The educational problem of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace in the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

Tue, 26 Sep 2023 10:11 GMT
One of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne for the Turkish Minority is autonomous education.
The educational problem of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace in the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

One hundred years after the signing of the document that guarantees the security of our cultural existence, belonging and law, which was one of the conditions attached to the acceptance of a treaty that ensured peace a hundred years ago, questioning its fate today has reached a critical stage more than ever.

Perhaps the only consolation of the Western Thrace Turks in the face of changing conditions in an unexpected period of time a hundred years ago is that Türkiye has the first degree say in the determination of their fate with the Treaty of Lausanne. Again, within the framework of this treaty, their rights and law are under the guarantee of a multinational treaty, Türkiye being in the first place. While the Treaty obliges Greece, to which the Turks of Western Thrace are bound by citizenship, to exercise the rights granted to them, reminding this country of its obligations binds the other parties to the Treaty, at least in conscience, due to their historical responsibilities.

One of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the Turkish minority by the Treaty of Lausanne is autonomous education. In order to understand the painful story of Turkish education today, one hundred years after the Treaty, it is necessary to look at the mistakes and omissions that led to the degeneration of this institution in the last century. In this framework, it is necessary to make the following observation: In the Turkish Minority, a contentless and dysfunctional "education" model was imposed in accordance with the spirit and acquis of the Treaty on education, especially after the 60s, ignoring the historical realities at every stage of the process and overlapping with the political objectives of the Greek administration. However, the Treaty of Lausanne never authorises such an interpretation. When talking about minority education, first of all, it is necessary to emphasise the following. Turkish education also expresses the identity and character of the community. These can never be separated from each other.

Since the beginning of the last century, the Greek administration, taking advantage of the weaknesses of the sociological structure of the Turkish Minority and instrumentalising religious values, started to actively intervene in the minority education by confronting the society within itself. As a result of the disagreement in the society (old and new script), the administration, which encouraged and supported the opposing dual education model, started to make its power felt increasingly on the institutions of the group known as "conservative".

The 1950s have a different characteristic in this process. The Greek administration reveals a different profile in its view of the Turkish Minority. In this period when the Turkish-Greek friendship rarely experienced its spring, Celal Bayar High School was established in Komotini. The Greek administration makes a move worthy of friendship by deeming the name "Turkish School" appropriate for all schools in Western Thrace. However, the reason for this surprise move of the administration, taking advantage of the constructive atmosphere of friendship, is related to another "national issue" of Greece, which has nothing to do with the Turks of Western Thrace, and this is the subject of a separate analysis.

In 1967, the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, in addition to the communists who suffered the wrath of the junta government established in Greece as a result of a military coup d'état, also suffered greatly from the seven-year oppressive regime. The practices implemented during the junta period were adopted by the subsequent governments and the foundation stones of a "minority politics" were laid during this period. It was in that period that the Turkish signboards in Turkish schools were taken down by force. There is another feature of those years that has gone down in history. Within the framework of various restrictions imposed on Turkish language, the Greek junta, backed by the support of the "conservatives" in the minority, established ThSPA (Thessaloniki Special Pedagogical Academy) in 1968. This was a very important break in terms of minority education; this move, which was an important milestone of a long-term project of the administration, was the first concrete sign that the autonomous education provided by the Treaty of Lausanne would be shelved.

The terminology related to the science of pedagogy was theoretically pronounced in abundance in the minority agenda of the Greek administration, which started to take education under its control institutionally from the 1970s onwards. For example, SÖPA was established with such a justification. However, this step, which was undertaken with political criteria rather than pedagogical concerns, has not yielded any positive results in the name of education beyond being an illusion devoid of knowledge and scientific equipment. The TsPA project was reinforced with the laws 694/1977 and 695/1977 approximately ten years after its establishment. From that date onwards, the Greek administration started to have a say in minority education, where the term "Turkish School" had already been banned. Step by step, every teacher assigned to the minority schools, which were taken under the state's control, gained the right to become a civil servant. This was a gateway of hope for many of the minority people who were economically intimidated; but unfortunately, this choice also had a significant impact on the outcome of minority education that led to the present day.

Another development that ignores the autonomous status of minority education in the institutional sense was the introduction of the Turkish name in the 1980s.

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