Dr. Polly Thanailaki
(Dr. Polly Thanailaki holds a Ph.D. in Modern History from Democritus University of Thrace, Hellas and was a visiting- scholar at Harvard University, USA. She is the Coordinator of the working-group for Gender Equity of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies “National Regeneration” (IGMEA) based in Athens, Greece).

Prof. Philippos Tsalides
(Professor of Electronics at Democritus University of Thrace and he is the President of the Executive Board of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies “National Regeneration” (IGMEA) based in Athens, Greece).

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

Thrace has always been the field of religious propagandas and a contested area on the part of its neighbors in history, because the aforementioned region had- and still has- a profound strategic value, as it is situated in a significant geopolitical spot in the Balkans being the portal between East and West. Since the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the population of the Muslim minority in Thrace has increased, contrasted to the Hellenic Orthodox minority in Turkey, which is collapsing as the community is now far too small to sustain itself demographically.

The article 40 of the Treaty of Lausanne, relating to the education of the Muslim minority, recognizes to the members of the community the right to establish their own educational institutions and schools and to use freely their mother tongue in them, while article 41 obliges both Hellas and Turkey to supply ‘’in public education, the appropriate facilities for securing the [right] of teaching the mother- language in the primary schools’’. That, in the case of the Muslim minority, meant the teaching of the Turkish language to the Turkish-speaking students, the Pomak language to the Pomaks and the Roma language to the Romas. But, in the long run, the only language that was finally used was the Turkish one.

Women’s status within the Muslim communities in Thrace must also be a case-study, as females had always been socially and economically marginalized and also excluded from the access of the right to knowledge. If we go back to the turn of 19th century in the Ottoman Empire, we will see that the Muslim families did not send their young daughters to school because they did not consider education a significant asset for them. Often journals and newspapers encouraged parents to send their young girls to school by putting forward the argument that ‘’education did not bad to religion: to the contrary [if girls were educated] then they would be more religious, virtuous and have high moral values’’. This effort brought fruits and had as a result the establishment of schools for girls.

The penetration of the Turkish language and culture (in the Muslim minority) in the context of the Cold War was a desirable prospect for the Hellenic and NATO policy. Thereafter, and until 1974, the short-lived Hellenic-Turkish rapprochements worked completely negatively for the Pomaks, since no Hellenic government had the political will to raise an issue that should bother the Turkish side, despite the fact that it concerned an area within the boundaries of the Hellenic state. The Hellenic-Turkish cultural protocols (1951 and 1968) were signed in the above climate and validated only the provisions made for the Turkish language and education or those implied in the articles of the Treaty of Lausanne. These measures were largely taken for the sake of cohesion of the NATO allies and the good climate in the Hellenic-Turkish relations, given the danger of Bulgarian communism.

According to the Cultural Agreement signed on April 20th, 1951, it was resolved the setting up, by each side, of cultural institutions, the exchange of academic staff, professors, students and scientific scholars, the establishing of scholarships, the equivalence of examinations, the exchange of books, journals and radio programs, as well as the teaching of the language, literature and history of each country on the territory of the other. Although the aforementioned agreement did not state at all that the official language was the Turkish, in practice this was then introduced in the minority schools and the start for following the curriculum of the Turkish Ministry of Education was made. The extension of the 1951 Agreement and the full Turkification of the minority education were put into effect with the cultural protocol of the 20th December 1968.

The provisions of this protocol defined that those of the subjects taught in Hellenic until 1968 were to continue being taught in the same language, while the rest was agreed to be taught in the minority language, being assumed that this language was the Turkish. The 3065/54 Legislative Decree (Government Gazette 239 9/10/54) and the Ministerial Decision numbered 149251/4/6/58 (Government Gazette162/4/6/58) that regulated the issues concerning the minority education, were based on provisions of bilateral agreements. Thus, the Turkish language was introduced as the sole minority language, despite the fact that it was the mother tongue of the 50% of the minority population only.

It has been repeatedly noted that the minority schools were disadvantageous and also thought of as schools of ‘’imperfect knowledge’’. Also, they were considered as functioning in a racist way against the Muslim students, since the latter were not provided with the same level of education offered to the rest of the citizens of Hellas. Moreover, the worst thing was that through minority education the Muslim students were considered (by the wider society) as being a ‘’ghetto’’, because the insufficient education provided for them impeded their school performance even to this day.

For a new approach regarding the minority education on an institutional level the following are suggested:

1. Education should be one, common and equal for all Hellenic citizens, Christians and Muslims. Only in this way can respect of both linguistic and cultural identity of the Muslim minority be established.
2. The Hellenic state is obliged, according to the Constitution, to introduce the teaching of Koran in the state schools.
3. The Hellenic state is also obliged, according to the Constitution, to establish state schools in the Hellenic territory. The minority schools can continue to exist as complementary only and function beyond the compulsory and uniform syllabus for all the citizens of this country. Parents should be given the choice to select the school for their children. Moreover, it should be scheduled the parallel operation of both state and minority schools.
4. The introduction of strictly pedagogical criteria for the development and implementation of school syllabi.
5. Thrace shows the highest index of illiteracy throughout the country. Therefore, a key priority should be to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for Lifelong Learning to address illiteracy by developing specific teaching methods for adult Muslims, creating more second-chance schools, establishing libraries and developing educational support programs.
6. The upgrading of the Special Pedagogical Academy of Thessalonica should be planned in the way so as to be abolished in its present form and transformed into a university level four-year department, becoming part of the Primary Education Department of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica (AUTH). More specifically:

a. The creation of a stream for minority education in the Department of Primary Education in Aristotle University.
b. The Primary Education Department of AUTH should offer two types of degrees: one general and one of minority education.
c. The students who wish to follow the stream of minority education should be admitted through the national examinations system with the prerequisite and obligation of having been examined in the Turkish language as a special subject.
d. With a special emulation program to address two-speed graduates and to target at their balanced absorption, the hitherto graduates of the Special Pedagogical Academy of Thessalonica have to be assimilated with the graduates of the Primary Education Department of AUTH.

In the decade of the 1990s the Hellenic State has followed a different policy in Thrace, firstly by removing the outdated legal framework applicable to minority populations and, secondly, with the adoption of laws and with the provision of financial incentives for the development of the region. It has also made steps towards taking measures in order to develop the local economy. Unfortunately, the effort did not work as expected, resulting in Thrace being one of the poorest regions of the country.

Today, although we experience political and economic crisis, we create new risks for Thrace, such as the economic and demographic decline, the immigration of scientific personnel, the influx of immigrants, etc. Under these circumstances it is necessary to make public opinion sensitive in order to push-in its turn- the political leadership of the country for addressing the problems of Thrace more actively, since it is clear that there is no room for other mistakes.

About the Authors’ CVs

Polly Thanailaki holds a Ph.D. in Modern History from Democritus University of Thrace, Hellas and was a visiting- scholar at Harvard University, USA. She is the Coordinator of the working-group for Gender Equity of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies “National Regeneration” (IGMEA). She has written three books, has published numerous articles in international and Hellenic refereed journals and has also presented papers in international refereed conferences. Her main research interests focus on History of Education and Gender with emphasis on International Relations during 19th and 20th centuries.

Philippos Tsalides is Professor of Electronics at Democritus University of Thrace and he is the President of the Executive Board of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies “National Regeneration” (IGMEA).

We use cookies

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.