Minorities in Greece - Legal regulations and third party influence

Term Paper, 2007
32 Pages, Grade: 2.3



Appendices Indexiii

1. Introduction

2. What is a minority?

3. Legal conditions and regulations
3.1 The Treaty of Lausanne - a bilateral agreement
3.2 The United Nations and their conventions
3.3 European legal framework

4. Greeks Muslim minority
4.1 Identity issues
4.2 Article 19 of the Greek citizenship code
4.3 Career
4.4 Selection of Muftis

5. Conclusions 17 Bibliography20 Internet Sources


Appendices Index

Appendix A: Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations

Appendix B: Treaty of Lausanne - Section III. Protection of Minorities

Appendix C: Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

Appendix D: Charter of the United Nations.

1. Introduction

This term paper shall take a deeper look at the minorities in Greece. After conveying the theoretical definitions and regulations I will give an evaluation of the influence of specific legal frameworks.

My analysis focuses on the identities of the Moslem /Turkish minorities or Greek Muslim minorities. To clarify, I am referring to the minority population that was excluded from the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey that took place in 1923 and is living in Western Thrace.

With limitations to space I only draw attention to the minority issues in Thrace; the Greek minorities in Istanbul shall be excluded from this paper and are subject of further research. I will concentrate on the legal aspects of the minority rights which are laid down in various contracts and regulations. I will discuss the influence of special institutions on Greek politics concerning the minority issues. After this some special examples how the Greek authorities dealt with special points concerning the minorities are debated with its improvements as well as stagnations or neglects. This will lead to a final estimation of the qualitative and quantitative actions taken on by the Greek government in the last part of the term paper.

if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language.”[1]

This definition should also be applied to the means of this Term Paper.[2]

The Muslim minority in Western Thrace is showing all those characteristics. They are numerically inferior. There is not any official demographic data on the population of that minority and consequently, there is a huge debate on the exact number of its population. The minority population records vary. The last Greek official census that included detailed information on the language and religion of the population in Greece was that of 1951.[3] According to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs the number of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace is estimated to be around 98,000 (1991) to a total of 338,000 inhabitants of Thrace, i.e. 29% of the population.[4] The overwhelming majority of Greeks, over 95% are Orthodox Christians.[5]

They are in a non-dominant position - not like in South Africa where a smaller number of Whites ruled a numerically larger number of blacks for many years.[6] The members of this group are nationals of the state although the Greek government was revoking the Greek citizenship from some of them, which will be discussed in detail later.

They possess ethnic characteristics: Most members of the Muslim minority now consider themselves to be ethnic Turks.[7] Of course they have religious characteristics: This group was excluded at the population exchange according to the treaty of Lausanne whose criteria was religious affiliation. Thus the group’s religion is Islam. Also they have linguistic characteristics. The group’s majority speaks Turkish as mother tongue while there are also the Pomaks who speak a Bulgarian dialect and the Roma. In those features they differ from the rest of the population. Orthodox Christianity and the Greek language are seen as the key determinants of Greek identity.[8]

The group shows a sense of solidarity; they want to preserve their culture, traditions and religion which can be seen for example in the wish to maintain special minority schools where it is taught also in Turkish language. They want to refurbish their mosques and elect their religious leaders.[9]

3. Legal conditions and regulations

In this part the legal framework is explained. Also it contains some statements about the effectiveness of the considered legal conditions. Of course the focus lies on some contracts and conventions and can not include all specific details. Especially there is no way in discussing all bilateral agreements that were signed so only the most important ones will be the object of research. The overall picture is inevitably simplified and generalized.

3.1 The Treaty of Lausanne - a bilateral agreement

The Muslims of Western Thrace have recognised legal status due to the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. This treaty which is still in force today is the peace settlement which followed the Greek Turkish war of 1919-1922. It encompasses an enormous agreement including the main treaty, some side treaties, conventions, declarations and protocols to regulate the relations between Turkey and Greece. Of central importance was the “Convention concerning the exchange of Greek and Turkish populations”[10]. Around 485 000 Turks and 1.38 Mio Greeks were resettled. The main criterion for defining the national minority was religion.[11] Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion who were established in Turkish territory and Greek nationals of the Moslem religion in Greek territory were exchanged to end the entanglement between the two peoples. The exchange of populations was decided with the exception of the Muslims of Western Thrace and the Greeks of Istanbul and of the Islands of Imvros / Gokceada and Tenedos / Bozcaada.[12] Besides these areas the aim was to make the national and ethnic borders between Greeks and Turks congruent and by this increase the national homogeneity of their respective countries. All the three areas became areas of bilateral conflict later.[13] Each country has agreed to ensure: protection of life and liberty without regard to birth, nationality, language, race or religion; free exercise of religion; freedom of movement and of emigration; equality before the law; the same civil and political rights enjoyed by the majority; free use of any language in private, in commerce, in religion, in the press and publications, at public meetings and in the courts; the right to establish and control charitable, religious, and social institutions and schools; primary schools in which instruction is given in both languages; and full protection for religious establishments and pious foundations.[14]

