ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ ΜΕ ΠΡΩΤΟΒΟΥΛΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΠΕΚΕΜ ΣΕ ΑΜΕΡΙΚΑΝΙΚΕΣ -ΚΑΙ ΟΧΙ ΜΟΝΟ- ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΕΣ ΣΤΗΝ ΧΩΡΑ ΜΑΣ

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Το αμερικανικό υπουργείο Εξωτερικών, ετησίως δημοσιεύει αναφορά σχετικά με θέματα ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων και θρησκευτικών ελευθεριών. Όπως είναι γνωστό το 2012 γνωστοί σύλλογοι της τουρκικής μειονότητας Δυτικής Θράκης είχαν στείλει στην αμερικανική πρεσβεία επιστολή με θέμα την αναφορά των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων. Κατά παρόμοιο τρόπο σύλλογοι της τουρκικής μειονότητας Δυτικής Θράκης αξιολόγησαν την αναφορά του αμερικανικού ΥΠΕΞ σχετικά με τις θρησκευτικές ελευθερίες και μετέφεραν τις σχετικές απόψεις τους στην αμερικανική πρεσβεία στην Αθήνα και στο αντίστοιχο προξενείο στην Θεσσαλονίκη. Η επιστολή αυτή πέρα από τις αμερικανικές αποστολές στάλθηκε και σε άλλες διπλωματικές αποστολές στην χώρα μας αλλά και σε διεθνείς φορείς. Με σεβασμός προς την κοινή γνώμη μοιραζόμαστε μαζί της την επιστολή

Σημ : Η επιστολή περιγράφει αναλυτικά τα προβλήματα ου αντιμετωπίζει η τουρκική μειονότητα Δυτικής Θράκης στο θέμα της θρησκευτικής ελευθερίας και περιλαμβάνει τα εξής κεφάλαια :

1- Θέμα μουφτειών

2- Νόμος 4115/2013 (νόμος των 240 ιμάμηδων)

3- Θέματα μειονοτικών βακουφίων

4- Θρησκευτική Εκπαίδευση

5- Επιθέσεις κατά μουσουλμάνων

6- Προβλήματα που αντιμετωπίζει η τουρκική μειονότητα Ρόδου και Κω στο θέμα της θρησκευτικής ελευθερίας

 Περβίν Χαϊρουλλάχ

Γενική Διευθύντρια της ΠΕΚΕΜ

 ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ

 JOINT LETTER BY LEADING TURKISH NGOs OF THE TURKISH MINORITY OF WESTERN THRACE

H.E. David D. Pearce

U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic

U.S. Embassy in Athens

91 Vas Sophias

101 60 Athens

Komotini, 20 December 2013

Your Excellency,

As the civil society representatives of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, we would like to extend you a warm welcome. We wish you success in your new assignment and a pleasant stay in Greece.

Dear Ambassador,

We are the members of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace which was excluded from the Compulsory Population Exchange of 1923 between Greece and Turkey, just like the Orthodox Christian Greek inhabitants of Istanbul and the islands of Bozcaada and Gökçeada. Our status as Minority was established by the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923.

In appreciation of the close US interest in protection of human rights and religious freedoms, as well as the State Department’s annual reports in these fields, with your indulgence we take the liberty to share through joint letters our views on the reports issued by the State Department.

In one such letter to your predecessor, H.E. Ambassador Daniel Bennett Smith, dated 7 June 2013, we had expressed our opinions and thoughts regarding the U.S. State Department’s “Greece 2012 International Human Rights Report”. Through the present letter, we would like to share our thoughts on the U.S. State Department’s “Greece 2012 International Religious Freedom Report” which shed only modest light on the violations by our country against our religious freedoms.

Since then, the situation has somewhat further deteriorated and participants were prevented from delivering their speech in Turkish during the Conference “The Treaty of Lausanne: 90 Years Later – Framing Migration Issues” organized by the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and the “Programme for the Education of Muslim Minority Children in Thrace” in Komotini on 22-23 November, which led to many participants withdrawing in protest, including an MP and a Greek translator.

