A few days ago, the Qatari media network Al Jazeera broadcast a poorly researched and misleading report by filmmaker Glenn Ellis about the Turkish national minority of Greek Thrace that cast aside any pretence at objectivity and presented only the Republic of Turkey’s narrative on the region. The three-member crew had not been licensed for outdoor filming, had no permission to use a drone, recorded the faces and number plates of police officers, and was generally indifferent to ethical considerations.
By Costas Karaiskos
Every scene in the report, “Western Thrace, Contested Space: The Turks of northeast Greece,” was set up to substantiate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s line of propaganda on the Greek region. Here I will list only the most glaring flaws and illegal acts out of many that featured in the film.
First of all, the filmmakers neglected to speak to a single Greek Christian or even any elected members of parliament from the Muslim community. There are many current and former MPs, mayors and councillors who could have given a balanced view, but not one of them was asked about the current situation in Greek Thrace. Only those who have contractually taken on the role of accusing Greece – as a rule, those living abroad – and those who act on Turkish interests in our region were given the opportunity to speak.
The people interviewed included those from illegal Turkish unions, biased publishers and journalists, the president of the pro-Turkish Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace, the PEKEM minority cultural association that constantly slanders Greece, and İbrahim Şerif, who has assumed the role of religious leader without government authorisation.
Without a single word from any Muslim in an official role, the film gave a completely false image of the Muslim minority in Greece as one that has been marginalised. There was no hint of the positive measures, including in employment and education, that the Greek state provides for the Muslims of Thrace.
The show begins by comparing a serene image of an elderly man in a minority village cafe to a gathering of the far-right Golden Dawn party, complete with torches and banners. By doing so, it immediately creates the impression that the minority is under immediate threat from a powerful right-wing movement.
Of course, this leaves out the important facts that Golden Dawn is both electorally insignificant and has never reportedly harmed members of the minority. As for the character of Thrace, the film’s depiction of the region’s history is simplistic and politicised, declaring that the culture of the region’s Ottoman former rulers, who departed a century ago, has dominated since 1300.
There was not a word about the thousands of years of organic integration linking Thrace to the Greek world. No mention was made, either, about the Pomak and Roma ethnic groups. In fact, while the narrator constantly talks about Turkish culture, at one point Pomak costumes are shown, implying that these are also Turkish.
And, of course, it shows dance groups with costumes and dances that have been imported recently by Turkey and are completely unrelated to Greek Thrace. The film also refers to three unions that were abolished by Greek courts, but which won a favourable decision in the European courts in 2008.
However, it does not say that these unions have simply been deprived of their tax identification numbers and license plates, and are otherwise allowed to operate normally. In fact, they even invite local authorities to their events!
The film presents even more brazen misinformation in its report on minority schools. It contends that the authorities closed five of these schools last year, bringing the total to 65 in the last eight years. It conceals that schools across the country have been closed for economic reasons, and does not say that the schoolchildren are being relocated to bigger and better-equipped minority schools at the expense of the Greek state. Instead, the film presents the falsehood that minority children are being assimilated through public education.
When the film introduces İbrahim Şerif, he is presented as the elected mufti of Komotini, the capital of the Rhodopi area in Thrace. The film says that it is a tradition for the mufti to be elected, but if so, this is a tradition that is completely ignored by the entire Muslim world, and by Turkey itself, but apparently applies in Greece alone!
At some point, the report goes into a broader context and refers to the Cyprus issue as an occasion for the hardening of the Greek attitude towards the minority population. It falsely talks about inter-communal riots on the island that provoked the Turkish invasion in 1974 after the former President of Cyprus, Makarios III, was deposed in a coup.
More questionable testimony came with the appearance by Tsigdem Asafoglou, the president of the Equality, Peace and Friendship Party that Turkey set up in Thrace. She appeared to be almost laughing when she spoke of threats against her life and family, so it is reasonable to assume that they were either ridiculous or difficult to lie about. No mention was made of whether she reported these threats to the police or of the outcome of any investigation.
Then came the cultural monuments. The film referred to the fire at the Bayazit mosque in Didymoteicho, touching on it simply to say that the minority did not believe the official version on the event. It made the unfounded claim that only 300 out of 3,000 Ottoman monuments remain in Greece the government refused to provide funding for their restoration, and showed images of one or two Muslim graves that had been vandalised in Alexandroupolis. But there was no sign of the Christian tombs and churches that have been vandalised, nor of the newly built or renovated mosques.
Finally, the show’s hosts say they were constantly monitored by the Greek secret police and were eventually arrested and held overnight. What they fail to mention is that this did not happen in Thrace, but one the island of Kos, where they were caught filming in forbidden areas in their effort to show what they called oppressed ethnic Turks.
This article was originally published in SPPress in Athens.