Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Çavuşoğlu said there has been no progress in the minority rights of Turks who live in Greece and pointed to the necessity of revising the Lausanne Treaty as ethnic Turks face problems in the field of education and religious liberties.
Underlining that there are underlying reasons for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent call for updating the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, Çavuşoğlu said Tuesday that "Greece has made progress in ‘civil rights' to a certain level but no step has been taken regarding the minority rights."
As President Erdoğan visited Greece last week marking the first official visit by a Turkish head of state to Greece in 65 years, he stressed that the Lausanne Treaty should be revised for the conditions of ethnic Turks living in Greece's Western Thrace region.
Referring to the average income of Turks in Western Thrace, President said "steps for investment and economic development have not been taken, for this reason the Lausanne Treaty should be updated." Yet his counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the treaty does not need to be revised.
Education sits at the heart of Turks' concerns in the Western Thrace. Deputy Prime Minister Çavuşoğlu underlined the problems faced by the Turkish people in the field of education and said "preschool has become compulsory in Greece. However, Muslim and Turkish families have no choice but to send their children to Greek preschools as no bilingual preschools have been opened. This is a huge injustice."
Touching on the religious freedoms of Turks living in Greece, Çavuşoğlu said the appointment of muftis in Greece's Western Thrace causes problems. "Until 1985 muftis had been elected but later they had been appointed to their posts. The posts of mufti represent the unity and solidarity there," Çavuşoğlu said and pointed out that this implementation is unacceptable.
President Erdoğan voiced his criticism of this implementation during his visit to Greece saying "Muslims in [Greece's] Western Thrace have not even been allowed to choose their own mufti from their community; efforts to appoint a mufti are ongoing, but this is not the case for the Patriarchate in Turkey."
Stressing that there have been problems in relation to the foundations, Çavuşoğlu said, "according to the Lausanne Treaty, the Muslim Turkish minority's religious, social and educational activities are met by the funds received from the foundations which are chaired by the mufti. However, the religious freedom of the minority group has been restricted as there has been the implementation of the appointment," and underlined that the appointment of the mufti also creates problems regarding the foundations.
Greece has been drawing sharp criticism because of its treatment of the Turkish minority community within the country. The community of Western Thrace Turks is estimated to have between 100,000 and 150,000 members. The Greek government classifies its Turkish population as "Greek Muslims." Greek authorities prohibit the use of the word "Turkish" in organization names and several minority groups have been closed down for using the term.
The Turkish-origin population of Western Thrace was not granted minority status in the Lausanne Peace Treaty that was signed in 1923. Therefore, the Greek government does not recognize the minority's ethnic identity, arguing that the expression "Turkish minority" is not included in the Lausanne Peace Treaty. The Turkish minority community faces various problems as their ethnic identity has not been recognized, which therefore, Turkey argues, that the Lausanne Treaty needs to be revised.