MINELRES: Fwd: Conference Report: Minority Issues in the Balkans and the EU

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Tue Aug 14 09:25:08 2007

Original sender: Balkan Academic News <balkans@gmx.net>

From:    Mehmet Hacisalihoglu <Hacisalihoglu.Mehmet@gmx.de>
Date:    12.07.2007
Subject: Tagber: Minority Issues in the Balkans and the EU

Yildiz Technical University Istanbul and Foundation for Middle East and 
Balkan Studies 16.05.2007-16.05.2007, Istanbul

Bericht von:
Laçin Idil Öztig
E-Mail: <lacinidiltr@yahoo.com>

The conference on ‘Minority Issues in the Balkans and the EU’ organized
with the cooperation of the Yildiz Technical University, Department of
Political Science and International Relations (Istanbul) and the
Foundation for Middle East and Balkan Studies (OBIV-Istanbul) and
coordinated by Mehmet Hacisalihoglu, was held on 16 May 2007 in
Istanbul. The objective of the conference was to highlight the situation
of different ethnic and religious groups living in various Balkan
countries, mainly Turkish-Muslim minorities in Bulgaria, Greece and
Macedonia which are less discussed in recent political discussions.
Additionally, it also observed the minority issues in Albania and
Moldova. While the conference covers the issue of the minorities in the
Balkans, a one day conference does not allow time to examine the issues
such as Muslims in Sandjak region, the Albanians in Macedonia or the
Hungarians in Transylvania. In his opening remarks Gencer Özcan,
Director of the Department of Political Science and International
Relations, Yildiz Technical University (Istanbul), gave a concise
overview of the Balkan region, emphasizing that it is an unprecedented
laboratory in studying the minority issues. He said that the minority
issues have a 100 year old history dating back to multi-national and
multi-religious structures of the Ottoman and Austria-Hungarian Empires.
He also highlighted the socialist era in which Balkan states lived
through for five decades, a period still understudied. It followed Güner
Öztek, R. Ambassador, Director of the Foundation for Middle East and
Balkan Studies (Istanbul), who argued that protecting the rights of the
minorities is a prerogative of the state in question in the 21st
century. Öztek expressed his concerns by stating that the United
Nation’s Chapter adopted after the Second World War does not cover the
minority rights profoundly. As the minority rights are a special branch
of human rights, it has been easily exploited in the history with the
aim of manipulation.

The first session was chaired by Aydin Babuna, Bosphorus University
(Istanbul), who is specialized on the Bosniaks and former Yugoslavia.
The conference started with Hans Georg Majer, University of Munich. In
his speech entitled ‘Minorities in the Balkans: The Ottoman Heritage
Revisited’ he discussed the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition
of the Ottoman Empire which provides the corner stone in studying the
minority issues in the Balkans. Majer began his presentation by raising
the issue of different ethnic groups living alongside the Turks in the
Ottoman Empire. The most important of these groups were listed as Turks,
Kurds, Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Albanians, Kopts, Vlachs,
Gypsies, Slavs and Hungarians. He stressed out that the Pax Ottomana
provided a relatively peaceful and tolerant environment for these groups
in their social and economic life. He continued by analyzing the legal
structure of the Ottoman Empire pointing out that only the Muslim groups
possessed all rights. Jews, Christians and women had rights at lower
degrees. He concluded his remarks by emphasizing the last periods of the
Ottoman Empire in which inequality rather than tolerance came to the
fore. In conclusion, the unique character of the Ottoman Empire which
provided not equality, but tolerance in which non-Muslim groups could
live and practice their religion and speak their language in a free
environment, became an issue of manipulation in order to weaken the
Empire by other states.

Beqir Meta, Director of the Albanian Historical Museum (Tirana),
presented the issue of ‘Albanian and Greek Policies for the Various
Minorities during 20th Century’ by overviewing  the comparison of the
situation of minorities in Albania and Greece. He claimed that the
nation states of Albania and Greece were established in different
historical periods and followed a different route. While Albania was
tolerant towards the ethnic population belonging to three religions,
Greece refrained from giving freedom to minorities since it was
established as a unitary, homogenous state. He argued that, in the case
of Albania, the rights of the minorities advanced significantly after
the communist period. Although it is not a member of the European Union,
Albania signed and applied voluntarily and correctly the European
Convention of Human Rights. Paradoxically, Greece, a member of the
European Union, has not signed the Convention and does not apply it. It
continues to deny the existence of minorities in its territories
although some minorities, including the Albanian Orthodox, have
preserved their ethnic identity. Consequently, he came to the conclusion
that the situation of the minorities in Greece is at a very
unsatisfactory level.

