September 23, 2016
On 22 September 2016 UNPO concluded a 4-day fact-finding mission to Western Thrace, during which first-hand evidence of the conditions and treatment of the Turkish minority in Greece was collected. The mission was organised by the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) and included delegates from UNPO, Centre Maurits Coppieters (CMC), Greek Helsinki Monitor and Members of the European Parliament Nils Torvalds (ALDE, Finland) and Pál Csáky (EPP, Slovakia). A comprehensive report on the findings and recommendations of the mission will be presented to Greek and EU institutions in early 2017.
From 19 to 22 September 2016, a 4-day fact-finding mission was conducted to Western Thrace, the Greek region that is most densely populated by ethnic Turks. The conclusions to be drawn from this mission were deeply worrying, especially with regards to the issues of freedom of association and freedom of belief. Despite various calls from the community for recognition and fair treatment, backed by rulings by the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) in their favour, the situation remains stagnant, with the Greek authorities refusing to officially recognise any minority other than a Muslim one, provided for in the almost one century old Treaty of Lausanne (1923).
The mission delegates had the opportunity to meet a wide range of influential activist groups, including civil society organisations and the Friendship, Equality and Peace political party. The discussions focussed primarily on educational and religious autonomy and the struggle for legal recognition. A discussion with elected mufti of Komotini highlighted the problem of religious autonomy as he pointed to how muftis are selected by the Greek authorities and how Imams lack official recognition. Visits to both Komotini and Xanthi further highlighted the issue of the lack of freedom of belief as some of the mosques in these areas had been attacked or construction had been stopped. This is but one example of the harassment ethnic Turks are victims of the by police and Greek nationalists.
The mission delegates also engaged in a discussion with the Komotini Turkish Youth Union, whereby the evergreen issue of legal recognition for ethnic Turks in Greece was raised. Greece has no official recognition of any indigenous group, and in doing so the state is denying them vital forms of minority protection. Greece only allows an individual’s right to self-identification, in doing so attempting to deny the existence of the ethnic Turkish community. In addition to this, Greek authorities only recognise a Muslim minority as stated in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which is problematic in that not all members of the Turkish minority are Muslim, leaving many individuals in a legal limbo seeking state recognition and protection.
Furthermore, the fact-finding mission included a joint meeting with the Culture and Education Foundation of Western Thrace Minority and the Western Thrace Turkish Teachers Union, who pointed to the urgency of the issue of educational autonomy. The number of bilingual schools and kindergartens for minority children is dwindling, and for the few that remain the quality of education falls far below a satisfactory level. Unfortunately, this places severe limitations on the youth of Western Thrace: despite a 0.5% quota in universities in Greece, most Turkish speakers still do not manage to gain access to higher education.
Overall, the four-day fact-finding mission to Western Thrace confirmed that the situation of ethnic Turks in Greece is increasingly worrying and requires urgent attention. A comprehensive report on the findings and recommendations will be compiled in the coming months, and then be presented to Greek and EU Institutions, in the hopes of bringing the issue of ethnic Turks of Western Thrace into the spotlight.
In March 2016, UNPO in cooperation with ABTTF convened a conference at the European Parliament addressing the issue of freedom of association in Greece. For a summary of the event, click here.
A comprehensive conference report was published in June 2016. To download the full report, click here.
Photos Courtesy of ABTTF