EU continues allowing Greece to persecute Turks of Western Thrace

Western Thrace
Thu, 8 Dec 2022 9:39 GMT
Three ECtHR decisions not implemented by Greece and consistent persecution of the Turks in Greece’s Western Thrace continue to remain without any redress.
EU continues allowing Greece to persecute Turks of Western Thrace

Three European Court of Human Rights decisions not implemented by Greece and consistent persecution of the Turks in Greece’s Western Thrace continue to remain without any redress, yet the West and European Union remain deafeningly quiet as President Erdoğan calls for the Islamic world to 'no longer be a spectator' to the persecutions

Amid the recent diplomatic crisis over Osman Kavala, whose imprisonment in Türkiye has prompted many EU countries and officials’ reactions, there is an absence of Western pressure on Athens to implement several European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decisions in favor of the Western Thracian Turks in Greece. In addition, nothing is being done against Greece over its continued contravention of the rights of its Turkish and Muslim populations. Plus, no mention is being made of the exodus of 60,000 people who had their Greek citizenship revoked in a loud and clear manner and via an explicitly racist law targeting citizens “not of the Greek race.” However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been regularly bringing their persecution to the fore and is now calling upon the “Islamic world to no longer be a spectator to the plight of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted in Greece.”

The community of Western Thrace Turks in Greece is estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000. Greece has been consistently carrying out human rights abuses against them, preventing them from accessing their democratic, property and commercial rights in contravention of Western standards and Greece’s obligations under the EU. In essence, the Turkish minority in Greece has been subjected to systematic state racism for decades in an attempt to coerce the population to leave the country, including severe restrictions on expression, freedom of assembly, expropriation of trust property and restrictions in their maintenance, and limitations in buying and selling real estate.

Erdoğan, highlighting this persecution recently, has pointed to the fact that "unfair and unlawful" practices have continued against the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece for years. The religious leaders of the Turkish minority in Greece are not recognized, their foundations and property are seized, they are not allowed to teach their mother tongue, and their identities are denied. Erdoğan also repeatedly urged that the Islamic world should now take an active role against the persecution “of our brothers and sisters” in Greece.

Greek exceptionalism

Recently, an academic was barred from entering Greece. He was told at the border “he knows why” he was denied entry, about his academic study on Turks in Thrace, which is reminiscent of a totalitarian and undemocratic regime, not an EU member.

A source from the region described the Turkish minority “as a stepchild,” meaning the minority never being fully accepted as they do not have the same rights as ethnic Greeks. Another source also said that they lost their Greek citizenship when they got married in Türkiye. They must now obtain a visa to visit their parents in Greece, their homeland for generations. There are tens of thousands in this predicament.

Many had their Greek citizenship revoked even after completing Greek military service because of their non-Greek ethnicity. “Not from the Greek race” is explicitly referred to in Article 19 of Greece’s 1955 citizenship law. The law was revoked in 1998 but the 60,000 have not had their citizenships reinstated, so the effect of this openly racist law continues.

According to other sources, the Turkish minority is still not permitted to become intermediaries in tobacco, cotton and other agricultural sectors, only letting them do farming, thus largely barring them from accumulating wealth. Furthermore, they are still forced to sell at very low prices to ethnic Greek intermediaries, a practice that has been continuing for decades.

Most sources are apprehensive about discussing the Greek government’s systematic human rights abuses out of fear of retribution.

All this systematic persecution does not follow Western and EU norms.

In 1922, there were 129,000 Turks and 33,000 Greeks in Western Thrace, with the Turks’ land ownership rate at 84% and the Greeks’ at 5%. Under Greece, Muslims lost their majority. Practices such as the forcible confiscation of real estate belonging to Turks were occasionally brought by Türkiye to the agenda of the League of Nations, which was the precursor to the U.N., but nothing changed.

Greece contravenes three ECtHR decisions

Greece refuses to enforce the three decisions of the ECtHR regarding the cases of the Xanthi (Iskeçe) Turkish Union, the Rhodope Turkish Women’s Association and the Meriç (Maritsa) Minority Youth Association.

The Xanthi Turkish Union's case centered on it being prohibited from using the word “Turkish” in its name 38 years ago. The association is still banned from using the word despite it being featured in its deed of foundation in 1927 and despite a 2008 ECtHR decision ordering Greece to allow its usage. Greek authorities systematically prohibit the use of the word "Turkish" and minority associations have been closed down for doing so.

Despite repeated contraventions, the European Commission has not begun infringement proceedings against Greece.

The EU's failure to enforce these three decisions gives a nod of approval for the Greek persecution of the minority. In light of this, EU and Western criticism of the Kavala case, while ignoring the decadeslong Greek ECtHR indiscretions, is another example of the double standards toward Türkiye, Turks and Muslims.

All this adds up to Greece, which contravenes international law by not allowing the minority to elect its mufti, a right secured under international treaties between the countries. Furthermore, muftis elected by the local community have even been jailed merely for performing religious rites.

And there is the death of Dr. Sadık Ahmet, the first minority Turk elected to the Greek parliament, under suspicious circumstances.

Exodus of 60,000 Muslims from Europe

Some 60,000 of the Turkish minority had their citizenship revoked under Article 19. This article was abolished as late as 1998 but no steps have been taken to reinstate victims’ Greek citizenship nor have any mechanisms of compensation been put in place.

This practice could be characterized as a form of a “soft” ethnic cleansing aimed at removing people not “Greek enough.” Even though the law was abrogated, its effects live on, as 60,000 people (90,000 including descendants) remain non-citizens, which clearly needs to be addressed by the EU.

The outcome of this EU acquiescence has been a drastic reduction of Greek citizens of Turkish ethnicity in the country, ultimately resulting in the embarrassing mass removal of Turks and Indigenous European Muslims from Europe occurring in the late 20th century.

Convenient result?

Greece acts with impunity because it has not been called to account for these violations for decades. All of the universal values of democracy, justice, rule of law, human rights and other fundamental “Western norms” are on hold for the Turkish minority in this part of the EU.

If the EU is serious about human rights and the rule of law, it should begin infringement proceedings against Greece for not abiding by the three ECtHR decisions, ensure Greece reinstates its citizenships, adhere to its obligations under its treaties and stop the systematic persecution of their Turkish minority who live in a state of fear. Otherwise, they are complicit and reek of past European policies aimed at removing all Indigenous European Muslims and Turks from Europe based on an Orientalist world view.

Levent Hüseyin-DailySabah

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