Date: Tue, 4 Mar 97 19:20:48 CST
From: “N. Tsolak” <>
Subject: Article in Politiken on Human Rights in Greece
Article: 6701

[Human Rights in Greece]

By Ellen O. Andersen, Politiken (Denmark), 26 December 1996

The mosques stand in the heart of the Greek provincial city of Komotini. But otherwise there is not much in the street life which tells that the cotton and tobacco town in the poor, north-eastern corner of Greece close the border of Turkey is one of the principal towns of the Greek Turkish-speaking Muslim minority.

Apart from some elderly Muslim women wearing the characteristic scarf, it is not possible to tell the difference between the two communities in the crowded streets. But it is a matter of two groups, and they do not have much association with each other in their everyday life. Nor do they have the same conditions.


Behind the discrimination is the very tense relations between Greece and Turkey. And even if the situation has improved in recent years for the about 120.000 Turkish speaking Greeks, they still do not have the same opportunities as their Greek-speaking Orthodox neighbours. E.g. they are not employed in the public sector. “It is not forbidden, but it just does not happen” Parliamentarian Mustafa Mustafa from Komotini said. He was elected to the Parliament in September for The United Left, and being a parliamentarian, he is entitled to employ an assistant. “But I have to choose one who is in public service already. And it has not been possible to find one from the minority” Mustafa Mustafa said.

Greece lifted the institutional discrimination against the minority in 1991. Provisions which prevented the Muslims from buying land and real estate, from permission to repair their houses and from getting a tractor driver's licence—a serious inconvenience to the farmers. Another barrier was broken through recently when the Greek army for the first time appointed two Muslim officers. So far, it has been impossible even if members of the minority do their military service on an equal footing with other young Greeks.


At the same time, the Greek Government decided last year to introduce preferential treatment of the Muslim by allotting them a minimum quota at the country's universities. The minority welcomed it. But the Muslims point out that they certainly suffer for the economic consequences of the former discrimination. Added to this are other problems. Apart from the strongly criticised Article 19 of the Greek law on citizenship, mentioned in another article on this page, the minority especially points to two things:

The Greeks permit Turkish language schools. But the minority complains that the schools lack resources and good teachers. However, the biggest problem is the trouble with the text books. The books used are from the 1950s due to a dispute on who is going to make the new ones. Earlier, the text books came from Turkey, but with the Turkish military rule in 1971, the contents of the books became too nationalistic for the Greek government. It has now made a series of text books in Turkish, but the minority does not accept them because they have not participated in the work.


In Mustafa Mustafa's opinion, it is very important to have the problems in the educational sector solved to remove the inequality and get the minority incorporated in the Greek society. According to him, the text-book problem could be solved with a measure of good will. “The books could be written here, it has to be done in co-operation with The Federation of Turkish Teachers or other experts,” Mustafa Mustafa said. But the good will is missing. The Federation of Turkish Teachers has, for example, been dissolved because the word “Turkish” may not be included in the name of such associations, just like the minority may not call itself a Turkish minority.

The next stumbling-block is the Greek authorities' appointment muftis, one in each of the three biggest cities in north-eastern Greece. They maintain that the appointment of the muftis is a state affair, because the muftis also have some secular, administrative obligations.


Some years ago, part of the Muslim minority decided to appoint a mufti themselves. Therefore, there are today two competing muftis in Komotini. “We do not mind the official mufti as a person. The mufti elected by the minority is people's reaction to the way he was appointed. I can accept that the Government is permitted to choose between three or four candidates, but they must be pointed out bye the local community,” said Galib Galip, who has just been elected to the Parliament for the government party PASOK.

His colleague Mustafa Mustafa calls the present situation an absurd theatre to which the Greek Government contributes by now and then arresting the elected mufti for pretending to be mufti and, thereby offering the Turkish press the opportunity to make headlines like “Religious Leader Detained”.

The minority is utilised politically by both sides with the Turkish Consul in Komotini a very active role. The Muslims who fall out with the official Turkish line risk, for example, to be refused visa to Turkey where many of them have family or business associates.


“The Turkish Government must realise that the minority is not a Turkish colony under its control. Nor are the Muslim minority guests in Greece like the Greek Government believes. It has to accept us in line with other Greek citizens,” said the journalist Abdulhalim Dede in Komotini.

His critical attitude to both the Greek and the Turkish Government has caused him trouble with both parties. He is going to court after New Year because his radio station has broadcast without permission. The same applies to 50 per cent of the radio stations that were established after the air became free a few years ago, but Abdulhalim Dede's “Radio Isik” is the only one being prosecuted. His weekly newspaper also has problems. Independent Turkish language media have difficulties managing when the Turkish Consul keeps a distance to them. And the Greek Public Prosecutor is on his way about an article in the paper.


Both Greek and foreign observer in the country have a trend to explain Greek attitude to the minority by the at times progrome like persecutions which has now almost driven out the Greek minority from Turkey. The excuse does not hold, Mustafa Mustafa thinks. “No one can condone what Turkey did to the Greek minority in Istanbul. Barbarian acts took place. But it cannot be a criteria to what Greece does,” he said.


For years, Greece is criticised in reports on the human rights from the European Parliament and organisations like Helsinki Watch. The country has difficulties with conscientious objectors, religious and ethnic minorities. They are being harassed and their rights abused, which decisions by the European Human Rights Tribunal in Strasbourg also bear witness to. The Foreign criticism always released violent reactions in Greece. A recent publication from the Greek Foreign Ministry establishes that Greece meets her international obligations to minorities to the letter.


It completely ignores the notorious Article 19 in the Greek Citizenship Law which is the biggest thorn in the flesh of both the minorities and the human-rights organisations. Article 19 makes it possible for the Greek authorities to deprive Greeks of their citizenship if they leave Greece “and do not intend to return”. On this account hundreds of people from various minorities in Greece have throughout the years lost their citizenship and have suddenly been cut off from their native country and family. It is the Greek authorities that evaluate whether the person in question “intends to return” to Greece. The evaluation is mildly speaking flexible as the provision has been used against people who have not even left the country.


“Article 19 is contrary to the Greek Constitution. It is impossible to defend, it harms Greece in Europe and it has caused great human tragedies,” Mustafa Mustafa said. His party, The United Left which has just returned to the Parliament, will raise the case. But as the ruling socialist party, PASOK, has the absolute majority, it is up to the Government whether Article 19 should be abolished. PASOK has been talking about it for years without doing anything about it. Greek human-rights promoters do not understand why EU is passive on this issue. “EU exerts pressure on Turkey to observe the human rights. It should make the same demands of Greece who has been a member for 16 years” Abdulhalim Dede said.


The Greek distrust of minorities is due to the tense relations which Greece has had for years with her neighbours. The fear that the minorities constituted a Fifth Column was great. In step with the fact that in recent years Greece has come on speaking terms with all her neighbours, except Turkey, the attitude to the minorities has become more relaxed. But the distrust still exists. Apart from the Muslims, the Greek minorities consists of Vlacks, Pomaks, Slavo-Macedonians, Arvanites and Romas (Gypsies).