Komotini's Muslims want to be bridge of peace between Turkey and Greece

DAILY SABAH WITH AFP
ISTANBUL
Published 06.02.2019 00:06

With all the problems they had to suffer as a religious and ethnic minority aside, the Turkish Muslims of Western Thrace are willing to act as a bridge of peace and friendship between Turkey and Greece.

"We would like to be a bridge of peace and friendship and not act as a brake," said Mustafa Mustafa, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' party to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"The minority Muslims and their Greek compatriots cohabit but each side lives in its own corner," he added.

Greece is home to a small Turkish community concentrated in the Western Thrace region where Xanthi and Komotini are located. Ankara and the community have long complained of mistreatment of Turks by authorities, especially in terms of religious freedoms.

The election of muftis, or Muslim clerics, for the community has been a particularly thorny issue for the community due to Athens' refusal to recognize elected muftis.

Last week, the minority group marked the anniversary of a huge rally against the government's oppression and denial of the Turkish identity.

On Jan. 29, 1988, thousands of members of the Turkish minority rallied in the city of Komotini to protest oppression and denial of their identity by Greece. In 1988, the Greek judiciary shut down several associations in Western Thrace that had the word "Turkish" in their names, saying, "There are no Turks in Greece." The Jan. 29 march protested this decision.

Today, associations having the word "Turkish" in their names are still banned in Western Thrace, although the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greece on the issue in 2008.

Komotini became Ottoman territory in the second half of the 14th century, and after that it became a region with a high Turkish population, similar to parts of the Balkan region.

Due to compulsory migration that occurred after the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War, the region turned into a temporary housing area, which led to an increase in the Muslim population. In the 1920s, the percentage of Turks, who initially constituted the majority of the Western Thrace population, fell from 85 percent to 30 percent.

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.

Today, there are approximately 150,000 people of the Muslim Turkish minority that live in Western Thrace. Komotini's total population is 50,990 of which 40 percent are of Turkish origin.

In the face of this suffering, Turkey has always been there for the Muslims of Western Thrace, despite a potential of confronting Greece as a result. In 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the region.

"We have approximately 150,000 cognates here. You are the bridge between Turkey and Greece. We see you as it is. Now, four deputies in the Greek Parliament are representing you. These deputies should work really hard," Erdoğan said to the population of Turkish origin in Komotini, while adding that he also has no problem with Greek-origin Turkish citizens in Turkey.

"We need to continue this solidarity. We have supported Greece when it left NATO and they accepted again afterward. We need to improve this cooperation," Erdoğan added, while indicating that the unity of Turkish-origin citizens in Greece is very crucial.

Erdoğan said: "As good Greek citizens, you work for yourself as well as this country. In return for that, it is your right to expect an attitude in accordance with the Lausanne Treaty. You being citizens who can speak both Greek and Turkish fluently is also beneficial for Greece."

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