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The situation of the inhabitants of Rhodes and Kos with a Turkish cultural background

Report | Doc. 12526 | 23 February 2011

Committee
Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Rapporteur :
Mr Andreas GROSS, Switzerland, SOC
Origin
Reference to committee: Doc. 11904, Reference 3581 of 22 June 2009. 2011 - November Standing Committee
Thesaurus

Summary

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights notes that the inhabitants of Rhodes and Kos with a Turkish cultural background are generally well integrated into the multicultural societies of the two islands. It commends the Greek Government for its genuine commitment to maintaining and developing the islands’ cosmopolitan character. The islands’ multiculturalism is the fruit of their rich history, which includes four centuries of generally tolerant Ottoman Turk rule. The good understanding between the majority population and the different minority groups, including that with a Turkish cultural background, is an important asset for the economic prosperity of the islands.

The committee notes that better knowledge of the Turkish language and culture would benefit not only the inhabitants with a Turkish cultural background, but also their neighbours. Other issues raised by the inhabitants concerned include the apparent lack of transparency and accountability of the administration of the Muslim religious foundations (vakfs), and the unclear status of the Muslim religious leadership on the islands.

The recommendations proposed by the committee are intended to assist the Greek authorities in resolving these issues in a constructive manner.

A Draft resolutionNote

1 The Parliamentary Assembly notes that the inhabitants of Rhodes and Kos with a Turkish cultural background are generally well integrated into the multicultural societies of the two islands. They are proud to be fully fledged Greek citizens and to participate in the economic prosperity of the islands.
2 The Assembly commends the Greek Government for its genuine commitment to maintaining and developing the two islands’ cosmopolitan character, also by protecting their historical monuments, without discrimination. The islands’ multiculturalism is the fruit of their rich history, which includes four centuries of generally tolerant Ottoman Turk rule.
3 The good understanding between the majority population and the different minority groups, including that with a Turkish cultural background, is an important asset for the economic prosperity of the two islands, and in particular for their attractiveness for tourism, their main source of revenue.
4 The Assembly notes that better knowledge of the Turkish language and culture would benefit not only the inhabitants with a Turkish cultural background, but also their neighbours with Greek or other cultural backgrounds, given the proximity of these islands to major tourist areas on the Turkish coast and the still largely untapped potential for regional co-operation in the field of tourism.
5 It therefore welcomes the readiness expressed by the Greek authorities to organise, upon the parents’ request, afternoon classes in Turkish language and culture taught by qualified teachers and funded by the Ministry of Education. Parents on both islands do not seem to be sufficiently aware of this possibility. Moreover, the Greek authorities may wish to consider reopening the Turkish-language community schools.
6 Three other issues require the authorities’ attention: the apparent lack of transparency and accountability of the administration of the Muslim religious foundations (vakfs), and the unclear status of the Muslim religious leadership on the islands.
7 The Assembly therefore invites the Greek authorities to:
7.1 conduct an information campaign among parents of all schoolchildren on the two islands to inform them of the possibility of afternoon classes in the Turkish language and culture being organised by the educational authorities upon parental request;
7.2 ensure full transparency and accountability of the administration of the two Public Muslim Vakfs in Rhodes and Kos, which are legal persons of public law both before the Greek state and before the members of the local Muslim communities, including by renewing, in an open and transparent way, their councils at regular intervals and securing to every member of the said communities the right to have full access to their public accounts;
7.3 ensure that the Muslim communities in Rhodes and Kos are free to choose their religious preachers (Imams), the rights and duties of whom should be clarified;
7.4 continue their dialogue with the representatives of the islands’ inhabitants with a Turkish cultural background in order to resolve the above and any other issues arising in future, in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding that characterises Rhodes and Kos.
8 The Assembly reiterates its invitation to the Greek authorities to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ETS No. 157).

B Explanatory report by Mr Gross, rapporteur

1 Introduction

1 The motion on the situation of the Turkish minority in Rhodes (Rodos) and Kos (Istanköy)Note and, consequently, the present report fulfil a promise I made in recognition of the co-operation of the Greek and Turkish delegations in assessing the situation on the Turkish islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos).Note Having noted, with regret, how the policies of earlier Turkish governments have over time destroyed the Greek cultural character of the islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), basically replacing the original ethnic Greek population by new settlers from the Turkish mainland, I had proposed measures to improve the situation of the remaining ethnic Greeks and to create a harmonious, multicultural environment that would ensure the prosperity of all the inhabitants of the two islands. The Turkish delegation, which supported most of my proposals, urged me at the time also to look into the situation of the inhabitants of Turkish origin on the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos. The present report is the result of this inquiry.
2 I should like to stress from the outset that the situation which I found on Rhodes and Kos is in no way comparable with that on Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos). On the two Greek islands which are the subject of the present report, multiculturalism thrives, with the active support of the Greek authorities, and the inhabitants with a Turkish cultural background are well integrated in the island communities. Some problems have remained, however, and I will make concrete proposals for their solution, as I did for the two Turkish islands. I sincerely hope that the Greek authorities will be more responsive to these proposals than their Turkish counterparts have been so far as regards Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos).Note

