Κατόπιν προσκλήσεως που απηύθυνε στο Σύλλογο Κωνσταντινουπολιτών και στην ομοσπονδία των κωνσταντινουπολίτικων σωματείων ΟΙ.ΟΜ.ΚΩ. το Μέλος του Ευρωπαϊκού Κοινοβουλίου κ. Γεώργιος Κουμουτσάκος, πραγματοποιήθηκε από ομάδα μελών του Συλλόγου μας επίσκεψη στο Ευρωκοινοβούλιο στις Βρυξέλλες μεταξύ 6 και 8 Δεκεμβρίου 2010.
Κατά την διάρκεια της επισκέψεως μας πραγματοποιήθηκε συνάντηση με Έλληνες Ευρωβουλευτές, οι οποίοι ανέλυσαν την λειτουργία του Ευρωκοινοβουλίου και προέβησαν σε εκτίμηση της καταστάσεως σχετικά με τις ευρωτουρκικές σχέσεις.
Επίσης κατά την παραμονή μας στις Βρυξέλλες, δόθηκε η ευκαιρία της συναντήσεως εκπροσώπων του Συλλόγου Κωνσταντινουπολιτών και της ΟΙ.ΟΜ.ΚΩ. με τον Πρόεδρο της Ομάδος του Ευρωπαϊκού Λαϊκού Κόμματος κ. Joseph DAUL, την Πρόεδρο της Μικτής Κοινοβουλευτικής Επιτροπής Ε.Ε. – Τουρκίας κα Τhelene FLAUTRE και το μέλος της Γενικής Διεύθυνσης Διεύρυνσης κ. Χρ. Μακρίδη οι οποίοι ενημερώθηκαν για την ιστορία και τα χρονίζοντα προβλήματα του Ελληνισμού της Κωνσταντινουπόλεως.
Στις εν λόγω συναντήσεις από πλευράς Συλλόγου Κωνσταντινουπολιτών συμμετείχαν οι κ.κ. Θεμ. Παχόπουλος, Αντ. Λαμπίδης και Γεωρ. Λεύκαρος.
Την 8ην Δεκεμβρίου 2010 πραγματοποιήθηκε σε αμφιθέατρο του Ευρωκοινοβουλίου, Ημερίδα που διοργανώθηκε από τους ευρωβουλευτές κ. Γιώργο Κουμουτσάκο και κα Μαριλένα Κοππά με θέμα: «Οι Έλληνες της Κωνσταντινούπολης: Χθές-Σήμερα-Αύριο». Κατά την εν λόγω εκδήλωση ομιλητής εκ μέρους του Συλλόγου Κωνσταντινουπολιτών ήταν το διοικητικό μέλος αυτού κ. Αντώνιος Λαμπίδης.
Το πλήρες κείμενο της ομιλίας του εκπροσώπου του συλλόγου μας στην αγγλική γλώσσα.
Presentation to the Members of the European Parliament
December 8, 2010
The Greek Minority in Turkey
We represent the Constantinopolitan Society, a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in 1928 in Kallithea, Athens, Greece. This is a body representing the expatriated Greek Minority of Istanbul. Over the past decades we have been presenting to International and EU Organizations both the appalling events of the past and mainly the problems that the Greek Minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate still face in Turkey and concern the violation of human rights and the non respect of religious freedom.
Our presentation will focus on the basic issues related to the human rights, which they have not been resolved and are in contrast with what is in effect internationally and with the European criteria regarding the protection of the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. Also, we will make a reference to the latest developments in the situation of minority rights and religious freedom in Turkey, as seen through the Greek Minority’s perspective.
This will include both identifying persisting shortcomings and proposals.
Violations of minorities’ human rights have been a persistent policy in Turkey for over 100 years. The extermination of the Greek Minority in Istanbul, Gokceada ((Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) is the continuation of the Genocide that had systematically annihilated the Greek populations of Asia Minor through the combined means of massacres, mass deportations into the interior, and the final onslaught of 1922 which resulted in the expulsion of more than 1,200,000 Greeks from their native land.
After the Lausanne Treaty, in 1923, there were still over 130,000 ethnic Greeks in Istanbul.
Since then and by 1955, due to systematic persecutions and atrocities by the Turkish State, the Greek Minority members had fallen to 100,000.
The pogrom and violent attacks of 1955 – resulted in the complete destruction of private and commercial properties, and in the desecration of worship places, and have led to a steep decline of the Greek population.
The forced expulsions of 1964 and after stand as a historical affirmation that the goal of every successive Turkish regime is to wipe out the Greeks from all territories under its control. Today, there are clearly fewer than 3,000 ethnic Greeks left in Istanbul..
A general point
As a country that aspires to become an EU member-state, Turkey is in a unique position to adhere to the values and principles of the European community. This, however, requires adjusting and streamlining its policies along the way in accordance with the EU acquis.
Initiating and successfully completing a demanding reform agenda has been an indispensable part of this process for almost every country that is now an EU member-state. Tolerance and non-discrimination, human and minorities rights and religious freedoms issues are high on this agenda.
