The areas referred to by Turks today as Western Thrace and by Greeks as Thrace came under Ottoman control in 1363-1364 with the rout of a combined Serb, Bosnian, and Hungarian army in 1364 on the Maritsa river near the city of Edirne.12 Murat, the Ottoman Sultan of the period, settled Turkomans from Anatolia in the newly-won region while at the same time granting Christians a protected if inferior status under the traditional Islamic policy of tolerance towards zimmis, people of the book.13 Later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, Circassians and Tartars fleeing the Tsarist empire moved to the region. Thrace remained under Ottoman control until the First Balkan War of 1912-13, during which time the armies of Montenegro, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria attacked the Ottoman Empire and ejected it from almost all of its European holdings. In 1913, as a result of the war, the Treaty of Bucharest granted most of Western Thrace to Bulgaria, which administered the territory until the end of the First World War. From 1919-20, a mixed Allied-Greek administration ruled the area. In 1920, Western Thrace was granted to Greece, and the territory remains part of the Republic of Greece.
In January 1923, Greece and Turkey signed the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations.14 The convention was signed in the wake of Greece’s failed invasion of Turkey’s Anatolian mainland and Turkey’s repudiation of the Treaty of Sčvres of 1920. The Treaty of Sčvres granted Izmir to Greece, then known as Smyrna, as well as a large tract of territory surrounding the city.15 To prevent further irredentist Greek claims, Turkey demanded repatriation of ethnic Greeks residing in the Anatolian areas of the former Ottoman Empire in exchange for the return of ethnic Turks living in the Kingdom of Greece.16 In exchange, Turkey allowed those ethnic Greeks residing in Istanbul before October 1918—some 110,000—to remain, along with the Orthodox Patriarchy; reciprocally, Greece would allow a similar number of ethnic Turks, estimated at between 105,000-120,000, to remain in Thrace.17
In November 1923, Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which put an official end to the Greco-Turkish War and secured international recognition, with minor changes, of Turkey’s present borders. In addition, Articles 37-45 of the treaty obligated both Turkey and Greece to grant and respect a broad array of rights for the Greek minority of Istanbul and the Turkish minority of Thrace. Such rights included equality before the law, free exercise of religion, free use of its own language including in primary schools, and control over religious affairs.18
Since 1923, reciprocal treatment of the Greek minority in Istanbul and the Turkish minority in Thrace has largely reflected the state of Greco-Turkish relations. Despite some friction, both minorities benefitted from therapprochement in inter-state relations, that was engineered by two former rivals, the Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. It lasted roughly from 1930 to 1955.19
In the face of possible aggression from fascist Italy, both countries signed a Friendship Pact in September 1933. After World War II, facing Soviet expansion, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia joined together in a treaty of friendship and assistance, followed by the short-lived Balkan Pact one year later.20 In 1954, while on a state visit to Greece, then Turkish President Celal Bayar called Greco-Turkish relations “the best example of how two countries who mistakenly mistrusted each other for centuries have agreed upon a close and loyal collaboration as a result of recognition of the realities of life.”21
Since 1955, however, the conflict in Cyprus has adversely affected the fate of the Turkish minority in Thrace and the Greek minority in Istanbul. Attempts by Greek Cypriots to break free of British colonial rule and unite with Greece, so-called Enosis, often resulted in bloody attacks against the minority Turkish Cypriot community, which numbered about 20 percent of the island’s population and opposed union with Greece.22 These attacks triggered tit-for-tat countermeasures against the Greek minority in Istanbul. Wide-scale violence against the Greek community of Istanbul, believed to have been engineered by the Turkish government of then Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, destroyed an estimated 3-4,000 shops and precipitated the exodus of thousands of ethnic Greeks from the city in 1955.23 Continued communal violence in Cyprus after independence in 1960—including massacres of members of the Turkish community in December 1963—led to the Turkish government’s cancellation of residence permits for 12,000 Greek citizens living in Istanbul as well as the confiscation of their property. In July 1974, as a guarantor power under the Treaty of London, Turkey invaded Cyprus after a coup by Nicos Sampson ousted the elected Makarios government in an effort to unite the island with Greece. Turkey eventually occupied close to 40 percent of Cyprus.
In the post-1955 period, Greek pressure against the Turkish minority of Thrace was, if less violent, no less deleterious. Land held by ethnic Turks was illegally expropriated, professional licenses were denied, individuals were forced to emigrate by the unilateral revocation of their citizenship, and religious freedoms were curtailed—in short, a general policy of discrimination against the minority was implemented. By the mid-1980s, the discriminatory practices had resulted in a civil rights movement of the Turkish minority led by the late Dr. Sad1k Ahmet.
12 Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I:Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 18-19.
14 For a full copy of the text, see Appendix A.
15 Greece faced nationalist Turkish forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal in a three-year war (1919-1922) to oust the Greek army from Turkey. It had occupied Izmir in May 1919 and then pushed west in an attempt to create a Greek state in Anatolia, the so-called Megali idea. Turks refer to the conflict as the “War of Salvation” (Kurtulus Savas1).
16 By 1923, many ethnic Greeks had already fled with the retreating Greek army. One scholar puts the number of ethnic Greeks repatriated from Turkey under the convention at 188,000. According to him, 388,000 ethnic Turks returned to Turkey from Greece. See Tozun Bahçeli, Greek-Turkish Relations since 1955 (Boulder: Westview Press), 1990, pp. 11-13.
Another scholar cites figures of 638,253 ethnic Greeks and 348,000 ethnic Turks. See Ath. Angelopoulos, “Population distribution of Greece According to Language, National Consciousness, and Religion,” Balkan Studies, Volume 20, 1979.
17 Bahçeli, pp. 170-71.
18 See Appendix for a full text of the relevant articles of the Treaty of Lausanne.
19 Bahçeli, pp. 14-15 and p. 171. The period was not without friction. Greece’s settlement in Thrace of Greek refugees from Turkey, which disturbed the demographic balance to the detriment of the Turkish minority, and Turkey’s institution of the so-called “wealth tax” (Varl1k Vergisi),unsettled the situation. Introduced in 1942, the “wealth tax” was a misguided attempt to strike at war profiteers and speculators. The act, however, quickly degenerated into a campaign against businesses and wealth held by non-Muslims. In March 1944, under pressure from the United Kingdom and the United States, Turkey repealed the law.
20 Bahçeli, p. 16.
22 The Greek guerilla group EOKA, led by George Grivas and Nicos Sampson, committed much of the violence against ethnic Turks. The Turkish-led TMT underground group also carried out attacks against ethnic Greeks.
Christopher Hitchens argues that British colonial authorities soured community relations in the island by employing a disproportionate number of ethnic Turks in the pre-independence security forces. See Hostage to History (London: Verso, 1997), p. 46-47.
23 See, Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: The Greeks of Turkey, Human Rights Watch, March 1992.