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

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.


Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

Updated 19 August 2019

Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

  • Then Russian Navy Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko wrote the letter when he was a 36-year-old aboard the Sulak
ANCHORAGE, Alaska: A man discovered a 50-year-old letter in a bottle from the Russian Navy on the shores of western Alaska.
Tyler Ivanoff found the handwritten Russian letter early this month while gathering firewood near Shishmaref about 600 miles (966 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, television station KTUU reported.
“I was just looking for firewood when I found the bottle,” Tyler Ivanoff said. “When I found the bottle, I had to use a screwdriver to get the message out.”
Ivanoff shared his discovery on Facebook where Russian speakers translated the message to be a greeting from a Cold War Russian sailor dated June 20, 1969. The message included an address and a request for a response from the person who finds it.
Reporters from the state-owned Russian media network, Russia-1, tracked down the original writer, Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko, KTUU reported.
He was skeptical he wrote the note until he saw his signature on the bottom.
“There — exactly!” he exclaimed.
The message was sent while the then 36-year-old was aboard the Sulak, Botsanenko said. Botsanenko shed tears when the Russian television reporter told him the Sulak was sold for scrap in the 1990s.
Botsanenko also showed the reporter some souvenirs from his time on the ship, including the autograph of the wife of a famous Russian spy and Japanese liquor bottles, the latter kept over his wife’s protests.
Ivanoff’s discovery of the bottle was first reported by Nome radio station KNOM.