CBS 60 minutes, Bob Simon

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Bob Simon - CBS News Correspondent

CBS
Sixty Minutes                                                                     December 20, 2009
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Att: Bob Simon
 
Dear Mr Simon,
 
I am a Turkish-American living in New Jersey. Today, I watched with interest your interview with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church, worldwide.
 
I was appalled when I heard him saying that the Greeks are second class citizens in Turkey. I would have very much liked to ask His Eminence how does this overstatement compare with the non-entity status of the Turkish minority living in the Western Thrace? Western Thrace is located in the Balkan Peninsula at the North-Eastern part of Greece. The Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 provided a compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey, but the Greek Orthodox minority in Istanbul and the Turkish minority in Western Thrace were exceptions to this provision.

According to the official figures submitted to the Lausanne Peace Conference, the overall population of Western Thrace in 1923 was 191,699, of which 129,120 were Turks, 33,910 Greeks, 26,266 Bulgarians, 1480 Jewish and 923 Armenians

The Turks outnumbered the Greeks 4 to 1. After 400 years of the Turkish existence in the region, the Turks owned 84% of the land in the area, and the Greeks only 5%. The Turks lived in 300 villages.
 
But today this is not the case. Following the ratification of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, the official Greek policy has been harassing and uprooting the Turks from their homeland through a policy of ethnic cleansing. In fact, the Greeks own the dubious distinction of being the first country in the world practising ethnic cleansing in modern times, not only in Western Thrace, but in the 1890s in the island of Crete, and then in 1950s and 60s in Cyprus as well. Consequently, today the Turkish population in Western Thrace amounts to 120,000. Thanks to the abusive measures to which the Turkish minority has been made subject, the share of the Turks in the land distribution, and their livelihood, has dropped down to 40%.  With a simple calculation, the rate of population growth of the Turkish minority is 2.8%. Had there been no forced massive immigration and persistent discrimination, in the interim 87 years the Turkish population should have more than quadrupled. Now, the 120,000 Turks in that area are silently enduring an ignoble state-sponsored campaign to gradually erase them from the face of the Greek State.

How the conditions of the Greeks in Turkey compared with the dismal status of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace? The Greeks in Turkey are prosperous, free from any discrimination or restriction, they are well-adjusted and all lead a productive life. They do not live in the villages in forced habitation, they are city-dwellers. I can challenge anybody to show me one destitute Greek in Turkey. Their churches and their schools are free. They are prominent in every aspect of life – trade, commerce, business, and manufacture, whatever they choose.
 
According to the Section III of the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923, which deals with the “Protection of Minorities,” Greece is under the obligation to extend to the Turkish minority the full and complete protection of life and liberty. She will allow free exercise of any creed, religion or belief, and will dispense full protection of the religious institutions, will recognize the pious foundations as legitimate entities, will accord full freedom of movement, will provide same civil and political rights as other Greek citizens do enjoy, including equal opportunity to employment, and free use of language, she will ensure that in the primary schools the instruction shall be given to the children through the medium of their own language. Today, none of which is complied within Greece. None!!
 
Greece denies not only the physical existence of a Turkish minority in Western Thrace; she also denies the cultural and ethnic identity of the Turks as well. Much as the Turkish minority is officially Greek citizens, they are referred to as “Muslims” or “Muslim Greeks.” Their Greek citizenship is good only for paying taxes, serving in the army, and for all other obligations as the loyal citizen do, but no benefits.
 
By virtue of the Greek Law 1366/1938, the Turkish minority of Western Thrace is not allowed to acquire new real estate, a plot of land or any other immovable property, or even to repair their old houses. They can only obtain permission to sell their property to Orthodox Greeks, not to anyone of their ethnic or religious origin. Commonplace acts, such as to change residence; open a new shop or start a new business involve heavy bureaucracy, an uphill task with obstacles raised artificially for the Turkish community. The Turkish community can not benefit from commercial credits, obtain a driver’s license for their truck or farm equipment. Talk about “second-class citizen.”
 
These measures of oppression are complemented by a more radical misuse of state authority. Agricultural lands of the Turkish minority are conveniently confiscated for “industrial and other public purposes” while non-arable lands of Orthodox Greeks are spared. When, for some reason, the Greek governments find it “thorny” to expropriate the lands, it simply seizes them claiming that the “title deeds were not valid.”
 
In fact, one such case went to the court when the Ministry of Finance attempted to confiscate approximately 3000 acres of land owned by the Turkish people. The government claimed that the land was state property, despite the fact that the Turkish villagers were holders of valid title deeds. The court ignored all these official documents and based its decision insolently on a supposedly “secret report” of the Department of Agriculture. Disregarding the most basic norms of justice, this purported “secret report” was never made available to the attorneys of the Turkish farmers, and thus the decision was upheld, and the farmers were evicted from their ancestral land which they had been cultivating since 1872. The Turkish minority has lost more than half of its land during the last sixty years through usurpation. With this attitude, Greece appears to be so oblivious to the democratic norms, human rights, and civilized behaviour?
 
