NGO/State Exchange on Turkish and Macedonian Minorities in Greece at the UN
July 9, 2005
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
SUB-COMMISSION ON THE PROMOTION
AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
WORKING GROUP ON MINORITIES
GENEVA 30 MAY-3 JUNE 2005
Agenda Item 3a
MUSLIM TURKISH MINORITY OF WESTERN THRACE GREECE
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
My name is Tzemil Kapza; I represent Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association in Greece.
An estimate number of 150.000 ethnic Turks live in the northeast part of Greece. Members of the Muslim Turkish Minority who have been living in
this region for centuries identify themselves as ethnic Turks. Although Greece is a full member of the European Union, signed and ratified most
of the international instruments protecting basic human rights, the Greek state unfortunately continues to ignore its obligations regarding the
recognition and the protection of the rights of the Muslim Turkish Minority of Western Thrace as well as the rights of other existing ethnic
minorities in Greece, such as the Macedonian.
DENIAL OF ETHNIC IDENTITY
The violation of the right of the minority to identify itself as “Turkish” is a major problem today. In early years Greek authorities made it
obligatory for the minority to identify itself as “Turkish” and its members as “Turks”. This policy was later changed. The designation of the
minority associations as “Turkish” has been forbidden. Although the Xanthi Turkish Union had been legally operated from 1927 until 1983 the
Supreme Court of Greece in its final decision on 7th February 2005 dissolved the Union because of the term “Turkish” in its title. Furthermore,
the same court rejected the application of registration of the Rodopi Turkish Women’s Cultural Association for the same reason. Both cases, now,
await for submission before the European Court of Human Rights. Greece denies the existence of any ethnic minority but recognizes only a “Muslim”
Article 2 (4) of the UN Declaration on Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities states that: “Persons belonging
to minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own associations”. Also, in article 1 (1) of the same declaration it is stated that:
“States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective
territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.” This is also supported by Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human
Rights on Freedom of Expression. I also should remind the 1994 General Comment by the UN Human Rights Committee on Article 27 of the ICCPR: “It
makes clear that the existence of minorities does not depend on the state decision but is to be established by objective criteria; and that
non-citizens and even non-permanent residents of state qualify protection under Article 27.”
Taking into consideration these international instruments the continuously denial of the ethnic identity of the minority is against the statue of
the minority which was established and is under protection by section III of the Peace Treaty of Lausanne, 1923. Therefore, I propose that Greek
authorities should recognize the existence of the Turkish Minority and cease violating their rights as an ethnic group.
Greece officially recognizes only a “Muslim Minority” within the state.
Article 6 (g) in the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion, states the right to:
“Train, appoint, elect, or designate by succession appropriate leaders called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief”,
which is also supported by Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Persons Belonging to Minorities.
In addition to these international instruments the religious rights of this minority are also guaranteed by Athens Treaty of 1913, the Greek Law
no: 2345/1920 and the Peace Treaty of Lausanne. Article 28 of the Greek Constitution also guarantees the implementations of the international
The offices of the Mufti of Komotini and Xanthi are still composed of people appointed by the Greek government. Contrary to the wishes of the
Turkish Muslim Minority in Western Thrace, who consider Mr. Mehmet Emin Aga and Ibrahim Serif as their mufti, the Greek state does not recognize
them as the religious leaders of the minority. Furthermore, in 1984 the government punished three imams who were teaching the holy Quran in mosques.
The imams refused to pay the punishment. As a result, the finance officers have sequestrated their properties.
Another area of controversy is about the Turkish Muslim Minority’s control over its social and charitable organizations (Waqfs). At present, while
most of the Waqfs are still managed by people who were appointed by the government during the rule of the military junta of the 60’s the officials
who died are replaced by new appointees. For example, on 10th of January 2005 the Greek government appointed new executive committee for the Waqfs
in the region of Xanthi. The Greek government should be encouraged to create positive environment for the Turkish Minority to exercise their freedom
of worship and choose of their own religious leaders.
The Peace Treaty of Lausanne guarantees the Educational rights of the Muslim Turkish Minority. Articles 40 and 41 of the Treaty provides equal rights
for the minority to establish, manage and control at their own expenses any schools…(40)… and adequate facilities for ensuring that primary school
instruction shall be given to children trough their own language…(41)… The central authority constantly interferes in and undermines the autonomy of
the minority education system through different ways such as the selection, training and appointment of teachers in the minority primary schools. The
Greek state started establishing nurseries in almost every village inhabited by Turks, which caused deep resentment within the minority community and
undermined the already weak system of teaching in the mother tongue.
