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Western Thrace Turkish delegation participates in OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting15 November 2020The Western Thrace Turkish delegation consisting of ABTTF, BTAYTD and DEB Party representatives expressed the problems faced by the Western Thrace Turkish community in the field of freedom of religion.

Representing the Western Thrace Turkish community, the European Western Thrace Turkish Federation (ABTTF), the Western Thrace Minority Higher Education Association (BTAYTD) and the Friendship Equality Peace (DEB) Party participated in the third Additional Human Dimension Meeting of the year organized by the Organization of European Security and Cooperation (OSCE) on 9-10 November 2020, titled “The role of digital technologies and civil society actors in freedom of religion or belief”.

ABTTF International Relations Director Melek Kırmacı Arık, Head of Human Rights Section of BTAYTD Dr. Pervin Hayrullah and BTAYTD General Secretary Meltem Giritli and FEP Party General Coordinator Fatih Hüseyinoğlu participated.

In the opening session of the meeting, Inid Milo, Head of the Task Force of the Albanian Presidency of the meeting, Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Deputy Director-1 of OSCE / ODIHR Katarzyna Gardapkhadze drew attention to the importance of freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking at the first session where the freedom of religion or belief in the OSCE area was discussed, ABTTF stated that the right to elect the religious leaders of the Western Thrace Turkish community, which has religious autonomy, was usurped by Greece, and the muftis chosen by the Turkish community were sentenced to prison on the grounds of occupation. ABTTF criticized the conversion of the mufti offices in Western Thrace to state offices with the Presidential Decree dated 52/2019 and noted that the General Assembly of the Council of State of Greece rejected the lawsuit filed for the annulment of the decree. Stating that the state intervention against the religious freedoms of Western Thrace Turks continued during the new type of coronavirus (Kovid-19), ABTTF asked Greece to return the religious autonomy of the Western Thrace Turkish community.

Speaking at the same session, BTAYTD stated that the freedom of religion of the Western Thrace Turkish society is violated in Greece, and as an example, in the speech of the Secretary General of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Yorgos Kalancis, in the inter-party Thrace Development Commission who said "no elections will be held in the process of determining the muftis". BTAYTD called on Greece to respect the religious freedoms of the Western Thrace Turkish community and to recognize the elected muftis. 

Speaking at the third and last session titled the role of civil society in promoting freedom of religion or belief for all, ABTTF stated that Western Thrace Turkish society has the right to establish, manage and supervise all kinds of charitable and religious organizations, but the right to manage foundations that serve the religious, cultural and social needs of Turkish society was taken away. ABTTF stated that, in two religious schools (madrasas) belonging to the Western Thrace Turkish community, which have the right to establish, manage and supervise their own schools, Turkish teaching hours were reduced first, and with the law adopted last July, the head of the council committee in these schools was appointed by the state but not recognized by the Turkish community. 

Speaking at the same session, BTAYTD noted that since 1967, when the military junta came to power in Greece, the state has been appointing the management committees for the foundations belonging to the Western Thrace Turkish community in violation of the Lausanne Treaty and international treaties. Noting that the Western Thrace Turkish community cannot manage their foundations freely, BTAYTD demanded from Greece to provide the right back to the minority to elect the management committees of the foundations.

Using its right to respond in both sessions, Greece repeated its official opinion, claiming that there is a Muslim and religious minority in Western Thrace and that the state protects freedom of religion or belief.
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