2 Historical background

3 The islands of Rhodes and Kos belong to the Dodecanese group of islands in the south of the Aegean Sea, close to the Turkish coast of Anatolia. Both islands have a glorious multicultural past, which is still very much in evidence and constitutes the basis for the prosperity of their inhabitants.
4 From the Stone Age, Rhodes and Kos have been invaded and influenced by numerous Mediterranean civilisations, including the Minoans, Phoenicians and Dorians, the Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Venetians, Genovese and – from 1309 to 1522 – by the Knights Hospitallers. Between their conquest by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, and 1912, when Rhodes and Kos fell under Italian occupation during the Turkish-Italian war, the islands were governed by the Ottoman Turks, mostly under a special statute of autonomy allowing their mostly Greek inhabitants a high degree of cultural and economic independence, against payment of a special tax. The islanders, who enjoyed a period of relative prosperity and de facto autonomy during much of the 19th century, did not participate in the Greek war of independence against Ottoman domination. Italian rule, which left a number of somewhat disputable architectural traces, ended in 1943. After a period of German military occupation ending in 1945 and two years as a British Protectorate, the islands were transferred to Greek sovereignty in 1947.
5 Given that the islands did not belong to Greece in 1923, their ethnic Turkish inhabitants did not fall under the “exchange of population” agreed between Greece and Turkey in the Treaty of Lausanne, during which all Muslims from Greece (with the exception of those living in Western Thrace) and all Greeks from Turkey (with the exception of those living in Istanbul and on the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, later to become Gökçeada and Bozcaada) were expelled to their “kin states”. For the same reason, the Muslims on Rhodes and Kos do not fall under the special regime of minority protection under the Lausanne Treaty which was established in favour of those minority populations which were exempted from the “population exchange”.Note But the treaty with Italy under which the islands were brought under Greek sovereignty specified that all legal inhabitants were entitled to Greek citizenship and that their religious and property rights would be respected.
6 During the various Greek-Turkish crises, in particular in 1955 (expulsion of most of the Greek community in Istanbul) and in 1974 (Cyprus conflict), some measures were taken by the Greek authorities which negatively affected the Turkish-origin inhabitants of the two islands, but they stopped short of large-scale expulsion and expropriation. Under a law of 1959,Note “abandoned” plots owned by Muslims who left Greece for more than five years were expropriated, and Turks who fled the islands at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus were forced to sell their properties in a hurry, and many of them were deprived of their citizenship.
7 But the size of the Muslim population (with a Turkish cultural background), which currently stands at about 4-5 000Note (about 2-3 000 on Rhodes and 2 000 on the smaller island of Kos), as a proportion of the total population of the islands (117 000 on Rhodes and 31 000 on Kos), has remained quite significant, despite the emigration of numerous islanders of both communities to the Greek or Turkish mainland, or to other countries in Europe. This is an important difference with the Turkish islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), whose originally mostly ethnic Greek population has been replaced almost entirely by settlers from the Turkish mainland during the same period.
8 Having spoken with numerous islanders with a Turkish cultural background, I have the impression that they are generally well integrated and proud to be Greek citizens. Many of them maintain strong cultural and economic links with the Turkish mainland, including sending their children to Turkey for part of their education, and investing in the tourism industry on the Turkish coast. Their social situation is not much different from that of the ethnic Greek majority, and better than that of the “new minorities” who have immigrated from Albania and from some African and Asian countries over the past decades. Numerous mixed marriages have come to seal the multicultural character of the island societies, which I sensed in a very positive way throughout my visit.

3 Problems of the inhabitants of Muslim/Turkish origin

9 The two main issues that were raised during my visit concerned Turkish-language education and the lack of transparency in the administration of the religious foundations (“vakoufs” or “vakfs”) on the islands. Other issues include the upkeep of cultural monuments and the organisation of Muslim worship.

