Caution is advised

Caution is advised

Omer Celik, spokesman of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, recently went too far, comparing Greece to the Islamic State (ISIS). Among his allegations was that Greece “destroys historical sites and spiritual centers,” understood to be a reference to Ottoman-era cemeteries and mosques, raising the rhetorical question: “How is this different to what the Islamic State did in the Middle East?”

A first reaction would be to say, “Look who’s talking,” and remind the Turkish official that it was his government that recently converted Istanbul’s Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque. Many other monuments have received similar treatment.

Unlike Turkey, which is secular only in name, European Union member Greece is implementing (admittedly, not always fast) numerous programs aimed at conserving and promoting key Ottoman monuments across the country.

It’s not certain what Celik had in mind when he said that “what they are doing at the Murat Reis Complex on [the island of] Rhodes is disrespectful,” but the 1523 monument is undergoing restoration by the local ephorate of antiquities. Similar programs are under way at the 15th century Beyazit Mosque in Didymoteicho in the Evros region which was severely damaged during a recent fire, and other religious and cultural monuments left behind by the Ottoman Empire in Thessaloniki, Giannitsa, Veria, Trikala and Ioannina.

Greece neither implements nor tolerates any plan aiming to eliminate non-Christian communities

As far as Thrace is concerned, Celik should ask the Management Committee of the Muslim Property of Komotini. Because, despite its shortcomings, Greece is a Western-style liberal parliamentary democracy where freedom of religion and worship are safeguarded. Greece neither implements nor tolerates any plan aiming to eliminate non-Christian communities – which is exactly what his party is doing by its top-down, often-violent, Islamization of Turkish society.

There is no question that the AK Party spokesman is well aware of all that. His statements are nevertheless aimed at inciting religious hatred among the Muslim population. Religious fanaticism has proved to be the most aggressive of all.

A deliberate provocation targeting an Ottoman monument or cemetery would spark a wave of indignation among the Muslim faithful and, perhaps, provide Erdogan with a good opportunity to engage in a hostile action in the Aegean.

Caution is advised: An explosion at the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki, after a bomb was planted by the Turkish secret service, resulted in the pogrom against the Greek community of Istanbul in 1955.

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