The chief problem concerning our religious freedom is the “Mufti” issue. We must be able to elect our own Mufti. This right is also engraved in international law through treaties to which our country Greece is party to. The cardinal argumentation employed by Greece in denying this inherent religious freedom is two-fold, albeit both flawed. First, our state is making an irrelevant connection with the appointment of Muftis in Turkey. Drawing such a parallel is problematic. We do not wish our state to tie our human and minority rights to the practices in other countries. Besides, Turkey has a Muslim-majority population who does not raise objections to the state’s appointment of Muftis. We do! Most importantly Turkey is a secular country whereas one may with ease argue that Greece is a Christian-Orthodox country by its very Constitution. Therefore, what we essentially encounter is a Christian-Orthodox government authority imposing Muslim Muftis. If we would follow a similar line of thought of our state which draws parallels with Turkey, we would have to argue that the Patriarch in Istanbul should, as well, be appointed by the Turkish state. However, this is not the case.

The second main argument of our state in denying us the right to elect our own Muftis is that “the Muftis exercise Islamic law and that therefore the state is bound by law to appoint people with such official powers”. These powers are very limited and our fellow minority members are not under obligation to be subject to them. They have the right to choose. Moreover, the decisions of Muftis in those limited civil areas could be contradicted and taken to justice. It should also be pointed out that our country has so far chose to usurp this matter as a convenient pretext for its static stance in brushing off our justified demands to elect our own Mufti and never even tried to propose a credible compromise that would be seen as respectable and maybe even acceptable.

With your indulgence we are attaching our more detailed views on the Report through the attached note.

Of course, we are cognizant that representatives from your office and the Consulate in Thessaloniki (together with biased Greek translators) make regular visits to our region in preparation of the State Department reports on human rights and religious freedoms. It would be highly appreciated if, in order to get a balanced picture, your colleagues’ meetings during these visits include the true representatives of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace and not only the appointed officials.

Mr. Ambassador, we would also be pleased to express these views to you directly. In this respect we would be honored to be received by you. We would be even more honoured if you would care to visit us up in Komotini and Xanthi.

Your Excellency, please accept the assurances of our highest consideration for you and for the people of the friendly country you represent. We wish you success in your new, challenging capacity and we will remain at your disposal.

C.C. Mr. Robert P. Sanders

U.S. Consul General in Thessaloniki

DETAILED VIEWS ON THE REPORT

The Report, in terms of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, begins by referring to the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923. For ease of reference and as a background, allow us to share with you the English translations of the Articles 40, 42 and 45 of that Treaty.

“Article 40

Turkish nationals belonging to non-Moslem Minorities shall enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as other Turkish nationals. In particular, they shall have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institutions, any schools and other establishments for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein.”

“Article 42

The Turkish Government undertakes to grant full protection to the churches, synagogues, cemeteries, and other religious establishments of the above-mentioned Minorities.”

“Article 45

The rights conferred by the provisions of the present Section on the Non-Moslem Minorities of Turkey will be similarly conferred by Greece on the Moslem Minority in her territory.”

Now please kindly let us express our views regarding the Report under certain titles.

THE MUFTI PROBLEM

 

As indicated in our cover letter, the flagship problem of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace in terms of religious freedoms is the non-recognition of the elected Muftis by our state, Greece. The Turkish Minority has the right to freely “establish, manage and control any charitable, religious and social institutions” and thus elect its own religious leaders. This right was safeguarded by bilateral agreements and international treaties; however, our authorities do not implement the relevant provisions of those international binding documents. These are the Istanbul Treaty of 1881, the Athens Treaty of 1913 and the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923

 

On this matter, the Report states that:

 

“The Muftis in Xanthi and Komotini began serving in 1991 and 1995 respectively. During the year the government extended their terms indefinitely. Some members of the Thrace Muslim minority continued to lobby for direct election of muftis by community without prescribing their judicial powers. The government maintained it had the right to appoint Muftis because the government appointed all judges, and the muftis performed judicial Sharia functions. Some Thrace Muslims accepted the authority of the government-appointed muftis, while others chose two unofficial muftis to serve their communities. The government did not recognize these two muftis, who did not have civil authority. Some Muslims also pressed for election of official imams.”

 

“By law the Government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, appoints all three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office with the possibility of extension. The muftis make judicial decisions in family law issues based on Sharia. Courts in Thrace routinely ratify the decisions of the muftis, who have judicial powers in domestic matters. The muftis also appoint imams to serve in the community’s mosques.”

 

“The government grants Muslims in Thrace the right to choose Sharia law to regulate family and civic issues such as marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance, but they also may choose civil marriages and civil courts. Muslims married by government-appointed muftis are subject to Shaira family law, but may appeal to the courts for a hearing under civil law.”

 

Your Excellency,

 

We will try to touch upon briefly how the “Mufti problem” started.

 

Article 11 of the Treaty of Athens (1913) stipulates that “Each Mufti will be elected by the Moslem electors in their respective jurisdiction areas”.

