Muslim minority of Greece
The Muslim minority of Greece is the only explicitly recognized minority in Greece. It numbered 97,605 (0.91% of the population) according to the 1991 census, and unofficial estimates ranged up to 140,000 people or 1.24% of the total population, according to the United States Department of State.
Like other parts of the southern Balkans that experienced centuries of Ottoman rule the Muslim minority of mainly Western Thrace in Northern Greece consists of several ethnic groups, some being Turkish and some Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks, with smaller numbers descended from Ottoman-era Greek converts to Islam and Muslim Romas. The precise identity of these groups is in contention with Turkey insisting that most Muslims in Western Thrace are ethnically Turkish, and Greece claiming many are Pomak and others of local origin who converted to Islam and adopted the Turkish language and identity in the Ottoman period. These arguments have territorial overtones, since the self-identity of the Muslims in Western Thrace could conceivably support territorial claims to the region by Turkey.
The Muslims of Western Thrace were exempt from the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey when 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks or Pontic Greeks and Caucasus Greeks were required to leave Turkey, and the 356,000 Muslims outside of Thrace were required to leave Greece, including the Muslim Greek speaking Vallahades of western Greek Macedonia. Consequently, most of the Muslim minority in Greece resides in the Greek region of Thrace, where they make up 28.88% of the population. Muslims form the largest group in the Rhodope regional unit (54.77%) and sizable percentages in the Xanthi (42.19%) and Evros regional units (6.65%).
Nearly 3,500 Turks remain on the island of Rhodes and 2,000 on the island of Kos, as the islands were part of the Italian Dodecanese when the population exchange between Turkey and Greece happened (and so were not included in it).
The Sharia law used to be mandatory among the Muslim citizens of Greece, as a result of the Lausanne Treaty which was signed between Greece and Turkey in 1923. However, according to a 2018 European Court of Human Rights ruling, applying Sharia law on the Muslim minority was considered a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by Greece. The court ruled unanimously that the mandatory application of Sharia law in Greece violated Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Court also added that "Greece is the only country in Europe which had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes". Lawyers said that this was a big step since, from now on, the minority's issues would be judged according to the Greek law, which give same rights to men and women, and not sharia. Later this year, the Greek government drafted a bill eliminating the mandatory enforcement of the Sharia Law, and limiting its powers, making it optional, which, according to the then PM Alexis Tsipras, "expands the equality and equity enjoyed by all Greeks without exceptions". The bill passed by the Greek Parliament and was hailed by the Muslim minority as a historic step.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne, 1923, Greece and Turkey conducted a population exchange: all the Greek Orthodox Christians of Turkey would be resettled in Greece apart from the Greeks of Istanbul (Constantinople), Imbros (Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Bozcaada), and all Turks of Greece would be resettled in Turkey apart from the Muslims of Greek Thrace.
The exchanged populations were not homogenous; the Christians resettled in Greece included not only Greek speakers, but also Laz speakers, Arabic speakers and even Turkish speakers. Similarly, the Muslims resettled in Turkey included not only Turkish speakers, but also Albanian speakers, Bulgarian speakers, Vlach speakers and also Greek speakers like the Vallahades from western Greek Macedonia (see also Greek Muslims). This was in correspondence with the Millet system of the Ottoman Empire, where religious and national allegiance coincided, and thus Greece and Turkey were considered the parent state of each group respectively.
In 1922, the Muslim minority left in Western Thrace, in Northern Greece, numbered approximately 86,000 people, and consisted of three ethnic groups: Turks (here usually referred to as Western Thrace Turks), Pomaks (Muslim Slavs who speak Bulgarian), and Muslim Roma, each of these groups having its own language and culture. The official Greek text of the Treaty of Lausanne refers to "muslim minorities" in article 45 However, unofficial texts of the Greek State refer to one Muslim minority. According to the Greek government, Turkish speakers form approximately 50% of the minority, Pomaks 35% and Muslim Roma 15%.
The minority enjoys full equality with the Greek majority, and prohibition against discrimination and freedom of religion are provided for in Article 5 and Article 13 of the Greek constitution. In Thrace today there are 3 muftis, approximately 270 imams and approximately 300 mosques.
