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Turkish government criticises head of Greek Orthodox Church for 'racist and Islamophobic' comments on TV

by Will Maule
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The Turkish foreign ministry has criticised comments made by the head of the Greek Orthodox Church as being insulting to the Islamic faith. 

During a TV interview at the weekend, Ieronymos II, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, was reported to say that Islam "is not a religion but a political party" and that its adherents "are the people of war".

"They are the people who seek expansion," he added. "That is the characteristic of Islam." 

In response, the Turkish foreign ministry released a statement in which it insisted that the Archbishop's comments "incite the society to hostility and violence against Islam" and "show the frightening level Islamophobia has reached". 

“Such malign ideas are also responsible for the increase of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Europe,” it added. 

The Archdiocese of Athens said that the Archbishop's comments had been taken out of context, noting that he was “referring to the group of extreme fundamentalists, who sow terror and death throughout the Universe".

"These are exactly the people the Archbishop was referring to, people who are instrumentalising Islam and turning it into a deadly weapon against all those who have a different view," it added. 

The statement went on to note that Ieronymos II “respects all the known religions and treat all their faithful with Christian love and solidarity". 

Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs also weighed-in to criticise the Archbishop for his comments, even calling on Christians to reject his "sick mentality". 

“The most important duty of the clergy, who should strive for peace and tranquility, should be to contribute to the culture of coexistence," said the president of the directorate, Ali Erbas, who is also a Muslim scholar. 

"This kind of discourse aiming to marginalise Muslims feeds the racist perspective against them, and leads to attacks on their lives and places of worship." 

The comments were made as Turkey and Greece prepare for a 61st round of exploratory talks over disputed territory in the Mediterranean Sea.

"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 foreign ministry added. 

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