Plight of Greece's Turkish minority under spotlight

Turkey have defended not to re-open of a Greek Orthodox seminary on the basis of the "principle of reciprocity," meaning that such measures depend on Greece taking measures to improve the rights of its Turkish minority.

Plight of Greece's Turkish minority under spotlight

The Turkish minority in Greece complains that their rights are denied by the EU member at a time when neighboring Turkey has come under renewed criticism for avoiding steps to improve the rights for its non-Muslim minority. The government recently unveiled a reform package that falls short of introducing measures long requested by the non-Muslim citizens, such as the re-opening of a Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off İstanbul. Officials have defended the move on the basis of the "principle of reciprocity," meaning that such measures depend on Greece taking measures to improve the rights of its Turkish minority.

“Greece does not even recognize us as Turks, but only as Muslims,” İbrahim Serif, the mufti of Gumulcine, complained.

Recognition of the ethnic identity of Turks living in Western Thrace, provision of proper primary and secondary education to Turkish children, selecting their own muftis in İskece and Gumulcine, the management of Turkish foundations and restitution of properties belonging to the Turkish minority in Greece -- all of which are rights bestowed by the Treaty of Lausanne on minorities -- are major problems Turks of Western Thrace are still confronted with.

Serif has been elected by the Turks of Greek citizenship in Western Thrace, but he is not recognized by the Greek authorities, which instead have appointed another mufti of their own liking, which represents a violation of the Treaty of Lausanne concluded between Turkey and the Allied nations, including Greece, in 1924. “A non-Muslim country can't appoint a Muslim cleric. Let us elect our own mufti, and then Greece can appoint that mufti,” Serif told Today's Zaman in despair.

Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagıs, currently on a visit to Greece, held talks on Tuesday with Theodoros Karaoglou, Greece's minister of Macedonia and Thrace, and in the evening was scheduled to come together with representatives of the Turkish minority in Greece, including three Turkish deputies as well as serif.

In recent years, Turkey has taken considerable steps to restitute the formerly violated rights of non-Muslim minorities living in Turkey, among them Turkish citizens of Greek descent, but Greece has been obstinate in not restituting Turks, whom it recognizes as a Muslim minority, rights granted by the Treaty of Lausanne that introduce the principle of reciprocity in rights, privileges to be enjoyed by minorities in the two countries.

For Taner Mustafaoglu, a Turkish citizen and president of the Western Thrace Turks Solidarity Association, which has its headquarters in İstanbul, identity is the major issue among the problems the Turkish minority faces in Greece. “Turkish ethnic identity is totally denied,” he told Today's Zaman.

In addition to ignoring the minority's demands in the area of education, the Greek state, in a bid to assimilate the Turkish minority of around 150,000 people, has since 1983 not permitted the minority to establish or run organizations which carry in their names the word “Turkish.” Greek authorities claim that there are no Turks in Greece, but only Muslims, basing their argument on the Treaty of Lausanne, where the minority is referred to as Muslim and not as ethnically Turkish. It is for this reason that minority associations such as the Turkish Union of Xanthi, the Cultural Association of Turkish Women of the Region of Rodopi and the Union of Turkish Youth of Komotini, although they have remained in existence, have been forced to do away with their signs on which the word “Turkish” was written.

The Turkish Union of Xanthi, established in 1927, started a legal battle a couple of years ago, as did the Cultural Association of Turkish Women of the Region of Rodopi, which ended in a victory for the minority, with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concluding that the organizations have the right to use the word “Turkish” in their names. But last year, a Greek court, not taking into account the verdict pronounced by the ECtHR, stuck in its verdict to the country's official position of not allowing the use of the word “Turkish.” The case has now once again been taken to the ECtHR by the Turkish minority, which Greece claims to be composed of people of Greek descent, but whom were Islamized during Ottoman rule. In contrast, the same Greek authorities do not make any difficulties for those organizations that use in their names the words “Pomak” or “Roma.”

Despite numerous positive steps taken by Turkey in recent years in terms of restitution of rights to non-Muslim minorities, things may have gotten even worse for members of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. Due to a law that recently came into effect, the Greek government is preparing to appoint its own priests, not elected and accepted by most of the Turkish minority, to schools as teachers and to mosques in Western Thrace.

“This borders on intervention into religious activity,” Mustafaoglu complained. Noting that minorities in Turkey are allowed to select their own clerics, he said Turks should also be allowed to enjoy the same right bestowed by the Treaty of Lausanne.

Three Turkish deputies currently serve in the Greek parliament. Huseyin Zeybek, who is a deputy from the main opposition Syriza, a coalition of left-wing parties, has underlined that Syriza supports Greece respecting the verdict delivered by the ECtHR and that minorities should be able to use their ethnic identities. “We applaud the initiative launched in Turkey [as regards minority rights]. Greece should also take similar steps,” Zeybek told Today's Zaman.

The remarks of Gumulcine's unofficial mufti are revealing in displaying the attitude of the Greek side in this respect: “When we say to Greece that you should also introduce a similar initiative, they say, ‘We don't care [about what Turkey has done]',” serif said.

Education is another major theme for the Turkish minority, although there have also been some improvements in this area in recent years. On the positive side, minority students now enjoy a quota of five out of every 1,000 university seats guaranteed to them. But in general, the neglectful attitude of the Greek state on the issue of education for the Turkish minority, which has been based on “not educating,” according to most minority members, is viewed by most as part of an effort to assimilate the Turkish minority of Greek Thrace. Turks have been unable to get a proper education in minority schools for years.

The result: The Turkish minority is much less qualified, as well as being disadvantaged financially, compared to the average Greek. Their children learn neither Turkish nor Greek properly in primary schools, and it therefore becomes difficult for them to succeed in higher education. It's not unusual for a Turkish student who makes it to university to drop out because s/he cannot keep pace with others who have received a much better education.

Nursery school is yet another major topic for the Turkish minority. The Greek authorities do not allow them to open their own nursery schools, claiming that nursery schools are not part of primary education, and expect the parents to send their children to Greek nursery schools where they adopt, among Greek children, Christian habits such as crossing themselves.


Last Mod: 08 Ekim 2013, 23:20
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Freedom Lover
Freedom Lover - 6 yıl Before

Very interesting to learn of the three minority deputies in the Greek Parliament. Please share with us the number of Greek deputies in the Ankara Parliament. Thank you.

Who cares
Who cares - 6 yıl Before

There are no Hellenes left in Turkey to speak of (or care for that matter). Those left are old. Turkish porgoms ensured that Hellenic people who lived there for thousnds of years were cleansed off of Turksih land. So in reality - there is no incnetive fro Greece (Hellas) to change anything in regards to this item.

Human rights
Human rights - 6 yıl Before

The Greek government should recognize Turkish minority but the Turkish government accusing other states of "assimilation" is rather disingenious. The entire modern "Turkish" identity is built entirely on assimilation. The original Asiatic Turks are long gone and have been replaced with the assimilation practices of the Ottomans. This is why Kurds complain. They don't want to be assimilated.