These inhuman treatments of the Turkish minority by the Greek governments  were brought to the attention of the European Parliament by two MPs, and led to the publication of the following fact-finding report:

The case of human and minority rights violations in Western Thrace was brought before the European Parliament in March 1983 by two parliamentarians in the following terms:
 
7 March 1983 Document I – 1362 / 82  Motion for a resolution
Introduced by Mr John David Taylor and Mr Jan Paisley
Pursuant to Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure on the Situation in Western Thrace.
 
The European Parliament,

  1. Concerned that at the present the Muslim community in Western Thrace are being denied many basic liberties enjoyed by the rest of the Greek population.
  2. Considering that in many cases the accommodations for local inhabitants consist of dilapidated structures with inadequate amenities.
  3. Aware of the tragic economic plight of the region.
  4. Concerned that the Muslims have:
    • Been refused loans from State-controlled banks in Greece,
    • Had severe restrictions placed upon them when receiving permission to construct accommodations?
    • Had restrictions placed upon them when buying and selling a property?
    • Only been provided with two middle schools in an area which has 200 primary schools.
  1. Deplores the denial of adequate secondary education facilities to the

Muslim minority,

  1. Deplores the treatment of the people of Western Thrace by the successive Greek governments.
  2. Calls on the European (Economic) Community to immediately examine the situation of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace with a view of suggesting ways in which the present and obvious social deprivation may be eradicated.
  3. Instruct its president to forward this resolution to the Commission, to the Council, and to the governments of all member states.

Another oppressive practice by the Greek governments is the severe restrictions imposed on the freedom of movement of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. Because a large segment of Western Thrace has been declared forbidden zone; consequently around 30,000 people in that area are forced to live in an open-air penitentiary. The boundaries of this forbidden zone are expanded at will. Through this practice which is in force since the Second World War, Greece has prohibited entry into this zone which is completely populated by the Turks.

The Turks living in this zone must carry a special permit from the military commander. The Greek governments administer this area like a huge prison camp. The residents are cut off from the outside world, and the world is unaware of what is going on in this zone. This is so much reminiscent of the Nazi practice in the concentration camps.
 
The Greek governments’ excesses do not stop there. The Islamic religious institutions, called “waqfs” are under constant harassment from the Greek officials. The administration of these waqfs have, since their inception, are vested in the community. Their revenue is used to support the religious, educational and welfare activities of the community, thus giving it the necessary sense of self-reliance and dignity. Fully grasping the religious and economic significance of these institutions for the cohesiveness of the Western Thrace Turkish community the Greek authorities began very early to erode the autonomy of the waqfs. They totally abolished the religious freedom of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. To institutionalize this, the Greek Parliament passed a law (Act 1091/1980) virtually taking over the control and administration of the Muslim pious foundations and other charitable trusts in the Western Thrace. Both the content and the manner of the enactment of this notorious law are shameful. This can be seen from the following brief highlights:

There are two ethnic Turkish MPs in the Greek Parliament (out of 300) representing Western Thrace constituencies. The Bill to take control of the Waqfs was seemingly dormant; it was assumed, benignly, that to introduce such a mean-spirited Bill would be unbecoming the dignity of the government. One day, however, all of a sudden this Bill was hastily brought to the floor because at that time the two Turkish MPs happened to be absent from the Parliament.
 
The Bill carried easily. The Turkish MPs accused the government of resorting to deceit in the legislative process. The Council of the Turkish minority expressed the community’s shock and anguish that the government had chosen to pass this law in blatant disregard to all their protests and representations against this Act. It was repugnant to Constitution and democratic norms and tantamount to usurping and expropriating the Islamic waqfs. The community called upon the Greek government to repeal it. Nothing happened. It was a disgrace for Greece to enact such mean-spirited legislation. This Act profoundly affected the existence of the Turkish minority as a self-supporting religious and cultural entity. And this cheap trick was pulled by a country that prides itself as being the cradle of democracy.
 
That law seemed to be an insidious measure not only to take over the control of the waqfs, but also to systematically emasculate, and in due course, even liquidate them, thus depriving the community of its only remaining institutional backbone.
 
Another dismal aspect of the Greek antics is education. The education in Western Thrace is an ongoing “war of attrition.”

The Treaty of Lausanne embodies clear provisions on the right to education of the Turkish community with some degree of autonomy. Article 40 states that,
“They shall have an equal right to establish, manage, and control at their own expense any charitable, religious and social institutions, any schools and other establishments for instruction and education with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein.”

Article 41 furthermore creates an obligation on the part of the Greek governments to grant in those towns and districts, where a considerable proportion of the Turkish minority is resident, adequate facilities for ensuring that in the primary schools the instruction shall be given to the children through their own language. Yet, despite the above explicit provisions of the Lausanne Treaty the Turkish minority can neither establish, nor manage, or control any schools.

