ANKARA (AA) – A senior Turkish official on Wednesday said issues over the ethnic-Turkish population in northeastern Greece were emerging as “basic expectations” of the minority community there.
Spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, Tanju Bilgic, said Turkish minority in the Western Thrace region wanted the implementation of regulations and practices “that allow the minority to enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms”.
Last week, Greek daily Ekathimerini reported that Athens had slammed a conference held in a Turkish university earlier this month on ‘The Turkish identity of Muslims in Western Thrace’. The newspaper wrote that the Athens saw the meeting as stoking tension and uncertainty among Greek Muslims.
Greece recognizes its minority population living in Western Thrace as a religious one – Muslim – rather than ethnic – Turkish.
Athens’ Foreign Ministry spokesman, Efstratios Efthymiou, was quoted in Ekathimerini’s Saturday report as saying: “Greece follows a policy of equality that pertains to all Greek citizens, regardless of religious identity, and secures the prosperity and dignity and rights of all.”
However, Bilgic said on Wednesday that the current situation of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace stands “at a very distant point” from the optimistic outlook reflected in the Greek authorities’ statements.
Bilgic called on Greece to “respect ethnic minority identity” and implement European Court of Human Rights verdicts against banning local NGOs using the descriptor ‘Turkish’ in their titles. He said that Greece has not yet implemented the court's verdict, despite eight years having passed.
Bilgic also called on Greece to “meet the demands to open minority schools”, “recognize minority-elected muftis”, and re-grant citizenship to ethnic Turks.
Some members of the local minority were deprived of Greek citizenship because of Article 19 of Greece’s 1955 Citizenship Law.
The article stated that a “person of non-Greek ethnic origin leaving Greece without the intention of returning may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship”.
This was abolished in 1998 but, despite this, the Greek government promised to grant citizenship to all those made stateless, a process which has yet to be concluded.
Bilgic said that implementing regulations which provide fundamental rights and freedoms to the ethnic-Turkish minority would have a “positive effect in our bilateral relations”.