Any effort that Turkey makes in meeting EU standards and criteria on these issues is a step closer to fulfilling its own goals. Indeed, it is a step closer to Turkey’s instilling – where there are not – and enhancing – where there exist – non-discriminatory treatment; equality before the law for all people and institutions; freedom of worship for non-Muslim religious communities; protection of human rights and the rights of the minorities.
There were some positive, recent developments in this field that are worth-mentioning.
For instance, the Turkish Government has initiated, since the end of 2009, a dialogue with non-Muslim communities. Albeit an encouraging step in the right direction, this dialogue has not yielded any tangible, measurable results.
Furthermore, it lacks the characteristics of a well-structured and consistent approach in the sense that it is being carried out, on behalf of the Turkish Government, by a different each time official interlocutor. This has as a result sending mixed signals and fostering discontinuity of effort. These are symptomatic of an approach designed, it seems, not to offer solutions to real and ever present problems but rather to appeal to the public opinion within Turkey and abroad.
Another positive development was the issuing, on May 13th 2010, of a circular, signed by the Turkish Prime Minister, on the situation of non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. This is to be added to a long list of similar circulars that were issued in the past in order to address, with little or no success, persisting injustices against non-Muslim minorities in Turkey.
The circular will be judged in due time in terms of the results and the impact it may or may not have. However, it constitutes a development worth mentioning, if not only for the simple fact that it formally acknowledges that the Turkish authorities are reluctant to implement legislation in force in favour of non-Muslim communities, with recourse to behaviours and practices clearly showing that respect for religious, human and minority rights do not yet prevail in the country.
Persisting shortcomings with regard to the Greek Minority in Turkey
The Greek minority in Turkey – once thriving, now unfortunately declining, from both a demographic and an economic point of view – is faced with persisting difficulties and challenges as a result of its different ethnic and religious background.
The Greek Minority and its Foundations property rights were, and continue to be, seriously violated. The Greek Minority’s Foundations in particular have suffered from massive confiscations of their properties.
When voted, the Law 5737/2008 concerning the Welfare Foundations – or Wakifs as they are also called – was welcomed as a step in the right direction. However, it soon became evident that this law does not address all issues pertaining to non-Muslim Foundations and their property. For instance, the aforementioned Law does not address the issue of the property of the Greek-Orthodox Foundations that was seized and sold to third parties.
Similarly, it does not address the issue of non-Muslim Foundations that was fused and administered by the Turkish General Directorate for Religious Affaires along with their property.
To successfully address these issues, the Law on non-Muslim Welfare Foundations should be amended in such a way that would allow for, among others:
– Putting an end to the fragmentation of minority Foundations as a result of the Wakifs system in force; allowing for the unification of the various minority Foundations is key to their survival and efficient as well as cost-effective functioning.
– Returning those (24) fused Greek-Orthodox Foundations to their lawful owner
– Solving the question of property that was seized and sold to third parties, including by provide for proper compensations.
– Recognizing the equality of the minority Foundations and all other Foundations,
thus terminating discriminatory practices against them.
In addition, all outstanding cases concerning the question of return of property seized by the authorities after 1974 should be dealt with and resolved in a manner compatible with the requirements of the ECHR.
Rights over inherited patrimonial property
Turkey continuous in refusing the succession rights of members of the minority with Greek citizenship. A new law enforces the sale of property that is inherited, having essentially as a result the annulment of the succession right. This measure aims at cutting the last tie of members of the Greek Minority that were forced to leave the country, as well as of their descendants. In this context, Turkey should also ensure that Greek citizens are able to fully enjoy their rights over inherited patrimonial property. Turkey should conform to the relevant rulings of the European Court for Human Rights and implement its own Registry Law.
The Greek Minority continues to encounter problems with educational rights. Turkey has made a little progress on ensuring cultural diversity and promoting respect for and protection of educational rights of the minority, in accordance with European standards.
Turkish identity and nationalism are promoted as fundamental values in the educational system, while minority culture is ignored. The oath read every morning in primary schools of minorities makes students feel scared and confused.
Moreover, Greek Minority schools face procedural and bureaucratic difficulties with registration, budget and sustainability problems plus administrative issues – thereby limiting the fundamental right of free access to education and leading to the gradual elimination of the minority schools protected by Lausanne Treaty.
Hate crimes and the role of media
During the last three years, there have been reported a number of attacks (acts of defamation and vandalism) against places of worship in Turkey. Incidents of desecration have also occurred against non – Muslim religious Institutions or communities’ cemeteries. More specifically, incitements to hatred and violence passed on by Turkish media exercise psychological pressure to the members of the Minority. Turkey should encourage the development by the media a code of ethics on respect of religious minorities, bearing in mind the vital role that they can play in the perception of these minorities by the majority, and to prosecute any incitements to hatred passed on by the media.
Also, Turkey should eliminate all discriminatory, xenophobic statements and references in schoolbooks used for teaching in Turkey, as it forges historic realities, fosters discriminatory behaviour against members of the minority and incites hate actions.