The Greek governments have flagrantly violated its Treaty obligations by eroding the autonomy of the Turkish minority through legislation which has subjected the education of the minority to the whims of the Greek authorities. Such legislations have invested the governments with the power to take unilateral and arbitrary decisions on important issues, such as the appointments of the minority schools administrators and teachers, selection of the educational materials.
 
The severe limitations imposed on the Turkish community in Western Thrace have created the following major educational problems:

There are 241 primary schools, many of which consisting of “unified classes” from the 1st to 6th grade in a single room for a student body of 12,000.
 
For the students graduating from these primary schools, there are only two secondary schools to which they can attend. This means that for thousands of Turkish children in Western Thrace the education has to end after the first six years. This is not a choice they have made. The Greek governments
have so decided on their behalf. Sadly, there has not been a single Turkish student who could make his/her way into a university in Greece.
(The above numbers reflect the time period when those statistics had been compiled. Even though the numbers may be slightly different, the main premises, which are arbitrariness, callousness and oppression remain unchanged.)
 
In the minority schools, there are 211 teachers of Turkish origin, not selected by the minority but appointed by the Greek authorities. Over 80 teachers of Turkish origin have either been dismissed or have not been given work at all.

The textbooks are under rigid censorship of the Greek authorities. Any reference to geographical names in Turkey, to the Liras (the Turkish currency) in math problems, or distances between the Turkish cities are causes for the rejection of the standard textbooks in Turkish. This is so petty. Can anyone claim that Greece is honouring its treaty commitments under Articles 40 and 41 of the Treaty of Lausanne?

The school curriculums in Greece have all along contained anti-Turkish statements indoctrinating young minds with enmity towards Turkey.
 
Greece is always busy with anti-Turkish activities. In that vein, Greece provided safe haven to the Kurdish terrorist organization, PKK, for years. She formed an alliance with Syria during the rule of Hafez as Sadat to harass Turkey. For years Greece provided logistics and intelligence to ASALA, the Armenian murder syndicate. In this secure environment on December 8, 1982, the Armenian terrorists struck and killed two Turkish diplomats in Athens. The assailants were never found.
 
The Turks are wary about clergymen acting like politicians and activists. We have witnessed the worst case in Cyprus. Archbishop Makarios, the Head of the ancient Christian Church, came on the scene in Cyprus in the late 1950s. He became the spiritual leader of a terrorist movement that sought Cyprus’ union with Greece. Later he became the president of Cyprus. In his dual capacities with enormous clout, he masterminded and instigated several massacres of the Turkish civilians. This “Red Priest” bloodied his hands with the Turkish blood. He pursued policies that often brought Turkey and Greece close to war.
 
In the 1980s, Mr Papaendreu, a firebrand politician became Prime Minister of Greece. He took the advantage of Turkey being surrounded seamlessly by an Orthodox chain in the West, North, South and the East, whose links are Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and in the
 
distance Serbia and Slovenia. Cyprus, although geographically solitaire, in the spirit it is fully integrated with that circle. Furthermore, Turkey was plagued with Armenian and Kurdish terrorism. So, it was an opportune time to bring Turkey to her knees. Yet, his malicious calculations did not work out. There were dissensions in the Orthodox Church. Russian Church challenged Istanbul Orthodoxy’s preeminence. Then Russia collapsed, and this evil scheme fell through.
 
Listening to your interview with the Archbishop the plot seemed familiar. This time, his gambit is with the Catholic Church. He is out to prepare the world for this new alliance against Turkey. Istanbul should be restored to its old glory as Constantinople. He intimated during the interview this yearning, saying, “Who knows, maybe someday…” It was as far as he could go. Pope Benedict XVI may prove a good ally in this modern-time Crusade; he is rigid, single-minded, without any finesse, and lacks the humanism of the late John Paul II.
 
Turkey observes these developments cautiously and attributes these excesses to the deep inferiority complex of Greece. Turkey has repeatedly proved herself as the patron of the minorities, protecting them and treating them humanely.

Today, there are 26 independent countries that were once under Turkish rule. They can all testify to this. Greece was ruled for 400 years by the Turks. During which time, they maintained their language, culture and religion thanks to the Turkish leniency. They thrived under Turkish rules like most Christians and the Jews; they became prosperous and rendered valuable services to the state.
 
The Turks were just and fair when they were powerful. Abraham Lincoln once said, “To judge the character of a person give him power.” The Turks proved this wisdom throughout history, and with flying colours.

How do these compare with the dismal treatment of the Turkish minority under the Greek rule?
 
Mr Simon, it was enlightening to learn about the Greek perspective and their aspirations from a prominent figure; we thank you for that. Also, thank you for listening.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
Ayhan Ozer
 
313 Sked Street
Pennington, NJ 08534
Tel: (609) 737-3885

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