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Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

Georgios Niarchos

London School of Economics and Political Science


This paper examines the policies of Greece and Turkey towards their respective national minorities, as defined in the Treaty of Lausanne. Although since 1923, both minorities have been repressed by their governments, the intensity, the instruments and the outcomes of such repression have been different in the two countries. The study explores the conduct of anti-minority policies by reference to major Greek-Turkish crisis events, which often served as pretexts for minority repression. Existing studies on Greek-Turkish affairs mainly focus on the events of the Greek-Turkish war, 1919-1923 and the 1923 population exchange. On the other hand, there is an often-polemical bibliography from both sides on current issues. Though minority issues also form part of the debate, the arguments are often limited to a comparative narrative of repressive acts, aiming to demonstrate the faults and sins of the ‘other’ side. This paper aims to contribute to the current literature, by developing a more sober analysis of the minority policies of the two countries that is both comparative in nature and historically informed. Hence, the present paper examines the elements of continuity and change in the implementation and development of minority policies in Greece and Turkey, aiming to explain the differences in the intensity, instruments and outcomes of their application. In this context, the present study argues that the disparities in the process of nation-building and the development of national- ism in Greece and Turkey constitute the reasons for the differ- ent development of their minority policies and the current con- dition of their respective minorities. The variables that are ex- amined include the content of nationalist ideology, the different phases of its development, the main tools for its implementa- tion and repression of minority ‘voices’ and the external factors that influence the two countries in the implementation of their policies.


Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 6, No. 1, 2006

Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

The decline of Ottoman power in the Balkans in the 19 th century gave the Balkan nationalists the opportunity to seek their political emancipation at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. The rise of the Balkan states, mainly Greece, had a parallel effect upon the Ottoman society where a distinctive sense of Turkishness emerged as a result of military setbacks in the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the Greek-Turkish War (1919-1922). The defeat of the Greek army and the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 acted as a catalyst on both sides of the Aegean Sea, as it marked the end of the Greek ‘Great Idea’ and the establishment of the Turkish Republic in place of the decaying Ottoman Empire. The parallel signing of the Convention for the Compulsory Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey aimed to eliminate a source of conflict, with the departure of 1,500,000 Greek-Orthodox from Turkey and 350,000 Muslims from Greece. The Greek-Orthodox of Istanbul, Gökçeada/Imvros and Bozcaada/Tenedos and the Muslims of Western Thrace were the only exceptions.

Although Articles 37-45 of the Lausanne Treaty provided specific guarantees for basic individual and communal rights creating a framework that should have determined the conduct of minority policies in Greece and Turkey thereafter, minority repression has been apparent in both countries over a long period of time. However, differences in the means and intensity of anti-minority measures have created a striking contrast: the substantial Greek-Orthodox minority has almost disappeared, while the Muslim minority has slightly increased. Since 1923, the Greek-Orthodox have dwindled from 111,000 to 2-3,000, while Thracian Muslims currently number 120-130,000 from 106,000; though according to their birth rates they should be more numerous (Helsinki Watch 1999: 18-20,33).

This article examines the elements of continuity and change in the imple- mentation and development of minority policies in Greece and Turkey, aim- ing to explain the differences in the intensity, instruments and outcomes of their application. In this context, this paper argues that the disparities in the process of nation-building and the development of nationalism in Greece and Turkey are the reasons for the different development of their minority policies and the current condition of their respective minorities. The first section of the article discusses the major themes that appear with respect to the way both countries perceived their minorities and implemented particular anti-minority measures. The second section analyses the particu-


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

lar elements of continuity and change in the minority policies of Greece and Turkey, with reference to the different phases of development of nationalist ideology, the tools for its implementation and repression of minority ‘voices’, and the external factors that have influenced the conduct of minority policies. Finally, the conclusion will extend to address current issues that both countries face vis-à-vis minority rights, within the context of a global multicultural environment that challenges existing national ideals and perceptions of nationhood.

Minority ‘Accounts’

The character of the objects of minority repression is important in the devel- opment of the policies of Greece and Turkey. It is significant that the Greek- Orthodox, an urban population that was politically and socially mobilised, departed from Turkey in a small period of time. The wartime capital tax led to loss of property and wealth and consequently their trust of the authorities, while physical persecution during the 1955 riots and the mass expulsions of 1964 created a fear for its future. Indeed, state involvement in the adminis- tration of communal property as well as restrictions on Greek education and the freedom of the Orthodox clergy, affected the minority’s considerable economic and social status and communal life, thus leading to its gradual emigration.

