Ankara, Turkey – Turkey rejected the Greek foreign minister’s remarks on Turkey’s treatment of minorities, saying that Greece needs to take a “look in the mirror” instead of making baseless claims against others.
In a statement, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy reminded Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias of the plethora of minority rights violations being carried out by Greece.
He said Dendias’ criticism was “tragicomical” since he is the “foreign minister of a country that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled against three times due to its policy of assimilation and repression against the Western Thrace Turkish minority.”
“In our country, many constructive steps have been taken in recent years to resolve the problems of the Greek Orthodox minority, in coordination with our Greek Orthodox citizens,” he said.
Greece, which is an EU member and sees itself as the cradle of democracy, has gone backwards instead of making progress in solving the problems of the Western Thrace Turkish minority, the official added.
“Greece persistently violates the rights of the Western Thrace Turkish minority under the Lausanne Treaty and multilateral agreements,” said Aksoy.
He pointed out that Greece has still not implemented the ECHR’s decisions on “the denial of the minority’s Turkish identity.”
“Recent practices regarding madrassas Muslim educational institutes in Western Thrace show that not only the expression “Turk” but even the expression “Minority” cannot be tolerated in Greece,” the spokesperson said.
He stressed there was a clear contrast between Turkey and Greece’s actions, with Turkey opening schools for just four students on the northwestern Gokceada upon the Greek Orthodox community’s request, while Greece “continues to close” schools serving the minority community in Western Thrace.
The fact that Greece has brought down the number of schools for the minority community in Western Thrace from 231 to 115 in the past 25 years “is the most concrete indication of the perspective of the two countries on minorities,” Aksoy asserted.
He urged the top Greek diplomat to take a “look in the mirror” and put his own house in order first.
The spokesperson advised Greece to follow Turkey’s example and take constructive steps to resolve the problems faced by the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, particularly relating to religious freedoms, denial of their Turkish identity, and education.
Turkey has accused Greece of oppressing the members of its Muslim community in Western Thrace, while slamming the European Union for allegedly tolerating the “systematic violation of human rights” in the country.
The statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which referred to the Muslim minority in Western Thrace as a “Turkish minority,” was issued after authorities reportedly announced they would suspend the operation of four schools in Rodopi region due to a steep decline in the number of pupils.
“With this latest decision, the number of Turkish minority primary schools, which has been 231 until 25 years ago, dropped to 115,” the Turkish ministry said.
“This practice by Greece is a part of the assimilation and oppression efforts towards the Turkish minority in western Thrace,” it said.
“Meanwhile, the EU has been a mere spectator to the systematic violation of human rights in a member country,” it said.
“We ask Greece to cease its systematic policy, which is not compatible with the Lausanne Peace Treaty, hindering the education of the children of the minority, and reopen the schools it has closed,” it said.
The ministry said it would bring the issue to the consideration of international human rights organizations.
Greece does not recognize its Muslim population, located predominantly in Western Thrace, as an ethnically Turkish minority but as a religious one.
Turkey slammed Greece’s president for mislabeling the Muslim Turkish minority in a region of Greece bordering Turkey as a “Greek Muslim minority”.
“The president of a country said to be the cradle of democracy again called the Muslim Turkish minority a ‘Greek Muslim minority’,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that this mischaracterization comes “despite all the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.”
He added: “Whatever you say, Western Thrace’s Turkish minority has been Turkish for centuries, it will remain Turkish..!”
Western Thrace is a Greek region with a large Muslim Turkish population, Greece claimed that under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Turks of Western Thrace are only a religious minority, whereas the Orthodox Greeks living in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul are a national minority.
Greece referred to the Greek minority in Istanbul as a “Greek minority,” while using the expression “Greek Muslim Minority” to describe the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.
Greece cannot deny Muslim Turkish minority, ‘Reprehensible’ to deny Muslim Turkish minority
It is extremely wrong for Greece to call the Muslim Turkish minority a ‘Muslim Greek Minority’ in Western Thrace. Denying the identity of the Muslim Turkish minority is a reprehensible act.
Greece has to correctly address the Muslim Turkish minority with “respect for democratic values,” adding that it is “unacceptable” for politicians to launch “systematic attacks against the identity” of Muslim Turks in an EU member country.
For decades Greece has enforced policies suppressing the Muslim Turkish minority of Western Thrace – often in defiance of European court rulings – such as denying them the right to elect their own muftis (religious leaders) or banning the word “Turkish” in the name of associations.
“The identity of the Muslim Turkish minority is a historical fact in Western Thrace. Nobody can change this fact. It is a racist approach to call the Muslim Turkish minority the ‘Muslim Greek minority’.
Efforts to change the historical facts about the Turkish community in Western Thrace are in vain, and that it is saddening to see such “racist approaches” in defiance of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
Those who try to portray Western Thrace’s Turkish society as a ‘threat’ and ‘danger’ are harming their democracy.
Western Thrace’s Turkish society is a “powerful resource” for Greek democracy.
Greece has claimed that the expression “Turkish minority” is not found in the Treaty of Lausanne, the 1923 pact defining the borders of the modern Turkish state in the aftermath of the Turkish War of Independence.
Greece’s Western Thrace region is home to a Muslim Turkish minority of around 150,000 people.
Turkey accuses Greece of ‘oppressing Muslim minority’
Turkey yesterday accused Greece of “systematically closing Turkish minority schools” in the country’s Western Thrace region.
“Greece’s practice of temporary suspending minority schools in Western Thrace – a region where around 150,000 Muslim Turkish minority have resided for the past 25 years is a part of Greece’s assimilation and oppression efforts against Muslims,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hami Aksoy, said in a statement.
Such oppressive policies, Aksoy added, “have been carried out for decades against the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.”
“For 25 years, Greece has been systematically shutting down schools belonging to the Turkish minority on the pretext of austerity measures and insufficient enrollment,” Askoy pointed out.
The Turkish official noted that Greece had “recently closed eight schools belonging to the Turkish minority in Western Thrace,” explaining that the number of minority schools had declined over the past few decades from 231 to 115.
Criticising the European Union (EU)’s stance, Askoy described the group as “a mere spectator to the systematic violation of human rights in a member country.”
He called on Greece to cease what he described “using pretexts to violate the education rights of minority children,” pointing to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.