3.1 Turkish-language education

10 In view of the gradual decline of the Muslim population on the islands and the increasing tendency of pupils with a Turkish cultural background to attend the mainstream Greek schools, the Greek military junta decided, in 1972, to close down the Muslim Turkish-language primary schools – the last one in Rhodes being the “Süleymeniye medresesi”. This was interpreted at the time as a reaction to the closure of the Greek-language schools on Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) in 1964 and of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary in the same year. According to the State secretary in the ministry of education, the last Turkish-language schools were closed in 1991, due to the insufficient number of eligible children.
11 In Greek schools, classes on religion are in principle obligatory. Non-Orthodox children are not obliged to attend, but courses on Islam are presently not on offer. The Turkish cultural associations (“brotherhoods”) offer classes on religion, and so does the Imam of Kos, in the form of “Muslim Sunday school”.
12 According to information provided by the ministry of education, there is presently a sizeable number of children with a Turkish cultural background who could be interested in afternoon classes for Turkish-language courses (according to the figures of the ministry of education, 30 out of 270 children in Ixia have a Turkish cultural background; in the old town of Rhodes seven out of 65; in Skouro 17 out of 135). According to the ministry, the possibility of organising such classes exists, but there is “not much interest” on the side of the parents. The State secretary, whom I met in Athens,Note told me that she is ready to come to the islands and explain the possibilities for organising such Turkish-language classes in the afternoon, and encouraged me to include this in my report. Such classes should be “serious”, taught by teachers qualified in Greece, and open also to Greek children wishing to learn their neighbours’ language.
13 During my subsequent visit to the islands, it became clear that the parents with a Turkish cultural background were simply not aware that such a possibility existed. Some of my interlocutors on the islands belonging to this community would like to see the former Turkish-language community schools reopened, at least at primary school level, but that would seem unrealistic, given the small number of children concerned and the reluctance of the Greek authorities to extend Lausanne-style minority rights to the inhabitants of Rhodes and Kos with a Turkish cultural background.
14 This said, I would consider it most appropriate to provide the possibility of Turkish-language classes to all interested children on the islands, not excluding those with cultural origins other than Turkish. The knowledge of one’s neighbours’ language is an important asset both for the preservation of the cosmopolitan character of the islands and for their economic prosperity. Given the openness of the Greek authorities to such an offer, its realisation seems to be mostly a problem of information.

3.2 The lack of transparent administration of Muslim religious foundations ("vakoufs"/"vakfs")

15 The legal regime of the properties belonging to religious communities (“vakoufs” or “vakfs”) is a remnant of the Ottoman period. The Italian administration recognised and formalised the Ottoman structures in several decrees,Note but in 1940 the control of Muslim vakfs was handed over to the (majority) local administrations.Note Under British administration, the vakf properties were returned to the Muslim communities. This legal status was accepted by the Greek authorities under Declaration 19/1947 of the Greek military governor of the islands and subsequent legislation. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1947,Note Greece undertook to respect the status of all property of the inhabitants of the islands. Consequently, Greece had to respect the existing vakfs in the Dodecanese islands, but no new vakf could be created as the Greek Civil Code, extended to the islands in 1947, does not recognise such a legal entity.
16 In practice, the Muslim religious foundations are administered by two “organisations” (one for Rhodes, one for Kos) having five members each, who are appointed by the Greek authorities (the secretary general of the region). In theory (according to the Italian Decree 12/1929, which is still in force), they should be appointed every two years. In practice, they stay in office as long as they enjoy the government’s confidence. These “organisations”, in a similar fashion to the committees for the management of the vakf in Thrace, are considered as the legal representatives of the totality of the vakf on each island. They are subject to annual financial controls by the secretary general of the region, but the annual accounts are not made public.
17 I have noted some discontent among my interlocutors with a Turkish cultural background about the management of the Muslim religious foundations. The tensions in this respect are particularly obvious on Rhodes. There are allegations of maladministration, such as an excessive sell-off of vakf property, failure to fulfil the vakf’s duty to support poor members of the community, and lack of accountability for the use of the income produced by the vakf properties.
18 The Muslim cultural association of Rhodes (“brotherhood”) reportedly appealed recently to the attorney general of the island in order to obtain the renewal of the vakf management committee of Rhodes after twenty-five years, but to no avail. In Kos, the minority of the municipal council publicly denounced the lack of accountability of the island’s vakf organisation and asked specifically for information on the way the organisation raised and spent €600 000 for the restoration of two mosques (Lonca Gazi Hasan and Defterdar Ibrahim).Note
19 One vakf administrator told me that his organisation had sold off 8% of its properties in recent years, while the Muslim cultural association had to pay rent for its premises.
20 In my view, transparency of the vakf “organisations” should be established as a matter of urgency. Even if in actual fact there is no maladministration, providing transparency for the vakf accounts would be a valuable confidence-building measure, in view of the unease expressed by leading representatives of the Muslim communities on both islands. The election by the local community itself, at regular intervals, of the five members of each vakf “organisation”, would further increase their accountability.

