Closure of minority schools in Western Thrace by Greece jeopardizes future of Muslim Turks

'It clearly shows that Greece does not respect human rights and minority rights,' says former deputy prime minister of Türkiye

Halil Ibrahim Medet  | 01.08.2023 - Update : 02.08.2023
Closure of minority schools in Western Thrace by Greece jeopardizes future of Muslim Turks


The former deputy prime minister of Türkiye said the closure of Turkish minority schools in Western Thrace by Greece is a violation of historical agreements that guarantee minorities' rights to education in their own language.

"It clearly shows that Greece does not respect human rights and minority rights," Hakan Cavusoglu told Anadolu.

The majority of the ethnic Turkish minority, approximately 150,000 people, live in Western Thrace, which borders Bulgaria to the north, Türkiye to the east, the Aegean Sea to the south, and the Greek region of Macedonia to the west.

Cavusoglu, who was also the chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission and was born in Western Thrace, said there were 307 minority primary schools in the region in 1926, but with the recent closure of nine schools on July 19, that number has dropped to just 90.

"School closures have a negative impact on the workforce and employment in the education sector. Teachers, staff, and other related people in the region will be unemployed and forced to migrate," he predicted.

He warned that school closures could increase intolerance and discrimination in society, saying "Violation of the principle of equal opportunities in education can lead to discontent among other members of society."

Minority schools are an opportunity to pass on the cultural heritage, language, and traditions of the Muslim Turkish people to future generations in Western Thrace, he said.

Cavusoglu recalled that since 2011, minority preschool students have been forced to attend only Greek-language kindergartens. "This practice is a clear assimilation policy. Any decision that excludes families, community representatives, and institutions in the country violates the Treaty of Lausanne's minority rights."

He believed that the improvement in Turkish-Greek relations is directly related to minority rights in the region.

"Following the 1999 earthquake, an additional building for the Gumulcine Celal Bayar Minority High School was constructed as a result of the rapprochement between then-foreign ministers Ismail Cem and Yorgos Papandreou. This significantly increased the school's educational capacity," he said.

Türkiye is the guarantor state for the rights of the Muslim Turkish minority in Western Thrace, he said, emphasizing that Türkiye and Greece can set an example for all neighboring countries by taking a peaceful and constructive approach to resolving the problems in Western Thrace within the framework of good neighborly relations.

“The development of direct dialogue mechanisms between Türkiye and Greece can help strengthen bilateral relations, resolve issues, and increase regional stability," he added.

*Writing by Alperen Aktas

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