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Assessment for Muslims in Greece

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Muslims in Greece, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Greece Facts
Area:    131,957 sq. km.
Capital:    Athens
Total Population:    10,662,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

It is unlikely that the Turks in Greece will begin to use militant strategies in attempting to improve their position in the Greek society. This has not been a strategy that has been used in the past, and the group lacks the organization to plan such a strategy. Additionally, there has been an improvement in relations between both the Turks and Greeks inside Greece, and between the Greek and Turkish government. As a result of the mutual cooperation between the two countries after each was hit by earthquakes have opened a new dialog between the two countries. This 'earthquake diplomacy' has not removed the prejudice that exists in the populations, but there is a new willingness to consider some change.

The group does possess the risk factors that tend to lead to protest: repression, political and economic discrimination, support from organized kindred groups, and a fairly new democracy. It is therefore likely that protests will continue, and possibly escalate. If the Turks in Greece organize to greater degree, then the possibility of further protests is enhanced. Of course, none of these statements apply to Muslims outside of Thrace, or non-Turkish Muslims in the general population. While they are still forced to identify their religion on their identity cards, the way other Muslims do, and are subject to the same forms of discrimination, they do not enjoy the same protections under the Treaty of Lausanne. For them, there has been no improvement whatsoever.

Analytic Summary

Under the treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greco-Turkish war in 1923, ethnic Greeks in Turkey and ethnic Turks in Greece were exchanged to be reunited with their kinsmen (TRADITN = 8). However, an exception was made for Turks living in the area of Thrace and Greeks living in Istanbul (TRANS = 1). As a result the Turk minority is concentrated in this area of Greece (GROUPCON = 3). While not considered to be racially different from the Greek population (RACE = 0), the group does speak Turkish, not Greek (LANG = 1), and they have different traditions and customs (CUSTOM = 1) and what has been historically most important, they are Muslim, not Greek Orthodox (BELIEF = 3). Due to their concentration and the history of animosity between Greeks and Turks, the group is highly cohesive (COHESX9 = 5). It should be noted that there are other Muslims in Greece, found mainly in the Dedocanese Islands, but they have assimilated into Greek culture, with only their religion being different from the majority.

The Turks have endured and continue to endure discrimination and prejudice in most aspects of life in Greece from both the government and the population as a whole. The Turks only face minimal demographic disadvantages (DEMSTR00 = 2) due to their higher birth rate compared to the Greeks, but there are problems in the number of people moving from the country to urban areas. There is also the problem of the Greek government making it easy for Greeks to obtain land from Turks mainly through providing low interest loans to Greeks who buy Muslim land (usually at a very generous price) but there are also restrictions on the purchase and sale of property by Turks. It must be acknowledged that there appears to be a movement to improve the lot of the Turks, and there have been remedial policies in some areas. One of these areas is in the political arena, where the Turks have faced a history of social discrimination and restrictions (POLDIS03 = 3). Today, while Turks do play an important role in local politics in western Thrace, their participation in national politics is limited. In recent years, however, Turks have been elected to the national Parliament. While Islamic candidates are generally on the ballots of the major parties, few of them are elected. All citizens in Greece must have their religious affiliation on their identification, which makes the Turks easily identifiable, and a target for discrimination. There are also social restrictions on Turks gaining employment in the police force and in the military.

Culturally, there has also been a considerable amount of neglect for Greece's mosques which have been allowed to deteriorate and many have been converted for other uses. Also, the Greek government retains and exercises the right to appoint the official religious leaders of its Islamic population. The group also faces discrimination in education. It is difficult to get teachers who are trained who can teach in the Turkish schools, and the Turkish students are not allowed to learn Greek, which hurts them economically. There are allegations of discrimination in entry to universities by non-Greek speakers. Also, there are allegations that the Greeks obstruct the entry of teachers and educational materials from Turkey as well as what is considered to be the unjust closings of primary schools in several villages. The discrimination against the group economically is due to social exclusion by the Greek majority (ECODIS03 = 3). The Turks are denied jobs and other economic opportunities because they are Turkish, and as a result they are excluded from the economy. There is informal discrimination in the obtaining of building permits, tractor licenses and other documents necessary to start and/or run a small business or exercise certain professions. Basic services in Turkish areas are also insufficient.

The Turks face governmental repression in the form of police surveillance. Fortunately there have not been reports recently of inter-group conflict between the Greeks and the Turks, which has occurred in the past (COMCON03 = 0), ranging from riots in the streets to Muslim homes and businesses being destroyed.

Turks are primarily represented by the Western Thrace Solidarity Association. Turkish politicians can also be found in most of the major political parties, and they as individuals have attempted to advocate for the group. As well, the Turkish government has provided encouragement and pressure on the Greek government over the Turks' treatment. Other non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch also monitor the Turks situation and disseminate information.

The group demands greater participation in politics at the state level, as very few Turk politicians are elected to office compared to their population. The group also is demanding equal rights with the rest of the Greek population, which would include improvements to infrastructure in Turkish areas and an end to the policy of helping Greeks in obtaining Turk land. A main concern is improvement in the educational system and allowing Turks to learn Greek in schools, so that the Turks can compete with Greeks for better paying jobs, and improve their economic opportunities. Finally, the group wants to ensure the protection of their culture and way of life.

Considering that the Turks have been in the region for a long period it is somewhat surprising that the first organized protests did not occur until the late 1980s (PROT85X = 3). Since then the group has continued to lobby the government, although without any organizations, this protest has usually taken the form of verbal opposition, which is rarely reported in the media (PROT01-03 = 1). Only in 1995 was there ever any activity which could be classified as militant (REB95 = 1) and since then no further activity has been reported. (REB03 = 0)


Couloumbis, Theodore A. The United States, Greece and Turkey: The Troubled Triangle, Praeger, 1983.

Shinn, Rinn S. Greece: A Country Study, Washington DC: American University, 1985.

US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Greece for 1988, February 1989.

US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Greece for 1990, February 1991.

US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Greece for 1991, February 1992.

US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Greece for 1993, February 1994.

US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Greece for 1994, February 1995.

Lexis/Nexis: Reuters, 1985-2003.

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