Everywhere Western Thrace, every day January 29 till we get our rights back!

Mon, 30 Jan 2023 13:50 GMT
The greatest answer to those who say that there are no Turks in Western Thrace is January 29 and its spirit of struggle that will never die.
Everywhere Western Thrace, every day January 29 till we get our rights back!

When the Turkish-Greek War, between 1919-222, ended with the victory of the Turks, Turkey and Greece signed the Lausanne Peace Treaty on July 24, 1923 in Lausanne, Switzerland. With this treaty, the borders of Turkey and Greece were drawn and the Turks of Western Thrace were left with special Minority Rights in Greece. Likewise, the Greek Minority was left in Bozcaada and Gökçeada, which are connected to Istanbul and Çanakkale in Turkey. These two minorities had equal rights in return for each other. Greece was the guarantor of the Greek Minority and Türkiye was the guarantor of the Turkish Minority.

Greece sought ways to assimilate the Western Thrace Turkish Minority from the very first day, and took advantage of the opportunity. According to the late İsmail Rodoplu, who led the Minority as an Independent Member of Parliament in the events of January 29, there was a state policy that Greek administrators and even all political parties implemented in alliance:
1. To force the Turks living in the plains to migrate by taking their property (by whatever means).
2. To assimilate our kinsmen living in the Balkan Zone (forbidden zone) in the long run.
3. By placing Turkish and non-Muslim populations in Western Thrace from inside and outside of Greece, to disrupt the population balance in favor of Greek origins and to provide all kinds of financial support in order to keep this population there.

According to Rodoplu, all kinds of pressure were considered permissible in order to achieve these three main goals. Whoever talks about oppression and discrimination is included in this three-point plan of destruction.

The junta era began with the military coup in 1967. Western Thrace Turks were able to use most of their rights under the treaties until the Colonels' Junta of 1967, but these rights were taken away from the minority after the junta.
The state confiscated the foundations managed by the Turkish Minority with the people it chose. They appointed the people they saw fit here and took control. From that date on, foundation properties began to be eliminated. This situation still continues. The state took Turkish schools from the minority. The name of the schools, which were called the Turkish School, was changed to the Muslim School, and minority education was emptied. The word Turk was removed from primary school books and school signs, and lessons that were supposed to be given in Turkish began to be taught in Greek.

The junta ended in 1974, but the injustices continued. Democracy came to the country, but not to the Turks in Western Thrace. In the following years, the citizenship rights of the Turkish minority members were also taken away. In Turkish schools, which were supposed to be run by the minority, the state continued to do what it wanted. The number of Turkish lessons was greatly reduced, the program was changed. It was not enough, the people of the Turkish Minority were not allowed to acquire real estate and obtain a driver's license. Even the leaking roofs were not allowed to be repaired. The lands of the Turkish Minority people in the plains villages were taken from them. Western Thrace was made uninhabitable for the Turks. For this reason, many Minority people were forced to migrate to Turkey and Europe. The arbitrary deprivation of citizenship and the expulsion of nearly 60 thousand Minority members from Greece was also carried out rapidly in this process. In 1983, the Xanthi Turkish Union founded in 1927, the Komotini Turkish Youth Union established in 1928, and the Western Thrace Turkish Teachers' Union founded in 1936 were closed on the grounds that the word "Turk" on their signboards "sounds hostility between the two communities".

In November 1987, the Supreme Court (Arios Pagos) in Athens upheld the closure of Turkish associations, which were previously established by the decision of the Greek Courts. The inclusion of the phrase "There are no Turks in Western Thrace" in the court's decision was the last straw for the Turks of Western Thrace.

After the associations with the word "Turkish" in their names were closed by a court decision on the grounds that "There are no Turks in Greece", the Turkish Minority carried out a great march in Komotini on January 29, 1988, which was called collective resistance and is referred to as the symbol of the National Resistance every year. The minority had chosen this day to draw attention to the injustices committed and to make their voices heard in the world.