On the other hand, the Muslim minority in Greece managed to preserve its numerical strength, despite its low level of urbanisation and social mobility. Perhaps its character as an agricultural community, attached to the land from which it gained its living, contributed to its reluctance to abandon its roots. As it was a conservative and religiously-orientated community with low levels of education, the provision of poor education by the Greek authorities did not make a difference to everyday living, even if it created a burden for its further advancement. Most protests from the minority related to issues affecting their religious affairs. Moreover, mainly during the 1980s and early 1990s, measures of ‘administrative harassment’, like difficulties in obtaining credit, driving and hunting licenses, were not of the intensity that would cause their mass emigration, despite their obvious discriminatory character.

The fate of the two minorities was also related to the way both countries perceived the concept of minority protection. For Greek policy-makers, the existence of a minority is a legal issue. Hence, they only acknowledge it if it has been explicitly defined in bilateral or international agreements, thus recognising a Muslim religious minority, as defined in the Lausanne Treaty (Alexandris 2003: 117-119; Herakleides 2001: 303-306). During the Lausanne


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negotiations, the Turkish delegation insisted on the minorities’ religious character, implying that after the population exchange, there were no ethnic communities left in Anatolia (Divani 1999: 67). Turkey has subsequently also insisted on a legal interpretation of the minority issue. Hence, for the most part, the concept of minority in both countries has assumed a religious character in rhetoric, but an ethnic one in practice. For most of the period since World War II, both countries perceived their minorities as potential national threats, as the Greek-Orthodox and the continuous existence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul were believed to nourish the revival of Byzantium. Conversely, the Greek authorities feared that Thracian Muslims could raise demands for self-determination similar to the Turkish-Cypriots.

Other factors responsible for the minorities’ current condition are the inten- sity and effectiveness of the applied measures and the consistency of their application. It appears that Turkish policies were more pro-active in character. In 1942-44 and 1955 the Greek-Orthodox faced physical and economic repression through heavy taxation and wide destruction of communal property. Whilst in the first case the particular policy was initiated under the pretext of illegal war-profits, in the second case it was based on political interests over Cyprus. The inter-communal fighting in the island since 1963- 64 also provided the pretext for measures that aimed at putting pressure on the Greek side to agree to concessions over Cyprus. 1 Apart from mass expulsions, most measures curtailed minority education and the Patriarchate’s ecumenical character. There were few periods of détente for the minority, which usually followed some improvement in bilateral relations dictated by other international priorities, like the NATO accession of Greece and Turkey. Even then, anti-minority legislation was only suspended for the short-term. Several past measures still remain in force, such as restrictions related to property rights, the self-administration of communal property and minority education, and the freedoms of the Patriarchate. After World War II and the effect of the capital tax, the 1951 Turkish census raised the number of Greek-Orthodox to 112,665. In the aftermath of the 1955 riots and tension over Cyprus, Greek sources estimated the Greek-Orthodox minority to be 80,000, because many started selling their properties and immigrating to Greece. The 1963-64 expulsions culminated this process of decline with only 48,096 Greek-Orthodox remaining in 1965, less than 8,000 after the 1974 Cyprus crisis and about 2,000-3,000 today. 2

The immediate post-Lausanne Greek governments did not have a coherent and consistent minority policy. Rather, they adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude which was largely dependent upon the bilateral relations with Turkey. Be- fore World War II, Greek policy presented several misconducts and omis-


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

sions, but it was not hostile towards the Muslim population, which resisted the secular Kemalist reforms. The Muslims were not perceived as a poten- tial danger and the authorities generally safeguarded their basic rights. Yet this was also a policy of indifference, as the authorities did not try to inte- grate the Muslims with the majority within a regional environment, which would guarantee their distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. 3 In the early 1950s, when both countries were integrating into NATO, Greece recognised the minority as ‘Turkish’, neglecting its internal ethnic divisions. 4 However, at least since 1959, already in the heat of the Cyprus controversy, Greece realised that it had greatly contributed to the penetration of Kemalist elements and ideas in Thrace that aimed at ethnically ‘Turkifying’ a religious population. When in 1955 a pre-meditated bomb incident in the Thessaloniki Turkish Consulate caused the well-planned outbreak of anti-Greek riots in Istanbul, the Greek authorities took measures to prevent any retaliation on the Muslims. 5 Nevertheless, the Cyprus conflict and the perceived penetration of Turkish nationalism in the minority created fears that the Muslims could raise demands similar to those of the Turkish-Cypriots’ for union with Turkey. Gradually, Greek policy acquired a reactive character that sought to control the further infiltration of Kemalism in Thrace and retaliate for the persecution of the Greek-Orthodox in Turkey. Emphasis was placed on the re-emergence of the Pomaks’ ethnic character and the control of purchases of land by the minority (Poulton 1999: 85-89). 6 Such measures were not of great intensity, and their administrative character was not enough to cause mass emigration. However, the minority felt the repercussions of the Cyprus conflict, with measures of ‘administrative harassment’ and the application of Article 19 of the Greek Nationality Code, although its numbers appeared stable with 108,000 Muslims living in Thrace in 1961, 106,000 in 1974 and about 120,000-130,000 today. 7

