By Mustafa Hatipoglu, Handan Kazanci
Athens should take a respectful policy towards the Muslim community in western Thrace on the issue of religious leaders, according to Greece’s education, research, and religious affairs minister.
Speaking to the Greek Parliament’s TV channel Vouli late Friday, Kostas Gavroglu spoke on the mufti religious leaders in western Thrace, home to a large Muslim population.
Gavroglu said that removing Islamic rules from family law and inheritance issues is part of the government’s strategy on minorities. He added that mufti elections is one of the issues to be addressed and reworked.
He added that minorities were once subjected to “unacceptable laws” and for this reason many distrust the state.
Over the last three years, there were 2,200 marriages in areas in western Thrace with large Muslim populations, but only 680 of them were civil marriages (without a mufti), meaning around 70 percent were traditional unions.
“It is necessary to respect this reality,” Gavroglu said.
Elected muftis not recognized
Since 1991, the election of religious leaders or muftis has been a chronic problem for Greece’s Muslim Turkish minority.
The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was covered by the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was later included in Greek Act 2345/1920, near the dawn of the Turkish Republic.
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne also guarantees the religious freedom of Greece’s Muslims.
But in 1991, Athens annulled Greek Act 2345/1920 and began appointing muftis itself.
The majority of Muslim Turks in the Western Thracian cities of Komotini (Gumulcine) and Xanthi do not recognize the appointed muftis and instead elect their own, but these muftis are not recognized by the Greek state.
Despite this situation, the appointed muftis in Western Thrace continue to have the authority to adjudicate family and inheritance matters of local Muslims.
On Friday, at a press conference following an EU leaders summit in Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that the issue concerns the Greek state and Thrace’s Muslim community and must be discussed by the two sides “so it can be solved as soon as possible and permanent legal arrangements can be made".