Turks of Western Thrace (Turkish: Bat─▒ Trakya T├╝rkleri) are ethnic Turks who live in Western Thrace, which is in the north-eastern part of Greece. The Turkish community number between 120,000 and 130,000 ethnic Turks. The Greek government refers to the Turkish community as Greek Muslims or Hellenic Muslims, and denies the existence of a Turkish minority in Western Thrace.
Turks began to settle in Western Thrace during the twelfth century and the area was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1354, remaining in Turkish hands until 1913 when it was taken over by Bulgaria, which had been victorious in the First Balkan War. France occupied the area at the end of the First World War, following the defeat of Bulgaria, and it passed into Greek hands under the Treaty of S├Ęvres in August 1920.
In 1923, the population of Western Thrace was 191,699, of whom 129,120 (67%) were Turks and 33,910 (18%) were Greeks; the remaining 28,669 were mostly Bulgarians, along with small numbers of Jews and Armenians.
Within the larger definition of the Muslim minority, the Turks of Western Thrace were exempted from the 1922-1923 Exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey and were granted special rights within the framework of Lausanne Treaty, such as education in the Turkish language.
According to the Greek government, between 1955 and 1998, approximately 60,000 Greek Muslim individuals, predominantly Turkish, were deprived of their citizenship under Article 19. Of these 60,000, approximately 7,182 lost their citizenship between 1981 and 1997.
The Greek government denies the existence of a Turkish minority within its borders; government spokesmen say there are no Turks in Western Thrace. They view the Turks as a religious minority, rather than as an ethnic or a national minority. Greek courts have also outlawed the use of the word 'Turkish' to describe the Turkish community. In 1988, the Greek High Court affirmed a 1986 decision of the Court of Appeals of Thrace in which the Union of Turkish Associations of Western Thrace was ordered closed. The court held that the use of the word 'Turkish' referred to citizens of Turkey, and could not be used to describe citizens of Greece; the use of the word 'Turkish' to describe Greek Muslims was held to endanger public order. This led to about 10,000 people demonstrating against the decision in Western Thrace. According to members of the Turkish minority, it was the first time ethnic Turks had taken to the streets.
The Turkish minority continues to experience degrading treatment in the form of continued harassment by the police.
The freedom of expression of the Turkish minority is frequently violated. However, they are allowed to issue newspapers and magazines in the Turkish language; newspapers and magazines published in Turkey are not allowed entry into Western Thrace, nor are Turkish books. In addition, Turkish television and sometimes Turkish radio are jammed.
According to the Lausanne Treaty, the Turkish minority is entitled to freedom of religion and to the right to control charitable and religious institutions. However, the Turkish community believes that these international law guarantees have been violated by the Greek government by denying permission to repair or rebuild old mosques or to build new mosques, by denying the right to choose the muftis (this chief religious officers), and by efforts to control the Turkish communities charitable foundations.
In 1990 a new electoral law was introduced in Greece, which set a threshold of at least 3% of the nationwide vote for a party to be represented in the parliament, independent Turkish MPs were thus barred from election at the 1993 elections. The participation of members of the minority in the Hellenic Parliament is since then assured by Turkish candidats from nationwide political parties, but the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace, which succeeded the Independent Muslim List in 1991, went on competing for elections at the prefectural and municipal levels. In the Parliament elected in 2007, there are 2 ethnically Turkish PASOK MPs, ├çetin Mandac─▒ and Ahmet Hac─▒osman. In the preceding legislature (2004-2007) there was only one Turkish MP, from New Democracy, ─░lhan Ahmet.
There are presently two Turkish MPs from Western Thrace, both affiliated to the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, ├çetin Mandac─▒ (Xanthi) and Ahmet Hac─▒osman (Rhodope), former president (1999-2007) of the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace created by former (1989) MP Sad─▒k Ahmet in 1991.
At least 14 candidates from the Turkish minority have been nominated, mainly in Rhodope and Xanthi.
For New Democracy, former MP (2004-2007) ─░lhan Ahmet and Ahmet Ahmet are candidates in Rhodope, and in Xanthi Aysel Zeybek and Ahmet Budur. Mrs Zeybek is a former victim of Article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code, which allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of non-ethnic Greeks who left the country. She won her case before the European Court of Human Rights and re-secured her Greek citizenship in 2001.
For PASOK, ├çetin Mandac─▒ and Seval Osmano─člu are among the 5 candidates in Xanthi, R─▒dvan Kocam├╝min and Ahmet Hac─▒osman among the 5 in Rhodope.
For the KKE (which presently has no MP in Xanthi or Rhodope), Faik Faik in Rhodope and Hasan Efendi in Xanthi.
For SYRIZA (which presently has no MP in Xanthi or Rhodope), Hasan Malko├ž and H├╝seyin Zeybek are candidates in Xanthi, and in Rhodope Dr. Mustafa Mustafa (former MP) and Celalettin Yurt├žu.
According to the Turkish newspaper Zaman,
In an earlier published Zaman article more details were mentioned:
There are some members of the Greek Muslim community among the some 350,000 Greeks living in Germany who are Turks or who espouse a Turkish identity. The majority of Turks immigrated from Western Thrace. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Thracian tobacco industry was affected by a sever crisis and many tobacco growers lost their income. This resulted in many Turks leaving their homes and immigrating to Germany with estimates suggesting that today there are now 12,000 residing in Germany.