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Turkey Says Greece Restricts Muslim Religion Teachers, Students

Αssociated Press

ATHENS - Muslims who live in Greece pray inside the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Turkey has stepped up demands that Greece give more rights to a Muslim minority near the countries border and to cancel a circular said to keep students and and teachers from performing their religious duties.

In a tweet, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Greek authorities should “reverse the decision that restricts the students and teachers that go to the elementary schools of Turkish minorities in Western Thrace from performing their religious obligations,” reported Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News.

The Western Thrace Turkish Minority Advisory Board said said the practice in Rhodope and Evros prefectures is against the law and “is cunning, to say the least, if not a snide attitude,” the report added.

“We call on all authorities to respect our sensitivities and to make the arrangements that take these sensitivities into consideration at once,” the board's statement added.

There are some 100,000 people called a Muslim minority or Greek-Muslims in the area although they are Turkish, a semantic war of words between the countries in which Greece falls back on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne – which Turkey doesn't recognize any more.

In May, While refusing to open the Halki Seminary in Constantinople after 50 years and converting the ancient revered Agia Sophia Orthodox Church there into a mosque, Turkey insisted on more rights for Muslims living in Greece's Western Thrace region.

Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran accused Greece of violations and was upset mosques in Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki weren't being allowed to operate although an official state-paid mosque opened in Athens.

He spoke at a news conference in Turkey’s Consulate General in Komotini as he visited Thrace and Thessaloniki and said Turkish officials have asked Greek authorities to open mosques, Turkey's pro-government The Daily Sabah said.

Turkey said the rights of what it calls Turks but Greece identifies only as Muslim, were being violated and that it was guaranteed under the treaty Turkey doesn't accept unless invoking to its advantage.

Greece's Foreign Ministry rejected the charges and said that the Muslim community in northern Greece is doing well but that they're not Turks even if they really are.

“Greece remains firmly committed to its international obligations, fully respecting international law, which is a compass of its foreign policy,” sources not named told the newspaper Kathimerini then.

“The Muslim minority, which is flourishing, numbers about 120,000 inhabitants, Greek citizens,” the same sources added. “Any attempt to distort reality and falsify this information, wherever it comes from, is self-evidently dismissible and needs no further comment.”