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Turkish and Macedonian Associations Banned in Greece

January 19, 2005


Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) - http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/

Press Release - 19 January 2005

Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and Minority Rights Group-Greece (MRG-G) condemn the reported unanimous ruling of Greece’s Supreme Court confirming the dissolution of the “Turkish Union of Xanthi.” Recalling the prior dissolution of other Turkish associations and the repeated refusal to register a Macedonian association despite a related decision of the European Court of Human Rights, the recent ruling and its justification confirm the prevailing institutionalized intolerance towards minorities in Greece. GHM and MRG-G are bringing the matter to the attention of the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), which will review Greece’s implementation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in late March 2005. The HRC has already formally asked Greece to comment on the issue in a List of Issues on Greece (CCPR/C/83/L/GRC/Rev. 1). The HRC question and GHM & MRG-G’s related submission follow. GHM and MRG-G will also highlight the more general problem of violation by Greece of Article 27 of the ICCPR on minority recognition.

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HRC List of Issues on Greece - Issue 19. Please comment on the alleged non-registration of associations which include the words Macedonian or Turkish.

GHM & MRG-G Contribution

There are currently no associations in Greece operating legally with their names including the words “Macedonian” or “Turkish” to reflect the ethnic or national identity of their members. This situation reflects the refusal of Greece to acknowledge the presence of a Macedonia and a Turkish minority in its territory.

There is only one (ethnic) Macedonian association that attempted to register with the courts, the “Home of Macedonian Civilization” (Stegi Makedonikou Politismou). It was originally denied registration as an organization by the Greek courts, between 1990-1994. Its appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was successful as, on 10 July 1998, Greece was cited for the violation of article 11 on freedom of association.

However, the “Home of Macedonian Civilization” has not been able to register for over six years. All lawyers of Florina (where the “Stegi” has its seat) had initially repeatedly refused to take up the case. While courts had twice refused the association’s request to appoint a lawyer, despite Greece’s report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe indicating that courts had been instructed to execute the judgment, and the Ombudsman’s written opinion that there is “enough evidence that ‘no lawyer is found’”. Only following the sustained pressure by the Greek Ombudsman, a lawyer was finally appointed in February 2002.

The new application was again rejected in December 2003, with the following justification:

“The word ‘Macedonian’ – defining the culture to be preserved – implies that this culture is something particular and self-contained, so that it is not clear whether the word is being used in its historical sense to refer to an integral part of Greek civilisation with its local specificities, or in its geographical sense, in which case it is left undefined which part of the broader region of Macedonia is meant, as its territory took shape after the Balkan Wars. This lack of clarity is not only not removed by the name of the association, which insists on the indiscriminate use of the term, but is in fact exacerbated by the association of this culture with a non-existent language, claimed to be ‘Macedonian’, despite the fact that in the geographical area of Macedonia it is the Greek language which is spoken, except by a small portion of the population, which also speaks – in addition to Greek – an idiom which is essentially Slavic. Thus the confusion caused by the general use of the terms Macedonia and Macedonian, without distinction as to geographical or historical reference – a confusion existing in the mind of the states with which the association will be dealing, in pursuit of its objective through demarches to and collaboration with these states, and in the mind of persons interested in participating in the work of the association in pursuit of this objective – contains a direct danger to public order and provides an opportunity for exploitation by external agents who have tried from time to time, unsuccessfully, to create a historically non-existent “Macedonian nation”. It is therefore our decision, in the light of the above, that the application be rejected.”

The applicants’ appeal is pending.

Two Turkish associations were dissolved simultaneously in the 1987, after having been in existence for fifty years. The “Union of Turkish Teachers of Western Thrace” (founded in 1936) was dissolved in November 1987 after the Supreme Court decision 1729/1987 confirmed the relevant Court of Appeals of Thrace decision 159/1986. The court held that the word "Turkish" referred to citizens of Turkey and could not be used to describe citizens of Greece, and that the use of the word "Turkish" to describe Greek Muslims endangered public order. The “Union of Turkish Youth of Komotini” (founded in 1938) was dissolved in November 1987 after the Supreme Court decision 1730/1987 confirmed the relevant Court of Appeals of Thrace decision 160/1986. Again, the court held that the word "Turkish" referred to citizens of Turkey and could not be used to describe citizens of Greece, and that the use of the word "Turkish" to describe Greek Muslims endangered public order.

The third Turkish association, the “Turkish Union of Xanthi” (founded in 1946), was dissolved in January 2005, after twenty years of related proceedings (the First Instance Decision dates from 1986 after a dissolution motion filed in 1984). The Supreme Court let media know (the decision was to be formally published later) that it had unanimously confirmed the relevant Court of Appeals of Thrace decision 31/2002. The court let it be known that it adopted the prosecution’s justification:

“The association’s aim is illegal and contrary to Greek public order, since it is in contradiction with the international treaties signed in Lausanne, as it is attempted openly to present that in Greece (the area of Western Thrace) there is a national Turkish minority, while according to these treaties only the presence of a religious Muslim minority is recognized in the area. The reference to the Turkish identity does not reflect some remote Turkish origin but a current quality as members of a Turkish minority that would exist in Greece and would pursue the promotion within the Greek state of state interests of a foreign state and specifically Turkey. The association with its actions (…) gravely endangers Greek public order and national security (…) and raises a non-existent minority problem of ‘Turks’”

It should be noted there exist hundreds of associations of Greeks with the word “Macedonian” in their titles to reflect the geographical seat and/or the Greek regional identity of their members. Moreover, within the officially recognized Muslim minority, there exist associations that have the word “Pomak” or “Roma” in their titles, reflecting the ethnic identity of the Muslims who do not identify as Turks.

     
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