“The president of a country said to be the cradle of democracy again called the Muslim Turkish minority a ‘Greek Muslim minority’,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter, saying this mischaracterization comes “despite all the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.”
He added: “Whatever you say, Western Thrace’s Turkish minority has been Turkish for centuries, it will remain Turkish..!”
On Sunday, visiting Western Thrace, a Greek region with a large Muslim Turkish population, Prokopis Pavlopoulos claimed that under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Turks of Western Thrace are only a religious minority, whereas the Orthodox Greeks living in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul are a national minority.
In a speech, Pavlopoulos referred to the Greek minority in Istanbul as a “Greek minority,” while using the expression “Greek Muslim Minority” to describe the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.
Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, also blasted the Greek leader.
“It is extremely wrong for Greek President Pavlopoulos to call the Muslim Turkish minority a ‘Muslim Greek Minority’ during his visit to Western Thrace. Denying the identity of the Muslim Turkish minority is a reprehensible act,” he said on Twitter.
Celik urged Pavlopoulos to correctly address the Muslim Turkish minority with “respect for democratic values,” adding that it is “unacceptable” for politicians to launch “systematic attacks against the identity” of Muslim Turks in an EU member country.
“[The identity of the] Muslim Turkish minority is a historical fact in Western Thrace. Nobody can change this fact. It is a racist approach to call the Muslim Turkish minority the ‘Muslim Greek minority’,” added Celik.
He also said that efforts to change the historical facts about the Turkish community in Western Thrace are in vain, and that it is saddening to see such “racist approaches” in defiance of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
“Those who try to portray Western Thrace’s Turkish society as a ‘threat’ and ‘danger’ are harming their democracy.”
Celik said Western Thrace’s Turkish society is a “powerful resource” for Greek democracy.
Communities in Greece Criticize:
In turn, The Federation of European Western Thracian Turks said in a statement that the Greek government continues to maintain its policy of denial regarding the national identity of the Turkish minority.
“Our country, Greece, should immediately stop considering the Western Thracian Turkish community a threat and danger and make direct contact with us,” the federation said in a statement, according to a report by Anadolu Agency (AA).
The statement continued by noting that although borders have changed throughout history, the Turkish people continue to remain in Western Thrace and preserve their Turkish identity.
The Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association noted that the Greek president’s statements indicate that the country has not reached democratic maturity yet.
“The minority in Western Thrace has always had the desire to be recognized as Turkish, both through its institutions and with its members,” the statement read, adding that they hope this mindset ends soon.
The Iskeçe (Xanthi) Turkish Association also criticized the president’s remarks for denying the ethnic identity of the Turkish minority, while they highlighted determination to ensure the protection of the minority‘s will.
The Western Thrace Minority Cultural and Education Corporation also said Pavlopoulos‘ statement will not change historical facts.
“The denial of the identity of the Western Thracian Turkish minority means a denial of historical facts,” the corporation said, while the Western Thracian Turkish Teachers’ Association said his statements do not befit a member-state of the European Union.
Turkish Minority in Greece:
For decades Greece has enforced policies suppressing the Muslim Turkish minority of Western Thrace – often in defiance of European court rulings – such as denying them the right to elect their own muftis (religious leaders) or banning the word “Turkish” in the name of associations.
Athens has claimed that the expression “Turkish minority” is not found in the Treaty of Lausanne, the 1923 pact defining the borders of the modern Turkish state in the aftermath of the Turkish War of Independence.
Greece’s Western Thrace region is home to a Muslim Turkish minority of around 150,000 people.
Next month Pavlopoulos is to be succeeded by Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a former judge, as the Greek parliament in January elected her the country’s first female president.