Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the closing of schools, permanent or temporary, in Western Thrace violates the education rights of minority children.

A protest over the reduction of Turkish lessons at the Gumulcine Medrese-i Hayriye school in Western Thrace in 2018.
A protest over the reduction of Turkish lessons at the Gumulcine Medrese-i Hayriye school in Western Thrace in 2018. (Mehmet Hatipoglu / AA)

Turkey has blasted a Greek government decision to shut down 12 more schools serving the country's Muslim Turkish minority, saying it violates education rights.

Under an Education Ministry decree, eight schools in Rhodope and four schools in Xanthi in the country’s Western Thrace will be temporarily suspended, a move that Turkey claims is planned and often proves permanent.

A total of 132 minority schools in the country have been closed since 2011, and the number of schools operating in the Rhodope, Xanthi, and Evros provinces has dropped to 103.

Greece has justified the closures saying there are too few students. 

Read Turkey's full statement here

Turks in Greece stress right to minority education

The Western Thrace Turkish Minority Consultation Council condemned the decision and stressed that minority education is determined by international agreements, particularly the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, as well as by protocols signed between Turkey and Greece.

"We would like to emphasise our disappointment and protest against the anti-democratic practices of our country, Greece, and especially the current government, regarding minority education and its insensitive attitude to the just demands that have been voiced for years," the Council said in a statement.

"The (school) closure decisions announced this year were published at a time when the whole country was on holiday. This alone makes it clear that the decision is part of a planned and malicious effort against the Western Thrace Turkish Minority," it said.

"We condemn and do not accept this behavior, which is neither suitable for human relations nor for pluralist democracy." 

‘More than half of minority schools closed’

Turkey also condemned the move, saying it will mean that more than half of the minority primary schools in Greece are closed.

"The policy of Greece to close primary schools belonging to the Western Thrace Turkish Minority through 'temporary suspension' has been proven to be systematic," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

"Moreover, in recent legal regulations covering schools in Greece, we have observed that minority schools are excluded from many articles, which is discrimination," it added.

The statement also said the decision violates the Treaty of Lausanne and is another sign of "the policies of assimilation and oppression" towards Turks in Western Thrace over the decades.

It also accused Greece of ignoring demands to open new minority secondary/high schools, despite a need, thus "violating the education rights of minority children." 

"We invite Greece to put an end to its discriminatory policy towards minority schools, as seen in the latest legislation," it added, stressing that Turkey "will continue to support the minority's struggle for their rights and law" in bilateral meetings as well as on international platforms.

"The international community should no longer be a spectator to the systematic violation of human rights in an EU member state," it added.

Greece, on the other hand, has rejected the accusations and said it continues to implement the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty. In a statement, Greece's foreign affairs minister said that in addition to the 12 minority schools, 24 other primary schools were closed in the region due to the low number of students.

Oppressed minority

Greece's Western Thrace region – in the country’s northeast, near the Turkish border – is home to a substantial, long-established Muslim Turkish minority numbering around 150,000.

The rights of the Turks of Western Thrace were guaranteed under the Treaty of Lausanne, a pact forged in the aftermath of World War I.

After a Greek junta came to power in 1967, the Turks of Western Thrace started to face harsher persecution and rights abuses by the Greek state, often in blatant violation of European court rulings.

The Turkish minority faces problems over collective and civil rights and education to this day, from banning the word “Turkish” in the names of organisations, to trying to block the Turkish community from electing its own leaders and imams.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies