Who is Responsible for Letting Turkey Influence Greek Muslim Minority in Thrace?



File photo: AMNA.gr

This editorial was published in Hellas Journal in Greek

by Nikos Meletis

The Greek State is perpetuating the mistake of allowing Turkey to use the Greek Muslim minority in Thrace for irredentist and expansionist purposes. The Greek Muslims were used once again in Sunday’s European Parliament elections, as guinea pigs for the Turkish mechanisms operating freely in the region.

This is just a part of Turkey’s strategic plan to increase its influence in the Balkans.

The Syriza Party, like PASOK and New Democracy had done before, is systematically avoiding the formation of a comprehensive, unified minority policy that will contribute to the smooth integration (not assimilation) of the Greek Muslim minority into Greek society. This would also allow its members to exercise the rights granted to them as Greek and European citizens.

Unfortunately, political forces are content only to take part in bargaining with the representatives of tourism in Thrace in order to secure their support in the municipal, national or European elections. This ultimately leads the minority into an even greater attachment to the Turkish Consulate and a greater dependency of politicians and local governmental officials on pro-Turkish mechanisms.

The Equality Peace and Friendship Party (KIEF) of the Muslim minority succeeded for the second time in European elections to come first in the Xanthi and Rodopi prefectures. It is no coincidence that the interest of the Turkish Consulate is now limited to Greek municipal elections.

In municipalities such as Iasmos, Arrianoi and Myki, only minority candidates are elected and they are usually close to the Consulate, while in the regional elections there are candidates friendly to the minority on all the ballots.

As getting a seat in the Greek Parliament in the national elections is almost impossible since a minimum three percent of the total vote is required, the Turkish Consulate plays a double game: it makes an impression in the European elections with the two Thrace prefectures painted gray on the map. But is also plays a game of substance, promoting a fragile and delicate balance for the election of MPs to the larger parties who will then be able to influence policies in the Greek Parliament.

The Xanthi and Rodopi prefectures painted gray on the map (top right)
The Xanthi and Rodopi prefectures are in gray on the map (top right)

There were actions prior to the elections which did nothing to inspire trust and reassure the minority. No efforts have been made to explain to the minority that the European elections are extremely important for its future, since important decisions in areas such as tobacco cultivation, sheep and goat farming — which are the main employment sectors of the minority — are taken in Brussels.

And those who direct them to cast their votes for KIEF in the European elections, which only pleases the Turkish diplomats, actually deprive them of the chance they have to influence decisions on which their economic survival depends. It should be noted that there are almost 8,000 families who engage in tobacco cultivation and there are 15,000 stock farmers in this minority group.

It’s not a coincidence that no party candidates for the European Parliament visited the minority villages or explained to them the importance of their vote  —  that it is not to be wasted in order to serve the plans of the Turkish consul through the KIEF party.

Positive moves such as the introduction of the optional implementation of Sharia law were taken, but without discussing it with the minority, thus generating suspicion in the Muslim community. The way in which the resignation of the Muftis of Xanthi and Komotini was treated, involving a recognized mufti and theologian, brought distrust among members of the minority. The most blatant cases of this were those of Komotini and Metso Tzemali.

The way the Greek state behaved to Tzemali is still discussed in Thrace. It only serves as an example that even one who has endured so many years of Turkish blows, will still not be supported and protected from those who fight and resist the Turkish Consulate.

Additional blows to the trust of the minority came with the interference of the Greek state for leftist ideological reasons, and also with the interference of Turkish representatives in the religious education of the minority. For forty years, the Religious School of Komotini provided the Special Religious School of Thessaloniki with trained and well-educated clergymen for the education of the Muslim minority.

However, the education ministry’s intervention in the curriculum, with the cutting of 63 theology lessons and the attempt to introduce courses such as domestic economy, essentially negates the teaching of the Religious School of Komotini.

There is only one alternative now: education in schools teaching the Koran in Turkey. And of course Ankara did not waste any time with this opportunity. In Ypsala, just outside the Greek border, there is already a state-of-the-art school teaching the Koran where all students from Greece can study, with free tuition, housing, meals etc. It is obvious that all the young people studying in this school will not return to Greece to complete their studies at universities to become educators in the minority areas.

And more can be said about this issue – even about how candidates have used the Roma people in the election campaign. Roma are citizens who can have their own role in Thrace. They are not objects to be exploited for political purposes.

Let us not wonder then, why every four or five years at election time the two prefectures are colored gray. After the elections, everyone forgets Thrace, only to remember it in the next elections.

The following are the voting results in the three Thrace prefectures as of Monday, May 27 at 23:30, as compared with the last European Elections results:

Evros 2014: 1,240 votes, 1.45 percent – 2019: 588 votes, or 0.95 percent
Rodopi 2014: 26,042 votes, 42 percent – 2019: 19,654 votes, or 36.46 percent
Xanthi 2014: 15,391 votes 25.91 percent – 2019: 12,504 votes, or 24.86 percent

Overall Voter Participation:
2014: Xanthi 55.34 percent, Rodopi 56.56 percent, Evros 53.52 percent
2019: Xanthi 52.59 percent, Rodopi 54.24 percent, Evros 52.65 percent.