The Western Thrace Turkish delegation, consisted of representatives of ABTTF and WTMUGA, expressed the Greece’s interferences aimed at abolishing the religious autonomy of the Turkish community in Western Thrace and the judicial proceedings against the elected Muftis.
Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) and Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (WTMUGA) as representatives of the Turkish community in Western Thrace, participated at Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on 1-2 April 2019 in Vienna, Austria. At the first human dimension meeting of 2019 entitled “Upholding the Principles of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, including in the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief”, Western Thrace Turkish delegation consisted of Melek Kırmacı Arık, ABTTF International Affairs Director, and Dr. Ali Hüseyinoğlu, Faculty Member and WTMUGA member raised the problems of the Turkish community in Western Thrace experienced in the area of freedom of religion and violation of the right to religious autonomy.
The Western Thrace Turkish delegation had the floor in the first session of the meeting on “Root Causes and Consequences of Racism and Discrimination in Connection to Religion or Belief”, organized by Slovakia’s OSCE Chairmanship for 2019 and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The delegation recalled that the religious autonomy of the Turkish community in Western Thrace was guaranteed by the international treaties and had the right to choose its own religious leaders, the Muftis, and noted that Greece has been trying to abolish the autonomy of the Turkish community in Western Thrace in the field of religion through unilateral practices.
The Western Thrace Turkish delegation stated that Greece does not recognize the Muftis elected by Western Thrace Turks and Muftis are appointed by the government according to the law entered into force in early 1990s. The delegation added that the administrative boards of foundations belonging to the Turkish community in Western Thrace have been identified through appointment since 1970s. The Western Thrace Turkish delegation conveyed the judicial proceedings against the Muftis elected by the Turkish community in Western which have been increased in recent years and turned out to be a tool of political pressure and intimidation. The delegation demanded that Greece should respect the right of the Turkish community in Western Thrace to elect their own religious leaders and stop the state interventions infringing their religious autonomy. Finally, the Western Thrace Turkish delegation reminded that Greece has a similar attitude towards the Turks living on Rhodes, Kos and the Dodecanese regarding the issue of Muftis and foundations and noted that the Turkish community on the islands has not been able to fully enjoy their religious freedom for the last fifty years.
On the second day of the meeting, the Western Thrace Turkish delegation, had the floor in the second session entitled the “Security of Communities and Support to Victims: Good Practices of Addressing Discrimination, Hate and Violence against Christians, Jews, Muslims and other Religious or Belief Communities”. The Western Thrace Turkish delegation indicated that hate speech against the Turkish community in Western Thrace threatens the peaceful environment in the region and expressed the examples of hate discourse in politics and media. The Western Thrace Turkish delegation noted that prior to the visit of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Republic of Turkey, motherland of Western Thrace Turks, in December 2017, the papers including threat messages were laid in the streets and crosses were scratched on the walls of some houses. The delegation indicated that ABTTF and WTMUGA, representing the Turkish community in Western Thrace contribute to the OSCE Hate Crimes Report each year. The Western Thrace Turkish delegation stated that according to OSCE 2017 Hate Crimes Report, 128 hate crimes were recorded by the Greek police and about 46 out of which, judicial proceedings were conducted and only 6 of them resulted in conviction. The delegation added that majority of hated crimes based on Islamophobia has not yet been recognized in Greece and therefore they are not punished by the Greek authorities.
Greece, which used the right of reply in both sessions, stated that there is no country where the Muftis are assigned through election in the Islamic world and indicated that the Muftis are appointed by the state in Greece. Greece claimed that religious and cultural freedoms of the Turkish community in Western Thrace are fully respected and repeated the official state thesis and rejected the criticism of the Western Thrace Turkish delegation articulated in their presentations.