Greece’s Muslim minority complain of ‘marginalization’ in Komotini

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A man sits outside his shop in the old market of Komotini, northeastern Greece, on the eve of the Greek's Prime Minister's official visit to Turkey, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
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People sit outside a cafe in the old market in Komotini in northern Greece, on the eve of the Greek's Prime Minister's visit to Turkey, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
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A Muslim woman and a man chat outside a shop in Komotini, northern Greece, on the eve of the Greek's Prime Minister's visit to Turkey, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
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Muslims women walk towards the Eski Mosque located in the old market in Komotini in northern Greece, on the eve of the Greek's Prime Minister's visit to Turkey, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
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Women walk along a street in the old market in Komotini in northern Greece, on the eve of the Greek's Prime Minister's visit to Turkey, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019
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Greece’s Muslim minority complain of ‘marginalization’ in Komotini

  • A young Muslim recounted how her family was criticized for putting their children in Greek schools, saying: “In their eyes, we had become traitors”

KOMOTINI, Greece: Outwardly, Komotini looks like other Greek cities, but there is a major difference: it has nine mosques whereas there are none in Athens.
The northeastern city has existed from the second century and was captured by Ottoman-era Turkey in the 14th. It was an important hub connecting the capital city of Constantinople, as Istanbul was then known, with the European part of the empire.
Now it is home to nearly 30,000 Muslims, many of whom complain of marginalization.
Greece has for centuries had a testy relationship with Turkey, with a slew of disputes ranging from Aegean sea issues to the long-running Cyprus problem.
“The minority Muslims and their Greek compatriots cohabit but each side lives in its own corner,” said Mustafa Mustafa, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s party, speaking in this frontier city of some 60,000 people.
Tsipras visits Turkey on Tuesday in a bid to improve relations.
“Relations deteriorated in the 1960s and until 1990 many villages in the area were ringed by military barricades,” Mustafa, who is in his sixties, said.
“We could not access our properties or get a driving license,” he said.

“We would like to be a bridge of peace and friendship and not act as a brake.”
The issue of the Muslim minority is one of the sensitive areas in ties between the two neighbors.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a historic trip to Greece in 2017 — the first by a Turkish leader in 65 years — visited the Thrace region and called for the respect of the Muslim minority, railing against “discrimination” by the Greek government.
“It’s sad that we are being used,” said a young Muslim woman, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“These are normal people like us who are paying the price of politics,” she said of residents of Komotini, which lies about 100 kilometers from the border.
There are up to 150,000 Muslims in Greece’s western Thrace region, who were given minority status after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne following the end of a war between Turkey and Greece which rang the death knell for the Ottoman empire.
The treaty provided for the application of sharia law to settle family disputes and the use of Turkish in educational institutions.
The presence of a Turkish consulate in the region adds to tensions.
“It would be better for everyone if the consulate stops serving the interests of the Turkish foreign ministry,” Komotini’s mayor Giorgos Petridis said.

“What characterises this population is a plural identity,” said Thalia Dragona from the Athens National University.
“The new generation is educated and wants to break free from being slotted,” she said.
A young Muslim recounted how her family was criticized for putting their children in Greek schools, saying: “In their eyes, we had become traitors.”
Chatitze Molla Sali, who is in her seventies, lived in Komotini before relocating to Istanbul. She had inherited her husband’s house under Greek law but her sisters-in-law contested the decision, evoking sharia.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favor in December.
“The decision clarifies the situation since it makes it impossible to apply Muslim law on European citizens,” her lawyer Yanis Ktistakis said.
In a deeply orthodox society where 76 percent of Greeks see Christianity as a central part of their identity, according to the Pew Research Center, “many people associate Islam with Turkey,” said Giorgos Kalantzis, the general secretary of religious affairs.
“The country has suffered at the hands of Turkey and this still brings up painful memories,” he said.


El Salvador court frees woman jailed for delivering stillborn

Evelyn Hernandez (C) is surrounded by activists after being released from the women's Readaptation Center, in Ilopango, El Salvador, on February 9, 2019, where she was serving a 30-year-sentence for aggravated homicide after her baby died at birth. (AFP)
Updated 37 min 47 sec ago
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El Salvador court frees woman jailed for delivering stillborn

  • Even women who abort due to birth defects or health complications risk jail sentences of up to 40 years in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR: A Salvadoran court on Friday freed Evelyn Hernandez, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she gave birth to a stillborn baby at home.
After serving 33 months for aggravated homicide, 20-year-old Hernandez smiled as she was reunited with her parents and a brother in the capital San Salvador.
The court in Cojutepeque, east of the capital, ruled that she will be retried but while living at home. A hearing has been set for April 4, with a new judge, her lawyer Angelica Rivas said.
El Salvador has an extremely strict abortion ban. Hernandez gave birth in the makeshift bathroom of her home in the central Cuscatlan region. She was 18 years old and eight months pregnant.
She said her son was stillborn but was convicted of murdering him, abortion rights group ACDATEE said.
ACDATEE cited a pathologist’s report which it said indicated the baby had choked to death while still in the womb.
Prosecutors argued Hernandez was culpable for not having sought prenatal care, ACDATEE said.
The group said Hernandez had not known she was pregnant and gave birth on the toilet after feeling abdominal pains. She got pregnant as the result of a rape, which she did not report out of fear because her family had been threatened.
Even women who abort due to birth defects or health complications risk jail sentences of up to 40 years in El Salvador. Campaigners say some have been jailed after suffering miscarriages.
The country’s abortion law made international headlines in 2013 when a sick woman was forbidden from aborting a fetus which developed without a brain.
Under a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Salvadoran state eventually authorized her to undergo a cesarean section. The baby died shortly after the procedure.