The problems of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority were expressed at the 2023 OSCE Human Dimension Conference.

The Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (WTMUGA) and the European Federation of Western Thrace Turks (ABTTF) attended the conference held between 2-13 October in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. At the conference WTMUGA was represented by Human Rights Expert Kerem Abdurahimoglou while ABTTF was represented by International Relations Director Melek Kirmaci. Speaking at the first session of the conference titled “Democratic Institutions”, which started on Tuesday, October 3, WTMUGA stated that the 3% election threshold applied to political parties in Greece was also applied to independent parliamentary candidates, and that this was done to prevent the minority from electing independent parliamentarians, and that this fact was admitted by Greek politicians. Again, it stated that the Turkish minority was exposed to threats due to its democratic choice in the May-June 2023 elections and that such practices are incompatible with democracy. Speaking again in the second session of the conference titled “Fundamental Rights” held on Wednesday, October 4, WTMUGA stated that the young generation of the Turkish minority inherited many human and minority rights violations in Western Thrace, and that in 2023, approximately 600 students at the Xanthi Minority Secondary School and High School were still being forced to attend classes in an old tobacco warehouse, Turkish-Greek bilingual minority kindergartens were not allowed, many minority primary schools were closed by the Greek administration every year and the minority could not express their Turkish ethnic identity collectively. Stating that the young generation is determined to solve problems through dialogue and mutual understanding, it stated that when these problems are voiced by human rights defenders and representatives of the Turkish minority, they are subjected to criminal and financial investigations by the Greek administration and demonization and targeting by the local and mainstream Greek media. It reminded that the Turkish minority are Greek citizens who pay their taxes and fulfill all their responsibilities towards the country and that the only demand of the minority is their rights guaranteed by international agreements and the Greek Constitution. WTMUGA took the floor again in the third session of the conference titled “Tolerance and Prevention of Discrimination” held on Thursday, October 5. Reminding that the Western Thrace Turkish minority was subjected to segregation policies for years and went through periods when it was not possible for them to acquire property, engage in economic activity or even obtain a driver’s license, it stated that these restrictions were lifted in the 90s without any retroactive regulation. It stated that the socioeconomic isolation of the minority for years has led to certain legal and economic consequences, which prevents the Turkish minority from benefiting from many EU Funds even today.

It stated that even today, with a simple tour of the villages of Western Thrace, the sharp difference in infrastructure and development between Turkish and Greek settlements can be observed. He also stated that it is not meaningful to talk about the existence of tolerance in a place where Greece appoints Muftis despite the objection of the minority, does not allow Mufti elections in accordance with the 1913 Athens and 1923 Treaties of Lausanne, and where the religious leaders accepted by the minority are called “pseutomuftis”. He emphasized that the word “outside” in the words “Thank God, there was no loss of life except 22 refugees in the Dadia forest” uttered on Greek television was actually a reflection of the understanding of “created other” in Greece.

Taking the floor again at the fourth session titled “Fundamental Rights II” held on Friday, October 6, WTMUGA reminded that the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty granted equal citizenship and minority rights to the Turkish minority, and that the Greek Constitution guaranteed its citizens the freedom of association and assembly.

In the light of these facts, it stated that Greece did not implement the ECHR decisions regarding Turkish associations, and that a closure case was filed against the Fenerbahce Fans Association, a sports and fan association, on the charges of the “Western Thrace” definition in its name and the accusations that the members of the association were “autonomist/separatist”.

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