Greece's Education Ministry shut down five more schools attended by students from the country's Turkish minority, drawing criticisms from the minority population. Schools were shut down due to the low number of students according to the ministry.
The number of minority schools closed since 2011 reached 65 with the latest decision by the ministry. The decision made public on July 31, covers schools in Rodop (Rhodope) and İskeçe (Xanthi), two regions in Western Thrace where the Turkish minority is concentrated.
Salih Ahmet, head of the Teachers' Association for the minority group, said it was the "wrong decision" to close down schools or merge them under the pretext of lack of students and in no way contributed to education of minorities.
"These schools have a different status than other schools, and a decision to close them should be based on existing laws," he told Anadolu Agency (AA). Ahmet pointed to current regulations that require approval of the school's executive council for its closure. "This is not the case, though, and our schools are almost closed down by force, in violation of regulations. This is also a random decision, without any planning [about the future of students]," he said.
About 150,000 ethnic Turkish people reside in Western Thrace with their status set by the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 and their rights guaranteed by several bilateral and multilateral agreements. They face a variety of issues, including a state denial of ethnic identity, inadequate education provisions and restrictions on freedom of religion, purchase of property and political representation.
Ahmet says that their community objected to the government on the issue but Athens ignored them. "We are against the shutdowns carried out without the consent of the minority, and ignoring the sensitivities of the community. They only aim to decrease the number of students. It is not about improving education as claimed. This decision should be reversed," he said. Ahmet added that they expected the new government, which took office last month, to help the minority to keep schools open and launch a dialogue with community representatives to improve the quality of education.
Greece launched an education drive in 2011 to cut costs and started merging schools with low numbers of students, reducing the number of schools from 1933 to 877. Some 14 schools attended by Turkish minority students were shut down that year.