 

Greece, in 1920, put into effect the Law No 2345/1920 for the implementation of the provisions of the Athens Treaty of 1913. The Turkish Minority of Western Thrace did not have any “Mufti” problem until the passing away of the then Mufti of Komotini in 1985 and the then Mufti of Xanthi in 1990. However, Greece, annulled the Law No 2345/1920 by a Presidential Decree in 1990 and one year later enacted a new Law No 1920/1991 providing for the appointment of the Muftis directly by state authorities.

 

 

Since the early 1990s, the appointments of the Muftis in Komotini and Xanthi and an Acting Mufti in Didimotiho have created disappointment and reaction among the Turkish Minority which has not been involved in the appointment procedure. The Turkish Minority has never accepted these appointments and was left with no choice but to elect their own Muftis in Komotini and Xanthi.

We would like to take this opportunity to inform you that this controversy took also an international dimension in the second half of the 1990s. After having been prosecuted for “usurping the titles and religious authorities” of the appointed Muftis, the elected Muftis applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). On several instances, the Court concluded that Greece has violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Serif v. Greece – 14 December 1999 – Case No: 38178/97; Agga v. Greece – No. 1-2, 17 October 2002 – Case No: 50776/99 and Case No: 52912/99; Agga v. Greece – No. 3, 13 July 2006 – Case No: 32186/02 and Agga v. Greece – No.4, 13 July 2006 – Case No: 33331/02). These ECtHR rulings were all ignored.

Your Excellency,

As briefly explained in our letter, the main official and public pretext of our authorities for insisting on the appointment of the Muftis is that “Muftis are religious judges and in Greece all judges are appointed.” However, as it is correctly mentioned in the Report, the Islamic Law exercised in a traditional and a very limited fashion by the Muftis in Western Thrace is not obligatory. That is to say, members of the Minority have the right to decide whether to choose the Sharia Law or the Greek Civil Law regarding their family and civic issues. Moreover, Muftis’ judicial decisions are not legally binding unless approved by competent Greek courts. Therefore, a member of the Turkish Minority unsatisfied with the final decision has the right to apply to the local Greek court and contest the decision given through Islamic Law.

The Greek officials also claim that the Muftis are appointed in all Muslim countries including Turkey. However, this analogy is false and misleading. Muslim Turks of Western Thrace consist a Minority in Greece, whereas Muslims make up the majority of Turkey’s population. If a comparison is to be made, it should be drawn with the Greek Orthodox Minority in Turkey where the Greek Orthodox Patriarch is elected in conformity with long-lasting traditions of the Greek Patriarchate of Istanbul. Furthermore, in many countries where Muslims form minority communities the Muftis are elected rather than appointed. For instance, Bulgaria allows their Muslim Turkish citizens to elect their own religious leader without interference.

Last but not least, the wording in the Report that “Some Thrace Muslims accepted the authority of the government-appointed muftis, while others chose two unofficial muftis to serve their communities” is misleading. It gives an inaccurate impression that the appointed Muftis and the elected Muftis have more or less equal popular support. We would like to underline that the overwhelming majority of the Minority, even including many of the family members of the appointed Muftis, consider the elected Muftis as genuine religious leaders of the Minority and reject the appointed Muftis.

Numbers speak louder than words and letters. In Xanthi, the appointed Mufti runs only one mosque whereas the elected Mufti operates all the remaining 82 mosques. The situation is similar in Komotini.

To sum up, as representatives of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, we would like to have a sincere, constructive and a result-oriented dialogue with our authorities to find a viable solution to this long-lasting problem. In fact, we are cognizant that some sort of dialogue had started to this end in 2011, but it was frozen later on. We are ready to restart this process.

THE LAW NO 4115/2013 ON THE APPOINTMENT OF RELIGIOUS TEACHERS TO STATE SCHOOLS AND MOSQUES

The Report does not deal with the Government’s new legal arrangement to appoint 240 Koran teachers to state schools and mosques, as this development took place in the early days of 2013. However, we feel obliged to express the strong reaction of the Turkish Minority to the Law No 4115/2013 passed by the Hellenic Parliament in January 2013 despite the strong opposition of the three Minority-member deputies. This Law is more or less an updated version of Law No 3536/2007 which had foreseen the appointment of 240 imams. That law could not be implemented due to the strong reaction of the Minority.

The Minority has already expressed its disagreement and strong reactions to the new legislation, as well, including through written public statements. We regard this law as a gross violation of our religious freedom.

