Greek Muslims seek status of ethnic Turks

Greek Muslims of Turkish descent are hoping an upcoming Supreme Court ruling will let the minority to call itself Turkish, long forbidden because of Greek tensions with archrival Turkey. For years, Greece has refused to recognize the group, a remnant of violent population exchanges in the 1920s, as an ethnic Turkish minority. [Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, there is no Turkish ethnic minority in Thrace, just Greek Muslims. Under the same treaty, the Muslims of Thrace and the Greeks of Istanbul were exempted from the exchange of populations that followed the 1920-22 Greco-Turkish war.] But the Supreme Court is to decide later this month whether to let a union of ethnic Turks have the word «Turkish» in its name. «We are Turks, we have been living in Greece for decades but we are Turks,» Socialist deputy Galip Galip, one of only two Greek Muslim MPs, told Reuters yesterday. «Religion is just not enough to characterize these people.» The Turkish Union of Xanthi, one of many Muslim groups in the northeastern city, has been battling for decades to have its name recognized. Sensitive to public hostility to Turkey, whose Ottoman Empire ruled Greece for about 500 years, overwhelmingly Christian Orthodox Greece has preferred to identify the 120,000-strong minority by religion. «For the past 83 years there has been only a Muslim community in (the) Thrace (region),» local bishop Anthimos told reporters this week. «Those romantics seeking Greek-Turkish friendship should finally realize that our neighbor’s aims continue to be hostile and of a conquering nature,» he said in a clear reference to Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s efforts to improve ties with Turkey. Papandreou said in 1999 that as long as there were no territorial demands, the minority could describe itself as of Turkish origin. But Athens has continued to accuse Ankara of stoking ethnic tensions in the region by supporting the northern Greek minority and recognizing it as Turkish.