Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Muslim Minority of Greek Thrace
The basic guiding principles of the policy followed by Greek Governments in recent years, vis-a-vis the handling of minority issues have been those of moderation and consensus. This is especially true since 1991, when the Government solemnly reaffirmed the principles of “isonomia” i.e. equality before the Law and “isopoliteia”, equality of civil rights, in the relation between Christians and Moslems. These views are also shared by Non-Governmental Organizations which closely follow developments in the minorities field. The whole issue is being handled as belonging to domestic affairs.
In 1922 the Muslim minority in Thrace numbered 86,000 people. According to the latest general census (1991) it numbers approximately 98,000 to a total of 338,000 inhabitants of Thrace, i.e. 29% of the population. The minority is composed of three ethnic groups : 50% of the minority are of Turkish origin, 35% are Pomaks (an indigenous population that speaks a Slavic dialect and espoused Islam during Ottoman rule) and 15% are Roma. Each of these groups has its own spoken language and traditions. It was for this reason that the drafters of the Lausanne Treaty defined it as a religious minority.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has the role of coordination of the competent Ministries, dealing with education problems, citizens’ rights, health issues, employment, housing, development of infrastructures etc. The basic aim of the MFA’s handling of issues concerning the Muslim Minority in Thrace on the one hand, and those concerning the Greek Minority in Constantinople and the isles of Imbros and Tenedos on the other (as they are defined in the Lausanne Treaty), is to ensure the observance of the relevant international contractual obligations stemming from the Peace Treaty and the Conventions and Protocols of Lausanne signed in 1923 as well as from other International Conventions on Human Rights.
Particular attention is paid by the State to the development and infrastructure sectors. A number of large scale works are currently undertaken in the Region of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace. Some are state-financed, such as the Special Local Government Development Program. Others are financed through the European Union, such as the Regional Programs known as PEP, the LEADER II and INTERREG programs. These include forestry and land improvement works, improvement of airport facilities, irrigation, ecotourism, agrotourism, the protection of the environment etc.
The State, and the Ministry of Education in particular, consider the education of the Moslem children as a matter of high priority. Concrete proof of this are the credits allotted every year for the running costs, maintenance and improvement of the minority schools. In 1998, in particular, 61.600.000 drs (approx. 200.000 USD) were spent for running costs, 289.364.000 Drs (940.000 USD) for new construction, 139.126.000 Drs (452.000 USD) for repairs and 100.000.000 (325.000 USD)for educational material of these schools. Today there are 235 primary minority schools in Thrace. Courses are taught in the Greek and Turkish language as stipulated in the 5th Part of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 under the heading “Protection of Minorities”. The number of Moslem teachers employed in these schools is 440. More than half of them (260), are graduates of the Special Pedagogical Academy of Thessaloniki, 82 are graduates of the secondary education schools i.e. Gymnasiums and Coranic Schools, 90 are graduates of Turkish schools and 9 are Turkish nationals, appointed for a set period of time according to the provisions of exchange of teachers between Greece and Turkey contained in the 1968 Bilateral Cultural Protocol.
Two minority secondary education schools operate in the cities of Xanthi and Komotini, capital cities of the respective Prefectures of Xanthi and Rodhopi, where the Muslim Minority is mainly situated. The schools are housed in buildings provided for by the Greek State. Both Greek and Turkish is used for the education of the students in these schools. Twelve Moslem Greek teachers, graduates of Turkish Universities and 7 Turkish nationals (as provided by the 1968 Bilateral Cultural Protocol) are employed. It is true that the infrastructure and capacity of these schools does not allow for the admission of the total number of students interested in pursuing their education. Thus selection by lot is being resorted to for their admission. This measure has come under criticism by part of its members. However, it must be kept in mind that for all practical purposes almost all of the candidates are finally admitted by means of a decision issued yearly by the Secretary General of the Region of Eastern Macedonia - Thrace on the basis of a recommendation by the Coordinator of Minority Education. During the current academic year 98% of the surplus applications for admission were accepted while the Authorities also agreed to include among the eligible applicants, even those who submitted their application belatedly.
It must also be mentioned that in Thrace and in the remote mountainous area in Xanthi where the Pomaks live, in particular, the State has set up and is financing the operation of Greek speaking secondary education schools (Gymnasiums) in which the teaching of the lesson of religion in the Turkish language and the teaching of the Koran in Arabic have been introduced. Furthermore the State finances the commuting to the schools of those students for whom the distances are too prohibiting. During the academic year 1997-98, 60.000.000 Drs (195.000 USD) were spent for the moving of students to and from the Glafki Lyceum and the Sminthi, Echinos, Glafki and Thermae Gymnasiums of the Xanthi Prefecture.
Yet another positive development in the education of the Minority is the adoption, last year, of Law 2621/1998 whereby the two Koranic Schools of Komotini and of Echinos in the Xanthi Prefecture have been recognized as equivalent to the Religious Studies Lyceums of the country. The Pedagogical Institute of the Ministry of Education is currently working on the new curriculum which is expected to be applied starting next academic year.
