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Alexis Tsirpas – Western Thrace to revert back to their original toponyms. February 17, 2015

Posted by Yilan in Yunanistan.
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Alexis Tsirpas speaking with local Turkish leaders in the Western Thrace city of Komotini promised that his party Syrzia will look into a draft law to revert back to old Turkish placenames renamed over 65 years ago.

Newly elected Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsirpas was keen on the idea to rename toponyms in Western Thrace to their previous toponyms bearing Turkish names in an effort to boost friendly relations with Turkey which has been pressuring Greece for many years to provide human rights for the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece..

Alexis Tsirpas indicated that he and his Syriza party will back the draft-law for restoring authentic toponyms in Thrace be brought in through Greece’s Legislative parliamentary commission.

A two-third majority is required in order the draft-law on restoring authentic toponyms to be enacted, which means that opposition MPs need to be in favour of the document.

“In the entire region of Bati Trakya (Western Thrace) no one uses the Hellenised name of the municipalities or the other names of places… for us and for our ancestors and future generations it has been and will always be Turkish names such as Gümülcine for Komitini or İskeçe for Xanthi. In 1949 a decision had been reached against the will of the Turks in Western Thrace to change the toponyms. In recent years, the Turkish language is in use thus they are written in Turkish with the Turkish Alphabet,” says former Member of Parliament and ex PASOK MP, Cetin Mandaci.

Turks in Greece hope for more rights from Syriza victory February 17, 2015

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While Greeks await an economic resurrection from their newly elected left-wing anti-bailout government, the country’s ethnic-Turkish minority is hoping for more rights and “equal citizenship.”

The charismatic leader of the anti-austerity party Syriza-40-year-old Alexis Tsipras-won a historic victory in last Sunday’s election.

Greece’s youngest prime minister in 150 years unveiled the country’s new government on Tuesday which includes three Turkish-origin Syriza MPs.

The Turkish community in Greece has largely supported the anti-austerity party, says the head of the Istanbul-based Western Thrace Turks Solidarity Association, Taner Mustafaoğlu.

“Apart from a recovery in the Greek economy they – Western Thracians – have an expectation on minority rights,” he says, referring to schooling and religious rights which he claims are underrepresented in the region.

Numbers for the amount of Western Thrace Turks vary between 60,000 and 150,000. They are a remnant of the Ottoman Empire but are not recognized as ethnic Turks by the Greek government, which classifies them among other Greek Muslims.

“Tsipras said that he wanted to see Western Thracians as equal citizens with Greeks,” says Mustafaoğlu referring to Tsipras’ comment made in Greece’s northeastern city of Komotini – Gümülcine in Turkish – 10 days before the election.

A Western Thracian who supports Tsipras’ party is 65-year-old Ferruh Sözüner who has been living in Istanbul since 1956.

“‘Left’ means freedom, equality and human rights and our expectations are mainly on education, economic, social and religious reforms in Western Thrace,” he says.

As a financial adviser Sözüner does not believe that Syriza would be able to realize its promises on economics but is hopeful on minority rights.

However, some believe Syriza’s victory was not as “overwhelming as it has been portrayed.”

Greek-born associate professor on international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, says: “Syriza’s victory came about because the Greek electorate is tired of further austerity measures which are entering their fifth year.

“Thus Syriza’s message that Greece will not put up with austerity anymore struck a chord among voters,” he adds.

Pointing out a major sub-story of the elections was the notorious far-right Golden Dawn party-some of whose leaders are in prison-becoming the country’s third-largest political force, Triantaphyllou says: “With populism permeating Greek politics, a failure of Syriza, which has invested in the populist and demagogy cards, to deliver on its promises could push many of its voters into the Golden Dawn camp.”

For some, the January 25 election was a historic moment not only for Greece but also for the whole European continent.

“Syriza’s pre-election motto was ‘Hope is coming’ and it is for this very hope that Greek people gave [them] their votes and put them in power-for the first time in Greece’s history a far-leftist party,” says 32-year-old PhD candidate in International Relations at Kadir Has University, Panagiotis Andrikopoulos.

Syriza has already showed their intentions right away with a symbolic move, he adds.

“For the first time in Greek political history a prime minister took his oath without the presence of the Christian Orthodox clergy,” Andrikopoulos says.

Andrikopoulos, who has been living in Istanbul for the last four years, says that thousands of young and educated people decided to leave Greece because there was “no hope and future” for them there.

“I cannot hide the fact that when I saw Syriza taking power and changing many things right from the beginning, immediately it crossed my mind that I would like to be there and live these changes,” he says.

Three Turks from Syriza party secure parliamentary seats in Greek elections February 17, 2015

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A man reads headlines reporting the results of the parliamentary elections in Athens, Jan. 26. REUTERS Photo

A man reads headlines reporting the results of the parliamentary elections in Athens, Jan. 26. REUTERS Photo

Three members of the Turkish minority community in Western Thrace have been elected to the Greek parliament, representing the far-left Syriza party that swept the elections on Jan. 25.

While two Greeks of Turkish descent, Mustafa Mustafa and Ayhan Karayusuf, managed to enter parliament from the leftist ranks by earning the most votes in Komotini, another Turkish candidate, Hüsyein Zeybek, won the elections in another Western Thracian province, Xanthi.

All three lawmakers are from Syriza, which has swiftly formed a government in cooperation with the anti-austerity nationalist party, the Independent Greeks.

Turks of Greece overwhelmingly vote for Syriza February 17, 2015

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Turkish and Muslim population of Greece voted overwhelmingly for the radical-left group Syriza in Sunday’s elections and sent three deputies to the Greek Parliament from the Syriza cadres.

Radical-left Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left – Synaspismos Rizospastikis Aristeras) won Sunday’s elections in Greece by a great margin, and its leader Alexis Tsipras announced the new coalition in less than 24 hours. Along with many Greeks, who were frustrated with the economic crisis and EU-dictated austerity measures, many Turks and Muslim of Western Thrace also voted for Syriza.

In Xanthi (İskeçe) and Rhodope (Rodop) provinces, in which Turkish and Muslim minorities makes up a significant portion of the population, Syriza won the elections by receiving 45 and 48 percent of the votes respectively, well above the national average of 36 percent.

Hüseyin Zeybek from Xanthi (İskeçe) and, Mustafa Mustafa and Ayhan Karayusuf from Rhodopes (Rodop) provinces were elected as representatives of the Turkish community in the Greek Parliament. The Turkish community had also sent three deputies to the parliament in the 2012 elections.

According to the results, Syriza’s votes are higher in rural areas where the Turkish and Muslim populations are the majority. However, in cities and towns, in which the Greeks form the majority, Syriza also received a higher percentage of votes than the national average.

In Xanthi (İskeçe) province, Syriza received 45 percent of the votes. In the city of Xanthi, Syriza received 38 percent of the votes, meanwhile in Abdera municipality, its share increased to 42 percent. In Selero (Gökçeler) village of Abdera, Syriza’s votes were 74 percent. Again in Myki municipality, which is on the Bulgarian border and mainly inhabited by Muslim Pomaks, 69 percent of voters chose Syriza. The Thermes (Ilıca), Kotyli, Myki and Satres communities voted for Syriza respectively by 71, 68, 68 and 79 percent.

In Rhodope (Rodop) province, Syriza received 48 percent of the votes. In the city of Komotini (Gümülcine), in which Turks make up 40 percent of the population, Syriza received 39 percent of the votes. The party won with 32 percent in Aigeiros (Kavaklı) and 46 percent of Neo Sidirochori (Cambaz) villages of Komotini. In Arriana municipality, 65 percent of voters chose Syriza. Organi, Kechros (Mehrikoz) and Fillyra (Sirkeli) communities voted for Syriza respectively by 64, 62 and 65 percent. Iasmos, Amaxades and Sostis (Susurköy) villages voted for Syriza respectively by 48, 72 and 71 in Iasmos municipality. Syriza received 46 percent of the votes in Maroneia-Sapes municipality, with 45 percent of the voters choosing Syriza in Sapes (Şapçı) village.

