A Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) criticized Tuesday the Greek government for shutting down five Turkish minority schools in the country's Western Thrace region, which is home to a Muslim Turkish minority community of around 150,000 people.
Greece's Education Ministry decided on July 31 to close five Turkish minority schools on the pretext that enrollment was too low, said Mustafa Kaymakçı, the head of the Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese Turks Culture and Solidarity Association, in a written statement. Kaymakçı said under Greek law, the individual school board must consent to any closure, but this was not done, thus Greece is in violation of its own laws.
He said Turkey, on the other hand, believes offering school education for the nation's Greek Orthodox children is a human right, even if there are a small number of students. "Greece, however, restricts the right to education of Turks in Western Thrace, and never presents the right to education of Turks on Rhodes and Kos as a part of assimilation," Kaymakçı said.
The islands of Kos (İstankoy) and Rhodes have a Muslim Turkish minority of around 6,000.
The situation of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace often comes to the agenda, especially in meetings of the two countries leaders.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in recent years, has urged the Greek administration to improve conditions for Western Thrace's Muslim community. The election of religious leaders or muftis has been a key problem for Greece's Muslim Turkish minority since 1991. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne guarantees the religious freedom of the Muslim minority in Greece. However, Greece annulled the Greek Act in 1991 and started appointing muftis itself. "We request that Greece present all cultural rights specified for minorities by the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the U.N. and the Greek Constitution and to open schools providing Turkish-language education on the basis of bilingualism for Turks on Rhodes and Kos," said Kaymakçı. Western Thrace currently has bilingual primary, secondary and high schools for the Turkish minority, but there are no such schools for Turks living on Rhodes and Kos. Kaymakçı added that with the new closures, the total number of Turkish minority schools in Western Thrace closed down by the Greek government, citing low enrollment, has reached 65.