Greece and Turkey clash over minority school closures

Greece has shut 12 Turkish minority primary schools in Western Thrace

Athens and Istanbul have engaged in yet another war of words after the temporary closure of 12 Turkish minority primary schools in Western Thrace in Greece.

Turkey condemned the move, and said it was made under the pretext of “austerity measures and [an] insufficient number of students”.

Ankara said that Turkish minority schools were being discriminated against and claimed that half of such primary learning institutions had been closed, bringing the number to 103.

But Greece accused Turkey of distorting “reality with unfounded accusations and fake news”, and insisted that it protected minorities.

Its foreign ministry said that while there were more than 100 Turkish minority schools in Thrace, there were only three Greek minority institutions operating in Istanbul for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Greece also said that another 24 public primary schools were suspended in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, “a fact that highlights equal and not discriminatory treatment of minority students in Greece”.

Western Thrace, which borders Turkey, is home to a sizeable Muslim minority — estimated by Greece at 120,000 — many of whom are of Turkish origin. Greece says there are only 3,000 Greeks in Turkey.

In their dispute over primary schools, both Ankara and Athens recalled the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which stipulates the protection of minorities in each country.

Turkey said the primary school closures breached the Treaty and were “another indication of the repercussions in the field of education of the assimilation and oppression policies implemented for decades against the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace”.

"While Greece closes primary schools with the pretext of insufficient number of students, it ignores, on the other hand, the demands for opening new Minority secondary/high schools despite the obvious need, and violates the education rights of Minority children with various pretexts," it said.

Greece noted that when the treaty was signed, the two minorities were of equal number in each country.

Greece and Turkey are at odds on a number of issues, including migration and maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Updated: August 3rd 2021, 10:40 AM