Mirjana Najcevska, Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict
Resolution (Skopje), entitled her presentation ‘Turkish Minority in
Macedonia: Between Prejudices of the Past and Minoritisation of the
Present’ which concentrated on the Turkish minority living in Macedonia.
She asserted that the Turkish minority group is economically and
socially one of the least developed minorities in Macedonia coming just
after Gypsies. Moreover, although compared to the Albanian minority,
Turkish population was seen as ‘good’ and ‘loyal’, whereas there
is a continuing indoctrination in the school system in the country.
Macedonians think that the Ottoman Empire occupied Macedonia for
centuries, attacked the identity of the Macedonian people and destroyed
Macedonia’s chances for progress and that Islam is a particularly
belligerent religion. For this reason, there have been continuing
prejudices towards the Turkish minority in Macedonian society.
Olga Radova, Moldova Academy of Sciences (Chisinau), spoke about
‘Minority Rights in Moldova and the Gagauzes’. She tried to analyze
multi-ethnic composition in Moldovan society. She started her
presentation by giving a short historical review about Moldova and
Gagauzes. The basic features of different ethnic groups living in
Moldova were constituted in the 19th century. The majority of Moldovan
population is composed of 6 ethnic groups; Moldovans, Russians,
Ukrainians, Gagauzes, Bulgarians and Jewish. During her discussion she
affirmed that in 1994, Gagauz Yeri (Gagaouzie), which is an autonomous
administration, was established. In Gagouzie, Gagauzes have self
autonomy and rights of education and other activities. However, due to
the economic reasons, there has been a continuing emigration to Russia,
Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Canada. She concluded her remarks stating
that the existence of Gagauzes will be under threat if the situation
goes on like that.

Mehmet Hacisalihoglu, Yildiz Technical University (Istanbul), with his
presentation on ‘Minorities in the Balkans and the Issue of Toponomy:
Bulgarian Case’ discussed the process of the Bulgarian policies of
changing place names in the country and the comparison of the issue of
toponomy with that of other European countries. The point which makes
Bulgaria different from other Balkan countries is that the policy of
changing place names diversified according to the political developments
in the country. The policy of changing place names was justified
claiming that Ottoman-Turkish names were imposed in order to assimilate
Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire. The process began with the
establishment of a Bulgarian Princedom following the 1877/1878
Ottoman-Russian War. The first comprehensive place name change took
place in 1906, the second one in 1934. Subsequently, in the socialist
period, along with Turkish or Greek names, also Bulgarian ones with
monarchic and religious connotations had been changed. While minorities
in many Western European countries could rise their voices about the
protection of their names, Balkan minorities, which do not feel that
their basic rights are in guarantee, are silent towards the issue.
Although there have been advances in the minority rights with the EU
perspective in the region, there are still pressures affecting directly
the fundamental rights.

Krasimir Kanev, Director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Sofia),
discussed the issue of  ‘Muslim Minorities and  Democratization Process
in Bulgaria’. He gave a general outline of statistics of ethnic
minorities living in Bulgaria. Later, he made a comparison with the
social status of Turks living in different periods. He highlighted that
while most Turks lived in the cities in 19th century, today most of them
live in villages. Compared to the life in the cities, social status is
lower for Turks who live in villages. He underlined that party
membership provides an important step in penetrating into the society
for the Turkish minority. Kanev concluded his remarks by expressing his
concern about the rise of nationalist movements in Bulgaria culminated
with the establishment of the ATAKA party in 2005, which displays
hostile attitudes towards Turkish minority.

Ali Dayioglu, Near East University (Nicosia), gave his lecture under the
title of ‘Changing Aspects of Minority Policy in Bulgaria after 1989:
The Case of Muslim-Turkish Minority’ and paid particular attention to
the changed attitude of the Bulgaria towards Turkish minorities. He
argued that the minority issue has become a very sensitive issue for
Bulgaria after the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially during its quest
for becoming a member of the Western institutions and integrating into
the Western world. Between the years of 1984-1989, which is called
‘Harsh Assimilation Period’, Bulgaria imposed various limitations for
Turkish minorities and even deported them. Following that period,
Bulgaria faced reactions from many countries and international
organizations. Due to these pressures, Todor Živkov, the president of
the State Council, was toppled and a more moderate period began in which
constructive approach was adopted to improve the minority rights.
Concrete steps were taken for the minority rights. The names of the
minorities were given back. Their right to establish their own schools
and education in their native languages were granted under state
guarantee. The limitations on their freedom of religion and freedom of
press were lifted. They could establish mosques and follow
media-publication activities in a free environment.