These observations introduce another theme related to the instruments of repression. The Greek authorities used fragmentary measures to control political developments in the Muslim minority that could raise security concerns for Greece. However, in 1967, the Greek junta followed a clear anti-minority policy with the intensification of such measures. This was not a policy of physical persecution and it did not appear officially in governmental bills. Article 19 of the Nationality Code, initially drafted under US instructions in the heat of the Cold War, was the exception, and according to the Greek government, during 1955-1998, 60,000 people lost their citizenship. How many were Muslims remains unknown. 8 The application of administrative measures was a subtle practice that in the level of local bureaucracy created trivial difficulties in socio-economic affairs aiming to force the minority to emigrate. Furthermore, with restrictions imposed over religious endowments


Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 6, No. 1, 2006

and the arbitrary appointment of muftis, the junta tried to control religious affairs through ‘loyal’ elements. A similar process occurred in education, which remained in a state of poor quality, thus affecting the Muslims’ future prospects and contributing to their further isolation and segregation. As the end of the junta in 1974 coincided with the most serious Greek-Turkish crisis since 1923, the first democratic Greek governments retained several elements of the previous policy. However, unrest within the minority, international protest, the need to conform to EU norms on human rights, and the bankruptcy of this minority conduct led to its gradual lifting since 1991.

In Turkey, most anti-minority measures, like the capital tax, were bills of the Turkish National Assembly. Others were secret decrees of the military- controlled National Security Council or the local authorities, such as the ‘Eritme Programy’ (‘Dissolution Plan’) for the de-Hellenisation of Gökçeada/ Imvros and Bozcaada/Tenedos (Greek Parliament 1999: 60; Helsinki Watch Report 1992: 27-32), the freezing of property rights of the Istanbul Greek- Orthodox (Alavanos 1994) 9 and the imposition of criteria for the Patriarchal election. 10 When the Cyprus crisis occurred, the anti-minority feelings took the form of physical assaults, carried out by semi-official elements. 11 Indicatively, the 1955 riots were organised by the ‘Cyprus is Turkish’ asso- ciation along with trade unions and student organisations, with the consent and support of the Menderes government. Another case was the usurpation of Orthodox property by the so-called ‘Turkish Orthodox Church’, which has been allowed by the authorities to function as a nuisance to the Patriarchate, despite being an arbitrarily created ‘Church’ (Jacob 1970/71).

The existence of a particular international climate has also enabled or con- strained minority repression. When the capital tax was imposed during the war, there was only a weak Greek government-in-exile to protest, while the Allies did not want to upset the Turkish government, as they were trying to win it over to their side, and so the events surrounding the tax were generally covered up in the international press. Similarly, in the 1955 riots, NATO coherence was threatened by the Greek-Turkish crisis which dictated a swift resolution. The Cyprus conflict further contributed to the elimination of the Greek-Orthodox minority, which was used as a hostage and scapegoat of Turkish interests in Cyprus, while the Greek government, equally preoccu- pied with political priorities in the island, neglected its kin. The outside world and mainly the USA, was more interested in peacefully resolving the conflict between two NATO allies and did not focus on minority affairs, which were considered of minor importance. Whilst the US government intervened in several occasions to stop the Turkish army from invading the island and the


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

Greek-Cypriot forces from occupying Turkish-Cypriot enclaves, it did not act similarly to protect Turkey’s Greek-Orthodox when their freedoms were violated. Equally, the international community did not raise significant pro- tests towards the Greek junta’s anti-minority policies, as it appeared more concerned with the violation of civil freedoms in Greece. However, since the 1980s, EU institutions and human rights norms have increased in influ- ence. In this context, NGO reports, the European Court and resolutions of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have condemned par- ticular anti-minority practices in Greece and Turkey, urging them to gradu- ally redress minority practices and policies.

