Greece's controversial policy of selling properties belonging to foundations has angered citizens of Turkish origin who claim that the country is trying to end the Turkish-Muslim legacy and "assimilate" Turks.
Professor Mustafa Kaymakçı, who heads the Culture and Solidarity Association of Rhodes, Kos and Dodecanese founded by Turks who relocated to Turkey from Greece, says the situation was particularly dire on Kos. "[Greek authorities] unlawfully sell properties of our foundations, often for very cheap prices," he told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Greece is home to a small Turkish community concentrated in the Western Thrace region, while a smaller number of Turks whose roots date back to Ottoman times reside in Greek islands scattered across the Aegean Sea near Turkish shores. Unofficial figures show some 9,000 Turks live on the islands of Rhodes and Kos. Kaymakçı says they already face cultural problems, stemming, particularly, from a ban on Turkish education. "Our bilingual schools were closed down in 1972, and since then, Turkish children have been unable to learn their own language. There has been a rapid assimilation process," he lamented.
Kaymakçı pointed out that Ottoman-era foundations survived on Rhodes and Kos and they operated mosques, soup kitchens, public fountains, schools, et cetera. "But the Greek government took direct or indirect steps to deprive foundations of the properties. For instance, a madrasah [a Muslim school] that originally belonged to the Rhodes Islamic Foundation was recently handed over to the control of a Greek university," he said. He added that universal principles agreed upon by the United Nations ban the handover or sale of foundation properties, but had Greece violated it.
He also complained about the unfair taxation of Turkish-Muslim foundations, while Christian foundations are not subject to tax. Kaymakçı called upon Greece to abide by the reciprocity principle as Turkey enacted new regulations regarding Greek Orthodox foundations in Turkey, giving them more freedom to control their properties.
"Our mosques on Greek islands fell into disrepair, and Turkey wants to restore them, but Greece does not allow it. Other countries in the Balkans green light Turkey's restoration projects [for Ottoman-era buildings], but Greece does not. I think this is about eradicating cultural identity. They do not want any trace of Turks and Muslims in the islands," he said. "The assimilation of people there should be ended," he added.
Sales of properties belonging to foundations are just one of multiple thorny issues between Turkey and Greece. Ankara and the Turkish community in Greece have long complained about mistreatment of Turks by authorities, especially in terms of religious freedoms. In particular, the election of muftis, or Muslim clerics, for the community has stirred up controversy due to Athens' refusal to recognize elected muftis.