The way to solution: Athens!
In order to raise the problems of Western Thrace Turks who have the right to bilingual education in Turkish and Greek in their own schools pursuant to the Treaty of Lausanne, as Western Thrace Turks, firstly we organized workshop and conference on bilingual education in Komotini in the beginning of March.
Experts from our homeland Turkey, our country Greece and from various European countries participated at this event. Prof. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues was also in Komotini for this conference.
Secondly, on March 20, 2019, we organized a conference together with the European Free Alliance (EFA) at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels.
The conference entitled “Fundamental Problems in Education Facing Minorities in Europe: Comparing the Cases of Western Thrace Turks and German Minority in Denmark” was hosted by MEP Joseph-Maria Terricabras, Vice President of the Greens/ EFA Group in the European Parliament and Co-Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup “Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages”.
Here at the conference the best examples were presented by Käthe Freiberg-Nissen, Pedagogical Consultant at North Schleswig German School and Language Association in Denmark, Anke Tästensen, Pedagogical Director at North Schleswig German School and Language Association, and Dr. Alex Riemersma, Chair on “Frisian Language and Multilingualism in Education” at NHL Stenden University in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, the poor example was our low-quality bilingual education system due to the countless interventions of Greece. The point where our education system was brought from past to present was explained by Pervin Hayrullah, General Director of Culture and Education Foundation of Western Thrace Minority (PEKEM).
While the conference in Brussels was attended by the diplomats of our homeland, unfortunately nobody from our country’s diplomatic representation in Brussels attended the conference.
However, among Members of the European Parliament from our country, Miltiadis Kyrkos from POTAMI Party, Eleftherios Synadinos from the racist Patriotic Radical Union Party (P.A.T.R.I.E), Georgios Epitideios from the Golden Dawn Party and Assistant of MEP Manolis Kefalogiannis from the New Democracy Party were at the conference.
In 2016, Eleftherios Synadinos, who raided the conference that we organized with Macedonians from Greece on the issue of freedom of association in Greece at the EP, this time listened the speakers until the end of the conference. Synadinos had the floor at the end of the conference and noted that the conference topic has no connection with the Treaty of Lausanne, accused us for making propaganda and our motherland Turkey for interfering in Greece through Western Thrace Turks.
Except the ones from the Golden Dawn Party, we could not make an appointment with MEPs from our country when we asked for it. However, these MEPs were present at our conference.
It seems that they cannot prevent us in Brussels therefore they should be thinking that by being around they would not leave the arena unattended.
These MEPs instead of listening to us sincerely, they chose to repeat the official argument of the state.
Instead of giving aggressive and offensive responses to their provocative questions, we listed the facts one by one with a calm and reasonable tone of voice.
We emphasized the solution to our problems is in Athens.
We explained that our government should have a good will approach for this.
And at the Human Dimension Meeting organized by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on 1-2 April, we expressed our problems in the field of religion.
Again, with a moderate tone, we explained that the state has extorted the right to choose our religious leaders, our Muftis.
In response, Greece said that Muftis are not assigned through elections in any Muslim country.
However, our country knows very well that the comparison must be made with the election of the patriarch of the Greek minority in Istanbul, Turkey, not with the other Muslim countries.
But as always, Greece tries to ignore or distort the truth.
Instead of accepting that Western Thrace Turks are systematically discriminated, Greece seeks shelter in the excuse that the economic crisis or general inequalities in the country which are valid for all.
It claims that we have parliamentarians at the parliament, so we can be involved in all matters.
When we state that our MPs are bound with the policy and discipline of the majority party rather than being either the members of our own political party or independent selected MPs, they say “Then don’t vote for them”.
It looks like, thanks to the struggle we have made for long time, the issue of Western Thrace Turks is known more or less by everybody, therefore, even if it is by force, we have started to be taken as interlocutor as not to put our country in difficult position any longer.
And this shows that we’re on the right track!
Take care of yourselves!
Halit Habip Oğlu
President of ABTTF