In a violation of longstanding treaties, Greece on Monday decided to close 12 more schools serving the country's Muslim Turkish minority, claiming there are too few students.
Under an Education Ministry decree, eight schools in Rhodope (Rodop) and four schools in Xanthi (Iskece) in the country’s Western Thrace will be temporarily suspended – a move that Turkey claims is planned and often proves permanent.
A total of 132 minority schools in the country have been systematically closed since 2011, and the number of schools operating in the Rhodope, Xanthi, and Evros provinces has dropped to 103, with officials citing a supposed lack of students as the reason.
Turks in Greece outraged
Greece's decision to close minority schools is part of a "planned and malicious effort against the minority,” the Western Thrace Turkish Minority Consultation Council said in a statement.
Emphasizing that minority education is determined by international agreements, especially the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and protocols signed between Turkey and Greece, the statement added: "We would like to emphasize our disappointment and protest against the anti-democratic practices of our country, Greece, and especially the current government, regarding minority education and its insensitive attitude to the just demands that have been voiced for years."
"The (school) closure decisions announced this year were published at a time when the whole country was on holiday. This alone makes it clear that the decision is part of a planned and malicious effort against the Western Thrace Turkish Minority," it said.
"We condemn and do not accept this behavior, which is neither suitable for human relations nor for pluralist democracy," it stressed.
‘More than half of minority schools closed’
Turkey also condemned the move, saying it will mean that more than half of the minority primary schools in Greece are closed.
"The policy of Greece to close primary schools belonging to the Western Thrace Turkish Minority through 'temporary suspension' has been proven to be systematic," said a Foreign Ministry statement.
"Moreover, in recent legal regulations covering schools in Greece, we have observed that minority schools are excluded from many articles, which is discrimination," it added.
The statement also said the decision violates the Treaty of Lausanne and is another sign of "the policies of assimilation and oppression" towards Turks in Western Thrace over the decades.
It also accused Greece of ignoring demands to open new minority secondary/high schools, despite a need, thus "violating the education rights of minority children" under various pretexts.
"We invite Greece to put an end to its discriminatory policy towards minority schools, as seen in the latest legislation," it added, stressing that Turkey "will continue to support the minority's struggle for their rights and law" in bilateral meetings as well as on international platforms.
"The international community should no longer be a spectator to the systematic violation of human rights in an EU member state," it added.
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.
The rights of the Turks of Western Thrace were guaranteed under the Treaty of Lausanne, a pact forged in the aftermath of World War I, 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 faces problems over collective and civil rights and education to this day, from banning the word “Turkish” in the names of organizations, to try to block the Turkish community from electing its own imams./aa