|Thursday, 2 February 2023|
The Muslim Minority of Greek Thrace
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THE MUSLIM MINORITY OF GREEK THRACE
The constituent parts of the minority
The present situation
After the end of World War I, the victorious Allied Powers signed separate peace Treaties with each of the Central Powers and their allies. In the case of Turkey, and in light of subsequent developments that had rendered the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 out of date, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed on the 24th of July 1923.
The Treaty of Lausanne fixed the terms on which peace was reestablished with Turkey. It incorporated in its text the agreements signed between that country and Greece in January of that same year, which were part of the solution to the "Eastern Question."
One of these agreements was a Convention foreseeing the compulsory exchange of populations between the two countries. However, the Greeks of Istanbul, Imvros and Tenedos on one hand, and the Muslims of Thrace on the other, were exempted from this provision. The status of the minorities that, consequently, remained in the two countries, was based on two principles:
In 1922, the Muslim minority of Greek Thrace numbered 86,000 people. Today, that number has climbed to approximately 120,000.
The minority is composed of three ethnic groups, from which the element of homogeneity is absent. More specifically, 50 percent of the minority is of Turkish origin, 35 percent are Pomaks (an indigenous population that initially lost its native tongue and subsequently espoused Islam during the Ottoman occupation), and 15 percent are Roma. Each of the aforementioned groups has its own language and traditions. It was for this reason that the drafters of the Treaty of Lausanne, aware of the diverse ethnic composition of the minority, characterized it as a "religious" minority.
a. Strict compliance with international standards
b. Economic reforms
Furthermore, during the period of economic depression the number of Christians who emigrated to other countries for economic reasons was much greater than the number of Muslims.
In 1991, the Greek State, aware of the problems facing the region, put forth an important Development Plan. The plan aimed at the economic revitalization of Thrace and at improving the living conditions for the entire population of the area.
Following the recent changes in Central and Eastern Europe, the opportunities for the economic development of Thrace have been multiplied. Greek Thrace is the nearest region of the European Union to countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, the Ukraine, and others. All these countries wish to achieve close political and economic co-operation with the Union. For this reason, a great number of enterprises from various countries have been established already in Thrace, aiming to take advantage of its unique and advantageous geographical position.
Advantages include, among others:
c. Religious freedom
In relevant part, Article 13 states that "Freedom of religious faith is inviolable." It further guarantees that "the enjoyment of personal and political rights does not depend on a person's religious beliefs."
With respect to Greek Muslim citizens, in each of the three Prefectures of Thrace there is a "Mufti," who is the supreme Muslim authority in his area of jurisdiction regarding religious and spiritual matters. The Mufti also has administrative jurisdiction over the lower Islamic functionaries.
The Mufti of each Prefecture is appointed following his selection by a body of prominent members of the minority, from a list of candidates who must be graduates of an Islamic Theological University.
It must be pointed out that the Mufti, in addition to his religious duties, also exercises judicial powers in matters of Civil Law, mainly in the fields of marriage, divorce, alimony, guardianship, emancipation of minors, testaments drawn up according to Islamic Law, and intestate inheritance. The decisions of the Mufti are recorded in the competent Registry Office according to the matter in question.
Law No. 1920, dated February 4, 1991, establishes that the decisions of the Mufti are not enforceable nor do they constitute a final judgment if they are not declared enforceable by the competent Court of the First Instance. Court review is limited exclusively to determining whether the Mufti, in judging the case, remained within his field of competence. The jurisdiction of the Court of First Instance does not extend to the interpretation of the Holy Islamic Law nor to an assessment of the actual facts of the case.
Finally, the Greek Civil Code provides Muslim women with the right to choose between Islamic and Common Law. This provision compensates for the fact that the resolution of disputes in accordance with the Sharya, the Sacred Islamic Law, sometimes entails, especially for Muslim women, the application of rules that are more onerous than those of the Common Law for other Greek citizens.
d. The untrammeled teaching of the rules of Islam
e. The instruction of the minority language
Turkish is the only minority language which exists in written form (Pomak and Roma do not). It is taught in over 240 minority schools (primary and secondary schools and lycees) in Thrace, to a total of 10,500 Muslim students.
The education of these children is the responsibility of a large number of teachers (770), of which more than 250 are graduates of the Special Teachers' Training College in Thessaloniki, founded in 1971 to educate and train teachers for minority schools.
As teaching takes place mainly in the minority language, a large number of minority students end up acquiring an imperfect knowledge of Greek. For many, this situation constitutes a very serious obstacle to their social and professional integration into the larger Greek society, and restricts their economic, social or geographical mobility.
In order to remove this obstacle, an ambitious reform of the educational system has been undertaken, aiming at improving the means by which Greek is taught at minority schools. At the same time, the Ministry of Education has proceeded to the drafting and publication of a series of new school text-books in the Turkish language so that the minority's sole written language might be fully taught with the aid of contemporary texts. These textbooks, while addressed to Greek citizens, aim at fully respecting the unique and rich religious, linguistic, and cultural particularities of the minority.
f. Upgrading the standards of education
In order to increase the quality and continuity of teaching in minority schools, the law requires that high teacher qualifications -- including teacher training, graduate studies, foreign language skills, and familiarity with other cultures, civilizations, and religious practices -- be taken into account during the appointment of teachers to minority schools.
The law also introduces English language courses at the primary school level.
Finally, the law establishes an affirmative action ("positive discrimination") program for the admission of Muslim minority students to Greek higher education institutions (universities and technical institutes). The law provides for a minimum quota for minority students, as had been up to now the case for certain other classes of Greek citizens (e.g., children of emigrants and repatriates). The provision aims at offsetting the disadvantages faced by many Muslim students during the national university entrance examinations, due mostly to Greek language difficulties, and at facilitating their integration into the social fabric of the country. It goes without saying that the above provisions do not prevent Muslim students from participating in the nation-wide University admission examinations.
In a different vain, it must also be noted that the Greek State provides substantial financial support for the covering of the operational expenses of minority schools. In 1994-95 approximately one-half billion drachmas (approx. 1.7 million ECU) were provided for maintenance of existing minority school infrastructure. New primary and secondary schools are presently being constructed at a total cost of 2 billion drachmas (approx. 6.7 million ECU).
a. Parliamentary elections.
Today's Parliament, which resulted from the elections of October 1993 does not include Muslim deputies. This is due to the fact that, beginning in the late 1980s, some members of the minority choose stand for election as independent candidates. The resulting split in the minority vote due to multiple minority candidacies and trends within the electoral body prevented the election of Muslim members of Parliament in 1993. Clearly, if this combination of factors does not recur in the next Parliamentary election, the Greek Parliament is quite likely to include Muslim deputies once again.
b. Regional and Municipal elections
It should be noted that in the cities and villages of Thrace where the Muslim element is in the majority, a Muslim mayor is usually elected. In the communities where there is a Christian majority, it is quite common to have a considerable number of Muslims being elected as Municipal Councilors.