In Article 4 (3) of the UN Declaration on the Rights on Persons Belonging to Minorities it is stated that: “States should take appropriate measures so
that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue.” This is supported by Article 26 (1)
and (3) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I should also note that all these practices of the Greek state in the field of minority education are
against the Hague Recommendations Regarding the Educational Rights of National Minorities (1996).
In conclusion, I would recommend that the Greek state should implement its obligations of the international instruments which is a party to and ratify
the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which signed in 1997.
Thank you Mr. Chairman
Intervention made by:
Western Thrace Minority
University Graduates Association
Egnatias 75, 69100 Komotini-GREECE
Tel/fax: ++30 25310 29705
PERMANENT MISSION OF GREECE
11TH SESSION OF THE WORKING GROUP ON MINORITIES STATEMENT OF THE DELEGATION OF THE OBSERVER GOVERNMENT OF GREECE
My delegation wishes to respond to some allegations made by one particular NGO with regard to the situation of the Muslim minority in Greece. As we
have repeatedly stressed on previous occasions, the Muslim minority in Thrace, which numbers around 100.000 persons, consists of three distinct groups
whose members are Turkish, Pomak and Roma origin. Each of these groups has its own distinct spoken language and cultural traditions. They share, however,
a common religion, which is the basic reason for the denomination of the minority in its entirety as “Muslim” in the Lausanne Treaty of 1923.
Every member of this minority is free to speak his or her own language, exercises his or her own religion, customs and traditions. There is no denial of
existence of such minority but only of the attempt to identify the entire Muslim minority of Thrace as “Turkish” irrespective of the existence of two
different groups with that minority.
References to a so-called “Macedonian” minority in Greece are not only misleading but do nor correspond to existing realities. The fact that a small
number of persons who live in Northern Greece use, besides the Greek language, a Slavic oral idiom, confined to family or colloquial use, does not
indicate the existence of a national minority, since the persons using this idiom have never considered themselves as having a distinct ethnic or
national identity and reject any attempt by some political circles to define them as members of a national, ethnic or linguistic minority.
Furthermore, the use of the term “Macedonian” to describe a so-called minority usurps the name and national and cultural identity of some two and a half
million Greeks who identify themselves for many centuries as Macedonians (“Makedones”) in the regional-cultural context and cannot therefore be accepted.
As regards the question of the freedom of association, I would like to stress that according to the recent case law of the Supreme Court, any restriction
on the freedom of association has to be carefully scrutinized by national courts under the strict proportionality standard. As our Supreme Court has
recently held, the refusal of the domination of an association which includes the word “Turkish” is not an unconditional one. It is closely linked to the
particular association’s aims, which have been found contrary to public order. The relevant case-law of Greek courts is fully in line with the
jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.
The education of the Muslim children in Thrace is a matter of high priority for the Greek government. The relevant measures adopted by the Greek government
go even further than the international in this field. The implementation o special educational programs has improved the quality of minority education. It
is to be noted that a special quota of 0,5% for the admission of minority students to higher education institution is also provided for. Let me also clarify,
Mr. Chairman, that the establishment of nursery schools in minority villages, who wish their children to acquire a solid foundation in Greek language education.
Greece fully respects and safeguards the religion freedom of the members of the Muslim minority in Thrace. The religious leaders of this minority, the
Muftis, are appointed according to a transparent procedure, in which prominent members of the minority have their say. The reason that they are nor being
elected is mainly because they exercise judicial functions in matters of personal and inheritance law. In this respect, it is interesting to note that even
in Muslim countries, the muftis are not elected by the faithful. I would like to stress that the European Court of Human Rights has not contested this system
of appointment, but only the fact that the applicants’ conviction was not sufficiently justified in view of the particular circumstances of the case.
The rights of the members of the Muslim minority in Thrace are fully guaranteed and effectively protected in a democratic society, where the rule of law
prevails. The Greek legislation includes special measures in favor of the Muslim minority and is in line with European Convention on Human Rights, as well as
the values of the European Union.
For all these reasons, I believe that allegations made by the NGO are legally unfounded and aim at giving false impressions about the policy pursued by Greek
authorities in the field of human and minority rights.
Thank you Mr. Chairman
Geneva 30 May, 2005