Turkey condemned on Monday the comments made by Greece’s top cleric about Islam, describing them as “presumptuous” and noting that they undermine efforts to restart the exploratory bilateral talks on maritime sovereignty which are scheduled to start later in January.
“We strongly condemn the presumptuous statements of Ieronymos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, against Islam during a television interview,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Monday. “These provocative expressions of Archbishop Ieronymos, which incite the society to hostility and violence against Islam, also show the frightening level Islamophobia has reached.”
“The fact that such a statement was made at a time when preliminary preparations are being made for exploratory talks is also meaningful and is an unfortunate step towards undermining the process,” the ministry added.
In an interview to private broadcaster Open TV on Saturday regarding the contribution of the Church to the Greek Revolution of 1821 against Ottoman rule, Ieronymos said that Mehmed the Conqueror, who captured Constantinople in 1453, realized that it was not easy to govern the city’s large, multi-faith population.
“As we know, Islam is not a religion but a political party and political quest, and [it's believers] are people of war, of expansion” he said. “That is a characteristic of Islam, it is also mentioned in the teachings of Muhammad. Therefore the Conqueror saw the needs that emerged: how he would govern; how he would collect taxes; and mostly how he would unify all these people under his rule."
Responding to domestic media reactions on Sunday, the Archdiocese of Athens said in a press release that Ieronymos meant “nothing more than the perversion of the Muslim faith by a few extreme fundamentalists who sow terror and death around the world.”
“The Archbishop and our Church respect in practice all the known religions,” it added. "Furthermore, the example of the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Thrace confirms this to us in the clearest way."