Greece ‘hesitates’ to give Turks rights in Thrace

Greek authorities are hesitating to give minority rights to Muslim Turks in Western Thrace, said Turkish deputy premier on Wednesday.

Western Thrace region of Greece is home to around 150,000 Muslim Turks, where Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu was also born.

Speaking to reporters in the capital Ankara, Cavusoglu said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his recent visit to Greece, emphasized that the Lausanne Treaty should be updated.

The underlying reason for the proposal is the non-implementation of other treaties mentioned in the Lausanne Treaty, the deputy premier said.

According to 1913 Athens Treaty and a Greek legislation in 1920, the deputy premier said, mufti’s election should be held by the Muslim minority, however, Greece started to appoint muftis.

He said Greece does not let the election of muftis despite being signatory of Lausanne and Athens treaties.

“As a result, today there is one mufti appointed [by Greek authorities] and one elected by the minority members. The legitimate mufti for the minority members is the one which they have elected.

“By not implementing the Lausanne Treaty and doing an alternate practice, Greece has already changed the Lausanne treaty,” the deputy premier stressed.

Religious freedom

The election of religious leaders or muftis has been a chronic problem of Greece’s Muslim Turkish minority — concentrated in the Western Thrace region — since 1991.

The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was covered by the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was later included in the Greek Act 2345/1920, near the dawn of the Turkish Republic.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne also guarantees the religious freedom of the Muslim minority in Greece.

However, Greece annulled the Greek Act 2345/1920 in 1991 and started appointing the muftis itself.

The majority of Muslim Turks in the Western Thracian cities of Komotini (Gumulcine) and Xanthi do not recognize the appointed muftis and instead elect their own muftis, but the latter are not recognized by the Greek state.

Despite this situation, the appointed muftis in Western Thrace continue to have authority to adjudicate family and inheritance matters of local Muslims.

Turkey has long complained to both Greece and the EU of discrimination against the Turkish minority concentrated in Western Thrace, saying this violates applicable treaties and EU law.

Cavusoglu said Greece also does not recognize Turkish identity in Western Thrace despite European Court of Human Rights decision in 2008.

Under one 2008 ECHR ruling, the right of Turks in Western Thrace to use the word “Turkish” in the name of associations was guaranteed, but Athens has failed to implement the ruling, effectively banning the Turkish group identity.

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Source: Anadolu Agency