Comparative Nationalisms:

The Turkish Paradigm

Turkish nationalism appeared with a substantial delay compared to the Greek one. Although some intellectuals were influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution, it was not until the emergence of Balkan nationalisms and the gradual withdrawal of Ottoman power from Europe, mainly during the Balkan Wars, that a concept of ethnically distinguished ‘Turkishness’ appeared (Ahmad 1969: 154). Early intellectuals, such as Yusuf Akçura, Munis Tekinalp, Ziya Gökalp, Halide Edib and Namik Kemal, inspired by the Em- pire’s decadence and the need to reform, elaborated on several ideological schemes, paving the way for Kemal’s reforms. Since the Tanzimat era (1839) - the first effort of the Ottoman Empire to reform - intellectuals proceeded to successively form the ideologies of Ottomanism, Pan-Islamism, Pan-Turkism and Pan-Turanism (Pesmazoglou 1993: 240-262, Poulton 1999:

72-116). More significantly, it was the Greek campaign in Asia Minor that triggered the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Atatürk in 1923, marking the end of a century during which these two rivals emerged as nation-states by fighting each other.

The Lausanne Treaty was supposed to resolve sources of conflict, including the issue of minorities. However, by 1923, after a century of struggling for its ‘Great Idea’, Greece had acquired a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. On the contrary, Turkey was still multi-ethnic, and it was then that its nationalism started developing. As a recent movement that had to defend itself against external enemies and internal opposition, it was aggressive and absolute both in its content and application. Kemal’s task in building modern Turkey was helped by the inter-war climate of nationalism and:

the growth of the authoritarian ideologies of the day, nota- bly Communism and Fascism, with their culture of a domi- nant and centralizing elite implementing a social as well as


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a political blueprint for change on a passive population…reinforced by the Ottoman tradition, with its legacy of political centralization, a strong state and the subjugation of the individual to the will of the ruler (Robins 2003: 137).

The new republic was based on a relatively small elite that adopted Kemal’s ideas. These included provincial landowners and notables, senior administrative officials and military officers who also served the Ottoman regime 12 , the intelligentsia and a big business elite created by the state (Mango 1999: 533-534; Robins 2003: 137). Moreover, Kemal’s reforms, speeches and state-sponsored monuments and ceremonies promoted his con- tribution to Turkish independence, setting the bases for his personal cult within the state. Further, his Republican People’s Party monopolised power until 1950, developing an authoritarian character, with any eventual opposition being an offspring and/or under his control. Party and state were closely identified, with regional party officials also holding public offices (Mango 1999: 426-429, 457-473; Zurcher 1997: 184-189).

The presence of the military has been particularly significant from the early stages of the Republic, and many of Kemal’s associates came from the army (Mango 1999: 541-555). Military conquest was the basis of Ottoman power, while reform in the Empire was connected with the military and reformist army officers led by the Young Turks Movement. Indeed, ‘the centrality of the military as a feature of Turkish political life has its precursor in Ottoman times, when the military was central to the wielding and retention of political power’ (Robins 2003: 75-76). Moreover, Turkish society still remembers and reveres the military’s role in the founding of the Republic (Kinzer 2001: 164-165). Hence, the army was imposed as the guardian of national unity, Kemalism, secularism and the state’s preeminence, while officers are regarded as the most modern, professional, honest and co- ordinated group in the country (Robins 2003: 137-138; Shankland 1999: 17- 22, 41). The military has sought to preserve Kemalist principles intact, showing little tolerance towards any kind of minority or ethnic speech and political opposition. The political elite shared the same Kemalist principles and national values. However, its long-term inability to co-ordinate and form a self-reliant government, with the parallel nuisance caused by left-wing or Islamic opposition, resulted in the increased presence of the military within Turkish society. This was clearly manifested in its interventions in 1960, 1971, 1980, and in 1997 with its ‘velvet coup’. 13 The military justified these interventions by the need to protect Kemal’s reforms which were threatened by political parties or social conditions (Kinzer 2001: 165-167; Pesmazoglou


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

1993: 332-335; Shankland 1999: 110-131, 205-208). The military regimes imprisoned thousands of political opponents and activists, while universities and the army were ‘cleared’ of pro-Islamic and left-wing elements (Hale 1993; Poulton 1999: 175-178, 232-235; Zurcher 1994: 254-256, 271-277,


Most decisively, with the 1980 coup and the imposition of a new Constitu- tion drafted by the military, the latter tightly controlled political and socio- economic developments. It institutionalised its political presence with the National Security Council, which acquired extensive powers, 14 and curtailed the autonomy and freedom of universities 15 , the press 16 and the judiciary 17 (Robins 2003: 76-78). It is characteristic that the terms ‘integrity’ and ‘na- tional security’ are constantly repeated (Poulton 1999: 267-314; Pope and Pope 1997: 245-279). Law and the judiciary acquired a patronising function similar to the case of Greece, with the difference that in Turkey justice has been inspired by the interests of the military, and is therefore more persistent and less flexible. Hence, ‘in the rhetoric of the state elite the concept of “law” appears mainly against any attempt by individuals, associations, trade unions and other social agents to express themselves differently’ (Pesmazoglou 1993: 298). Similarly, the military regards the concepts of democracy and freedom as obstacles to its power over minorities, religious sects and heresies, political movements, unions, parties and various other social groups (Kinzer 2001: 175; Pesmazoglou 1993: 298-299).

