Treaty of Lausanne polemics

Treaty of Lausanne polemics

During President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s landmark visit to Athens last week he stirred a debate about the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which fixed the borders of modern Turkey and Greece.

In response to Erdoğan’s suggestion that the treaty needs “revision,” Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos defended it and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made similar remarks. Both seemed to imply that Turkey opposed the treaty and harbored secret intentions.

The Treaty of Lausanne is, of course, an historic treaty that does not need any revision.


What is the name of the minority?

Erdoğan did well to mention Greece’s violations of Lausanne. But an important problem has so far escaped attention: Tsipras’s concept of a “Greek minority in Turkey.”

Athens uses the word “Greek” to refer to Greek ethnicities in Turkey, but when it comes to Western Thrace, Greek officials say only “Muslim minority” and deny their “Turkish” heritage.

Athens does this because the Treaty of Lausanne says “Muslim minority.” However the 38th and subsequent articles of the treaty refer to both a “Muslim minority” and a “non-Muslim minority.” Athens insists on the first term but omits mention of the second!


Mufti elections

After the Turkish War of Independence, the chief negotiator of the Turkish delegation İsmet İnönü sometimes said “non-Muslim” and sometimes “Rum minority” in the Lausanne negotiations.

Similarly, Greek General Eleftherios Venizelos sometimes said “Muslim minority” and sometimes “Turkish residents in Greece.” Clear examples of this type of interchangeability can be found in Venizelos’s speeches in the Lausanne reports dated Dec. 12, Dec. 14 and Dec. 22, 1922.

If Turks from Western Thrace forget their Turkish-ness, their historical identity will be lost and their assimilation will be complete. This is exactly what Athens wants.

That is why the “mufti elections” are so important. Turkish minorities in Greece have the right to vote for their own mufti Islamic religious officials, in line with both Lausanne’s “reciprocity” principle and the Athens Treaty of 1913. Athens has so far denied them this right, trying to force them to accept the muftis they appoint.

Here I would like to mention the honorable struggles of İskeçe mufti Mehmet Emin Ağa and Gümülcine mufti İbrahim Şerif. It was forbidden for them to use the word “Turkish” even though they were “elected muftis” and they were sentenced for “seizing the mufti post” and “wearing mufti clothing without authorization.” Athens replaced them with a pair of pro-government muftis who had studied in Egypt.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled against Greece on this issue many times.


ECHR decision

On Dec. 14, 1999 the ECHR ruled that the Greek authorities’ intervention in the Turkish Muslim minority’s right to elect its mufti was a violation of the ninth article of the European Declaration of Human Rights. The concerned article treats religion, conscience, and freedom of expression.

The ECHR ruled that minorities have rights to form their own religious organizations, choose their rulers and have religious education and broadcast services (No: 38178/97).

If Athens treats Turks from Western Thrace in accordance with international human rights obligations, the other problems become easier.

The Treaty of Lausanne and international law are the most important references for our rights. We must avoid trying to wear Lausanne down by turning it a polemical battleground. We must reply to the delirious statements of the Greek nationalists with rational examples of history and law, reminding them of the friendship between Atatürk and Venizelos.

Lausanne Treaty, state visit, bileteral relations,