Far-right Greek lawmakers submitted a petition after the Turkish minority living in Komotini (Gümülcine), Western Thrace, erected a water fountain commemorating Turkish journalist Mustafa Cambaz, who was killed by putschist soldiers during the July 15 failed coup attempt in Türkiye, as well as a poem by U.N. recognized famous Turkish-Islamic folk poet Yunus Emre.
The public fountain was built jointly by the Arriana (Kozlukebir) Municipality in Greece and Bursa Osmangazi Municipality in Türkiye.
The Komotini Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation following the petition, and Arriana Mayor Rıdvan Ahmet and many others from the Turkish Muslim minority were summoned to gendarmerie stations to testify.
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“This is not the first time we have had such an issue. We’ve had similar issues in the past, and we face immense pressure from the far-right every time,” Ahmet said.
The deputies were allegedly disturbed by the Turkish writing on the fountain, according to Ahmet, who noted that everything written on the fountain was also written in Greek.
The fountain had Yunus Emre’s poem in Turkish and Greek, as well as a description saying that it was constructed jointly by the Bursa Osmangazi Municipality and Arriana Municipality in both languages.
The mayor continued by saying that police asked them why they constructed the fountain, why it commemorates Mustafa Cambaz and other questions during the interrogation aimed at intimidating them.
“This is all done to intimidate us,” Ahmet said, adding that with their actions the Greek authorities are giving them the message that they are on the Turkish minority’s back, that they should not engage in any further activities and not make any “wrong moves.”
Türkiye has criticized Greece for violating the rights of the Turkish minority, as well as welcoming coup supporters following the failed coup attempt in 2016.
The community of Western Thrace Turks in Greece is estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000 members. The rights of the Turks in the region were guaranteed under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a pact forged in the aftermath of the Turkish War of Independence following World War I. Since then, however, the situation has steadily deteriorated. After a Greek military junta came to power in 1967, the minority community started to face harsher persecution and rights abuses by the state. Following Turkey’s 1974 peace operation in Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots there, the Greek military junta eventually fell, but tight restrictions on the minority group persisted and tightened. By the early 1990s, some rights of the Turks were partially restored, but problems regarding collective and civil liberties continued, and new challenges have emerged.
The mufti election issue has been a chronic problem for the Muslim Turkish minority since 1991. The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was regulated in the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was later included in the country’s Act 2345/1920. However, Greece annulled the law in 1991 and started appointing the muftis itself.
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