Nevertheless, while one of the fundamental elements of Kemalism has been secularism, people remained strongly attached to Islam (Shankland 1999: 6- 11). Religious sentiment assumed a growing role in sociopolitical affairs, as parties wanted to attract voters. Faced with the increasing tide of left-wing and extreme right-wing ideologies, the 1980 regime decided to promote Islam as an ideological alternative. This Turkish-Islamic synthesis, a parallel to Helleno-Christianism, held a strong appeal to many military leaders, who decided to embrace ‘orthodox’ Sunni Islam and allow a religious revival within the framework of the existing social and civil institutions (Poulton 1999: 257; Shankland 1999: 1-44).

The military and the civil authorities, through the Directorate of Religious affairs, have tried to oversee Islam’s reinstatement with the extensive control of curricula in public and religious schools, and of the practice of religion throughout the country, including the employment of imams, religious publications, sermons and the interpretation of the Quran (Shankland 1999:

2). In this way, the military has tried to use religion as an element of social and national unity and harmony, as well as to promote an ‘apolitical’ version


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of Islam as a bulwark to the rise of anti-Kemalist political Islam, against which it has repeatedly expressed its suspicion and disapproval (Anagnostopoulou 2004: 72-84; Shankland 1999: 1-12, 41-44).

Atatürk created in Turkey what Zurcher (1994: 197) called a ‘revolution by decree’. Turkish identity has been the product of a more institutionalised machinery, promoted and imposed through state- patronised organisations and semi-official agents. Kemalist reforms were formed and imposed by intellectuals-‘courtiers’ loyal to Kermal and state institutions that were under his guidance and control (Kinross 1964: 468). The same process has more recently been controlled by the military. Voices of dissent towards the established doctrines have been silenced, prosecuted or banned as the army has created an intricate web to control the press and other aspects of society and prevent social and political developments (Anagnostopoulou 2004: 95-98). 18

The military is also reluctant to give its consent for more liberal policies, including those pertaining to minority rights. Leading military figures fear that further European integration involving liberalisation over issues such as relations with neighbours and improvement of human/minority rights may threaten Kemalism and Turkey’s integrity. Turgut Özal who, in 1983, formed the first parliamentary government since 1980, acknowledged the weakness of civil society in Turkey, the most developed parts of which were associated with the Kemalist establishment, and tried to re-civilianise domestic politics. He sought the reorientation of the economy towards the export market and international competition, encouraging the growth of private initiative, and tried to bring the military under the political control of the Defense Ministry with limited success (Özcan 2004; Poulton 2003: 30-31, 53-61). Yet the growing gap between the guarantors of Kemalism and Turkish society became striking in November 2002, when the Islamic Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the elections. This defeat of Kemalism revealed the crisis in Turkish politics, but also an identity crisis of the whole society.

Socio-economic and political elites in Turkey acknowledge the potential of EU accession for the country’s further progress and have made a great effort to comply with EU criteria and reduce military influence. Since the late 1980s, Turkey has accepted the competence of the European Commis- sion for Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and has permitted the operation of human rights NGOs. In 2002- 2004, the Turkish Assembly passed eight reform packages meeting EU requirements, removing the death penalty and impunity for torture, lifting restrictions on non-Turkish language broadcasting, providing for a civil ma-


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

jority in the National Security Council, removing military representatives from civilian bodies, and permitting the Court of Auditors to audit military expenditures (Amnesty International 2004; EU Commission 2004b: 15, 22-23).

Accordingly, the Council of Europe lifted the monitoring procedure on Tur- key over human rights, applied since 1996 (EU Commission 2004b:30). While in October 2004, the European Commission (2004a: 3), stating that ‘there has been substantial legislative and institutional convergence in Tur- key towards European standards’ and therefore ‘considers that Turkey suf- ficiently fulfils the political criteria and recommends that accession negotia- tions be opened’. However, these improvements and reforms are not con- sistently applied, or remain a dead letter under the practices of the military, a reminder that ‘in Turkey one has to distinguish between “state policy” and “government policy” ’ (Robins 2003: 34-42, 69).

