Greek Muslims seek Turkish identity

Greece’s Muslim minority, mainly confined to Thrace in the far northeast, is awaiting a court verdict to see whether a ban on their use of the adjective «Turkish» to describe themselves will be lifted. The Greek Supreme Court is due to give a ruling by the end of the month on the fate of the «Turkish Union of Xanthi»- a cultural body closed down in 1984 at the request of the then senior local authority administrator. Xanthi is a Thracian town. At the time, Greek-Turkish relations were tense and the courts ruled that use of the adjective «Turkish» threatened public order and national security. It banned two other local «Turkish» associations as well. Until then, the Xanthi union, a cultural body set up in 1927 which currently has 2,400 members, had «neither created nor known any problem,» according to its president, Cetin Mandaci. It had even survived Greece’s 1967-1974 military junta. Press leaks suggest the court has decided in favor of allowing the union to resume its full name, at the risk of outraging Greek ultranationalists. «The minority is Muslim; romantics who dream of Greco-Turkish friendship must realize that the views of our neighbouring country are hostile,» said local Greek Orthodox Bishop Anthimos. According to Galip Galip, a Greek Socialist member of Parliament of Turkish origin, the 100,000-strong Muslim minority is anxiously awaiting the court’s decision. If it goes against them, he said, the case will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. At stake, says Galip, is the need for the «truth to be re-established» about the identity of the minority, which he would like to see described as «Turkish» or «Turco-Muslim.» The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Turkey banned the minority from calling itself Turkish and ruled that it should be called Muslim. «Some journalists and politicians have gone so far as to call us Islamophones (Muslim-speakers), which makes no sense at all,» said Shukran Raif, a women’s rights activist in the minority community. The government has ruled out reopening the issue, not so much because of the «Turkish threat» but on the grounds of the need to protect other minorities. These include 30,000 Pomaks, Muslims of Slavic origin, and 5,000 Gypsies, according to the Foreign Ministry.