Of course, the election of January 29, 1988 had a significance and meaning. Because on Friday, January 29, 1988, Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal were going to hold bilateral meetings in Davos. The prime ministers of the two states, who left us here as a minority and promised to keep us alive nationally, religiously, and economically, would come together after 40 years. For this reason, the Executive Committee decided on 29 January 1988 at the meeting held in Komotini Turkish Youth Union. On the evening of Thursday, January 28, all minority notables unanimously appointed Independent Turkish Minority Member of Parliament, İsmail Rodoplu, to preside over the march.

After being elected president from Rhodope, he went to the Police Chief with his lawyer. The manager requested that this march be postponed at all costs. He discussed this request of the Rhodope Police with the notables of the Turkish Minority. It was unanimously decided that the march would take place, and he went to the Police and reported this. The police told Rodoplu, "Mr. President, according to the information we have received, 30-35 thousand people will land in Komotini, how will we manage them? If an incident occurs, if blood is spilled, you will be the responsible, do you realize your responsibility? Go tell everyone and say it has been postponed." 
On the other hand, Rodoplu said: "My dear chief, the waters are flowing towards the sea, there is no way we can reverse it. Let those who brought the matter here think about it. We are already doing this march so that the two prime ministers can hear our problems." While Rodoply was leaving the center, the Chief of Police gave him a written decision banning the 29 January 1988 march. After discussing the police decision banning the march, the Turkish Minority agreed to meet in front of the Old Mosque in Komotini the next day, saying "there is no going back".

The police forces had blocked the entrances and exits of the whole village and city since midnight and prevented people from leaving, saying that the march was postponed. Rodoplu and his friends were telling the callers that the march would take place and that no one should believe the news that the march was postponed.

Close to Friday, January 29, Turkish Minority people broke through the police barricades and crossed the mountains to gather in front of the Old Mosque in Komotini and in the courtyard of the Turkish Youth Union. Tens of thousands of young and old Turkish people from seven to seventy, men and women, filled the streets of Komotini to join this struggle for rights. The Turks, who were tried to be prevented by the police forces, were beaten injured, and taken to the hospital, some of them were arrested, beaten, and taken to safety.

The walk ended with the speeches of Doctor Ayşe Galip on the balcony of her clinic towards the evening. The speakers told the police chief that the Turks gathered in the square would disperse on the condition that their imprisoned kinsmen be released. This condition was fulfilled and those arrested were released. Thereupon, thousands of Turks gathered and dispersed without incident. Even as the crowd was dispersing, the police continued to baton people, regardless of whether they were male or female. The fascist groups that gathered as a striking force against the Turks, on the other hand, were swearing and shouting "F… Turks". Strangely enough, those who said that the Minority was not Turkish were shouting "TURKS" even when attacking the same Minority with ugly words.

1. With this march, the minority approved its Turkishness to those who denied it. Even though those who deny our Turkishness said, "You are not Turkish," they themselves knew and admitted that we were Turkish.
2. In this way, they announced to the prime ministers of the two countries that there was an unfair practice against the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace, and therefore, there was a problem to the public opinion of both Turkey and Greece.

In order to commemorate these events that left their mark on the history of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority and to refresh the feelings of unity and solidarity on this occasion, a minority-wide mawlid (religious commemoration event) was held in the Old Mosque of Komotini on January 29, 1989. Thousands of minority members attended this mawlid and dispersed without incident, saying that they would meet at the same time next year. It is understood from this that the people of the Turkish Minority never cause unrest unless there is the intervention of the fanatical Greeks provoked by the administrators of the state.

Again, the Muslim-Turkish Minority of Western Thrace would celebrate the 29th of January, 1990, in unity and solidarity, with a mawlid al-Sharif at the Old Mosque of Komotini, just as it was a year ago. But unfortunately, the Turks who came to Komotini from all over Western Thrace to join the celebrations and gathered around the Old Mosque and the Turkish Youth Union were attacked. Mass attacks were organized against Turks in Komotini and Xanthi by fanatical Greek groups who are anti-Turkish. In the attacks that lasted for two days due to the tolerance of the Greek police, more than 500 Turkish shops and workplaces were destroyed and looted, and many Turks, including the late Mufti of Xanthi Mehmet Emin Aga and the independent deputy of the time, Ahmet Faikoğlu, were beaten and seriously injured.

