At the online meeting, ABTTF expressed the problems experienced by the Turkish community in Western Thrace in the field of expression, media and freedom of information.
The Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) attended this year’s second Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on ‘Freedom of Expression, Media and Information’ organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 22-23 June 2020. The meeting which was held online as a result of the measures taken regarding the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic was attended by ABTTF International Affairs Director Melek Kırmacı Arık and Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (WTMUGA) Chair of the Human Rights Committee Dr. Pervin Hayrullah and WTMUGA member Kerem Aptürahimoğlu.
In the meeting, which began with the opening speech of Inid Milo on behalf of the Albanian chairmanship of the OSCE, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir discussed developments with respect to freedom of expression, information and the media in the OSCE region.
Speaking at the first session, which assessed freedom of expression and its relation with other fundamental rights, ABTTF International Affairs Director Melek Kırmacı Arık criticized that although the Turkish community in Western Thrace constitutes the majority of the population in Rhodope Province and almost half of the population in Xanthi Province, as a result of the non-recognition of its ethnic Turkish identity by the Greek state, there was no information with respect to combating the coronavirus pandemic in Turkish towards the Turkish community.
Moreover, indicating that while the government and the media do not share personal information about those who lost their lives from the virus in their statements, ABTTF added that all of the personal information with respect to one person who died in the village of Echinos (Şahin) was shared with the public by disrespecting the right to privacy and that the Turkish community in Western Thrace was targeted as a result.
Speaking at the same session WTMUGA Chair of the Human Rights Committee Dr. Pervin Hayrullah said that freedom of expression was restricted, and freedom of association was taken away due to the lack of recognition of the ethnic Turkish identity o the Turkish community in Western Thrace. Hayrullah said that the Turkish community in Western Thrace has been subjected to a number of discriminatory practices over the years, resulting in social exclusion. Indicating that although the Turkish community in Western Thrace represents almost half of the population of the region, neither the President nor the Prime Minister met with the Turkish community during their visits to the region and that the WTMUGTA’s request to meet with the President was ignored.
Dr. Pervin Hayrullah from WTMUGA, who spoke again during the second session of the meeting on access to information, said that although Turks in the Western Thrace region make up about half of the total population, the fact that official statements were only made in Greek made it even more difficult for the measures taken in the fight against the virus to be understood.
The Permanent Representation of Greece to the OSCE used its right of reply in both sessions, and repeated the Greek state’s official view that the ‘Muslim minority in Thrace’ is neither ethnic nor a national minority but solely a religious minority. Greece claimed that as a result of the official recognition by the state of the Muslim minority in Thrace and of positive discrimination towards the minority, it is one of the most prioritized minorities in Europe. Greece claimed that the Greek state has taken all necessary measures since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak and argued that all critical information about the course of the virus has been provided to the minority in the region through various communication channels by the competent authorities.