Halit Habip Oğlu: ‘These last two years, the issues pertaining to Western Thrace Turks are even less mentioned within the U.S. report. It is difficult to say that the report portrays a stance and style that is friendly of the Minority, we are seeing that the expressions and words used regarding the Western Thrace Turks in the report generally are in parallel with the position of the Greek state and government’.
The Department of State of the United States of America (USA) published its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The section pertaining to Greece in the report, which examined the situation of human rights around the world on a country-by-country basis, mainly focused on issues related to refugees in the country, while issues related to the Turkish community in Western Thrace under the title of members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups were also included in the report in a very limited way.
The Turkish community in Western Thrace in the report
Repeating the statements in the 2019 report, this year's report states that while the government recognises the individual's right to self-identification, many who identify themselves as members of a minority group face difficulties in freely expressing their identity and maintaining their culture. The report further indicates that some citizens in the country identify themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites or Macedonians. The report said that requests for official recognition by the government as ethnic or linguistic minorities had failed, and that courts routinely rejected registration claims from associations in Thrace (Western) that had the word Turk in their name on an ethnic ground.
While the report reminds that the constitution and the law prohibit discrimination against persons who are members of minorities, it further explains that Roma and other minority groups continue to face discrimination. It is claimed that individuals can legally identify themselves as Turks, and associations that use this term can carry out ordinary activities without legal status. However, it is stated that the associations with the words ‘Turk’ and ‘Turkish’ in their names are not registered by the courts. The report also indicates that government officials and courts have rejected a request by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian, on grounds that more than two million Greek citizens ethnically and linguistically identify themselves as Macedonians.
As in last year's report, no figures were given with respect to the population of the Turkish community in Western Thrace, and the report includes statements that are in large part in line with the state approach, indicating that according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the law recognises a Muslim religious minority which resides in Thrace and that these Muslim persons can be members of the Turkish, Pomak and Romani communities.
Regarding the problems experienced by the Turkish community in Western Thrace in the field of education, the report stated that there were 115 primary schools and two religious schools teaching in Turkish and Greek languages in the 2018-2019 academic year and as stated in last year, the report repeats the view that some Minority members criticised the government ignoring their request for the opening of additional private secondary schools and reiterated their view that the infrastructure did not meet the needs. At the same time, it is indicated that representatives of the ‘Muslim Minority’ noted the decrease in primary school numbers, explaining that the government has temporarily suspended the activities of schools with fewer than 9 students according to the law due to the lack of students. Moreover, this year’s report reiterated that according to a statement made by the relevant authorities, 20 schools in the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace were suspended in the 2019-2020 academic year and that 5 of these 20 schools were Minority primary schools, and its further added that the activities of two more minority schools were halted by ministerial decree on 28 April. However, the lack of bilingual Turkish kindergartens of the Turkish community in Western Thrace, which has autonomous status in the educational area, and other problems in education, and the problems experienced in madrasahs, which are religious schools belonging to the Turkish community in Western Thrace are unfortunately not included in the report.
As for the freedom to form associations, in the same way as it was indicated in last year’s report, it is repeated that the constitution and the law recognises the right to freedom of associations, but the that government continued to exercise legal restrictions on associations belonging to those who identify themselves as Macedonians and associations with the Turkish word in their names as a sign of collective ethnic identity. As last year, this year’s report makes no mention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments on the three associations, which were dissolved or not allowed to be registered because of the word ‘Turkish’ in their names, and Greece’s failure to execute the judgments since 2008.
Halit Habip Oğlu, President of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) made the following statement: “This year’s report of the U.S. Department of State mostly repeats what was written in its 2019 report. While the reports of the previous reports gave more room to the issues of the Turkish community in Western Thrace, these last two years, the issues pertaining to Western Thrace Turks are even less mentioned within the U.S. report. Although some opinions and demands of our community are included in the report, which mainly includes issues related to the education of Western Thrace Turks, it is difficult to say that the report portrays a stance and style that is friendly of the Minority. Indeed, it is a serious and major deficiency that the ECtHR judgments regarding the dissolution or non-registration of associations with the word ‘Turk’ in their name which belong to the Turkish community in Western Thrace are not included in the report. In fact, we are seeing that the expressions and words used regarding the Western Thrace Turks in the report generally are in parallel with the position of the Greek state and government. This year, as we do every year, we will prepare a parallel report pertaining to the issues related to the Western Thrace Turks that are in the U.S. report, and in this report, we will address in detail the problems of the Turkish community in Western Thrace in the field of human and minority rights and forward our report to the relevant US authorities’.
Please click here for the full text of the U.S. 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Greece: