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Minorities report in Council of Europe was toughened up for Turkey February 2, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey.
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A draft of a CoE report titled “Freedom of religion and other  human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim  minority in Thrace,” by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights,  criticized both Greece and Turkey for their treatment of their  respective minorities and offered recommendations to solve problems. A draft of a CoE report titled “Freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace,” by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, criticized both Greece and Turkey for their treatment of their respective minorities and offered recommendations to solve problems.

Not only did the Turkish delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) fail to stop the bashing in a report on Turkey from getting worse, but they kept silent on favorable terms offered for the report for the Muslim Turkish minority in Greece as well.

As a result the report, equally critical of both Turkey and Greece in its draft form, was tilted more against the former in its final version. The report, titled “Freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace [Eastern Greece],” was written by Michel Hunault, a French deputy from the European Democrat Group (EDG), for the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

The draft report criticized both Greece and Turkey for their treatment of their respective minorities and offered recommendations to solve problems. Though both the Greek and Turkish delegations agreed in principle not to challenge what many said was a “balanced draft” with new amendments, it has been rumored that Greek deputies made a deal with Bulgarian deputies to forward changes on their behalf, most favoring Greece and making the case worse for Turkey with respect to other religious groups as well. When the session adjourned, Greek deputy and former foreign minister Theodore Bakayannis was seen shaking hands with Bulgarian deputy Latchezar Toshev, who endorsed most amendments to the report.

When the draft was presented to the assembly with 14 amendments, deputies mostly from Bulgaria and other countries expanded the scope of the report to challenge Turkey’s position in the biggest human rights watch body in Europe.

What made matters worse for the Turkish delegation is that the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights was represented by Greek Cypriot deputy Christos Pourgourides, a politician biased against Turkey, during the session. Turkish deputy Erol Aslan Cebeci protested this by saying “the chairperson of the committee said that the report is very balanced, but, unfortunately, because of certain religious and ethnic alliances within the committee, that is not the case. We therefore request colleagues to follow the inclinations of the rapporteur, as he knows the issues best.” The concern was that the floor tends to vote with the recommendations of the committee.

A draft of a CoE report titled “Freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace,” by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, criticized both Greece and Turkey for their treatment of their respective minorities and offered recommendations to solve problems.

Speeches delivered by Turkish deputies against those amendments that might contradict official Turkish government policy did not go beyond “staying on the record” and failed to sway the assembly to their side in most cases.

Though Turkish deputies complained that the amendments came in late, an hour before the session started in the afternoon, the complaints had no impact on the proceedings. What seems peculiar was that many deputies kept silent on amendments raised in favor of Turkish Muslim minorities in Greece. Two amendments suggested by Swedish deputy Göran Lindbland were not added to the resolution because he was absent during the session and nobody spoke in the favor of those amendments.

For example, an amendment asking the Greek government to ensure “that persons belonging to the Turkish Muslim minority of Western Thrace do participate effectively in decisions on [the] national level” and urging for “removal of [the] 3 percent threshold” was not debated because Lindbland was absent. When Assembly President Frank Fahey asked if anyone else wish to speak in support of the amendment since Lindbland was not present, Turkish deputies kept silent. Therefore, the amendment was not debated as was the case in other two amendments for the Turkish Muslim minority.

Patriarch declared ‘ecumenical’

An amendment seeking to replace the words “Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul” with the “Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul” was approved by a vote of 75 to 26. Issues regarding the Orthodox Syriac community were also amended against Turkish interests. In a new addition to the report, endorsed by Dutch deputy Pieter Omtzigt among others and adopted by the assembly, the following was included in the report:

“The Assembly expresses equal concern about the current status of the unlawful appropriation of significant amounts of land historically and legally belonging to a multitude of other ancient Syriac monasteries, churches and proprietors in Southeast Turkey.”

Omtzigt claimed that the Mor Gabriel Monastery is not the only one that has had court cases filed against it by ministries or public authorities of the Turkish state. “There are almost 10 such cases. We should point out that that is not acceptable. These are ancient lands and buildings that belong to the community, which has been using them for 2,000 years, and that is why we should add the other monasteries to the list.”

The counterargument raised by Özlem Türköne, a Turkish deputy who said “Syriac minorities are not included in the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty,” did not have enough pull to reject the amendment, with 25 deputies opposing and 85 in favor.

Omtzigt also brought another amendment in support of the Syriac people to the assembly, which said the assembly would “recognize, promote and protect the Syriac people as a minority, which is indigenous to Southeast Turkey, in conformity with the Lausanne Treaty and related international conventions which guarantee their fundamental human rights and dignity; this shall include, but shall not be limited to, officially developing their education and carrying out religious services in their Aramaic native language.” Turkish deputy Cebeci’s objections failed to sway deputies to reject the addition to the resolution.

Bulgarian deputy Toshev was successful in adding to the resolution a request for the Turkish government to address the issue of a Catholic cemetery in Edirne despite opposition from Turkish deputies. The final report mentions that Turkey needs “to address seriously the problem of the desecration of the Catholic cemetery in the Edirne-Karaagac quarter, which is a sacred burial place for Polish, Bulgarian, Italian and French Catholics, and facilitate the restoration of the destroyed memorials and sepulchers there.”

Finally the report was amended to include an article authorizing the assembly to ask the governments of Greece and Turkey to report back on the progress made on complaints raised in the report.

The following Turkish deputies were present during the session: Ruhi Açıkgöz, Lokman Ayva, Cebeci, Birgen Keleş, Haluk Koç, Ertuğrul Kumcuoğlu, Nursuna Memecan, Mehmet Tekelioğlu, Tuğrul Türkeş, Özlem Türköne and Mustafa Ünal. All deputies voted as a bloc with the exception of Açıkgöz, who broke ranks to vote in favor of the first amendment.

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