The Metropolitan of Komotini and Maronia, Damaskinos, was provoking the fanatical Greeks by making speeches on Greek radios and provoking the Greeks with the words "Well done my palikarians (GR: Young Boy), you will be written in gold letters in history with these heroisms you have shown".

As a result, hundreds of Western Thrace Turks were beaten, around 500 Turkish shops and workplaces were broken into and looted. In that day's calculation, about 150 million property damage was done. These were ugly events that did not suit our age, democracy, and human rights.

On behalf of the European Helsinki Watch Human Rights Watch, Prof. E. Sisby came to Komotini two days later and toured the looted shops. He toured the Turkish neighborhoods, listening to the people themselves, and published a lengthy report on the problems faced by the Turks of Western Thrace. A few days after that, Withman, the representative of the World Human Rights Watch, came to Komotini from the United States and learned about the problems of the Turkish Minority closely and announced it to the world with a report.

The state is responsible for both events. If the state had not wanted to, this atrocity would not have happened. The state did not apologize for the harm done, They did not compensate for the losses of the minority. In any case, the Turkish Minority has never asked for compensation and never complained. This is an indication of how honorable and self-sacrificing the Turkish Minority is.

The Western Thrace Muslim Turkish Minority embroidered the 29th of January into history with its national attitude against oppression. The Turkish Minority came shoulder to shoulder in the attacks that took place during the protest actions. They showed unity in the best way and said stop to those who ignore them. January 29 was the day that Western Thrace Turks were proud of, symbolizing their national resistance. For this reason, we say that the greatest proof of the existence of the Turkish identity, which was denied and wanted to be destroyed by the assimilation policies of the Western Thrace Turks, is the 29th of Januaries. The greatest answer to those who say that there are no Turks in Western Thrace is January 29 and its spirit of struggle that will never die. That is why the enemies of the Turks want to weaken this spirit and make us forget our epic of January 29 discrediting it. But we will not let it.

The Western Thrace Turkish Minority has never bowed to racist and discriminatory practices, in which it is treated as a 3rd class citizen and even its identity, which is the proof of its existence, is ignored. The biggest example of this is the January 29.

Western Thrace Turks showed a collective resistance with their marches on January 29, 1988 and 1990 in order to stand against the persecutions aimed at destroying their identity and paid a great price. It still continues to pay. The cruel administration carries out a policy of oppression and intimidation in order to weaken the spirit of January 29 and to prevent such actions. It does this by threatening the Turkish Minority representatives who defend the Turkish identity, either openly or indirectly. Especially elected muftis and journalists are punished in the courts with imprisonment and fines. In this way, it is desired to intimidate the entire Minority. Whenever there is a desire to hold a march against the rights violated and the discrimination policy applied, Turkish enemies immediately step in to prevent these marches, and the Turkish Minority is targeted by declaring it a "national threat". In this way, an innocent struggle for rights is portrayed as hostility to the country, and the Turkish Minority's determination to struggle is sought to be broken.

The determination to fight is very important at the point of obtaining the rights of the Turkish Minority. For this reason, the spirit of January 29 is very important for the Turks of Western Thrace and should be transferred to the next generations more strongly. It should not be forgotten that January 29 is the symbol of the struggle for existence of Western Thrace Turks in terms of fighting spirit. Those who do not know their own history are forced to accept the history that others have written for them. And they have to accept that others determine their future. That is why it is very important that we know our own history, and especially January 29.

Although 35 years have passed since the events, the Greek administration continues to deny the minority's Turkishness and violate their rights. There has been no progress in citizenship rights other than partial and ostensible steps, and it looks like it will not happen in the close future. The European Court of Human Rights sentenced Greece, which closed the Xanthi Turkish Union, as unfair. It had previously been sentenced for suing elected muftis. However, despite the warnings, it continued to apply what they want. Today in Greece, aside from saying "Turkish Minority", reminding the rights of the Turkish Minority and talking about injustices are considered a crime.

