Since May 1990, when Human Rights Watch began monitoring the condition of the Turkish minority of the Thrace region of Greece, the Greek government has taken certain steps to address the human rights violations we documented in our first report, Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Greece, published in August 1990. In that study, we noted that,
The many abuses of human rights documented in this report reveal a pattern of denying the Turkish minority the rights granted to other Greek citizens; the pattern includes outright deprivation of citizenship; denials of the right to buy land or houses, to set up businesses or to rebuild or repair Turkish schools; restrictions on freedom of expression, movement and religion; and degrading treatment of ethnic Turks by government officials. 30
In a follow-up report two years later, however, we observed that,
Ethnic Turks can now buy and sell houses and land, repair houses and mosques, obtain car, truck and tractor licenses, and open coffee houses and machine and electrical shops. None of these was possible in past years, as Helsinki Watch reported in Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Greece in August 1990.31
But the Turkish community reports that important problems remain, chiefly involving education; expropriation of land; the selection of muftis, the religious leaders of the Moslem minority; and control of the wakfs (charitable foundations). Moreover, the Greek government continued during 1991 to deprive hundreds of ethnic Turks of their Greek citizenship. In addition, police harassment of ethnic Turks continues, although to a lesser degree. Associations and schools still cannot call themselves "Turkish," Turkish language newspapers, books and magazines cannot be brought from Turkey into Western Thrace, and Turkish television is still jammed. Moreover, ethnic Turks are discriminated against in employment and in the provision of services.
Improvements achieved came as the result of initiatives launched by the government of Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis.
In the intervening six years since publication of the last report, the Greek government has taken some additional positive steps, most importantly:
· The non-retroactive June 1998 abolition of Article 19 of the Citizenship Law, which used ethnic origin to deprive arbitrarily non-ethnic Greeks of their citizenship. Between 1955-1998, approximately 60,000 Greek citizens, the majority ethnic Turks, lost their citizenship as a result of the article;
· In 1995, restrictions for entry into zones along the Bulgarian border, areas where Muslim Pomaks reside, were abolished for all Greek citizens;32
· In 1995, the government launched an initiative to improve education in minority schools and instituted a university quota for students from the Turkish minority. In 1997-98, 334 places were set aside, 120 members of the minority took the entrance exam, and 114 were accepted. In 1996-97, 74 minority members entered university under the program;
· In 1994, to bring Greece in line with E.U. standards, the government instituted the election of previously state-appointed provincial governors and municipal councils. In meetings with Human Rights Watch, the elected governors appear more open to consider the needs and requests of the Turkish minority, upon whose votes they depend. More importantly, they recognize the mistake of the past state policy of discrimination against the Turkish minority and appear willing to use development funds to improve infrastructure in minority regions.3330 Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Greece, p. 1. 31 "Greece: Improvements for Turkish Minority; Problems Remain.
32 Pomaks are Muslim ethnic Slavs whose native tongue is a form of Bulgarian. They, however, consider themselves culturally and linguistically part of the Turkish minority and most are bilingual, if they speak Pomak at all.
Border restrictions reportedly remain for foreigners, though a Human Rights Watch representative entered the region without incident in September 1997.
33 Unfortunately, the districts of Xanthi and Rodopi were joined to adjacent districts to prevent the election of a Turkish governor or pro-Turkish provincial councils. Furthermore, in 1996, the government diluted their power vis-a-vis the minority by transferring responsibility for oversight of rights guaranteed to the Turkish minority under the Treaty of Lausanne to a government-appointed secretary general;
Other elected officials also appear reform-minded. The mayor of Komotini, George Papadriellis, told Human Rights Watch that, We have come to understand that economic development in particular is not possible without the cooperation of all of the communities living here. Interview, Komotini, September 1997.