The Greek Paradigm

To a greater extent, Greek nationalism has been the result of a debating process between often-conflicting sides, evolving within a multi-polar environment. Modern Greek identity is the product of the interaction of a variety of intellectuals, political movements/parties and ideologies. Even when the state promoted a uniform culture, the debates continued. Often the roots of political divisions were in intellectual clashes, like the coexistence of Classical-Hellenic spirit with Byzantine-Orthodox tradition or the issue of the use of a classic form of Greek or the colloquial one. With the exception of the periods of military rule, intellectuals were quite free to express and spread their ideas, which at times challenged official policies.

However, it should not be assumed that Greece has constituted a liberal heaven embracing all challenging ideas. Greek nationalism in the nineteenth century was rather tolerant and inclusive. The ‘Great Idea’ envisaged the restitution of Byzantinium which, despite the preeminence of Greek language and culture, was a multiethnic empire. The Greek state, under the unifying element of Orthodoxy, embraced ethnically non-Greek populations, like Albanians, Slavs and Vlachs, which were not seen as an impediment to Greek nationalism but were perceived as potential converts to Hellenism or backward brethren. Non-Orthodox populations were perceived as ‘different’ and were seen with prejudice, but were free to exercise their religion (Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002: 218-219, 237-238, 244-257).

The notion of Greekness changed as a result of the Asia Minor disaster, the end of the ‘Great Idea’. Greek nationalism became more introverted, having finally incorporated Greeks within the country’s existing borders, and tried


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to form a uniform identity for a refugee population with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The parallel threat to national integrity by the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which adopted Soviet-sponsored slogans for an ‘independent’ Macedonia and Thrace, resulted in a narrow interpretation of ‘Greekness’, with lower levels of toleration of ‘otherness’. During the Metaxas dictatorship (1936-1940), ‘Greekness’ was defined on the basis of an exclusively ethnic identity, which in combination with Metaxas’s ‘Slavo-phobia’, resulted in discrimination towards particular minorities, although the regime was friendly towards Muslims (Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002: 73-76, 132-138; Pollis 1999: 169-173).

The situation was aggravated after the Greek civil war, when the effort of Greek Communists to seize power with support from Greece’s northern neighbours urged Greek policy-makers to take repressive measures, often under US inspiration, in order to contain the Communist threat. Especially during 1952-1963, the government in cooperation with the military, the security forces, the judiciary and the civil services, applied measures deriving from emergency civil war legislation to prevent threats against the existing socio-political order by left-wing elements. The latter were often condemned, imprisoned, or denied employment. Hence, the state acquired an enhanced role, controlling the country’s reconstruction, allocating much-needed foreign aid and promoting a particular nationalism that counterbalanced Communism (Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002:


Nevertheless, even at the peak of anti-Communist fervour and national- ist orthodoxy, there existed advocates of moderation. With the exception of KKE, political parties were free to operate, even during the civil war. In the 1950 elections, a large section of the electorate voted for liberal and centre/centre-right parties, while in the 1958 elections, the United Democratic Left, a cover for the outlawed KKE, became the largest opposition party. In 1963, the Centre Union, a union of centrist-liberals and left-wing supporters won the elections. The political establishment showed its discomfort, but could not annul the dynamic emergence of opposition (Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002: 100).

Additionally, the King, the military and the government were not always

a united front. The fact that they had their own political agendas and

internal divisions allowed the appearance of dissident voices. While there was a general set of national ideals to respect and any attack against

them met the authorities’ disapproval or suppression, there has not been

a unitary front to control the press, the judiciary or the intellectuals.


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

Moreover, domestic disputes revolved around internal socio-political di- visions, and to a lesser extent around minorities, and divided Greek soci- ety into a few large groups. This allowed ‘heretic’ voices to acquire substantial public support and establish themselves, despite being politically persecuted. Therefore, Greek nationalism evolved within a more pluralist environment which did not manage to eradicate the emergence of challenging ideas (Clogg 1997: 146-168; Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002: 99-104, 152-156).

