H.E. David D. Pearce
U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic
U.S. Embassy in Athens
91 Vas. Sophias
101 60 Athens
As the representatives of the leading associations of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, we have read and examined the U.S. State Department’s “Greece 2013 International Religious Freedom Report” which was published recently.
Before sharing our thoughts and opinions on that report, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate to Your Excellency our gratitude for the increased interest of the U.S. authorities in the violations of religious freedom in our country, Greece.
We had already shared our thoughts and opinions on the previous “Greece 2012 International Religious Freedom Report”, through our letter dated 20 December 2013. We also shared our views on the U.S. State Department’s “Greece 2013 International Human Rights Report”, through our letter dated 24 April 2014. In addition to those letters, some of us also had several opportunities in the last couple of months to meet your staff either in Thessaloniki or here in Western Thrace. We are looking forward to continuing and even deepening our dialogue in order to improve human rights and religious freedoms and seek ways to overcome existing problems.
On the other hand, our feeling about the Report as it stands is, dismay. This does not arise from the fact that the Report, just like the most recent Greece Human Rights Report, is merely a repetition of the previous one. Our disappointment mainly stems from the fact that the Report, after so many letters and contacts, once again fails to reflect any of the realities on the ground here in Western Thrace in the field of religious freedoms. In other words, our grievances are treated as non-existent.
As mentioned above, our letter dated 20 December 2013 reflects our detailed views and presents first hand information on our problems in the field of religious freedom.
Moreover, in a meeting between the U.S. Consul General in Thessaloniki and the representatives of the Friendship-Equality-Peace (FEP) Party held in Thessaloniki on 18 June 2014, following the clear election victory of the FEP Party in both Rodopi and Xanthi in the European Parliament elections, your representatives were fully informed once again on the problems the Turkish Minority continues to face in the field of religious freedoms.
As for the wording the “Muslim Minority of Thrace” used to describe us in the Report, we would like to underline that Islam is our religion, not our ethnic identity. Our ethnic identity is Turkish. We believe that we have all the right to ask to be described by both our religious and ethnic identities, as the “Muslim Turkish Minority”.
We do not recognize and thus respect the appointed Muftis and their imams imposed upon the Minority by authorities from another religion. The difference between the elected Muftis and the appointed government agents in terms of the popular support behind them is like the difference between day and night. The wording in the Report implying that the elected Muftis and the appointed ones have somehow similar public support is completely mistaken and misleading.
Our rights to elect the Muftis stem from bilateral and international treaties. Article 11 of the Treaty of Athens (1913) is as follows: “Each Mufti will be elected by the Muslim electors in their respective areas.” This provision is also repeated in the Third Protocol annexed to the Treaty. Moreover, the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 which established the rights of both the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace and the Greek Orthodox of Istanbul, Göçkeada and Bozcaada also reiterates the religious autonomies of these minorities.
In this regard we appreciate and envy the implementation in Turkey where the Government fully respects the articles and the spirit of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 since the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey freely elect their own religious leaders and clergy according to their own and long-established traditions without any interruption or intervention of the state. We sincerely long for the days in which our country Greece starts to respect its above-mentioned treaty obligations and acknowledge our right to elect our own Muftis.
We are also absolutely against the implementation of the Law No 4115/2013 which the Report somehow tries to reflect as a positive step.
The Report also completely ignores the unsolved problems of our religious charitable foundations/waqfs and again the appointment of administrators and the plunder of their resources.
Another source of disappointment on our part is to see that our vast problems in the field of education are dealt with neither in this Report, nor in the Human Rights Report.
Last but not least, the problems of the Muslim Turks of the Dodecanese islands of Rhodes and Kos were also left out of the scope of the report, while violations and oppression have increased in the recent couple of years.
The strongest proof of Minority support for our views is the outright regional election victory of the Friendship-Equality-Peace Party in the last European Parliament elections (the first election in which this party took part). We consider this as an open and democratic expression of where the minority stands, regarding the Turkish ethnic identity, the Mufti problem, the implementation of the Law No 4115/2013 and other Minority issues.
Once again, we have welcomed the initial contact of the U.S. diplomats. We hope that those meetings will also pave the way for your diplomats to meet the elected religious leaders of the Minority. We will also appreciate if your diplomats could also meet the representatives of the Minority associations that remain closed despite the favorable, yet unimplemented verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights.
May we take this opportunity to renew our standing invitation. We will be honored if Your Excellency would visit us to see one of the most backward areas in the EU first hand. If that is not possible, we would appreciate if you could kindly give us an appointment at your convenience to visit your Embassy and express our views and expectations in Athens.
Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.
CC: Robert P. Sanders
The Consul General of the United States of America
Περ. Ρόντοπ Ρουζγκαρί 9/10/2014