The authorities established three separate 5-member committees in the provinces of Rodopi, Xanthi and Evros to select 90 religious teachers in the first phase (45 in Rodopi, 30 in Xanthi and 15 in Evros). It was later understood that some members of these committees learned their appointments from the media and immediately announced that they would not take part in these committees. We have seen that several unemployed Minority members most of whom lack proper religious education applied for these posts, mainly due to the economic crisis.

It was announced that 63 out of 71 applicants were chosen by the relevant committees. Those 63 candidate “religious teachers” participated in a “very long” five-day pedagogical formation training seminar in Komotini in the first week of October 2013 so that they could be appointed as “teachers” to the state schools. More recently it was also announced that an additional 26 “religious teachers” would be recruited.

Your Excellency,

You may wonder why we are against optional “Koran classes” in state schools sponsored in this way by the State. First, our children already attend “Koran courses” held in the mosques by our own imams. The Minority has never asked for these “optional” Koran lessons in state schools. Second, we are concerned that the recruited “Koran teachers” do not have the necessary educational background and qualifications. Third, it was announced that these Koran lessons in the state schools will be taught in the Greek language. Fourth, the Law also aims at appointing “Koran teachers” to our Mosques. This is utterly unacceptable. Fifth, the argument that “the religious teachers are not appointed by the state, but by a committee, the members of which are Muslims” is flawed to say the least, as these committee members are directly appointed by the state as well and their practice closely scrutinized by non-Muslims. The bottom line is that our state once again meddles in our religious affairs with this law and we truly dislike it. The sheer fact that our state did not consult at all in the preparation and legislation of this Act speaks volumes.

THE AWQAF/ RELIGIOUS CHARITABLE FOUNDATIONS

The Report deals with the problems related to the religious charitable foundations very briefly:

“The government continued to claim that auqafs in Thrace owed interest on their tax debt, totaling approximately one million euros ($ 1.3 million). The government wrote off the principal, but members of the Muslim minority lobbied for the interest to be written off as well.”

Dear Ambassador,

Religious charitable foundations/awqafs are indispensable parts of the Turkish Minority’s cultural, historical and religious heritage. Provided that the Muslims had formed the majority of the Western Thrace region before 1923, each mosque in the villages and the offices of the Muftis located in the main cities of Western Thrace owned various kinds of properties varying from apartments located in the busiest streets to large tracts of agricultural farmlands. Most of the waqf properties were acquired during the Ottoman era while some others were donated by the local Muslim Turks in support of philanthropic purposes of these institutions such as providing food and shelter for the poor. Members of the Administrative Boards of the Waqfs are still appointed by the Hellenic authorities causing widespread mismanagement of the property and revenues of the Waqfs, to say the least.

A new Law No 3647/2008 was adopted by the Hellenic Parliament on 7 February 2008 regarding the administration and management of the Waqfs. It was, however, prepared unilaterally without taking into consideration the opinion and proposals of the Minority. Although this Law foresees the election of the members of the Administrative Boards of the Waqfs, it is rejected by the Minority as it gives excessive jurisdiction to the Secretary General of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Region as well as to the offices of the “appointed” Muftis disregarding the Minority’s views in the election procedure and the management of Waqf assets.

Our authorities also continue to disregard Waqfs’ financial immunity and impose excessive taxes and legal sanctions on their properties. The Minority’s inability to choose, govern and have full access to the accounts of these Waqfs prevents it from dispensing the revenues obtained thereof towards society’s vital needs, such as improving the infrastructure of Minority schools, repairing mosques or building new ones. Although the provisions of the Law 3554/2007 erased the existing debts of Waqfs, the fines and income taxes imposed on them remained intact. As a result, the total current debt of Administrative Board of Komotini Waqfs has reached an unsustainable level.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

In terms of education, the Report states that:

“In Thrace the government operates secular bilingual schools and two Islamic religious schools. Muslim students in Trace who wish to study the Quran attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.”

Your Excellency,

We have already expressed our views concerning Minority education in general at length through our letter of 7 June 2013. Therefore we will now touch upon only religious education.

As it is stated in the Report, there are two Islamic religious schools in Western Thrace, namely “Şahin (Ehinos) Madrasah” in the Ehinos village of Xanthi and the “Madrasah-ı Hayriye” in central Komotini. The number of courses instructed in Turkish language and the ones about the Islam religion gradually diminished at these madrasahs while the lessons taught in Greek language increased. Thus, suffice it to say that both madrasahs gradually lost their religious characters. This is why most Minority students who would like to become part of the Islamic clergy in Western Thrace go to foreign countries for secondary and university education.