3.3 Upkeep of cultural monuments

21 According to my interlocutors at the ministries of culture and the interior, all historical monuments on the islands are protected and maintained in the same manner, without discrimination. But because of the precarious budgetary situation of Greece, not all restoration projects can be carried out as soon as would be desirable.
22 By way of example, I was told that two mosques on Rhodes were renovated with public funds in recent years, but two other mosque renovation projects on Kos have been awaiting funding since 2008.
23 On Kos, I heard complaints that the project for the extension of the harbour requires the destruction of three buildings belonging to the Muslim vakf, including a former mosque. But the “mosque” building in question looks like a simple shack, with a corrugated iron roof, and has not been used for worship for some time. It was built illegally, like the other two buildings concerned. The conflict, in which the Turkish consulate got involved on the side of the Muslim community, is not yet resolved. I also heard that a small number of Muslim fundamentalistsNote are opposing any compromise solution, such as the provision of an alternative prayer site offered by the Greek authorities. A court case is now pending before the Greek Supreme Court.
24 My impression is that the authorities’ professed attachment to the cosmopolitan cultural heritage of the islands is genuine – it coincides with the Greek state’s own interests, as the historical monuments are important tourist attractions, the islands’ main source of revenue. Given the foreseeable budgetary situation of Greece, one avenue to mobilise additional funding for cultural heritage projects on the islands could be a more efficient and transparent administration of the Muslim vakfs (see section 3.2 above).

3.4 The organisation of Muslim worship

25 About one third of the Muslim population of Rhodes and Kos regularly attend mosque; they seem to belong mostly to the older generation. Two mosques function on each island, the others are closed, as I was told, for lack of followers and/or because they are in need of renovation.
26 The organisation of Muslim worship is complicated by the fact that it is unclear who is in charge. In 1947, when the Dodecanese was attached to Greece, the Mufti of Rhodes remained in office as religious leader. On Kos, another mufti remained in office unofficially until his death in 1962. After 1947, a conflict developed between the Mufti of Rhodes, who represented conservative, old-fashioned Muslims, and the Turkish consulate, which favoured a modernist, Kemalist and pro-Turkish ideology and campaigned for the appointment of a new mufti. The Greek Government openly supported the existing mufti and prevented the renewal of the mufti office of Kos, in order to protect the authority of the Mufti of Rhodes. After the death of the Mufti of Rhodes in 1961 and of his successor in 1974, the latter’s deputy acted as mufti until 1992. But as of 1984, the official status of the Mufti of Rhodes was in question. Whilst the Mufti of Komotini sent Ismail Çakır Salimoğlu to Rhodes in 1990, as imam, in order to maintain operational the mufti office of Rhodes, the Greek state did not officially appoint any mufti, although the highest representatives of the State treated Mr Salimoğlu as the highest religious authority of the islands on various ceremonial occasions. At the same time, the ministry of education and cults denied him official recognition as a mufti, arguing that the number of mufti offices in Greece is determined by a Law of 1928, which does not mention such an office at Rhodes – which is not surprising, since the islands were not part of Greece in 1928.
27 The resulting situation is somewhat unsatisfactory. The current de facto office holder, 77 years old and apparently not undisputed in his own community, does not receive a proper salary or pension (as did his predecessors and other muftis in Greece recognised by the state) and, according to the administrative courts, is not even covered by the state social insurance, which does in principle foresee coverage for religious ministers. However, the administrative courts did not recognise Mr Salimoğlu’s appointment as imam either. The disputed status of the Mufti (or Imam) of Rhodes may also have contributed to the refusal of the Rhodes vakf council to open up the second mosque, which is in principle fully functional, for Friday prayers.Note
28 In my view, it is the responsibility of the Greek state to solve this problem. The Law of 1928 should be updated to take into account the inclusion of Rhodes and Kos in the Greek national territory. Some interlocutors on the islands with a Turkish cultural background told me that it may not really be necessary to have a mufti on Rhodes or Kos at all; but the law should clarify who is the proper religious authority for the Muslims living on these islands.

