Top Turkish officials on Tuesday slammed Greece’s president for mislabeling the Muslim Turkish minority in a region of Greece bordering Turkey as a “Greek Muslim minority”.
“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.
‘Reprehensible’ to deny Muslim Turkish minority
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.
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.
“[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.
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.