Demanding democratic standards for Western Thrace
On his official visit to Greece last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded that his Greek interlocutors improve the situation of Turkish minorities living in Western Thrace. Afterwards, he visited the region itself to reinforce his call.
On Dec. 8, during the Western Thrace leg of his trip, Erdoğan met with Turks in the city of Komotini, addressing the crowds in a speech. “We want you to benefit from every kind of opportunity in line with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, EU regulations and universal human rights. In this context, we expect the rulings of European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] to be implemented,” he said.
It is important that Erdoğan has raised the bar to universal human rights, ECHR decisions and the Treaty of Lausanne, demanding their full implementation. Turkey’s commitment to universal justice, confirmed at the highest level, is certainly a pleasing development.
We should also underline the accuracy of Erdoğan’s criticism of the situation in Western Thrace. The ECHR has made a series of rulings regarding minorities there, but Greece has made implementing those rulings difficult – despite the fact that Athens is bound to the EU’s legal acquis.
One of the ECHR’s decisions, dated Jan. 13, 2003, explicitly deals with the election of muftis in Western Thrace. In the 1999 elections of Muslim minorities in the city of Xanthi, Mehmet Emin Aga was selected for the mufti position but Greek officials refused to recognize the result and appointed another religious leader in his place.
When Aga did not leave his office but continued using his authority as a mufti, he was tried by Greek courts many times and sentenced, though the prison sentences were commuted to fines.
A unanimous ECHR decision subsequently ruled that Greece had violated the ninth article of the European Convention on Human Rights, which treats the “freedom of religion and liberty of conscience.”
The ruling was followed by two related decisions. The first dealt with an ongoing conflict concerning the “Xanthi Turkish Union,” which began in 1983. The second tackled the “Rodop Province Turkish Women’s Cultural Association,” established in Komotini in 2001.
Greek officials had forbidden use of the word “Turkish” in both of the associations’ names. The associations were subsequently closed and plates featuring the word “Turkish” were removed. On March 27, 2008, the ECHR unanimously ruled that the ban in both cases violated the 11th article of the convention, which deals with the “freedom of assembly and association.”
Erdoğan endorsed the ECHR’s rulings regarding injustices and discrimination faced by the Turkish minority in Greece, inviting the Greek government to implement those decisions.
But meanwhile in Turkey there are many ECHR rulings that the Ankara government has failed to abide by. Is it not true that Turkish demands related to ECHR rulings in Greece also put our own country’s deficiencies under the spotlight?