A main point of conflict was the interpretation of special points in the treaty. In Articles 37 through 44[15] Turkey agreed to protect the “non-Moslem minorities” that were excluded from the exchange. The treaty doesn’t list the obligation of Greece concerning its minorities. In Article 45 the two parties agreed that “the rights conferred by the provisions of the present section on the non-Moslem minorities in Turkey will be similarly conferred by Greece on the Moslem minority in her territory.” This Article is the legal basis for the “policy of reciprocity”.[16] The regulations of this treaty were sustained by a number of declarations and treaties which Greece has become a member of since then.[17]

Though more than 80 years old the Lausanne treaty is still in force and is still an important reference point for Greek-Turkish minority issues. The minorities had to rely on the idea of reciprocity which turned out to be difficult because the 2 different minorities were not symmetrical. The fact that Greece and Turkey both signed up to a number of international minority rights documents and conventions implicate that the Lausanne bilateral approach was insufficient.[18]

3.2 The United Nations and their conventions

Greece and Turkey are members of the UNO and signed the Charter of Human Rights already in October 1945. The UN handled the minority issue within the framework of human rights. Articles 1,13, 62 and 76 limit minority rights to negative rights i.e. discrimination is disallowed.[19] Privileges to protect their characteristics were not provided. This can be interpreted as the anxiety that the granting of rights to minorities to maintain their identities might lead to certain difficulties.[20]

The concern that rights given to minorities might threaten the borders of existing states was faced with the Vienna Declaration in 1993.[21] Here it was stated that peoples" rights to self-determination would be recognised as long as they remained on legal grounds and are not threatening the political and territorial integrity of a state which treated the minorities on its territory fairly and equally.[22]

The most important UN obligation today is the “UN declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.”[23] Although the declaration lacks the binding legal force of a treaty, it constitutes an authoritative explication of existing treaty norms protecting the rights of minority group members.[24]

In order to implement the rights of persons belonging to minorities as enunciated in the International Conventions, committees like the Committee on Human Rights have been established to monitor the progress made by States in fulfilling their obligations especially in bringing national laws as well as administrative and legal practice into line with their provisions. States parties undertake to submit periodic reports to the respective Committees outlining the legislative, judicial, policy and other measures which they have taken to ensure the enjoyment of the minority-specific rights contained in the relevant instruments.[25]

The independent experts appointed by the United Nations to investigate and report on the human rights situation in specific countries, as well as thematic issues, often address concerns pertaining to the rights of persons belonging to minorities or confronted with violations of minority rights. The conclusions and recommendations of these special rapporteurs are published and debated, bringing the issues they address to international attention and serving either as guidance for the Governments concerned or as a means of pressure to ease or eliminate the problems which have been identified.[26]

In its consideration of reports submitted by states parties under Article 40 of the covenant the Human Rights Committee considered the initial report of Greece in March 2005. In this report it was stated: “The Committee welcomes the initial report of Greece and the extensive written and oral responses given to the list of issues by the delegation. Although the Committee regrets that the report was submitted almost six years after it was due, it expresses appreciation for a constructive dialogue with the State party.”[27]

Here it can be seen that there are no real tools of pressure that the UN can use to force the member countries to follow their regulations concerning the minorities. Of course the factor of “naming and blaming” can not be neglected but it is questionable in how far it is really efficient when there are no penalties. This is especially a problem when the countries don’t even feel obliged to hand in their reports on time.

3.3 European legal framework

Greece signed the EU Agreement for the Protection of National Minorities in 1997. On the homepage of the Council of Europe it is stated that Greece still didn’t ratify the agreement.[28] The signing of the Framework convention on national minorities of the Council of Europe has been heavily criticised by the then majority deputies and the leadership of the PASOK government abandoned any attempt to ratify it or even open a relevant discussion.[29] It forms the only legally binding treaty specifically to protect minorities.

