Ieronymos II’s remarks come at a time when Turkey and Greece are preparing to hold talks on January 25.
The Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, Ieronymos II, has been criticised for having a bigoted mentality towards Muslims as he delinked spirituality from Islam, describing it as a mere political ideology meant to wage war.
He said that Islam is not a religion but a political party and pursuit, and its followers are people of war.
“They are the people who spread, this is characteristic of Islam,” he said in a televised speech, while referring to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, also known as Mehmed the Conqueror, who took control of Istanbul back in 1453, putting the Byzantium Empire to an end.
His comments came ahead of Turkey and Greece’s decision to resume talks aimed at reducing tensions between the neighbours on January 25 following Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusuglu’s invitation to Greece to restart talks aimed at resolving their disagreements.
The Archbishop's speech took place on the occasion of the bicentenary celebrations of the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. The prelate of the Greek Orthodox Church also called Muslims as the people of ‘expansion’.
His remarks have sparked massive criticism across the world and people from all walks of life, including Turkey. Even senior members of non-muslim groups in Turkish society called the statement as unfortunate.
Talking to TRT World, a senior member of the orthodox community in Turkey who accepted to comment but only under the cover of anonymity, said, “The timing of Ieronymos’s statement is unfortunate.”
He also added that as a non-muslim who lives in Turkey, he condemns such statements.
“Violence has nothing to with any religion, this came at the very time when the relationship between Turkey and Greece was getting better. It is so saddening, I completely disapprove of what was said,” he added.
The head of Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs, Ali Erbas, on Sunday also slammed the Archbishop’s statement against Muslims and Islam. He called on Christians to oppose this kind of “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,” he said in a statement.
"The Christian world must oppose this sick mentality. This kind of discourse aiming to marginalize Muslims feeds the racist perspective against them, and leads to attacks on their lives and places of worship," he added.
Erbas also said that such comments provoke the society which has the potential to spread hatred, hostility and violence against Islam.
Calling Islam a religion of peace, Erbas stated that the Islamic civilization has always enabled people to live together for centuries, irrespective of their beliefs, religion and culture.
The Greek Archbishop’s words were also condemned by the Muslims who live in Greece, who have said a more "constructive" rhetoric is needed for a peaceful environment, especially in contemporary days plagued by the pandemic.
In a statement shared on social media platform Twitter, Western Thrace Turkish Minority Consultation Council (BTTADK) said, "We hope a more peaceful language to be used instead of anti-Islamic discourse in such difficult times of pandemic."
(1/2) We condemn the statement of the Archbishop of Greece, Mr. Ieronimos, "Islam is not a religion but a political party and a quest, and the believers are of people of war".— BTTA Danışma Kurulu (@bttadk) January 16, 2021
In addition to this, the Xanthi Turkish Union, which is one of the three most important organisations of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace, founded in 1927, called the remarks an "Islamophobic attack" and also a "hate crime."
Releasing a statement on their official website, the union said, "The fact that these statements, filled with insults, came from the number one name in the Greek church increases the gravity of the situation."
"We see this move as one of the typical examples of the rising Islamophobia and xenophobia in Greece in recent years,” it added.
They also urged Ieronymos to apologise.