The changing image of politics among Western Thrace Turks in the last fifty years

Tue, 26 Jul 2022 0:58 GMT
In the century-old minority history, political consciousness among Western Thrace Turks could not reach the desired level due to various reasons. In these circumstances, it is necessary to exclude some community leaders whose names will never be forgotten...
The changing image of politics among Western Thrace Turks in the last fifty years

In the century-old minority history, political consciousness among Western Thrace Turks could not reach the desired level due to various reasons. In these circumstances, it is necessary to exclude some community leaders whose names will never be forgotten with their critical moves in politics, from this classification. Schools or educational establishments, which were brought by especially Mehmet Hilmi, Müderris Hafız Ali Galip, Osman Nuri, Muzaffer Salihoğlu, Osman Üstüner, and many important figures whose names we cannot count, have served as an artery in this community, whose cultural life is viewed with a nasty eye.

Even though the democratic order was restored with the end of the junta rule in our country in 1974, the Turkish minority will still face the institutional methods of the junta for decades, and the pressures to suppress society will continue to increase. In this context, in the elections held after 1974, the desire to provide an advantage to the Greek-origin candidates by establishing various benches for the Greek citizen Turkish candidates will reveal the necessity of producing new options in the election processes.

Under these circumstances, Celal Zeybek, who was elected as a deputy in 1977 and narrowly lost being elected as a deputy in 1981, together with Mehmet Emin Aga and Hikmet Cemiloğlu in 1985, will establish the list called "Peace" as an independent parliamentary candidate in Xanthi, although they cannot achieve the desired result. Their attempt will go down in history as the beginning of an initiative that will lead to structural changes in Greek politics in the following years. As a matter of fact, in the next general election processes (1989 -1991), the Western Thrace Turkish voters will come out of this trial with a clear conscience with the independent lists called "Guven" and "Ikbal".

When we look at the character of the political dynamics created by the independent lists with the understanding of organization initiated by the Western Thrace Turks in the presence of mass actions, the necessity of the cause-effect relationship of this search will be better understood. The main dynamic of this movement, which developed apart from a series of unlawful practices such as the unquestioned dismissal of citizenship, pressures to force immigration through various methods, and the expropriation of Turkish lands and confiscation by the state, among the important events that led to the birth and massive growth of independent lists, is undoubtedly the denial of the identity of the Turkish minority. As it will be remembered, the statement of the Greek government spokesman Rubatis, who took Bulgaria as an example at that time, as "There are no Turks in Greece", led to January 29th and mass protests in the Turkish minority.

After the first trial of the independent list, independent candidates in the 1989 general elections made a great impression both among the minority and throughout Greece. At that time, many parliamentary candidates from independent lists as well as from parties were asked questions regarding the process. When asked by a journalist about whether independent candidates are governed from some centers outside of Greece, Orhan Hacıibram, candidate for parliament from ND, gave the following answer:

"I don't believe this. I should also point out that independent lists were not established out of the blue. Unfortunately, ND made big mistakes in the past, and PASOK continues to make the same mistakes increasingly today. As a result, the trust of the majority of the minority in political parties has been lost..."

Celal Zeybek, who is a parliamentary candidate from the same party, answers a question about the identity of the minority, stating that the Turks of Western Thrace are the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, and answers the journalist's question with a question:

He says, "I'm asking you. Who signed the Treaty of Lausanne on behalf of me? The Republic of Turkey. Therefore, I am one of the Turks living outside Turkey's borders, just like the Greeks outside Greece. We have to be honest about this..."

Ahmet Faikoğlu, who was elected as a member of parliament from PASOK in 1985, became a parliamentary candidate from the same party in the 1989 elections. A journalist who wants to interview him sees familiar pictures hanging on the wall behind his desk in his office. Alongside the colorful, framed picture taken from the meeting between Papandreou and Özal in Davos in 1988, the pictures of Atatürk and Venizelos, carefully placed side by side, attract the attention of the journalist. In the atmosphere of historical realities evoked by these symbolic pictures hanging on the wall, the journalist brings the word, the hottest subject of politics, to independent lists. Faikoğlu gives the following answer to the question asked:

"The people's natural right to vote. The right to vote and to be elected is their constitutional right... But the main problem is the attitude of the local organizations of the parties. If I need to protect my political reputation, I would also consider participating in the elections as an independent parliamentary candidate".

This suggestive reaction of Faikoğlu is related to the fact that his rival Atmatzidis from the same party set up the election office right across from his office, and his party tried to gain an advantage by condoning this.

The fact that attracted the attention of bureaucratic circles, as well as parties in those elections, was the independent parliamentary lists. These lists claimed to be the voice of the growing complaint in the community against various injustices. As a matter of fact, in the elections held in June 1989, Dr. Sadik Ahmet was elected as an independent deputy. Upon his election as a deputy, a journalist, asked him "What are you going to do next?":

He says, "What will I do? I will continue to defend the rights of the Turkish minority. I will also defend the rights of all people, whether they are of Greek or Turkish origin."

