Turks in Greece complain about sale of community land

by on 17 July 2019

Greek authorities drew the ire of a Turkish Muslim community living on the islands of Kos and Rhodes after approving the sale of their land without permission.

A local authority overseeing the land, which belongs to the Kos Islamic Foundation, approved the sale of 34 acres for 181,000 euros (nearly $204,000) to a tourism company. To appease the criticism, the authority justified the sale by covering restoration fees for five mosques in Kos in exchange.

Turkish Muslim associations in Kos and Rhodes say “unregulated” sales by the administration of the foundation appointed by Greek authorities disturb them. Kadri Memiş, chairman of the Kos Muslim Association of Education and Culture, said nothing can justify the sale of lands and said the foundation was “forced” to sell the lands. “They have to play by the rules of Greek state but Kos Muslims oppose this,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA). He said that restoration fees given as an excuse for the sale could “very well be covered by other countries like Turkey or Greece which could allocate a restoration budget.” “This is the only way they should restore the mosques. We never wanted the land to be sold,” he said.

Greece is home to a small Turkish community concentrated in the Western Thrace region, while a smaller number of Turks whose roots date back to Ottoman times reside on the Greek islands scattered across the Aegean Sea near Turkish shores. Unofficial figures show some 9,000 Turks live on the islands of Rhodes and Kos.

Memiş says more than 70 properties, mostly land, which belong to the foundation, were either sold or handed over to municipalities, citing that most were converted into parks, parking lots and cemeteries.

Sales are not the only complaint of Turkish Muslims. Memiş says reparation still did not started for two mosques in Kos which were heavily damaged in an earthquake in 2017. “We had only two functioning mosques, Defterdar and Germe mosques. Defterdar still remains partially collapsed while Germe has little damage. We know there are plans for reparation but the authorities keep delaying it,” he said. Sales of properties belonging to the foundations are one of thorny issues between Turkey and Greece. Ankara and the Turkish community in Greece have long complained about mistreatment of Turks by authorities, especially in terms of religious freedoms. In particular, the election of muftis, or Muslim clerics, for the community has stirred up controversy due to Athens’ refusal to recognize elected muftis.