A recent factor that has contributed to a change in minority policies is the external constraint posed by international organisations and the EU. During the 1967-1974 military regime, the EU suspended accession negotiations and the Council of Europe criticised Greece’s human rights record and expelled Greece until democracy was reinstated. Its reintegration after 1974 took place under strict principles, aiming to guarantee the country’s transition to democracy (Pesmazoglou 1993: 412-419). The damaging picture of discriminating measures and the determination of Greek policy- makers to seek a deeper and constructive incorporation into EU institu- tions and policies encouraged a more liberal approach towards the Mus- lim minority. In 1996, Greece ratified the Additional Protocol of the Eu- ropean Convention for Human Rights, which gives the right to individu- als, NGOs or groups of individuals to appeal to the European Court if domestic remedies have been exhausted. The ability of these groups to defend and promote their rights, and the subsequent harm to Greece’s international standing when it fails to respect them, help to provide an official policy of equal rights that gradually overcomes public prejudices and local dysfunctions. Moreover, the decision for a long-term policy of approach with Turkey, supporting its EU membership, signifies a step forward in bilateral relations.


Greek policy towards its Muslim minority has witnessed several shifts. As long as the Greek authorities did not perceive the minority as a potential danger, they respected the ‘letter’ of the Lausanne Treaty but ignored the ‘spirit’ of the treaty and neglected any means for the minority’s socio-economic advancement and incorporation into the wider Greek society, thus keeping it in an isolated and backward position. This deteriorated with the Cyprus conflict, when security concerns appeared and depicted Muslims as eventual ‘fifth columnists’ that could threaten Greece’s territorial integrity. Nationalist policies of the Greek junta and the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974 inaugurated a period of systematic


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and organised repression with measures of ‘administrative harassment’ that lasted until 1991, when Greek policy-makers decided, and have since followed, a long-term policy of equal rights and equal treatment of mi- nority members.

Greek society underwent a massive reconstruction after the 1923 popu- lation exchange, which ended the ‘Great Idea’ and signaled the beginning of internal reconstruction and modernisation. The parallel departure of the majority of the non-Greek population for Turkey or Bulgaria, the Civil War (when most of the Slav-speaking population followed the de- feated Communists in exile), and the gradual linguistic, ethnic and social assimilation of most of the remaining minority groups made Greece one of the most ethnically-homogeneous European countries. The above fac- tors, in combination with its late constructive and well-established posi- tion inside the EU, relieved its domestic policies from many existing or perceived security concerns. Most importantly, on the domestic level, perceptions towards minorities have changed as a result of the transfor- mation of a growing part of the majority and of the realisation by policy- makers that repressive policies were either ineffective or harmful. Mean- while, the internationally damaging impression of discriminatory policies has been another essential motive to reconsider state perceptions and policies towards minorities.

Yet, while in the past it was Greeks who emigrated abroad, during the 1990s Greece suddenly transformed into a host country for large numbers of immigrants coming from poor neighbouring countries, like Albania and Third World countries in Asia and Africa. As there was no particular plan or mechanism for the reception of these immigrants, the unsettled conditions of their incorporation often created mutual tension and led to xenophobic phenomena (Department of State 2004a: 1, 10-11). There- fore, what is more important for Greece is to form a clear, consistent and coherent national policy over all minority groups and its increasing numbers of economic migrants that will allow it to smoothly accommodate and constructively incorporate them within a multicultural environment.

The examination of Turkey’s minority policy has shown stronger elements of continuity and intensity with respect to the repression of the Greek- Orthodox minority. It has been a policy that preserved many outdated practices and the Young Turks’ prejudices towards Anatolian ethnicities, which went hand-in-hand with nationalist ideas of the time for pure nation- states that identified a country’s power with its military potential and territorial expansion (Robins 2003: 11-20). 19 Nevertheless, in recent years, a growing


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

part of Turkish society, including intellectuals, activists and businessmen, all of whom (Ahmad 1969: 154) favour the country’s EU orientation, have referred to repressive policies and argue for tolerance towards minority rights (Alexandris 2003: 122).

Turkey’s dilemmas are more imminent and difficult, and will determine its future structure as a nation-state, be it inside the EU or outside it but with a special and privileged relationship to it. Difficulties in the implementation of the Helsinki decisions, which include liberal minority policies, the resolution of differences with neighbouring countries, and Turkey’s poor human rights record have troubled its relations with the EU (Gündüz 2003; Karakaþ 2004; Pesmazoglou 1993: 308-327). The military have expressed their concern for the present political circumstances that threaten national ideals, implying both the existence of a government with an Islamic orientation and the liberalisation of policies, stressing that the army is ready to protect stability and peace in Turkey. Indeed, the EU Commission (2004b: 23) confirmed that ‘there are legal and administrative structures which are not accountable to the civilian structures…The armed forces in Turkey continue to exercise influence through a series of informal mechanisms’.