The Framework Convention on National Minorities provides an essential mechanism for responding to the needs of minorities by agreeing legally binding minimum standards that must be met by States. It has been praised for the effectiveness of its monitoring mechanisms which involve country visits and constructive dialogue between the Council of Europe, governments and minorities. Ratification by Council of Europe States has been widespread and is an important indication of countries' willingness to protect and promote the rights of minorities. The EU convention seeks to address through standards including the right to full and effective equality, education in minority languages and effective participation.[30]

The European Union (EU) promotes the ratification of the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities among European Union accession States. This reveals double standards since some existing EU countries -like Greece- have themselves failed to ratify and implement the Convention.[31]

The Charter on Fundamental Rights of the EU is considered as a non binding legal text. Still it is of major importance for the building of a common European legal order which is a hidden reference to minority otherness. Except of the general clause of non­discrimination, article 22[32] puts the respect for the religious, cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe as an issue of main concern.[33]

In Greece the direct impact of EU policies is limited. A package of two 9-year projects on education of the Turkish-Muslim minority in Thrace and the Roma all over Greece had some positive effects but brought quite limited real changes to the overall legal and political framework of the minority groups. There is no other direct impact of EU policies and law but one could argue that the alignment of Greece general policies, economy and law with the EU standards brought changes in the broader political environment regarding explicitly minority questions. Such as the abolition of art 19 of the citizenship code which affected massively minorities, the abolishment of the restriction zone in the northern borderline of Thrace and the gradual lifting of the administrative discriminatory practices against the Turkish-Muslim minority of Thrace by early 90s. Although these measures can not be considered as an outcome of direct pressure exercised upon Greece they are still signs of political openness towards a more tolerant treatment of minorities. The EU changes the perceptions of the Greek people and it can be argued that the outcome is a greater tolerance and better understanding of different cultures which also has the positive effect on minorities.

There is no basis upon which the EU can monitor minority rights and human rights in member states. It appears to be paradox that the candidate states are under institutional control in order to achieve a higher level of respect for human rights and that as soon as they become a member state they are free to abstain from showing any interest for the very same issues.[34] It is the carrot policy of the European Union that only works as long as the EU can offer membership or threat sanctions to this status. After being member in the European Union - as in the case of Greece - the EU lacks the right mechanisms to control and to apply pressure on the member state. The advantageous affects of EU


[1] What is a minority ? Even though there is not a universally accepted definition of the term “minority”, the one that is nowadays widely used and which was adopted by the UN is that of F.Capotorti. According to him, the term minority is used to define: “a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, in a non­dominant position, whose members - being nationals of the State - possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from the rest of the population and show,

[2] Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. xii.

[3] For different definitions see e.g. Adiyeke (2002), p. 5 ff.

[4] See Papanikolaou (2002), view Internet Sources.

[5] Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1999), view Internet Sources.

[6] See Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. ix ff.

[7] See Adiyeke (2002), p. 6.

[8] See Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. ix ff. A more detailed explanation follows in part 4.2.

[9] See Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. ix ff.

[10] This point is discussed in more detail in part 4.5.

[11] View Appendix A.

[12] See Ackermann (2000), p. 47.

[13] The Islands mentioned should not be considered in this term paper. For detailed information on the development of the minorities on the islands see e.g. Hirschon (ed.) (2004), p.120f.

[14] See Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. xii f.

[15] See Human Rights Watch (1999), view Internet Sources.

[16] View Appendix B.

[17] See Clogg (ed.) (2002), p. 83.

[18] See Ackermann (2000), p. 5f.

[19] See Hirschon (ed.), (2004), p. 131.

[20] View Appendix D.

[21] See Adiyeke (2002), p. 11.

[22] The full text of theVienna declaration can be found in OHCHR (1993), view Internet Sources.

[23] See Adiyeke, (2002), p. 13.

[24] Ibid., p. 13.

[25] See Human Rights Watch (1999), view Internet Sources.

[26] See United Nations (2006), view Internet Sources.

[27] See United Nations (2006), view Internet Sources.

[28] OHCHR (2005), view Internet Sources, highlights by me.

[29] See Council of Europe (2007), view Internet Sources.

[30] See Tsitselikis (2004), view Internet Sources.

[31] See Yahoogroups (2003), view Internet Sources.

[32] Ibid.

[33] The articles can be found in Appendix C.

[34] See Tsitselikis (2004), view Internet Sources.

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Minorities in Greece - Legal regulations and third party influence
Bilgi University İstanbul
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Susanne Voigt (Author), 2007, Minorities in Greece - Legal regulations and third party influence , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/186424


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