The research project entitled ‘Modernity battling tradition: The introduction of Kemalism to the Muslim minority of Western Thrace, 1920-1930’, is funded in the context of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), 2007-2013, under the Operational Programme ‘Education and Lifelong Learning’, Action ‘Aristeia’ (Project code ‘KEITH: 1201’).

The early history of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace (also known as Greek Thrace) has attracted limited academic interest. In general, the literature has been rather fragmented.In recent years a number of scholarly works have focused on the violation of human rights in Thrace and the social anthropology of the Muslim minority, but they have not extended their scope to the interwar period.

‘KEITH’ seeks to address the existing gaps in the literature through an examination of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace anchored at three levels: local, national and international. In doing so we hope to make a triple contribution: i) improve our understanding of the machinations that evolved within the Muslim community of Western Thrace and provide further insights into the transformation of the minority’s identity; ii) explore the impact of this transformation on its relationship with the official Greek state, as well as Turkey in the context of the Lausanne Treaty (1923) regime; iii) enhance our knowledge of the way in which Muslim minority groups in the Balkans were affected by the aftershocks of the World War I settlement, and the Kemalist ‘revolution’ in Turkey.

The 1920s was a critical and formative period when the social structures of the Muslim minority underwent a series of transformations. The consolidation of the Kemalist regime in Turkey in the aftermath of Lausanne, unleashed a cultural whirlwind that disturbed the balance of power within the traditional Muslim community of Western Thrace.Kemal’s radical new ideology might have been a mix of diverse and, often, contradictory principles, but underlining them all were the themes of modernisation and of emulating ‘Europeanness’.

In Western Thrace, the ascendance of Kemalism faced a series of difficulties. A leadership attached to traditional Ottoman values dominated the community causing the modernist followers of the Kemalist reforms to face an uphill battle. Soon, the clash between the two camps spread over all aspects of the political and social life of the Muslim minority.

In the context of these political and ideological developments surrounding the Muslims of Western Thrace, KEITH will address the following question:

What were the effects of these developments on the minority, and what options did minority members adopt to face this new challenge?

Here, a number of themes will be explored:  

a. What was the internal response of the minority?

In this context, the research examines the key determining factors that led a significant section of the local Muslim community to adopt the new ideals, rather than abiding by their old Islamic traditions. To understand this transition, a number of key cleavages will be analysed, including geographical (highlands/lowlands), ethnic (Turks/Pomaks); social and educational.

b. What was the impact of Kemalism on the minority’s internal power structure?

The main objective here is to explore: the clash between Kemalists and conservatives over ideology, religion and education; old and new emerging political elites; the role of the Turkish Consulate in Komotini and Greek-Turkish relations; and parallels between developments in Western Thrace and Turkey at large.

c. What was the impact of Kemalist ideology on the minority’s relations with the Greek authorities?

Here the analysis focuses on: the (diverse) pattern of relations and the nature of representations to the Greek authorities; how did the new ideals influence the minority’s relations with other ethnic groups in Western Thrace, as well, as their kin in neighbouring Bulgaria; the pattern of the minority’s political representation in the mainstream Greek political scene; the factors that determined the policy of the local Greek authorities and the government vis-à-vis this growing Kemalist influence.

KEITH will pursue its research objectives through a strong interdisciplinary design borrowed from history, political science and international relations. The project relies on (i) archival material from Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, France, the UK, and Switzerland; and (ii) local archives and newspapers from Western Thrace, including minority press in both the Ottoman and the Latin script, covering all sides of the ideological and ethnic divide.

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