The minority is always represented in the Greek parliament, and is currently represented by PASOK members Çetin Mandacı and Ahmet Hacıosman. During the 2002 local elections, approximately 250 Muslim municipal and prefectural councillors and mayors were elected, and the Vice-Prefect of Rhodope is also a Muslim. The main minority rights activist organization of the Turkish community within the minority is the "Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights" (Greek: Τούρκικη Μειονοτική Κίνηση για τα Ανθρώπινα και Μειονοτικά Δικαιώματα, Toúrkiki Meionotikí Kínisi yia ta Anthrópina kai Meionotiká Dikaiómata, Turkish: İnsan ve Azınlık Hakları için Türk Azınlık Hareketi).
In Thrace today there are 235 minority primary schools, where education is in the Greek and Turkish languages, and there are also two minority secondary schools, one in Xanthi and one in Komotini, where most of the minority is concentrated. In the remote mountainous areas of Xanthi where the Pomak element is dominant, the Greek government has set up Greek language secondary education schools in which religious studies is taught in Turkish and the Quran is taught in Arabic. The Pomak language (which is essentially considered a dialect of Bulgarian), however, is not taught at any level of the education system. The government finances the transportation to and from the schools for students who live in remote areas, and in the academic year 1997-98, approximately 195,000 USD was spent on transportation.
There are two Islamic theological seminaries, one in Komotini, and one in Echinos (a small town in Xanthi regional unit inhabited almost exclusively by Pomaks), and under Law 2621/1998, the qualification awarded by these institutions has been recognized as equal to that of the Greek Orthodox seminaries in the country.
Finally, 0.5% of places in Greek higher education institutions are reserved for members of the minority.
All the aforementioned institutions are funded by the state.
The main minority grievance regards the appointment of muftis. The Greek government started appointing muftis instead of holding elections after the death of Mufti of Komotini in 1985, although the Greek government maintained that as the practice of state-appointed muftis is widespread (including in Turkey), this practice should be adhered to in Greece, and as the muftis perform certain judicial functions in matters of family and inheritance law, the state ought to appoint them. Human Rights Watch alleges that this is against Lausanne Treaty which grants the Muslim minority the right to organize and conduct religious affairs free from government interference (although it is unclear whether issues such as inheritance law are religious matters). As such, there are two muftis for each post, one elected by the participating faithful, and one appointed by Presidential Decree. The elected Mufti of Xanthi is Mr Aga and the government recognized one is Mr Sinikoğlu; the elected Mufti of Komotini is Mr Şerif and the government recognized one is Mr Cemali. According to the Greek government, the elections by which Mr Aga and Mr Şerif were appointed were rigged and involved very little participation from the minority. As pretension of (religious) authority is a criminal offence against the lawful muftis under the Greek Penal Code, both elected muftis were prosecuted and on conviction, both were imprisoned and fined. When, however, the case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, the Greek government was found to have violated the right to religious freedom of Mr Aga and Mr Şerif.
Another controversial issue was Article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code, which allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of non-ethnic Greeks who left the country. According to official statistics 46,638 Muslims (most of them being of Turkish origin) from Thrace and the Dodecanese islands lost their citizenships from 1955 to 1998, until the law was non-retroactively abolished in 1998.
The final controversial issue is the use of the ethnic terms "Turk" and "Turkish" when describing the religious minority as a whole. The Greek government does not refer to the Muslim minority by a specific ethnic background such as Turks, as it is a multi-ethnic minority that includes Pomaks and Roma Muslims as well. However, a number of organizations which are doing so, including the "Turkish Union of Xanthi", have been banned for using those terms in their title. A decision of the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 convicted Greece of violating the freedom of association and ruled the re-legalization of the association. However, the Greek authorities refused to re-legalize it.
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- (in English) US Department of State - Religious Freedom, Greece
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- Treaty of Lausanne. Part 1, Peace Treaty. Article 45: "Τα αναγνωρισθέντα δια των διατάξεων του παρόντος Τμήματος δικαιώματα εις τας εν Τουρκία μη μουσουλμανικάς μειονότητας, αναγνωρίζονται επίσης υπό της Ελλάδος εις τας εν τω εδάφει αυτής ευρισκομένας μουσουλμανικάς μειονότητας".
"The rights which are recognized hereby for the non-muslim minorities living in Turkey, are also recognized by Greece for the muslim minorities on Greek territory."
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- 2009 Human Rights Report: Greece U.S Department of State
- Ramadanoglou case Greece Helsinki Monitor