In the regional forum where the right to education of minorities was discussed, the Western Thrace Turks conveyed the problems in the minority schools’ education system.
Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), participated at the 1st Regional Forum on Minority Issues held on 6-7 May 2019 in Brussels, for the first time, by Prof. Fernand de Varennes, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. The conference was organized with the support of the Tom Lantos Institute based in Budapest. At the forum where Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) participated also as one of the partner organizations, as representatives of the Turkish community in Western Thrace, Melek Kırmacı Arık, International Relations Director of ABTTF and Aykut Garipoğlu, ABTTF Brussels Office Coordinator attended the forum as well as that Dr. Ali Hüseyinoğlu, Member of Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (BTAYTD) and Faculty Member of the Institute of Balkan Studies at the University of Thrace also participated as a guest speaker at the forum.
ABTTF raised the question of teachers, curriculum and textbooks in bilingual minority kindergartens and primary schools and called the Greek authorities to find solutions for the problems in dialogue with Western Thrace Turks
The regional forum, which provided the opportunity to voice the minorities living in Europe, was attended by approximately 150 people, including governments, UN mechanisms and bodies, representatives of intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations in Europe. At the forum that started following the opening speech by Fernand de Varennes who attended the workshop and conference on education organized by ABTTF, BTAYTD, and the Western Thrace Minority Culture and Education Foundation (BAKEŞ) in March 2019 in Komotini, the rights of linguistic minorities in the field of education which one of the thematic priorities of the UN Special Rapporteur, were discussed.
ABTTF took the floor during the first session in which human rights and minority language education were discussed and reminded that the Turkish community in Western Thrace was granted the autonomy in education in Greece with the 1923 Lausanne Treaty and has the right to education in mother tongue and to establish and manage their own schools. ABTTF also conveyed that after preschool education was made compulsory in 2006 in Greece, the state insistently does not allow the establishment of bilingual minority kindergartens which would provide education as private kindergartens within the scope of the special education system that Western Thrace Turks acquire.
In the second session moderated by Neil Clarke, Director of the Minority Rights Group Europe (MRG Europe) who visited Western Thrace in September 2018, public policy objectives and practices were brought to the agenda. In this session, ABTTF had the floor and said that although Turkish community in Western Thrace is autonomous in the field of education according to the treaties, state control at all levels of education is very strict. ABTTF stated that the state pursues unilateral and imposing education policies under conditions where there is no dialogue and expressed that rather than solving the problem of low-quality education in Turkish primary schools, steps taken in the public kindergartens within the public school system, such as a minority member in the kindergarten serving as an interpreter, are far from solving the problems.
On the second day where pedagogical approaches in education within the framework of linguistic rights and multilingualism of minorities were addressed, Ali Huseyinoglu made a presentation in the last session entitled the effective implementation of human rights obligations within the framework of quality, resources and management. Hüseyinoğlu who introduced the region and the Turkish community in Western Thrace explained the features of the education system of Western Thrace Turks. Hüseyinoğlu stated that the right to education in mother tongue has a vital importance in terms of maintaining the existence of minorities and conveyed that instead of taking a unilateral step, the decision-making mechanisms should be carried out in dialogue and cooperation with the Turkish community Western Thrace.
ABTTF spoke in the last session and raised the crises in the textbooks in the minority schools and minority schools protests in September 2018 and brought to the agenda the reduction of Turkish lessons in Medrese-i Hayriye in Komotini. ABTTF expressed that practices implemented with an unilateral and compelling understanding by Greek authorities created mistrust and called the Greek authorities to bring solutions to the problems in cooperation with the Turkih community in Western Thrace .
Representatives of Cham Albanians and Vlahs who attended the forum stated that Greece only recognizes the religious minorities in the country and criticised Greece for not recognizing any ethnic or national or linguistic minority and expressed that they do not have right to education in mother tongue since these minorities are not recognized.
Greece had the floor in different sessions and indicated that according to the Treaty of Lausanne, there is only Muslim minority in Western Thrace and repeated its offical opinion that this Muslim minority is composed of three different ethnic groups. Greece stated that Turkish community Western Thrace has an autonomous structure within its school system and Greece has taken positive steps like issuing new textbooks, new curriculum as well as the establishment of a new department to train the minority teachers serving in the Turkish programme.