It seems that there is still more work to be done to gain our Minority Rights back. So January 29 continues. The torch lit by the spark in 1988 did not go out. As always, the shooters of the anti-Turkish Minority mechanism try to confuse the Turkish Minority youth with different allegations (by claiming that they are not Turkish) to extinguish this torch. However, because the Minority community knows these and their intentions, they do not care and move on. They are resilient in this regard and often reveal that they can go out and take action when necessary.

It is not easy, of course, to put up with them. However, the Turkish Minority knows that this is a difficult and troublesome road. The struggles for the achievement of human rights have always been troublesome throughout history. The biggest trouble in this regard is the greatest person in history, our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) took it. His struggle to live humanely with people of different religions and backgrounds in the face of cruel dictatorships is very tough, grueling, and unique. Those who followed his path later took his rightful struggle as an example and always won. With this spirit, unique victories were won in Çanakkale against the enemies of humanity. The Turks of Western Thrace, as their descendants, continue their cause with the same determination to struggle. There is no doubt that this struggle for rights will be crowned with victory.

Nobody can say to the Turks of Western Thrace, “You live in Greece, you are a Greek citizen, so you are fighting for Turkishness?". Those who want to be Turkish should not go to Turkey. Because this is their natural right. International law has ensured this. The state cannot deny our Turkishness, cannot say that we are Greek by pressure. It is what the Minority says about it. It is wrong to attribute other identities to the Turks of Western Thrace and to call them “Greek/Pomak Muslims”.

The aim of the Turkish enemies is to silence the Turkish Minority and to prevent the struggle for Turkish Minority rights. Because according to them, there were no Turks in Western Thrace. According to them, the term "Turk" was not mentioned in the Treaty of Lausanne. Well, does the word "Greek" appear in Lausanne? No. So, according to this logic, there is no Greek Minority in Türkiye. Because in the Treaty of Lausanne, the term non-Muslim is used for minorities in Türkiye, and the term Muslim for the Minority in Western Thrace. The answer of the Turkish Minority to those who say "Muslim Minority" is mentioned in Lausanne, so you are not Turkish, is this: If it were not written in Lausanne that we were Muslims, would we not be Muslims? Would you deny our Islam too? Were we going to get your permission for this? Of course not! Therefore, we will not be asking anyone's permission for our Turkish identity. According to international law, only people can decide what people are. They are what they want to be, and states just have to respect that.

As Western Thrace Turks, we are Turks simply because we want to. We are Turks and we will continue to stay that way no matter what. We have thousands of years of history, a great history. We are the grandchildren of a heroic ancestor and it is only worthy of us to keep our identity, which is our right, dignity, and honor, heroically. Yes, we are Greek citizens and we will die for this country if necessary. We fought in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. But we never violate our faith, our Turkishness, and our minority rights.

When it comes to identity and Turkishness, some people confuse it with racism and fascism. We have nothing to do with racist thoughts or arrogance. Racism is a Western product of the devil. We, on the other hand, are the worst enemies of those who see us and other people as enemies and want to destroy them. We shout that we are Turkish because they deny our Turkishness. To those who ask us why you are emphasizing Turkishness in Greece, we should first ask why the enemies of the Turks deny the Turkishness of the identity Turkish Minority. Let them ask why they took away the rights recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne. It is the state that is wrong. It is not the Turkish Minority that defends its rights and identity.

The Turk fears no one but Allah. He does not remain silent in the face of injustice. He has the courage to face all kinds of oppressors. He is always ready to do what is necessary for the rights and honor of both himself and others. He does not hesitate. When we are told to march, we are not told who will say what or what will happen to us. Just like the Western Thrace Turks who went down to the streets on January 29. This is how January 29 became an epic.

These epics were written by those who went down to the streets shouting "We are Turks" and were attacked with stones, sticks, and knives for this. We are trying to defend our identity by writing, telling, and keeping their epic alive. This epic is a historical fact and in itself proof of the existence of the Muslim Turkish Minority in Western Thrace.

The persecution of Islam, Turkishness, and rights continues in Western Thrace. So we too are irreligious and without identity; If we do not want to live without honor and dignity, we will follow their path as the sons of the nation that wrote epics for our rights.

And our motto to be: Everywhere Western Thrace, every day January 29 till we get our rights back!…

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