ANTI-MUSLIM ATTACKS AND INCIDENTS

The Report states that:

“There were numerous reports of anti-Muslim incidents. In March vandals painted graffiti stating ‘The best Turk is the dead Turk’ on the walls of a Bektashi (Islamic Sufi order) tomb in Xanthi. Golden Dawn party members on motorcycles chanted racist slogans in Muslim villages on several occasions.”

Your Excellency,

 

The list in report is incomplete. Houses of worships that belong to the Turkish Minority have frequently been targeted by ultra nationalist, Islamophobic and racist groups. Along with the attacks mentioned in the Report, several major incidents also occurred in the year of 2012:

16 February 2012: Unknown people attacked to the Poshbosh neighborhood Muslim cemetery at night. Around 10 gravestones were damaged. This was the third attack to the same cemetery in the last two years.

23 March 2012: Xanthi Turkish Union was attacked by people who have not been identified yet by the Police. The perpetrators wrote “TURKS OUT” on the walls of the Union, an old expression of hatred towards the ethnic identity of the autochthonous Muslims of Western Thrace.

23 September 2012: The placade of the “Seyyid Ali Sultan Dergah” in the Roussa village of the province of Evros was removed at midnight by an ultra-nationalist group.

Unfortunately, perpetrators of these and other similar acts mostly remain unidentified. We expect our authorities to be more sensitive and responsive in such cases.

THE MUSLIM TURKS OF RHODES AND KOS

Your Excellency,

The Report’s coverage of the “Muslims on the Dodecanese Island” is as follows:

“The government maintains that Muslims living outside Thrace are not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne and therefore do not have the rights provided by the treaty to Muslims in Thrace. The government recognizes only the government-appointed Muslim clergy elsewhere in the country. Some Muslims on the

Dodecanese Island assert they deserve the recognition and rights provided under the treaty.”

Our state is unfortunately inclined to opt only for a narrow legalistic approach concerning the religious liberties of the Muslim Turks of the Dodecanese Islands. In fact, all other Muslims who live outside Western Thrace face major difficulties in practicing their religion and preserving their Islamic-religious identity.

There are approximately 3.500 Muslim Turks in Rhodes and 1.500 in Kos. Our country argues that they are not entitled to have a Minority status since the Minority protection regime of the Lausanne Peace Treaty does not explicitly mention the Dodecanese Islands. The fact of the matter is that it could not have, because they were annexed to Greece in 1947. In effect the treatment of the Turkish Minority in these two islands is much below EU norms.

The post of the Mufti has been vacant since the passing away of the last Mufti in 1972. Turkish community members in these islands have no right to choose their preachers and they are forced to accept the authority of assigned preachers by the Awkaf Administration whose members have been appointed since 1967, just like here in Western Thrace. Turkish Muslim students in public schools have no access to Islamic education. While students of other faiths can attend their religious classes, the Turkish Muslim students are supposed to simply walk out of the classrooms. The Muslim Turks in Rhodes and Kos are allowed to worship only in a few mosques and the rest of the mosques are kept shut down under pretexts of “renovation” or “being historical monuments.”

Your Excellency,

We would like to reiterate our proposal expressed in our letter of 7 June 2013 that it would be very helpful if a US diplomatic team could visit Rhodes and Kos to meet the representatives of the Turkish community there.

Apart from the issues covered in the Report, we also find it useful to underline that some other problems regarding religious freedoms of the Minority are not respected; e.g. difficulties regarding renovation and construction permissions of mosques and minarets and getting permission to pray at historical mosques located outside of Western Thrace.

A team composed of US diplomats from your Embassy and Consulate in Thessaloniki visited Western Thrace in the second half of September 2013. However they neither contacted the elected Muftis and the Minority journalists nor visited the shut-down Minority associations such as the Turkish Union of Xanthi. The presence of Greek translators is another problem preventing you from getting balanced information. They comments in Greek and subjective translations in the presence of some participants led us to believe that they are actually there to “keep an eye on what is going on” and manipulating the flow of information and events. On the other hand, we hear that the US diplomats in drafting similar reports in other countries freely meet all actors on the ground or go out of their way to do so. Therefore, we would highly appreciate if you could encourage your staff to meet the real representatives of the Turkish Minority during their visits to the region.

Your Excellency,

We are at your full disposal to provide any further information your Embassy or your staff might require in the future.

 Περ.Ρόντοπ Ρουζγκαρί  31/12/2013

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