkish counterpart - both of whom claim the right to appoint the religious leaders of the minorities living in the other`s country.

© 2013 ANSA.

Column Notes Similarities in Greek, Turkish Policies Toward Ethnic Minorities
Hurriyet Daily
August 21, 2010

Article by Mustafa Akyol: “Is Greece any better than Turkey?”

Nothing really changes when Turks and Greeks say to each other, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while they disregard the “planks” in their own eyes.

Whenever I write something that criticizes a particular country, for problems on sensitive issues such as religious freedom, I always get the same reaction: The supporters of that country send me irritated messages asking, “Why don`t you look at the problems on the other side?”

That happened again after my latest piece for these pages, “De-crucifying Turkey`s Christians.” There, I criticized Turkey for not respecting the rights of its Greek Orthodox citizens enough. In response, I got several emails asking me why I did not address the troubles of the Turkish community in Greece. Particularly, a Turk living in the United States sent me a long letter -- a kind one, I should note -- listing various misdeeds of the Greek government. No mosque in the city Let me share with you some of those points. First, there is the shameful fact that Athens is the only European capital without a mosque, although Greece is the home of more than 700,000 Muslims. (There were dozens of mosques there during the Ottoman period, but all were either destroyed or converted into churches in the 19th century.)

In that regard, Turkey seems freer than Greece. We have many churches (and synagogues) in Istanbul and elsewhere in the country. And although we have lunatics who would like to see these non-Muslim sanctuaries closed down, they are holding services freely.

Yet other problems in Greece that my U.S.-based Turkish reader listed carefully looked very familiar to me. To be more precise, they sounded very similar to Turkey`s longtime policies toward its own Kurdish population.

Greece, to begin with, simply calls its Turks “Muslims,” denying the fact that they are not just religiously but also ethnically different from the majority. That`s why a 2001 decision by a Greek court disallowed the founding of the “Cultural Association of Turkish Women of the Region of Rodopi.” The court argued that the term “Turkish women” could “mislead the public regarding the origin of its members.”

My U.S.-based Turkish reader summed up what this court decision, and similar ones, amounted to: “Greece restricts the use of the words `Turkish` and `minority` in the naming of organizations, thus impairing the cultural identity of the Turkish minority.”

ell, just replace the words “Greece“ and “Turks” in the sentence above with “Turkey“ and “Kurds” and you will see that they fit perfectly.

My Turkish reader was also telling me how Greece hinders the political rights of the Turkish minority. The government “appointed muftis as opposed to permitting their popular election,” and a “3 percent election hurdle has been erected for independent Turkish minority candidates to force them to join Greek political parties.”

Again, it sounds very familiar. Over the years, our state has done everything to minimize the democratic self-representation of our Kurdish populace. As everybody knows, one reason for our 10 percent electoral threshold is to keep the pro-Kurdish parties out of the parliament.

The problems in Greece are abundant, and a Human Rights Watch report summarizes them by noting, “Turks suffer a host of human rights violations.” It also adds, “The Greek state has for the most part been unable to accept the fact that one can be a loyal Greek citizen and, at the same time, an ethnic Turk proud of his or her culture and religion.”

Again, replace the words “Greek” and “Turk” here with “Turkey“ and “Kurd” and you will get a perfect match.

BOTh sides of the Aegean, it seems, are haunted by similar fears, and drawn into similarly bad solutions. Westerners and Muslims The “mainstream” media on both sides are also similar in the way that they focus only on the problems of the other side. We Turks keep complaining about the limited rights of our brethren in Western Thrace, whereas Greeks keep complaining about the limited rights of their brethren, and Ecumenical Patriarchate, in Istanbul. But this unprincipled rhetoric inspires no one, and thus changes nothing.

In other (Biblical) words, nothing really changes when you say, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while you don`t see the “plank” in your own eye.

In fact, the same problem exists on a global scale. Westerners, for example, are wrong when they only blame the Muslim world for its lack of freedoms, but do not see their own partial role in its making -- historically through colonialism, support for dictatorial regimes, or double standards in international affairs. Muslims, in return, are wrong when they only speak about such sins of the West, but never honestly address why minorities, women or “apostates” are not free, and are even threatened, in their part of the world.

The right thing to do is to criticize not only the alien nation or civilization, but also our own kin. Only then, we will be talking honestly. And only then, we will be making a difference.

(Description of Source: Istanbul Hurriyet Daily in English -- Website of Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review, pro-secular daily, with English-language versions from other Dogan Media Group dailies; URL:

© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.




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