Karayusuf spoke to German Deutsche Welle Turkish, and said that the Turkish community of Western Thrace have been affected worse than the rest of Greece in the economic crisis.

“Minorities were affected more, as minorities have less government employees and most people are workers or peasants. Eight to ten thousand families make their living through tobacco cultivation. As the support from Europe decreased, these people started having rough times” Karayusuf said.

He also noted that Western Thrace’s Turkish community was suppressed due to its identity, and Syriza was the only party with policies to preserve national identities.

Greece’s Syriza starts afresh with Turkey February 17, 2015

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Greece’s Syriza starts afresh with Turkey

Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA party leader and winner of the Greek parliamentary elections, signs papers appointing him the first leftist prime minister. (Photo: Reuters)

Following the left-wing Syriza party’s election victory on Sunday under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, the new coalition government is not expected to make any radical policy changes in Greek-Turkish relations and is likely to follow the same policies on Cyprus and the Aegean, while continuing to support Turkey’s European Union membership.

Only short two parliamentarians to form a majority government, 40-year-old Tsipras swiftly struck a deal on Monday with the Independent Greeks party — a small right-wing party that is also anti-austerity — to form a government.

The success of a left-wing party like Syriza means a positive change for the Turkish minority in Western Thrace as well. Tsipras’ party is known for its moderate approach towards the Turkish minority and three members of the Turkish minority community in Western Thrace have been elected to the Greek parliament under Syriza.

Two of the parliamentarians of Turkish origin, Mustafa Mustafa and Ayan Karayusuf, have won in Komotini; meanwhile, Hüseyin Zeybek won in the Xanthi province.

Another positive expectation is that of no change in Greece’s support for Turkey’s EU membership.

In the first comments on the strong win for the leftist Syriza party in the elections, Turkey said on Monday that it respects the choice of the Greek people and that it was ready to work with any party that comes to power, especially on the Cyprus problem and tensions in the Aegean. “Everybody should show respect. We certainly respect the decision of the Greek people. We are ready to work with any government elected to power,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters at a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart after talks in Ankara.

The foreign minister said Turkey wants to restart reunification talks in Cyprus and hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in a manner that protects the rights of Turkish Cypriots. “Greece has an important role to play in these matters. We are willing to work with Greece in both restarting the Cyprus talks and easing existing tensions,” he said, adding: “Of course, we want to maintain contact with Greece. We would like to continue exploratory talks on reducing tensions in the Aegean and resolving existing problems.”

Turkey and Greece are at odds over the fate of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean. UN-backed reunification talks between Turkish and Greek communities of Cyprus came to a halt in October when the Greek Cypriot side announced that it had suspended the talks in protest of Turkey’s plan to search for oil and gas in waters where the Greek Cypriot administration had already licensed drilling.

The two neighbors have also been holding talks on how to resolve their disputes regarding their territorial rights in the Aegean.

Despite the Cyprus and Aegean disputes, however, Ankara and Athens maintain good relations, and Greece is a supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Çavuşoğlu said Greek governments have traditionally been supportive of, or at least not opposed to, Turkey’s accession into the EU and that Turkey expected the new Greek government to support or at least not obstruct the Turkish bid.

Çavuşoğlu further stated that the Turkish delegation had a “very productive” meeting with Tsipras during a visit by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Greece in December, in which the two sides discussed bilateral relations, the situation in Europe and the Cyprus issue.

No radical policy changes in short term


Thanos Dokos, the director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), said that he does not expect any significant changes in Greece-Turkey relations under Syriza.

