Venizelos slams Turkish PM over Halki seminary

Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday issued a firm and terse response to statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeating Ankara’s “conditions” for the reopening of the Orthodox Seminary in Halki, off Istanbul.

“Greece’s position on the issue is crystal clear and in accordance with international law, and it has been expressed repeatedly,” Venizelos said. “Any further public discussion of the issue would be counterproductive,” said Venizelos, who is on an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Greek Foreign Ministry has repeatedly underlined that the reopening of the Halki seminary and the protection of the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate are not issues for bilateral negotiation but issues that relate to the rights and religious freedoms of Turkish citizens.

Speaking to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) Tuesday, Erdogan repeated assertions made over the weekend according to which Greece should offer two concessions to Ankara in exchange for the reopening of the Halki seminary near Istanbul – allowing the Muslim community in Thrace to appoint its own religious leader, or mufti, rather than the government in Athens doing so; and allowing two Ottoman mosques in Athens to be rebuilt.

“If we’re going to return something, we have the right to expect something returned too,” Erdogan told AKP lawmakers. He said he had asked Athens for permission to renovate two Ottoman-era mosques in the Greek capital. “Muslims who go to Athens have nowhere to pray,” he said.