4 Conclusions

29 The situation of the inhabitants of Rhodes and Kos with a Turkish cultural background is generally satisfactory, in view of the tangible commitment of the Greek authorities to protect and further develop the multicultural, cosmopolitan character of the islands.
30 The problems that still exist – in particular as regards Turkish-language classes, the administration of the Muslim religious foundations (vakfs) and the unclear organisation of Muslim worship – could be solved by the following three concrete measures:
  • an information campaign among parents of all schoolchildren on the islands, including those with a Turkish cultural background, to inform them of the possibility for afternoon Turkish language classes, to be organised by the educational authorities upon parental request;
  • ensure full accountability of the administrators of the two public Vakfs before the members of the local Muslim communities and the publication of their accounts, and also ensure that appointments of administrators take place at regular intervals;
  • ensure that the Muslim communities of Rhodes and Kos are free to choose their religious preachers (imams), in the spirit of Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1704 (2010) on freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace (eastern Greece).Note

Appendix 1 – Summary update of the situation on the Turkish islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), with particular regard to the recommendations in Assembly Resolution 1625 (2008)Note

(October 2010)

Permit the reopening of at least one school on Imbros

Dialogue commenced in May 2010 on the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul. Formal confirmation of the intention of the authorities to reopen the school is still awaited.

Return of expropriated real estate to their previous owners

No progress made. On the contrary, part of this land has been given away to Muslim settlers.

Return public buildings that belonged to the ethnic Greek community

Six former Greek schools on Imbros continue to be left in ruins or leased for commercial purposes; two former schools on Tenedos continue to operate as a hotel and a restaurant respectively.

Return religious foundations’ property that was seized (as “mazbut”)

Out of a total of 304 properties claimed in August 2009, only 22 applications were upheld. On a positive note, on the initiative of the island’s mayor, the Church of Agios Nikolaos, which was restored last year at the expense of the Turkish State , may be used for religious purposes.

Adopt specific measures for the return or proper recording of properties

No progress made. On the contrary, 92% of the surrounding land of Schinoudi (Dereköy), Gökçeada (4 900 hectares) passed to the State treasury in 2009.

Apply the recent four judgments of the European Court of Human Rights upholding inheritance rights of non-Turkish citizens

No progress made.

Protection of the natural and cultural heritage of the islands

None of the measures proposed in the resolution has been carried out to date.

Return Turkish citizenship to those who lost it in the past, and to their descendants

In August 2010, the Civil Registry of Gökçeada advised that the opting-out of military service and minimum service (30 days) was abolished. In October 2010, the Turkish consulate in Athens denied the existence of any such legislative reform.

Establish a direct sea link with Greece

In June 2010, a new sea link was established between the island of Lemnos (Greece) and Kepes (near Çanakkale). Imbros seems to have been excluded at the last minute. Imbros and Tenedos continue to lack a direct sea link.

Informal dialogue mechanism

Following the absence of any concrete results of the discussions at either central or local level since, hopes have revived after the September referendum and the manifest interest of the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, Mr Egemen Bağıs.

Appendix 2 – Programme of the fact-finding visit to Athens, Rhodes and Kos (19-21 April 2010)

Athens

Monday, 19 April 2010

11.30 a.m. Meeting with the Secretary General for Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior, Decentralisation and e-Governance, Mr Andreas Takis

1.30 p.m. Lunch hosted by the Greek delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

3.30 p.m. Meeting with the Special Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Life-long Learning and Religion, Ms Thalia Dragona

Rhodes

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

10 a.m. Meeting with the Regional Officer, Mr Vassilios Brakoumatsos, and the Prefect of Rhodes, Mr Yannis Machairidis

11 a.m. Meeting with the Mayor of Rhodes, Mr Hatzis Hatziefthymiou, and the Deputy Mayor and Curator of Antiquities, Ms Papavassiliou

12 noon Meeting with the Chairperson of the Management Organisation of the Vakouf of Rhodes, Mr Uzel Oder

1 p.m. Meeting with the Imam, Mr Ismael Tsakiroğlou

4 p.m. Meeting with the Chairperson of the Cultural Association of Muslims in Rhodes “Adelphosini” (“brotherhood”), Mr Mehmet Zamantakis

Kos

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

10 a.m. Meeting with the Mayor of Kos, Mr Georgios Kiritsis, and the Deputy Mayor (competent for cultural issues), Mr Panayotis Thalassinos

11 a.m. Meeting with the Prefect of Kos, Ms Maria Kypreou

12 noon Meeting with the Imam of Kos, Mr Soukri Damatoğlou

1 p.m. Meeting with the Chairperson of the Management Organisation of the Vakouf of Kos, Mr Hussein

3 p.m. Meeting with the Chairperson of the Fraternity of Muslims in Kos, Mr Mazlum Paizanoğlou

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