The education of the Turkish community in Western Thrace is regulated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and subsequent bilateral agreements between Greece and Turkey. The Turkish community in Western Thrace, Greece is granted with the right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institution, any school and other establishment for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein.
This special education system with complex legal provisions which governs their establishment and operation are registered as private schools, but they are under the direct control of the state. The autonomy in education and religious affairs was in practice until the Greek military junta regime in 1967, but was not restored after the return to democracy in 1974. The educational autonomy has been undermined and diminished by governmental practices over years. The Greek government has wide-ranging control over the minority schools at all levels.
At the pre-school level, minority children are obliged to attend state kindergartens where the instruction is only in Greek under Law 3518/2006. The extension of compulsory education does not include minority schooling system and there are no minority/private kindergartens or minority/private nurseries for the minority children to learn their mother tongue in their early childhood. The Government of Greece has rejected proposals to open Turkish-Greek bilingual kindergartens in the existing bilingual minority primary schools, despite many applications by the community organizations for establishment of bilingual kindergartens within the special education system and establishment of other private bilingual kindergartens in the region.
Due to the lack of bilingual minority kindergartens, parents have no option and should send their children to Greek-language state kindergartens despite the risk of losing their linguistic and cultural identity.
The right to education in mother tongue is safeguarded by the Lausanne Peace Treaty. However, Greece does not grant the Turkish community to have education in mother tongue at the pre-school level on grounds that the Treaty of Lausanne does not include pre-school education. The right not to be discriminated is violated because the Greek government, fails, without an objective and reasonable justification to treat differently Turkish children who speak a different language other than Greek.
OPINIONS IN RECOMMENDATIONS OF RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS
The former UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall commented that a commonly stated problem is the absence of bilingual kindergartens for the Muslim minority. The rapporteur noted that this would allow better knowledge of both Turkish and Greek from an early age therefore providing benefits in terms of integration, and enabling greater choice of whether to go to minority or Greek public primary school.
During fact-finding mission that Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe(ABTTF) and Friendship, Equality, Peace Party organized on 16- 20 October 2012 with the participation of Hans Heinrich Hansen, President of Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), MEP François Alfonsi (France) and Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l, the delegation found that the problems in the field of education are alarming. The rapporteur Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l, stated it his report entitled, “Ethnic Turks in Greece: A Muslim Minority” that a number of families have reluctantly decided to send their children to Greek-language state kindergartens despite the risk of losing their linguistic and cultural identity. Human Rights Without Frontiers recommended to the Greek authorities - to integrate kindergartens into minority bilingual primary schools.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe (ECRI) mentioned in its fifth report on Greece in 2015 that there are no special measures for the minority under Law No. 3518/2006 which has made pre-school education compulsory. The Government has rejected proposals to open Turkish- Greek bilingual kindergartens in the existing bilingual primary schools. ECRI referred to a case in September 2012 when the regional school inspectors in Echinos, Xanthi Prefecture, refused to enrol 20 children who had not attended the obligatory (Greeklanguage only) kindergarten and dismissed a bilingual school’s principal, who had registered and taught them. ECRI noted that it is of the opinion that children’s right to schooling should not be jeopardised.
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
ABTTF urges Greek authorities to establish bilingual minority kindergartens in region in line with the minority schooling system and allow the Turkish community in Western Thrace to establish private kindergartens where the language of education will be Turkish and Greek.
The ECRI recommends that the authorities take all necessary steps to ensure that minority children have access to a bilingual or monolingual elementary school, as per their parents’ choice. It also recommends that the authorities enter into dialogue with the representatives of the minority to solve this problem.