Sadik Ahmet's political discourse caused great discomfort in politics and bureaucracy. Thereupon he was tried and imprisoned. In the early elections, this time İsmail Rodoplu was elected as an independent deputy in Komotini instead, and he continued Sadik's line. During his parliamentary term, shops belonging to Turks were looted in Komotini as a result of provocations. The ongoing political instability in Greece has once again led the country to early elections. This time, the out-of-jail Ahmet Faikoğlu was also elected as an independent deputy in Xanthi.

The emphasis on identity made in the speeches of both deputies, representing the identity and law, which is the indispensable condition of the minority, was making the atmosphere very tense. The Greek government, disturbed by the identity discourse, found the solution to change the election law and block the way for independent parliamentary elections. After that, a new era will begin in the political arena of Western Thrace Turks. The Friendship Equality Peace party was founded under the leadership of Sadik Ahmet. However, with Sadik's unexpected tragic death, the party's excitement and growth rate slowed down.

In the 1996 parliamentary elections, many Turkish minority candidates were nominated from various parties. One of the party's candidates, Orhan Hacıibram, was taken down by his party, with the striking "Turkish Deputy Candidate" board in the election office, causing Hacıibram to withdraw from his candidacy. "Orhan brother, are you a candidate?" When he was asked, Orhan Hacıibram took a clear stance against this unlawfulness by saying, "If the downloaded board is hung in its place, my candidacy will continue. Otherwise, I am not a candidate." In those elections, Galip Galip in Komotini and Mustafa Mustafa in Xanthi were elected as Birol Akifoğlu. What remained in mind for the minority during this period was the construction of the additional building of Celal Bayar High School in Komotini, with the persistent attempts of Galip. In the construction of the building, Giannakidis, who was the Head of East Macedonia and Thrace Region at that time, also supported. Also at that time, the executives of minority organizations, especially all three deputies, issued a joint declaration demanding the recognition of the Turkish identity of the minority.

In order to restrict the political will of Western Thrace Turkish voters, which does not exceed 1% across Greece, in violation of democratic practices, a 3% electoral threshold was introduced for the first time across the country. Making the independent lists dysfunctional in Western Thrace was given such importance that even the loss of the right to be elected as an independent deputy throughout Greece was taken into account.

After the removal of the concept of independent parliamentarian from the political literature of the country, the profile of the politician in the minority began to change gradually, and the essence of the community cause was far removed. The number of Turkish deputies has increased, but the image has also changed. In this period, the term "minority", which is an ambiguous definition such as "neither skewers nor kebabs" [a Turkish saying to express the intention not to upset either side], was most popular instead of the Turkish minority. What a minority! What makes a minority 'minority' is its name, education, traditions, institutions. In this period, even those who used the Turkish name are evident when mentioning the minority in the statements made. The elected muftis of Xanthi and Komotini are organizations such as ITB, GTGB, and BTTOB and minority press.

The institutional corruption experienced in the Turkish minority has taken a turn that eats away at the social structure. While talking about the importance of institutions, the issue of equal citizenship rights for the minority, that is, civil rights, cannot be considered outside of this context. However, with the structural changes that took place in politics thirty years ago, it is seen that citizenship rights and identity rights are running in opposite directions in the state's view of the minority. A partial improvement was achieved in the issue of equal rights, which was brought to the agenda with independent lists at that time. However, it is concluded that the problems increase exponentially in issues such as education that emphasize the identity of the minority. The policy change towards the minority (Zolotas Memorandum) adopted by the government at that time and the 3% election threshold introduced after a while are not separate things. These are elements that complement each other. Low-profile politics among the minority and partial improvements in civil rights are the most striking features of this period. It seems that the perception that the minority should renounce the right to identity in return for the so-called equal citizenship rights is made felt with various touches.

With this assessment of the past fifty years, our aim, rather than criticizing the political actors who have assumed responsibilities on behalf of the Turkish minority, is to usurp the political will of the minority, which is the main target of the election law imposed by the Greek government, and to draw attention to its attitude towards transforming the identity fabric of the community. In the meantime, however, it is time to make some observations. Doing politics on behalf of the minority in Western Thrace is not just about gaining the title of deputy. The sine qua non of this title is to be open to all kinds of self-sacrifice and to struggle so that all the rights of the minority can be exercised. It should not be forgotten that the responsibility of doing politics for this community is very heavy and the plague is great. Of course, the voters will decide the question, "Is the party politics out of date?". For the Turkish minority, it is more imperative than ever for those who want to compete in this very difficult field of politics to put aside their personal passions and see politics as a means that protects the interests of the community.

Finally, let us remind those who do not want to see the reality of minority in Western Thrace. The demand of this self-sacrificing community, which fulfills its obligations to its country, for the implementation of both the equal citizenship law and the minority law framework, arises from the power of an international instrument such as the Lausanne Treaty, whose historical importance has never decreased. It should be known that the Western Thrace Turkish Minority will continue to remind all parties of the rights granted to it by treaties and tirelessly demand that the necessary be done.

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