The Turkish community in Western Thrace in Greece became a national minority group with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Turkey in 1923. Under this treaty, the Turkish community has the right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institution, any school and other establishment for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely therein.
As a cultural and sports association Xanthi Turkish Union was established and legally registered by domestic courts in 1927 under the name “House of Turkish Youth in Xanthi” and renamed as “Xanthi Turkish Union” registered by the Court of First Instance of Xanthi (Decision No 122/1936). The shift in the official policy of the Government of Greece in 1983 in a way that the Treaty of Lausanne refers only a Muslim minority in Thrace, not an ethnic Turkish minority resulted with the dissolution of the Xanthi Turkish Union in 1986 on grounds that the statute was contrary to public policy and constituted a threat to democratic society with an aim to promote the idea that there was an ethnic minority with the word Turkish which referred to citizens of Turkey. After exhaustion of domestic remedies which lasted more than 22 years, Xanthi Turkish Union lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2005. The Court ruled on 27 March 2008 that Greece violated Articles 6 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Application No. 26698/05).
The request for registration of Evros Minority Youth Association on 15 March 1995 was rejected by domestic courts on grounds that the name of the association was misleading about the origin of its members and was unclear on whether it was a religious minority or an ethnic minority. After exhaustion of domestic remedies, Evros Minority Youth Association lodged a complaint with the ECtHR in 2005 under the name and reference “Bekir Ousta and Others v. Greece” (Application No 35151/05). The Court held unanimously in 2007 that there had been a violation of Article 11 and noted that even assuming that the true aim of the association had been to promote the idea that an ethnic minority existed in Greece, that did not amount to a threat to a democratic society.
The request for registration of Cultural Association of the Turkish Women of the Rhodope Prefecture was rejected in 2001 by the domestic courts on grounds that the name of the association was misleading about the origin of its members with a suggestion to spread Turkish ideals in Greece and with an impression that there was a Turkish minority on Greek territory. After the exhaustion of domestic remedies in 2005, the association lodged an application to the ECtHR European Court on 19 September 2005 under the name and reference “Emin and Others v. Greece” (Application no. 34144/05).
On March 27, 2008, the ECtHR notified in writing its Chamber judgments in the cases of Emin and Others v. Greece and Turkish Association of Xanthi and Others v. Greece (no. 26698/05) and held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention (freedom of assembly and association) in both cases.
Further to the European Court’s judgments, the applicants requested a new registration of their associations (Cases Bekir-Ousta and Others & Emin and Others) or revocation of the previous decisions ordering the dissolution (Case Turkish Association of Xanthi and Others) before the national courts. Their applications have been declared inadmissible on the ground that the Code on Civil Procedure does not provide, in civil matters, for the re-opening of proceedings following a finding of violation by the ECtHR.
Law No. 4491/2017 which would allow the re-opening of proceedings following a violation by the ECtHR introduced a strict limitation on civic space through terms and restrictions provided in the relevant provisions concerning the protection of national security, public order, the prevention of crime, the protection of health or morals and the protection of rights and freedoms of others for the admissibility of an application of revocation or amendment following an ECtHR judgment.
Xanthi Turkish Union’s lodged an appeal on 4 December 2017(no. 91 / 5-12-2017) requesting the revocation of the decision of the Thrace Court of Appeal dissolving the association. After the hearing held on 9 February 2018, the Court ordered in June 2018 that there is no possibility of the re-opening of the proceedings after the first application following the ECtHR’s decision. The appeal to the Court of Cassation will be heard on 20 March 2020.
The hearings of the other two applicant associations in the group of cases Bekir-Ousta and Others v. Greece (Application No. 35151/05) concerning their applications to the Thrace Court of Appeal for the re-opening of the domestic proceedings under Law 4491/2017 on 7 December 2018 were adjourned to 25 October 2019.
OPINIONS IN RECOMMENDATIONS OF RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS
In the group of cases Bekir-Ousta and Others v. Greece (Application No. 35151/05), the ECtHR held unanimously that Greece violated Article 11of the ECHR. Greek authorities have refused to execute the Court’s rulings in such cases, and to register the minority associations concerned, in some instances for more than twenty years and only after the breach had been noted a second time.
The Ministers’ Deputies of the Council of Europe supervises the execution of Court’s judgments under the name of Bekir-Ousta group of cases against Greece since 2008. The decisions of the Ministers’ Deputies, at its latest examination at the 1331st meeting on 4-6 December 2018:
1. recalling that these cases concern violations of the right to freedom of association due to the domestic courts’ refusal to register associations and decision leading to the dissolution of an association;
As regards individual measures
2. deplored that, despite the efforts made by the authorities, notably the 2017 amendment of the Code of Civil Procedure, ten years after the European Court’s judgments two of the present associations remain unregistered and one dissolved;
3. recalling that a Contracting State’s obligation under Article 46 of the Convention to fully and effectively comply with the Court’s judgments extends to the interpretation by domestic courts of domestic legislation, noted with concern the recent judgment of the Thrace Court of Appeal rejecting on procedural grounds the request for re-examination of the order dissolving one of the applicant associations; noted, however, that an appeal against this judgment has been lodged and is currently pending before the Court of Cassation;
4. invited the authorities to rapidly take all necessary measures so that the applicants’ cases are examined by the domestic courts in full and effective compliance with Article 11 of the Convention and the European Court’s judgments, and to keep the Committee informed of all relevant developments;
5. called upon the authorities to provide regular information about further developments in all the ongoing proceedings relating to this group of cases;
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
ABTTF calls upon Greece to take, without any further delay, all necessary measures so that the applicants benefit from proceedings in compliance with the ECtHR’s judgments and provide tangible information about change in domestic courts’ case law concerning the applications for the re-opening of domestic proceedings on merits and registration of new associations in Western Thrace following the adoption of 4491/2017.
The FUEN Assembly of Delegates in its Resolution 2018-05 by the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, submitted by the Friendship, Equality and Peace (FEP) Party, the Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (WTMUGA) and the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) urges the Government of Greece:
- to recognize ethnic Turkish identity of the Minority and implement, without any further delay, judgments of the ECtHR in Bekir-Ousta and others group of cases against Greece (Application No. 35151/05) 2)
- to provide explanation for the implementation of Law 4491/2017 adopted with restrictions and reaffirm its commitment of the Greek authorities to implementing fully and completely the judgments of ECtHR in matters related to freedom of association
- to implement the legal procedure for registration of associations in order to ensure that the right of national minorities in Greece to the freedom of association are fully respected, protected and promoted.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe(PACE) in its Resolution 2203(2018) on the progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2017) and the periodic review of the honouring of obligations by Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Ireland, with respect to Greece, reiterates its call on Greece to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ETS No. 157) and fully implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights to enhance the rights of minorities (10.2.6)