Erdoğan condemns Greece for appointing mufti, failing to respect Turks in Western Thrace

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday criticised Greece over  appointing the chief mufti for Muslims and its treatment of the Turkish community in the Western Thrace region.

Citing the Treaty of Lausanne, Erdoğan said Athens had no right to appoint the chief mufti, just as Turkey does not have the right to appoint the Greek Orthodox patriarch on its own soil, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Erdoğan’s remarks arrive on the heels of a visit by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in a bid toease months of tensions over territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean. The visit saw an open clash between Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during a press conference in Ankara on Thursday.

"Not Greek officials but our muftis and imams have the right to decide on the chief mufti in Greece," Erdoğan said after attending the commemoration ceremony of Turkey's late President Turgut Özal.

The Lausanne Peace Treaty established a balance between the religious rights of ethnic Turks in western Thrace and those of the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul.

Ankara allows the Greek Orthodox in Istanbul to elect their religious leaders, however, Athens refuses to recognise the mufti elected by the ethnic Turkish community and appoints the mufti itself.

"Some 150,000 people of Turkish descent live in Western Thrace today, but Greece does not show them the respect those citizens deserve," Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan also said Ankara has tried to fix relations with neighbouring Greece by negotiating with all the governments of its NATO ally so far, but none of those efforts had been effective.