Greece closing four more primary schools belonging to the Western Thracian Turkish minority in the 2022-2023 academic year was met with concern by the Turkish community in the region.
Aydın Ahmet, the chair of the Western Thrace Turkish Teachers' Union and Ozan Ahmetoğlu, the chair of the Iskeçe (Xanthi) Turkish Union, made assessments to Anadolu Agency (AA) on the issue.
Stating that the Western Thracian Turkish minority has many problems that await solutions in terms of education, Ahmet noted that the biggest discomfort felt is that the Greek state makes decisions regarding the education of the minority without consulting the minority for their opinion.
Ahmet stated that the practice of closing schools in case the number of students remains below nine, which is valid throughout Greece, has led to a serious decrease in the number of minority schools.
He underlined that the number of minority primary schools in Western Thrace decreased to 99 after the last implementations.
Pointing out that Greece has so far ignored the objections of the minority on this issue, he said: "Our schools are closed one by one every year on the pretext of a lack of children. However, our schools are private and autonomous according to the Treaty of Lausanne. Therefore, it is approached with an understanding of 'we are closing our own schools, we cannot leave your schools while closing our own.' However, the situation in our schools is very different."
Ahmet stated that Greece did not consider the opinion of the minority on any issue related to the minority. "Our biggest objection is that our opinion is not taken in the decisions regarding minority schools. It bothers us very much that the state makes decisions about minority schools without asking us. In other words, we seek the opinion of the minority is considered not only in the field of education, but also in other issues, invite them to a table, engage in dialogue. We are on the side of solving the problems, but unfortunately we have not seen such an approach from Greece up until now."
As both Ahmet and Ahmetoğlu noted, the Lausanne Peace Treaty envisages educational autonomy for the Western Thracian Turkish minority. Minority schools provide bilingual education in both Turkish and Greek.
It is observed that the number of minority primary schools in the region has decreased from 231 to 99 in the last 27 years. Two schools, one in Xanthi and the other in Komotini (Gümülcine), provide secondary and high school education.
"With this latest decision, more than half of the minority primary schools have been closed. Thus, Greece's policy of closing primary schools belonging to the Turkish Muslim Minority in Western Thrace through 'temporary suspension' has proven to be systematic," Tanju Bilgiç, the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, said in a statement.
Bilgiç reiterated the Turkish minority's right to establish, manage and inspect their own schools under the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, which eventually paved the way for an independent Turkish republic.
He said the recent moves show the "discriminatory and oppressive policies" implemented against the Turkish minority in the field of education.
Bilgiç had also urged Greece to put an end to its discriminatory policies toward Turkish minority schools year after year, adding: "The Republic of Turkey will continue to support the minority's struggle for its rights and justice, both in bilateral contacts and international platforms."
In response, Athens released a statement claiming: "Unfortunately, Ankara has entirely reversed reality once again in order to promote positions that do not stand up to scrutiny. We reject them in their entirety. We underscore that the decision to suspend the operation of schools is taken applying exactly the same criteria throughout Greece, that is the non-completion of a minimum number of nine (9) students. For the academic year 2022-2023, only in the Region of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace, in addition to the four (4) minority primary schools, the operation of twenty-nine (29) other non-minority primary schools is suspended as well. Therefore, no one can claim discrimination against minority students."
In a video message on the 99th anniversary of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said Sunday that Greece has recently been deliberately eroding the terms and conditions of the peace treaty.
"The terms and conditions of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, particularly the rights of the Turkish minority, have recently been deliberately eroded by Greece," he said.
"It is not possible for our country to accept this situation, which is incompatible with the principle of good neighborly relations and loyalty to the treaty," he added.
The Lausanne treaty was signed on July 24, 1923, after the Turkish victory in the War of Independence.
Greece's Western Thrace region is home to some 150,000 Muslim Turks, whose rights to elect their own religious leaders, found Turkish associations and have their own schools have been denied by Athens in violation of European court orders.