Ankara speaks out on Greece’s Turkish minority
ANKARA – Anadolu AgencyThe Turkish Foreign Ministry stated on May 18 that the ethnic-Turkish population in northeastern Greece wanted the implementation of regulations and practices “that allow them to enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Foreign Minisrty spokesman Tanju Bilgiç said the current situation of the Turkish minority in the Western Thrace region stands “at a very distant point” from the optimistic outlook reflected in statements from the Greek authorities.
Last week, Greek daily Ekathimerini reported that Athens had criticized a conference held in a Turkish university earlier this month on “The Turkish identity of Muslims in Western Thrace.” The newspaper wrote that Athens saw the meeting as “stoking tension and uncertainty” among Greek Muslims.
“Greece follows a policy of equality that pertains to all Greek citizens, regardless of religious identity, and secures the prosperity and dignity and rights of all,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Efstratios Efthymiou was quoted as saying in Ekathimerini’s May 13 report.
However, Bilgiç called on Greece to “respect the ethnic minority identity” and implement European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) verdicts against banning local NGOs from using the descriptor “Turkish” in their titles. He said that Greece has not yet implemented the court’s verdict, despite eight years having passed.
Greece recognizes its minority population living in Western Thrace as a religious one – Muslim – rather than ethnic – Turkish, Bilgiç noted, calling on Greece to “meet the demands to open minority schools,” “recognize minority-elected muftis,” and re-grant citizenship to ethnic Turks.
Some members of the local minority were deprived of Greek citizenship because of Article 19 of Greece’s 1955 Citizenship Law. The article stated that a “person of non-Greek ethnic origin leaving Greece without the intention of returning may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship.”
This was abolished in 1998 but, despite this, the Greek government promised to grant citizenship to all those made stateless, a process which has yet to be concluded.
Bilgiç said implementing regulations that provide fundamental rights and freedoms to the ethnic-Turkish minority would have a “positive effect in our bilateral relations.”