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PROFILE - Sadık Ahmet: Champion for rights of Turks in Greece24 July 2019

Ahmet led campaign for rights of Western Thrace Turks, after years of persecution by Greek state

Sadik Ahmet, who passed away on July 24, 1995, a legendary leader of Turks in Greece’s Western Thrace region, spearheaded a campaign to secure the rights of his kin after years of persecution by the Greek state.

In Western Thrace, home to a Muslim-Turkish minority numbering around 150,000, the minority had suffered harsh persecution during the 1970s and ‘80s, which paved the way to the rise of a strong leader.

Ahmet was born in 1947 in Agra (Kucuk Sirkeli) in Rodopi, Western Thrace, a province with a large Turkish population.

After being trained as a medical doctor and nearly three years of compulsory service in the Greek army, he returned to Western Thrace in 1978.

In 1985, he started a petition drive throughout Western Thrace to draw attention to rights abuses in the region, but in 1988, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his activism.

In January 1990 he got another prison sentence for the crime of referring to his supporters in Western Thrace as "Turks."

Before beginning the latter sentence, he uttered one of his most famous quotations, saying: "I am being taken to prison only because I am a Turk. If being a Turk is a crime, I repeat here that I am a Turk and so I will remain.”

His trial in the city of Komotini (Gumulcine) in Western Thrace attracted thousands of well-wishers flocking to show their support for him outside the courthouse chanting the slogan "We are Turks."

Hurdles to election, untimely death

In two Greek general elections in summer 1989 and spring 1990, Ahmet was elected as an independent lawmaker to parliament after winning record-high voter margins.

In 1991, he founded the Friendship, Equality and Peace Party (FEP-DEB), the first and to date only political party of Greece’s Turkish minority.

In order to block Ahmet’s election, in 1993 Greece introduced an election threshold for both political parties and independent candidates.

As of 2019, the election threshold, preventing the election of independent candidates and political parties with less than 3% of the vote, is still in place.

On July 24, 1995 -- the anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne, the agreement which guarantees the rights of the Turkish minority in Greece -- Ahmet was killed in a suspicious car crash, age 48.

Starting in the early 1990s, the persecution of the Turks of Western Thrace has gradually softened, and there have been significant advances towards restoring their rights as citizens.

However, Greece still denies the ethnic Turkish identity of the minority in Western Thrace, and associations which have the word "Turkish" in their name are banned.

In 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greece, saying associations have the right to have the word "Turkish" in their names, but to this day Greece has defied the ruling, and has yet to recognize this right.

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