Erdogan attacks Greece for the rights of Muslim minorities

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday criticized Greece for allegedly violating a regulation that has governed relations between the rivals for nearly a century.

In a statement released on the 99th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, Erdogan accused Athens of undermining the rights of the Muslim minority in the Greek region of Thrace. Thracian Muslims make up about 32% of the province’s population and consist of Bulgarian-speaking Turks, Roma and Pomaks.

“The conditions enshrined in the treaty, in particular the rights of the Turkish minority, have been ignored or deliberately eroded,” the nationalist leader said. “It is not possible for our country to accept this situation, which is incompatible with good neighborly relations and fidelity to the treaty.”

The 1923 treaty was signed by the new Republic of Turkey to settle disputes with the Allies, including Greece, after World War I and the Turkish War of Independence.

He described the rights of the remaining Muslim minority in Greece and Christians in Turkey after a bitter conflict between the countries, which was followed by a population exchange. It also defined the terms of Greek rule over the Aegean islands off the Turkish coast.

Ankara recently complained that Greece violated the treaty by militarizing the islands. Athens claims to act in accordance with international law and defend its territory in the face of constant hostility from Turkey.

On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the closure of four Muslim minority schools in Thrace, saying it showed “discriminatory and oppressive policies” by the Greek government.

The Greek Foreign Ministry dismissed the “unsubstantiated” allegations, saying schools had been suspended because the number of pupils fell below minimum requirements.

NATO members Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including disputes over underwater exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and the sovereignty of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea. The two neighbors have been on the brink of war three times in the past half-century.

Last month, Erdogan broke off high-level talks with Athens.