NEW YORK – Evripides Stylianidis, member of the Greek Parliament and a former cabinet minister, presented his views on the challenges and opportunities facing Greece’s strategic Thrace region at the headquarters of The National Herald on December 10.
TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris welcomed more than 30 community leaders and thanked them for attending. He said that in recent years, more and more high Greek officials tell him that Thrace is the issue that keeps them awake at night
After presenting a historical overview of the region and bringing everyone up to date on recent development, Stylianidis warned that the government of Turkey supports elements that are calling for autonomy for Thrace’s Muslim population, a massive national security threat. The Thrace’s Evros river frontier constitutes Greece’s most defensible border from attack from Turkey.
Stylianides, who was born in Maroneia, near Komotini in the Rhodope province, has deep and personal knowledge of the region of Greece that not only borders Turkey and but is essentially the border of Europe and Asia, Western and Eastern civilizations and Christianity and Islam.
He pointed out that Thrace is a transportation and energy crossroads and spoke about the economic development that has taken place in recent years and that needs to continue.
Stylianides noted that there are five industrial zones in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace in addition to industrial parks. “All of them have state-of-the-art infrastructure and the government has introduced various legal and tax incentives for investors.”
There is also oil in Thrace, off the island of Thasos, but exploration for more is often interrupted by Turkish threats.
Natural beauty and archaeological sites give the region high tourism potential.
Stylianides described the peaceful coexistence of the different ethnic and religious groups which live among the Greeks of Thrace as an historic achievement of the Greek government.
“Time and again, Turkey has been trying to render this peaceful co-existence into a Greek/Turkish brawl. Turkey focuses on the identity of the Muslim minority.”
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne regulates minority affairs in both countries. It designates the Muslims living in Thrace as “religious minorities,” Stylianidis explained.
Ankara has been trying to alter the treaty by imposing the term Turkish National Minority “as if all Muslims living in Thrace are of Turkish origin,” he said.
There are in fact three Muslim groups, those of Turkish origin, and the Pomaks and Roma who have no Turkish ethnic or linguistic roots. Some Roma are Christians.
The Turkish consulate in Komotini has been working to “Turkify” the two groups to boost totals of Turkish nationalists.
Stylianidis emphasized the great importance of getting out the facts about minorities in Greece, saying that Greece’s policies are “a model of positive discrimination.” The government has facilitated the construction of mosques, the training of religious teachers and protected the vakouf (Muslim) estates.
Muslims enjoy the right to education, property, complete freedom of information and expression and all civic liberties and human rights. The Greek policy is in harmony with and in some ways is more progressive than EU norms.
GREEK CRISIS GRIST FOR ANKARA’S DIPLOMATIC MILL
Unfortunately, one of the effects of the Greek economic crisis is that “platforms are being created for all sorts of foreign nationalistic center to come forward and try to divide local society, thus invalidating the efforts made for decades to build an open and democratic society in Thrace,” Stylianidis said.
The so-called Friendship Peace Equality Party (DEB), which was founded by Ahmet Sadik but became dormant after his death in 1990, was revived for the 2014 Euroelections.
Stylianidis said the DEB aims to elect three Muslim MPs from Rhodope and two from Xanthi, and he is concerned they will try to address themselves to all Muslims in Greece who can vote. In close elections, they can become “kingmakers,” but the real nightmare is that they will demand “administration sharing.”
One of the issues Turkey brings up is the fact that muftis, Muslim clerics, are appointed by the Greek government. Turkey demands the should be elected, but muftis are appointed in 27 of the world’s 28 Muslim states – including Turkey.
“If Greece did not appoint them,” Stylianidis said, “the mosques would be filled with jihadists.” He noted that none of the students of the schools in Thrace has joined ISIS.
Stylianidis said an international campaign to inform people and government officials of the facts is now underway and he urges the community to be active. “We must tell this to American officials,” he said.
It is also critical to maintain or increase the Greek population density. That means job creation.
“More investments are needed…more tax incentives are needed to attract foreign investment. This is the government’s job, but he added “Now that the financial situation in Greece is getting better…it is up to you: If you chose to come to Greece to invest, think of Thrace first,” he tells audiences.
He adds that he and his team and “the whole Greek government will be at your disposal at all times.”