Erdogan accuses Greece of undermining Muslim minority rights

Turkish president raises concern about treatment of Muslims who make up 1/3 of Thrace region’s population; Ankara says Athens militarized islands in violation of Lausanne Treaty

Muslim worshipers wait in the rain for the Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of the month of Ramadan at the Mosque of Athens, Greece, on May 2, 2022. (AP Photo/ Thanassis Stavrakis)
Muslim worshipers wait in the rain for the Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of the month of Ramadan at the Mosque of Athens, Greece, on May 2, 2022. (AP Photo/ Thanassis Stavrakis)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday criticized Greece for allegedly violating a settlement that has governed relations between the rivals for nearly a century.

In a statement released on the 99th anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, Erdogan accused Athens of undermining the rights of the Muslim minority in Greece’s Thrace region. Muslims in Thrace make up about 32 percent of the province’s population and include ethnic Turks, Roma, and Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks.

“The conditions registered in the treaty, especially the rights of the Turkish minority, have been ignored or deliberately eroded,” the nationalist leader said. “It is not possible for our country to accept this situation, which is incompatible with good neighborly relations and loyalty to the treaty.”

The 1923 treaty was signed by the new Republic of Turkey to settle disputes with the Allies, including Greece, following World War I and the Turkish War of Independence.

It outlined the rights of the remaining Muslim minority in Greece and Christians in Turkey, after a bitter conflict between the countries, which was followed by a population exchange. It also set out conditions for Greek rule of the Aegean islands that lie off Turkey’s coast.

Ankara recently complained that Greece violated the treaty by militarizing the islands. Athens said it was acting according to international law and was defending its territory in the face of constant Turkish hostility.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a signing ceremony at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Turkey on July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the closure of four Muslim minority schools in Thrace, saying it demonstrated “discriminatory and oppressive policies” by the Greek government.

The Greek Foreign Ministry rejected the “unsubstantiated” allegations, saying the schools were suspended because student numbers fell below minimum requirements.

NATO members Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades over a series of issues, including disputes over undersea exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and the sovereignty of uninhabited Aegean islets. The two neighbors have come to the brink of war three times in the past half century.

Erdogan last month broke off high-level talks with Athens.

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