The delegation composed of the representatives of ABTTF, WTMUGA and FEP Party expressed the issues encountered by the Turkish community in Western Thrace with respect to freedom of religion.
The Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), the Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (WTMUGA) and the Friendship, Equality and Peace (FEP) Party representing the Turkish community in Western Thrace attended this year’s third Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting entitled “Freedom of Religion or Belief: The Role of Digital Technologies and Civil Society Actors in Advancing This Human Right for All” which was organized online on 9-10 November 2020 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
ABTTF International Affairs Director Melek Kırmacı Arık, Head of Human Rights Department of WTMUGA Dr. Pervin Hayrullah, WTMUGA Secretary General Meltem Giritli and FEP Party General Coordinator Fatih Hüseyinoğlu attended the meeting organized by the 2020 Albanian OSCE Chairmanship together with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
At the opening session of the meeting, Head of the 2020 Albanian OSCE Chairmanship Task Force Inid Milo, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed and OSCE/ODIHR First Deputy Director Katarzyna Gardapkhadze pointed out the importance of freedom of belief or religion.
Intervening in the first session where the situation of freedom of belief or religion in the OSCE region was discussed, ABTTF expressed that the right to elect the muftis which are the religious leaders of the Turkish community in Western Thrace which enjoys religious autonomy according to international treaties has been usurped by Greece and the muftis elected by the Turkish community were sentenced to prison on the grounds of occupying the mufti offices. Criticising the fact that the mufti offices have been rendered to government offices in Western Thrace with the Presidential Decree 52/2019, ABTTF noted that the Greek Council of State’s General Assembly rejected the open case regarding the cancellation of the decree. Indicating that government intervention regarding the freedom of religion of Western Thrace Turks has been pursued during the period of the new type coronavirus (Covid-19), ABTTF requested the return of the religious autonomy of the Turkish community in Western Thrace in Greece.
Intervening in the same session, WTMUGA remarked that in Greece, the freedom of religion of the Turkish community in Western Thrace has been violated and cited as an example to this the speech delivered by George Kalantzis, Secretary General of Religious Affairs of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs at the interparty Commission for the Development of Thrace where he said that there would not be an election in the process of designating the muftis. WTMUGA called on Greece to respect the freedom of religion of the Turkish community in Western Thrace and to recognise the muftis it has elected.
Speaking at the third and last session under the heading of the role of civil society in advancing the right to freedom of religion or belief for all, ABTTF indicated that although the Turkish community in Western Thrace has the right to establish, administer and control any type of charity and religious organisation, its right to manage waqfs serving the religious, cultural and social needs of the Turkish community has been stripped. ABTTF added that first the number of hours of lessons in Turkish in two religious schools (madrasahs) belonging to the Turkish community in Western Thrace were reduced and that with the law which was adopted in last July, the government-appointed acting muftis who are not recognized by the Turkish community have been brought to the presidency of the boards of these schools.
Speaking in the same session, WTMUGA recorded that since 1967 when a military junta had come to power in Greece, the state has been appointing the administrative boards of the waqfs belonging to the Turkish community in Western Thrace in violation of the Treaty of Lausanne and other international treaties. Noting that the Turkish community in Western Thrace cannot manage its waqfs unhindered, WTMUGA demanded from Greece that the administrative boards be determined by election.
Using its right of reply in both sessions, Greece repeated its official view that the minority in Western Thrace is a Muslim and religious one and that the state ensures freedom of religion or belief.