By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet
Following a controversial decision, Athens is likely to take steps to preserve the balance between Turkish and Greek language lessons in the curriculum of Muslim religious schools in Western Thrace, according to an expert on minority affairs in Greece.
Earlier this month the Greek Education, Research and Religious Affairs Ministry moved to have fewer Turkish and Islamic lessons at Muslim religious schools in Western Thrace, a region with a 150,000-strong Turkish minority.
To protest the decision, this week students at the Medrese-i Hayriye religious school in the city of Komotini staged a two-day boycott of their classes.
The curriculum move set off concerns in two Muslim religious schools in Western Thrace -- the one in Komotini and another in the Xanthi province.
Ali Huseyinoglu of Trakya University’s Balkan Research Institute, who hails from Western Thrace, spoke to Anadolu Agency about the Greek government’s decision and the student boycott.
"After the initial official statements and the boycott by Medrese-i Hayriye students, I believe it will be considered by the Greek Education, Research and Religious Affairs Ministry, and it’s strongly possible that steps towards preserving the balance between [lessons in the] Turkish and Greek languages in the curriculum of both religious schools will be taken," he said.
Huseyinoglu said the process which led to the student boycott began back in the 1960s, with Greece’s policies towards Muslim religious schools.
Until the 2000s, the status of Muslim religious schools in Western Thrace was unclear, he explained.
Huseyinoglu said that at these schools, the number of lessons in Turkish declined over the years, raising questions about the schools’ purpose.
He said the schools were founded during the Ottoman era, originally for the purpose of educating and training young people to become religious officials.
However, in modern-day Greece, after years of government changes in the education system, he explained, few of the schools’ graduates had any deep training in theology.
So the graduates did little to fill the local need for Muslim clerics, Huseyinoglu said.
"And this raises more questions about the [schools’] status, identity, and purpose,” he added.
No input on decision
Under the decision, students at the religious schools will not have any Turkish language lessons in their final year of high school.
Hasan Molla, head of the school council at Medrese-i Hayriye, told Anadolu Agency that students and their parents alike reject the ministry’s decision to have fewer lessons in Turkish.
"The reduction of lessons in the Turkish language is being done without asking parents or students for their input," Molla said.
Molla said the school belongs to the Muslim-Turkish minority, but its status is unclear and its curriculum is periodically changed by arbitrary government decisions.
"As it is a religious institution, we also don’t accept the reduction in lessons about religion," he added.
Medrese-i Hayriye’s school council said in a statement Thursday that the government move cut a total of 63 hours of lessons in Turkish per week at the secondary and high school levels.