This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 002759
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/20/2015
SUBJECT: VIEW FROM ATHENS: MOVING FORWARD ON MINORITY
RIGHTS IN GREECE AND TURKEY
REF: A. ANKARA 6316
B. ATHENS 1962 (NOTAL)
C. ISTANBUL 1825
Classified By: Ambassador Charles P. Ries for reasons 1.4 b and d.
1. SUMMARY: Embassy Athens welcomes the ideas presented in
ref A, and the possibility of progress on minority rights
issues between Greece and Turkey. From our side, Ambassador
pitched the Halki-Athens mosque connection in July (ref B),
to no avail. Unfortunately, the Greeks see this (with some
justification) not as a bilateral issue, but one which
involves Turkey's obligations to the EU. With Turkey's
accession negotiations now entering a new phase, the GoG will
likely be even less interested in dealing with the issue
bilaterally. The subject of Turkish teachers from Turkey,
however, might be a goal to pursue, especially since the
Ministry of Education has recently come up with a plan to
teach Turkish to minority students in mainstream Greek public
schools in Thrace. In any event, both sides need to come up
with deliverables for PM Karamanlis' anticipated visit to
Ankara and we should do our part in pushing them to think
creatively. END SUMMARY.
A New Mosque and Reopened Halki?
2. (C) Ref A idea of pairing the reopening of Halki under
GoG sponsorship with opening of a mosque in Athens under GoT
sponsorship seems logical to us. In fact, Ambassador raised
it with Foreign Minister Molyviatis in July (ref B). The FM
quickly dismissed the idea, arguing that Greece had promised
a group of Arab states that it would allow them to open the
mosque, while saying that Turkey is any case obligated to the
EU, not to Greece, on the reopening of Halki. Molyviatis
made clear that Halki was not a bilateral issue. Now that
accession talks have opened with Turkey, Molyviatis and the
GoG are probably even less willing to entertain the idea of
working the issue bilaterally. Given this atmosphere, we
doubt a joint approach by us to the Greek and Turkish
governments would have much impact here. As the Education
Minister Yiannakou was reported to have said Oct 20 in
Istanbul, "respect of the Christian Orthodox believers'
religious freedom and the unhindered operation of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate as a religious institution comprise a
primary condition for Turkey's European course."
3. (C) The above notwithstanding, we can and will continue
to push the Greeks to make good on their promise to open a
mosque in Athens, among other reasons because if they did so
it might make it easier for the GOT to do the right thing on
Halki. Athens is the only major capital in Europe without a
mosque (the city's numerous Muslims worship in unofficial
prayer rooms) and there has been no progress on construction,
despite a 2000 law that provided a legal framework for one.
The proposed location of the "Athens" mosque -- in a small
exburban town (Peania) without a significant Muslim community
(and on land designated for forest use) -- shows how divorced
from reality the GoG can be when considering the spiritual
welfare of the growing number of Muslims here.
Turkish Teachers in Thrace
4. (C) Regarding education issues, we agree that we must
look creatively at how we can help the two sides remove
restrictions on their respective minorities. The problem is
that the GoG does not see the two as comparable. GoG
officials, including the Thrace MFA representative, have told
us it is impossible to have mutual agreements or concessions
on minority issues when there are not comparable minority
populations. Regarding the specific issue of the need of
Turkish language teachers, when we last raised this point
with the Director of Minority Schools in Thrace, he intimated
that since there is very limited need for Greek teachers in
Turkey, there is little incentive to allow additional Turkish
teachers into Thrace. Greeks see the introduction of
teaching material and teachers as another effort to "control"
the Muslim minority in Thrace, and have cited other examples
of Turkey trying to "propagandize" the Muslim minority --
such as through unsanctioned after-school programs funded by
the GOT and recent discussions of opening private schools.
5. (C) A possible goal to pursue that is in line with ref A
comments is the Greek Ministry of Education's novel idea to
provide Turkish language instruction in Greek public schools
in Thrace. This would allow the 75 percent of secondary
students from the Muslim minority who attend mainstream Greek
public schools to have Turkish language instruction, perhaps
taught by teachers from Turkey. This would be far more
palatable to the GoG since these teachers would be
administering to minority students already integrated into
the Greek public school system.
6. (C) COMMENT: While we agree with Ankara a Halki-Athens
mosque explicit linkage won't fly for either side, Greece and
Turkey both need to focus on deliverables for an eventual
visit of PM Karamanlis to Ankara. Karamanlis accepted PM
Erdogan's invitation some time ago, had planned on visiting
in late August, then both sides postponed to October, and now
it is unclear when his travel will take place. When we
broached the subject of deliverables with FM Molyviatis in
July, we found a dearth of ideas (ref B). Now is the time to
prod both sides into coming up with initiatives in
anticipation of this visit -- the first by a Greek PM in over
40 years. Without referring to direct trade-offs, we should
do our part behind the scenes by encouraging both sides to do
the things they have promised to do anyway (Greece, to open a
mosque in Athens; Turkey, to allow greater religious freedom
(e.g., open Halki), as part of its EU commitments). Maybe we
can get a virtuous circle going. END COMMENT.
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