Turkish language courses have been significantly interrupted in Greece's Western Thrace region due to the government's policies, the newly elected mufti (Muslim cleric) of the Muslim Turkish minority in Xanthi (Iskeçe) said Tuesday.
"Especially Turkish education was badly hit. Lesson hours for Turkish have gradually been shortened, we see the inadequate education given in this sense and the understanding that causes this inadequacy," Mustafa Trampa told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Calling on authorities to act "sensitively" on education, Trampa said the children of the Muslim Turkish minority deserve quality education, just like every child worldwide.
On the social problems of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace – an area with a large ethnic Turkish population – Trampa said, "In the globalizing world, there are many factors that negatively affect people, youth and children."
"There are various cultures that mislead people and lead people to bad paths. You can easily reach them through social media. This culture contradicts core values. To prevent this problem, we will work for families and young people," he added.
Religious officials in the mosques affiliated with the institution of the mufti provide "very good services," he said, adding that they will continue to work to solve people’s problems in every area.
The election of the mufti, in which Trampa and Mustafa Kamo were candidates, was held on Sept. 9 with voting done by a show of hands in mosques in the city.
Trampa received 4,750 votes versus 2,570 for Kamo.
Trampa won the election after Ahmet Mete, the elected mufti of Xanthi, passed away on July 14, making him Xanthi's third elected mufti.
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 and international treaties.
Greece keeps denying the presence of the Turkish minority in the Western Thrace region, with people living in the region facing severe discrimination every day, according to a local Turkish leader.
Çiğdem Asafoğlu, head of the Friendship, Equality, Peace Party (DEB), told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the Turkish minority in Western Thrace faces discrimination in all areas of life, stressing that the main goal of her party is to fight discrimination suffered by the Muslim Turkish community in the region.
Saying that the level of discrimination can easily be seen if any person compares Turkish neighborhoods with Greek ones in Komotini, Asafoğlu stressed: "The infrastructure in Turkish neighborhoods is very poor. The infrastructure is much better in Greek neighborhoods."
"There is also discrimination in the recruitment of public servants," she added.
Criticizing how the Greek media has made Turks, Türkiye, Turkish institutions and organizations, and people fighting for the cause of Turkishness into a target, Asafoğlu underscored that she was also subjected to discrimination and got threatening messages because of some of her statements on the issue.
Explaining that a 16-year-old Turkish teenager from Iskece was hospitalized on Aug. 26 after being beaten by 20 Greeks, Asafoğlu said: "Maybe that attack was not a racist attack, but the phrase 'Dirty Turk, we will kill you next time' uttered during the attack revealed the subconscious thoughts of the perpetrators."
According to local media reports, on Aug. 24, 16-year-old O.T. in Western Thrace tried to help a friend who was arguing with a large group. Just two days later, in the evening, O.T.'s path was cut off by a group of 20 Greeks. The attackers shouted insults at O.T., beat the teenager, leaving him in need of hospitalization. Following the incident, O.T.'s family filed a criminal complaint.
Greece's Western Thrace region – in the country’s northeast, near the Turkish border – is home to a substantial, long-established Muslim Turkish minority numbering around 150,000, or around a third of the population. The rights of the Turks of Western Thrace were guaranteed under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, but since then the situation has steadily deteriorated. After a Greek junta came to power in 1967, the Turks of Western Thrace started to face harsher persecution and rights abuses by the Greek state, often in blatant violation of European court rulings. The Turkish minority in Greece continues to face problems exercising its collective civil and education rights, including Greek authorities banning the word "Turkish” in the names of associations, shuttering Turkish schools and trying to block the Turkish community from electing its own muftis.
Ozan Ahmetoğlu, head of the Iskeçe Turkish Union (ITB), also detailed Greece's policy of denying the identity of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace and the legal struggle they are waging against it.
Explaining how Athens prefers the phrase "Muslim minority" to "Turkish minority" to describe the ethnic Turks in Western Thrace, Ahmetoğlu underlined that the Greek government has long "ignored the identity of the group."
"As Western Thracians, we say that we're Turks, but Greece doesn't accept this and denies the existence of a Turkish minority in Western Thrace," he said.
"We're facing serious discrimination here because the denial of Turkish identity brings many problems."
Greece also closes its eyes to the problems faced by the Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace as well as their identity, he said, adding that this is the fundamental problem in the region as even his group was closed by a court decision since it includes the word "Turkish" in its name.
"The official status of our association has been taken away from us. We first fought this decision with domestic law and then applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
"The ECtHR found us right and now it's been 14 years since its decision. In these 14 years, still Greece, unfortunately, continues not to implement the ECtHR ruling," he said.
"This creates an undemocratic environment. There should be a translator who speaks Turkish in government offices. This was once in force in the Iskece courts but now no longer," he added.