The elected Mufti of Komotini, İbrahim Şerif who has been elected by members of the Turkish community in 1991 is not recognized by the Government of Greece, although the 1881 Convention of Constantinople and the 1913 Treaty of Athens that Greece signed with the Ottoman Empire grant the Muslim Turkish community in Western Thrace, Greece to elect their own religious leaders in their respective areas.
The election of the religious leaders was incorporated into Greek domestic legislation in 1920 with a procedure which enabled the Turkish community to determine their own religious leaders i.e. muftis in Rhodope, Xanthi and Didymoteicho. However, Greece abolished this right by the appointment of muftis by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs by Presidential Decree of December 24, 1990 and Law no. 1920/1991 on Muslim religious instructors. In reaction to the appointment of the Muftis by the state, the Turkish community elected their own Muftis as their own religious leaders in Komotini and Xanthi.
The right of the Muslim Turkish community to elect its own religious leaders is still usurped by the Greek state. Today in Western Thrace, there is a dual structure where there are muftis appointed by the state and muftis elected by the Western Thrace Turkish community. In violation of the freedom of religion, İbrahim Şerif was prosecuted and sentenced to prison with charges of usurping the Office of Mufti and illegal use of religious symbols. There are juridical investigations and lawsuits against the Mufti, whom was summoned to give his testimony to the State Security Department for his religious services in seven different investigation in 2017.
OPINIONS OF RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS
The Muslim Turkish community cannot enjoy its right to elect its own religious leaders and elected religious leaders are not recognized by the Greek state in violation of international treaties which Greece signed.
The Human Rights Without Frontiers(HRWF Int’l), in its report entitled “Ethnic Turks in Greece, a Muslim Minority” released in 2012 following a mission to the region commented that this 1991 law gives the Greek State power to appoint the Muftis, even without the support of the Muslim minority of Thrace and this law dramatically amputates its autonomy, guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne.
The former UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay McDougall noted in her report in 2008 that the appointment by government of religious officials, such as Muftis, infringes on the right of persons belonging to the Muslim minority to effectively participate in the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives and it is also an infringement on freedom of religion.
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
ABTTF demands from Greek authorities to restore that that Muslim Turkish community enjoys its autonomy in religion granted by international treaties and enjoy the right to elect its own religious with official recognition of the Muftis elected by the community.
Human Rights Without Frontiers recommends to the Greek authorities to grant the Muslim minority of Thrace the same rights as the other “known religions” in matters concerning the choice of their religious leaders.