Turkey on Wednesday accused Greece once more of violating the rights of its Muslim minority who live in the north of the country.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran visited Thessaloniki and the northern province of Thrace and met with who he described as “representatives of the Turkish community.” He subsequently accused Greek authorities of curbing the religious and linguistic freedoms of the Muslim population there.
“We stand next to our ethnic kin who preserve their identity and religion despite the difficulties,” Kiran added.
We met w/representatives and religious officials of Turkish community in #Thessaloniki.
🔸Pressures&restrictions on freedom of language,religion&worship against our kinsmen are unacceptable.
🔸We are always with our kinsmen, who conserve their identity&religion against all odds. pic.twitter.com/j5atLnicjR
— Yavuz Selim KIRAN (@yavuzselimkiran) May 5, 2021
Ankara has been constantly raising the supposed issue of the human rights of the Muslim minority in northern Greece, which has further deteriorated bilateral relations between the countries.
In April, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared during his joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias that Greece fails to recognize Turkish Muslims as Turkish Muslims.
Referring to the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, Cavusoglu stated: “If they say they are Turkish, they are Turkish. You have to accept it … Turkey has implemented many inclusive practices with regard to its minorities. Such a positive approach is what we expect from Greece concerning its Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace.”
The Greek Foreign Ministry was quick to respond to the accusations, stating that its Muslim minority was in fact “flourishing.”
It added in a statement “Greece remains firmly committed to its international obligations, fully respecting international law, which is a compass of its foreign policy,” noting that it continues to go by the provisions of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which recognizes the existence of a religious Muslim minority in Thrace.
“The Muslim minority, which is flourishing, numbers about 120,000 inhabitants, Greek citizens,” the same sources added, according to reports. “Any attempt to distort reality and falsify this information, wherever it comes from, is self-evidently dismissible and needs no further comment.”
Greece recognizes Muslim — but not Turkish — minority
Greece officially recognizes but one minority, the Muslim minority as defined in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established the modern borders between Greece and Turkey.
The Lausanne Treaty, along with the Greek Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, enshrines the fundamental rights of the Muslims of East Macedonia and Thrace and the obligations towards them.
Athens fears that Ankara is using the Muslim minority in Thrace as a leverage for its policies and perhaps as a means to undermine the territorial integrity of Greece.
Most Muslims in Greece reside in the Greek region of Thrace, where they make up 28.88% of the population. Muslims form the largest group in the Rhodope regional unit (54.77%) and sizable percentages in the Xanthi (42.19%) and Evros regional units (6.65%).
Greek, Turkish Foreign Ministers in public spat
In April, the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey argued in front of cameras during a joint press conference following their meeting in Ankara.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu were at odds over a number of issues, despite hopes that their meeting could have opened an opportunity to lessen tensions over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Dendias blasted Turkey on its threats to go to war if Greece extends its territorial waters in the Aegean, which is in accordance with international law.
In addition, he said that the Turkish-Libya maritime agreement of 2019 is illegal and he accused Turkey of using migrants as a weapon against Greece and Europe.
Dendias also spoke openly of the “constant” Turkish violations of Greek airspace that have occurred repeatedly over the past year and a half, and brought up the Law of the Sea, warning his counterpart that his country’s actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean are putting Turkey’s aspirations of joining the EU at risk.
“If this is what Turkey wants – and I certainly hope that it does – then it must start respecting the Law of the Sea,” Dendias declared, mentioning the ever-present threat that additional sanctions on Turkey might still be forthcoming.