Currently, there is a positive climate of cooperation between the MFA and the Turkish Embassy in Athens concerning the exchange of school books for the use of Moslem students in Thrace and students of the Greek Minority in Turkey. The relevant provisions are part of the 1968 Bilateral Cultural Protocol in the form of recommendations. The Turkish side submitted 19 titles for approval by the competent authority, i.e. the Pedagogical Institute of the Ministry of Education. The latter checked their content, concluding that the textbooks conform to the necessary educational standards for Primary education. This assessment puts a new positive slant on the issue of the exchange of textbooks, as books submitted by the Turkish side in the past were on the whole considered inadequate to cover the educational needs of the Minority. The last time such books were submitted was in 1992-1993. In order to make up for the lack of progress, the Greek Ministry of Education undertook the writing and publication of Turkish-language textbooks for use in the first five years of Primary School which, according to the assessment of all the experts, fulfilled the educational and pedagogical norms. Unfortunately the distribution of these books met with the organized and guided reaction of certain circles of the Minority and were never put to use.
The Government also pays particular attention to the improvement of the skills of the schoolchildren in the Greek language. Two research programs are currently being applied and both have yielded positive results. The first is the “Program for the Education of Moslem Children” and has been designed by the Special Secretariat for the Education of Greeks Abroad and Multicultural Education of the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the National Kapodistrian University. Its aim is the publication of textbooks for the teaching of the Greek language to students with a different mother tongue. It is financed by the EU with 1,2 billion Drs approximately (3.896.000 USD). The second is the “Multicultural Educational Support for Student Groups in Thrace”. Designed by the National Youth Foundation, it is also financed by the EU with 585.000.000 Drs (1.900.000 USD). Its aim is to facilitate the adaptation of students to the Greek educational system and alleviate the cost of education for families in need by providing free supplementary education. Another program which was successfully put into practice in August and September 1998, was the program for the support of Moslem students in secondary education particularly for first year students in the Gymnasiums and students having failed the exams.
The Ministry of Education has initiated the procedure for the integration of the Special Pedagogical Academy of Thessaloniki – from which the teachers employed in the minority schools graduate - in the University Education system. To this end a Presidential Decree is under consideration which will establish a Department of Moslem, Pedagogical and Theological Studies at the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki.
There is full transparency in the procedure of appointment of the Muftis of the Minority. As a general rule, the Muslim religious leaders are appointed and not elected. In Turkey itself, the Mufti is appointed by the Prefect according to the latter’s judgement. In non-Islamic countries Muftis may be appointed, if the state does not involve itself in the religious matters of the Faithful. In Greece, the Mufti is appointed by the Administration in a procedure in which prominent members of the Minority have their say. Law no. 1920 “concerning Moslem Religious Functionaries” defines the procedure of appointment of the Mufti, his status as appointee, his duties and the rules of functioning of his office. A further reason for the appointment of the Mufti by the Administration is that he performs certain judicial functions in matters of family and inheritance Law concerning the interpersonal relations of the Moslems. The Prefect initiates the procedure for the choosing of candidates who are proposed by eminent members of the Minority. The Mufti is appointed by Presidential Decree following the recommendation of the Minister of Education and Religion. For the first time in 1990, the possession of an Islamic Theology Degree at university level became a prerequisite for the candidature. It should be noted that from 1923 until 1990 the Muftis were appointed by the Prefect without anyone ever having protested or contested the procedure of appointment. The actions of Mr. M.Agga and Mr. I.Serif, following a rigged election involving a minimal number of members of the Minortiry, constitute, according to the Greek Penal Code, the crime of pretence of authority of the lawful Muftis of Xanthi Mr. M.Sinikoglu and of Komotini Mr. M.Cemali.
As far as employment is concerned, there exists a considerable number of Minority members working either in the private sector or as civil servants. Those duly qualified participate in the examinations held by the Supreme Council for the Selection of Personnel for the appointment of employees in the Public Sector. Today more than 350 Moslems are employed in Thrace as teachers, firemen, members of the veterinarian service, guards and bank clerks. Muslims are also employed in the seasonal posts of the Public Sector such as at the Forest Authorities of Xanthi and Stavroupoli. Finally, prominent members of the Minority are lawyers, businessmen, doctors and pharmacists.
Finally, a note on the issues of purchase of land, hunting permits and driving licenses:
- Purchase of land: Law 1892/1990 rules that a permit for the purchase of land in areas near the border of the State must be issued. Since the beginning of the 90s, hundreds of plots of land owned by Christians have been purchased by Moslems and the problems of the past have been eradicated. The statistical data of sales and purchases of land in Thrace for 1998 indicate a higher rate of purchase by Moslems: 44.11% of total purchases were made between Moslems, 49.68% were purchases of Christian property by Moslems while only 6.21% involved the purchase of Moslem property by Christians.
- Hunting permits: During the hunting season 1998-1999, 2,314 hunting permits were issued or renewed in the Xanthi Prefecture, of which 1,415 to Christians (61.15% of the total), 899 to Moslems (38.85%). In the Prefecture of Rodhopi 4,473 permits were issued or renewed, 1,863 to Christians (41.65%), 2,610 to Moslems (58.35%). During the same period 221 permits were issued to Moslems in Evros. In order to put the data in context, it is reminded that the percentage of Moslem inhabitants to the total population in the three Prefectures is 41.19% for Xanthi, 51.77% for Rodhopi and 4.65% for Evros.
- Driving licenses: There is no indication of hindrances or delays in the issuing of driving licenses. It is calculated that more than half the new licenses issued by the Transport Office yearly, go to members of the Minority. In 1998, the Prefecture of Xanthi issued 2,720 licences, of which 1,496 to Moslems, while in the Prefecture of Rodhopi the licenses issued to Moslems exceeded the 60% of the total.
MFA, Athens, June 1999