“They will follow roughly the same policy on Cyprus and the Aegean. Also, the emphasis will be on their domestic agenda, as well as relations with Greece’s European partners, not foreign policy issues,” Dokos told Today’s Zaman on Monday.

“Therefore, it is unlikely that they will make any radical policy changes during the next few months — with the possible exception of the continued application of European sanctions against Russia,” he added.

Dokos also stated that there is a tendency inside Syriza to implement some positive changes regarding the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, such as enabling the collective self-determination of minority groups.

“However, such tendencies may be offset by the strong conservative/nationalistic positions of their coalition partners, the Independent Greeks,” said Dokos.

Many political circles in Greece stress the importance of the person to be picked for the position of foreign minister in the new Greek government. One of the names who being considered for this position is Foreign Ministry adviser Nikos Kotzias, who is known to be critical of Turkey.

Mustafa Mustafa, a parliamentarian of Turkish origin who was elected under Syriza on Sunday, told Today’s Zaman that Syriza’s victory means the policies followed by the New Democrats and Pasot parties in past years have collapsed.

“There are many issues in the country waiting to be resolved, and the former ruling parties have exploited issues such as the minority issue in their election campaign and not honored their promises after coming to office. On top of that we have experienced an economic crisis, and in the end our community supported Syriza because Syriza is a party which openly supports human rights, democracy, equality and social justice,” Mustafa told Today’s Zaman in a phone interview on Monday.

Mustafa said that there have been some positive developments in Turkey-Greece relations after the troubled period in the late ’90s and that, with Syriza coming to power, this positive trend will continue.

“We are a party that seeks to have a positive and consistent relationship with its neighbors based on international law, mutual respect … . And as a Turkish minority community in Greece, our expectation is that the relationship between Turkey and Greece will improve with this new government,” said Mustafa.

Mustafa said he expects his party will succeed on this difficult road ahead. “I send my great respect, love and friendship to Turkish people,” he added.

In a press statement on Monday, the head of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), Halit Habipoğlu, said: “We start afresh in our country Greece. People said no to the politicians representing the former order. Greece voted for change in Sunday’s election. This is not a change in social and economic areas. Greece will be rebuilt. We hope to enjoy an environment in the country in which we all enjoy freedom of expression.”

He also stressed that the Turkish minority wants more rights and fair treatment from the new government based on the principles of equal rights and democracy.

Cenk Sidar — the founder of Sidar Global Advisors (SGA), a Washington-based consulting firm — stressed that Turkish opposition parties, including leftist parties, should observe the example of Greece after the victory of the left-wing Syriza party.

In his column on the Turkish web portal Diken, Sidar said a young and dynamic team with a clear message would have a chance to win against a strong ruling party in Turkey, as happened in Greece.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Adana deputy Faruk Loğoğlu said the election victory for Syriza is a positive development for Greece and that it will subsequently have a positive effect on Turkey as well.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Loğoğlu said: “But in the short run, the new steps and reforms the new Greek government will follow are not likely to be reflected in bilateral relations.”

Loğoğlu said he doesn’t expect a significant change regarding the Aegean continental shelf issue or the ethnically divided island of Cyprus. He stressed that all the parties in Greece see Cyprus as part of the Hellenic world.

Veteran diplomat Loğoğlu also said that the Turkish minority in Western Thrace will be affected positively by this change, as left-wing parties like Syriza have a positive approach to minorities.

He said there may be some positive changes such as expanded acceptance of the use of the Turkish language, the appointment of muftis and the election of members of the Turkish minority to office.

With regards to the potential problems between Greece and the EU on austerity issues, Loğoğlu said the EU and Greece have the capacity to overcome them.

“The EU will find a way out of its problems with Greece. There were other crises in the EU before, including eurozone issues, and the EU was able to overcome these problems,” Loğoğlu said.