Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Greece included a little-notice reference to the ethnic Pomak element in Thrace, the first time a Turkish official recognises that the Muslim minority in Thrace is not exclusively of ethnic Turkish descent.

Still, Erdogan asserted that the Pomaks are compatriots with the Turks, in the sense that they are united by Islam.

The break-down of the Muslim minority in Thrace into citizens of ethnic Pomak, Turkish and Roma origin has always been a red line for Turkey and a large segment of the Muslim minority.

The crossing of this red line, and indeed by the head of the Turkish state, was received as an important shift in stance by Turkey.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan twice during his sojourn in Thrace referred to “Turkish and Pomak compatriots”, the first at the Celal Bayar high school, named after the last sitting Turkish president to visit Greece, and the other at a luncheon in his honour at a hotel in Komotini, where he addressed members of the minority.

“It is my wish that both the [Greek] president and the prime minister will solve your problems, God willing, as soon as possible, in such a way that – as Greek citizens and compatriots of ours in the region, whether of ethnic Turkish or Pomak descent – all together you can bolster unity, coexistence and solidarity,” Erdogan said, according to the local minority media.

Members of the Western Thrace Muslim minority who have fallen out of grace with Erdogan believe that these positions will stir a strong reaction in the Turkish opposition.

Visit to a minority school

“We will attempt to reinforce our cooperation with Greece, and you will be the bridge,” Erdogan said outside the Celal Bayar High School in Komotini. You have struggled to progress all these years and I congratulate you for that,” Erdogan said.

Thousands of members of the Muslim minority crowded the streets of Komotini to catch a glimpse of the Turkish leader.

Pomaks, Roma ‘compatriots’ for Erdogan

Erdogan repeatedly referred to them as “compatriots” and “fellow citizens”.

“You have strong faith. You have nothing to fear as Greek citizens. Greece is a strong country and should find solutions for all citizens.,” he said, urging the Muslim minority to flex its political muscle.
“You have elected four members of parliament, and you should have the courage to advocate your rights,” he declared.

Earlier, Erdogan visited Komotini’s Kir Mahale mosque, where crowds had gathered to greet him with chants, calling him “our leader”.

He then went by foot from the mosque to the school, with locals jockeying to greet him and his people handing out toys to children.

At the school, Erdogan was received by Deputy Foreign Minister Yannis Amanatidis, who was responsible for accompanying the Turkish president during his journey.

The reception team included all four Muslim MPs, from different parties: Syriza MPs Mustafa Mustafa, Ayhan Kara Yusuf, and Huseyin Zeybek, along with Democratic Alliance MP Ahmet Ilhan.
Yannis Mandalidis

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