The on-going identity crisis and the diverse perceptions over the terms and conditions of Turkey’s future EU prospects make its membership uncertain. The response to recent developments involving the accession of Cyprus into the EU, political reforms, and the reshaping of geopolitics in the Middle East - which appears to augur the reemergence of the Kurdish issue - will determine the future of Turkish society. This remark becomes particularly significant nowadays, as since the late 1980s Tur- key has witnessed the emergence of a collective curiosity over its ethnic origins (Poulton 1999: 275-279, 332-339; Robins 2003: 87-89). Turkish society will have to face its challenges over minorities. Besides, the EU Commission (2004a: 9) has underlined that it will ‘recommend the sus- pension of the negotiations in the case of a serious and persistent breach of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded’.

If Turkey satisfies the EU criteria, problems with Greece and Cyprus are more likely to find a solution that will satisfy and benefit all parties and, of course, the respective minorities. If administrative inability, political reluctance and/or the military’s reservations and unwillingness and other internal reactions prevent Turkey from applying EU norms and postpone its incorporation into the EU for a foreseeable period of time, tension may prevail in relations with Greece. The road to the EU offers an alter-


Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 6, No. 1, 2006

native that may fill the gaps in the current identity crisis of Turkish soci- ety. If this alternative is rejected, domestic turmoil is likely to reappear, creating crises in foreign relations and diffusing this tension on minori- ties.


1 FO/371/117711/RG10344/50, Stewart to MacMillan, 22/9/1955.

2 Alexandris 1991:512-519; Bayulken 1963:148; Department of State 2001b:53; Helsinki Watch 1992:1,29.

3 AYE/1948 (Greek Foreign Ministry Archives) 105.6/Part 3/R15273, 29/12/1947, Melas, Constantinople to the Foreign Ministry; FO/371/43775/R12193/19,5/8/1944, Leeper to Eden, Report on Minorities.

4 FO/371/112835/WG10344/2, 26/3/1954, British Embassy, Ankara to FO.

5 FO/371/117712/RG10344/96, Greek Bulletin No. 1244, 9/9/1955, ‘The Anti-Greek disorders in Turkey’.

6 AKK/8A/001775 (Konstantinos Karamanlis Archive), Secret Note, ‘Greek-Turkish relations and the respective minorities’, Athens, 21/2/1959

7 Bahcheli 1990:176; De Jong 1980b:95; Department of State 2001a:9; Helsinki Watch 1990:2; Oran 2002:407; Popovic 1986:172.

8 Oran (2003:106) mentions 10,000. Bahcheli 1990:182; Department of State 2001a:4,13; Helsinki Watch 1999:18-20,33; Herakleides 2001:310.

9 National Security Council secret decrees 6/3801,2.11.1964 and 7/9421,10.2.1975, revealed in 1988.

10 Istanbul Prefect, Circular 1092,6/12/1923.

11 Similarly, the ‘Hezbollah’ were used against the Kurdish PKK, and the ‘Grey Wolves’ against the left-wing movement (Pope and Pope 1997:133-137,245-279; Zurcher 1994:276-277,324-330).

12 ‘The Ottoman Empire had been seeking to modernise for a full two hundred years and had done so by permitting sections of the bureaucracy, courts, army, and to a lesser extent, the education system to become secular in parts’ (Shankland


13 The military threatened to intervene unless Necmettin Erbakan resigned, which he did on 20 June 1997.

14 ‘The Council of Ministers shall give priority consideration to the decisions of the National Security Council considering the measures that it deems necessary for the preservation of the existence and independence of the State, the integrity and indivisibility of the country and the peace and security of society’ (Article


15 ‘The Higher Education Council is composed…from among the candidates who are nominated by the Council of Ministers, the Chief of the General Staff and the universities’ (Article 131).

16 ‘Anyone who writes or prints any news or articles which threaten the internal or external security of the State or the indivisible integrity of the State…shall be held responsible under the law’ (Article 28).


Georgios Niarchos: Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey

17 Articles 138-160.

18 Indicatively, the military founded the OYAK-BANK that has evolved into a major holding company.

19 ‘Whether in terms of an authoritarian ideology, a deified political leader, the enduring role of the military and the primacy of the state, Turkey appeared more to resemble the former Eastern European states…Turkey seemed like the last Stalinist regime in Europe’ (Robins 2003:13).


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Georgios Niarchos holds a PhD degree in European Studies from the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science. His thesis was entitled ‘Between Ethnicity, Religion and Politics: Foreign Policy and the Treatment of Minorities in Greece and Turkey, 1923-1974’. His research interests include Balkan and European history since 1789, Greek-Turkish relations, the role of religion and education in nation-building and the self-determination of ethnic groups in the Balkans, and the conduct of minority policies in Southeastern Europe.