Turkey should spare no effort in identifying those shortcomings and reviewing accordingly both the relevant legislation and its implementation, with a view to eliminating racial discrimination in all areas and raising awareness for human rights in general.
On a more general note, Turkey should take specific measures to facilitate the return of the Greeks of Istanbul that have been forced to leave the country following a systematic persecution and violations of their human rights.
It should be noted that Turkey is a party to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). However, Turkey’s reservations and declarations – pertaining to the rights of minorities, the right to education, the territorial applicability etc – upon the ratification of these Covenants and Convention, are causes for concern.
The situation of non-Muslim communities in Turkey and the challenges they are still faced with:
The basic problem in Turkish law as regards Greek Minority is that it cannot register and obtain legal personality as such. The lack of a possibility for religious communities, in general, to acquire legal personality in itself constitutes an infringement of Article 9 in conjunction with Article 11 of The European Convention of Human Rights
The lack of legal personality also appears to create various kinds of problems for the property ownership rights of the Greek Minority, which is only partially addressed through the foundation system.
The most problematic issue appears to be that religious communities have been loosing properties that have historically belonged to them. One of the reasons for this is that under the foundation system the property is held by the foundation and not be the religious community itself, although in practice and from ancient times in reality it is clearly the property of the community. The problem is that in situations where the foundation falls away (the members die and the requirements for upholding the foundation is no longer met), the properties have been transferred to the state.
This may be seen as confiscation, which is a matter under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, and has been seen as an infringement by the ECtHR.
In the EU Commission’s own wording, as included in its 2010 Progress Report on Turkey: “Non-Muslim communities (in Turkey) – as organized structures of religious groups – still face problems due to lack of legal personality… Restrictions on the training of clergy remain. Turkish legislation does not provide for private higher religious education for these communities and there are no such opportunities in the public education system”.
On the same matter, i.e. the legal personality issue, and more, the most recent EU Common Position, following the 48th EU-Turkey Association Council Meeting (held in Brussels May 2010) was also clear: “Turkey needs to ensure that they (i.e. non-Muslim communities) can acquire legal personality, exercise their property rights and train their clergy…The EU calls on the Turkish authorities to make more strenuous efforts to prevent discrimination, intolerance and religious motivated acts of violence. In light of the above, the EU invites Turkey to take also into account the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe delivered on March 15, 2010”.
The European Parliament, on its Resolution adopted on February 10th, 2010 emphasized “freedom of religion as a universal fundamental value and calls on Turkey to safeguard it for all;”.
In the same Resolution, the European Parliament “underlines in particular the need for all religious communities to be granted legal personality”.
The legal personality question of non-Muslim communities in Turkey is extensively covered in the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. In its conclusions, the Venice Commission makes reference to Article 9, in conjunction with Article 11, of the European Convention on Human Rights as allowing for the possibility for religious communities as such to obtain legal personality. The opinion clearly states that “the Venice Commission can see no justification …for not granting such rights to the non-Muslim religious communities” and “encourages the Turkish authorities to….introduce legislation making it possible for all non-Muslim religious communities as such to acquire legal personality”.
We would stress that the fundamental right of freedom of religion as protected by Article 9, read in conjunction with Article 11, of the ECHR includes, inter alia, the possibility for religious communities as such to obtain legal personality. This is important not least to ensure access to court, and the protection of property rights.
The Institution of Ombudsman mechanism
The establishment and efficient functioning of this mechanism is among the obligations that have to be fulfilled by Turkey in the EU accession process.
The relevant Law No. 5548/2006 was annulled by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 25 December 2008.
The establishment of Ombudsman Office would strengthen the rule of law, justice and the protection of individual rights of the minorities. This will be of key importance in avoiding tension in society.
These were an indicative overview of some of the challenges that the Greek minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate continue to face in Turkey. They were by no means exhaustive; this would require a detailed account of the historic and religious background of the matters in question.
As a concluding remark, we would like to underline that respect for human and minority rights and religious freedoms is a responsibility for every state. It is not a matter that circulars and statements of good intentions alone can address. It calls for firm will, constructive dialogue and continuity of effort.
Turkey, in its E.U. accession process, has a clear obligation to fully respect human and minority rights, as it is the case with the Greek Minority, in other words an obligation towards its own citizens. Turkey has also to abide by relevant International Treaties and especially the Lausanne Treaty.
Respect for these rights is beneficial for Turkey first and foremost, as it will strengthen its social, ethnic and religious structures, and safeguard pluralism and diversity in the country.
Specifically, Turkey is invited to take immediate actions so as to redress all past injustices, build -both politically and in daily life- a sense of tolerance and safety within the members of the Greek Minority and to allow them to continue their existence and well-being. Turkey is also invited to take al those initiatives to permit Greeks of Istanbul and of the islands of Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) that have been forced to expatriate, as a consequence of the continuing persecutions and violations of their human rights, to return to their homeland.
At the end of day, every process is judged by the real and measurable outcome it brings to a challenging situation.
Thank you for your attention._
Έτος ιδρύσεως 1928
Δημοσθένους 117 176 72 Καλλιθέα
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