Elçin Macar, Yildiz Technical University (Istanbul), touched upon the
issue titled ‘The Turks of the Dodecanese: From Lausanne to Present’.
He gave an overview of the situation of the Turks in the Dodecanese
especially after 1923. He explained that the Turks of the Dodecanese
were neglected in comparison with those of West Thrace Turkish
minorities. When the Lausanne Peace Treaty was signed in 1923, the
Dodecanese had belonged to Italy and since Dodecanese were given to
Greece in 1947, following the Second World War, minorities of the
Dodecanese did not benefit from the minority rights brought by the
Lausanne Peace Treaty. After 1947, Hellenization policy took over and
had a tendency to be systematical. These factors accelerated the
emigration process of Turkish minority. A second emigration wave began
with the 1974 intervention of Turkey in Cyprus. Macar concluded his
presentation outlining the general problems of the Dodecanese Turks
today. He affirmed that the Dodecanese Turks have economic problems,
limitations on education in Turkish at schools, difficulties in
appointment of mufti and imams, problems related to the foundation
belongings, mosques, conscripts and so on. As a conclusion, Turkish
minorities lack the certain rights which would have been already given
under the membership of the European Union in Greece.

Lambros Baltsiotis, Panteion University, Research Centre for Minority
Groups (Athens), explained the issue ‘Minorities in Greece: State
Policies and Administrative Practice’ by giving a concise overview of
‘the millet heritage’ of the Ottoman Empire. He analyzed the process of
the Greek society living in the Ottoman Empire and the creation of an
ethnically and religiously homogenous state in Greece. He affirmed that
religion is a crucial factor for national inclusion and exclusion, which
can be understood as the intermingling of nationality and religion in
Greek society. So, in order to become a member of the Greek nation, not
only did one have to be ethnically Greek, but an Orthodox as well. For
that reason, he stressed that a Muslim can not be included into the
Greek nation. Later on, he passed into the issue of the decision
mechanism related to minority issues in Greece. He stressed that the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the
Ministry of Public Order and the Ministry of Education and Religious
Affairs are responsible in the policy making process about the minority

Fuat Aksu, Yildiz Technical University (Istanbul), started his remarks
under the title of ‘A Dispute Easy to Settle: Minority Issues in
Turco-Greek Relations’. The presentation of Aksu dealt with the
situation of minorities in Turkey and Greece. It was stressed that
disputes over the status of minorities do not have a dimension related
to sovereignty and irredentism. However, both countries have many other
disputes in relation to sovereignty rights and status. It is possible to
list the problems between these countries as minority problems, Cyprus
question, Aegean question and other problems such as competition and
limitation regarding the alliance organizations, propaganda implemented
through mass media tools and support of terrorist organizations. He
supported this thesis by acknowledging that Turkey and Greece solved the
issue of minorities with the decision of compulsory exchange of
population. That explains why minority issues between Turkey and Greece
do not have warlike characteristics, while the same issues which are
related to sovereignty and irredentism have been resulted in bloody and
continuous wars in the Balkan region. All in all, compared with the
disputes over the Aegean Sea or Cyprus, the reaction towards the
violation of minority rights between these countries have not
transcended the limitations of diplomacy and do not have potential to
cause hot conflicts.

All things considered, the issue of minorities is a highly sensitive
issue which should be tackled with wise and multi-dimensional policies.
It should be handled both by regional and bilateral perspectives. The
main objective of this conference was to raise awareness in regard to
these issues and provide a humble ground which might lead government
authorities to take concrete steps towards the minorities in the

Yrd. Doc. Dr. Mehmet Hacisalihoglu
Yildiz Teknik Üniversitesi
Iktisadi ve Idari Bilimler Fakültesi
Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararasi Iliskiler Bölümü
34349 Yildiz/Besiktas/Istanbul
Tel. +90.212.2597070 / 2922
Mobile +90.533.3571995
E-Mail: <Hacisalihoglu.Mehmet@gmx.de>

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