By George Gilson
Imam Ahmet, the head of the Panhellenic Association of Pomaks and editor of the first newspaper in the Pomak language, Zagalisa, has released a blistering open letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning of the dangers of his revisionist expansionism and reminding him that should he attempt to stage an invasion of Greek territory [Ankara has issued thinly veiled threats of a possible invasion of Aegean islands] he could suffer the same sort of defeat as Mussolini in 1940 at the Greek-Albanian front.
The Muslim minority of Western Thrace, which is formally recognised as such under the Treaty of Lausanne, is comprised of three communities, those of Turkish, Pomak, and Roma ethnic origin, but over the past decades Ankara has actively attempted to depict all of them as being ethnic Turks, pressuring them to abandon their ethnic languages – with the obligatory learning of Turkish in schools – and cultures and pressuring for the abandonment of the Pomak place names of mountain villages on maps.
The Pomaks once constituted 34 percent of the Muslim population of Western Thrace.
Their language was first put down in written form in 1995.
In his letter, Ahmet calls Erdogan to task for demanding the implementation of Lausanne Treaty provisions for the demilitarisation of certain Eastern Aegean islands, even as Ankara has for 60 years trampled over the same treaty’s provisions regarding autonomy for the once majority Greek populations on the Turkish islands of Imroz (Imvros being the Greek name) and Bozcaada (Tenedos).
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, the first bishop in Eastern Orthodoxy, which counts an estimated 300mn faithful worldwide, was born and raised on Imvros, as was the late Archbishop Iakovos of North and South America, a towering div in 20th century Orthodoxy who was an extremely staunch critic of Turkish policy.
In Imvros, in a planned process beginning in the early 1960’s that effectively constituted a clear-cut case of ethnic cleansing, the land of the Greek majority, who were farmers and animal breeders, was expropriated by the Turkish state for a pittance, Greek schools were closed, and an open prison was created on the island, so that the residents, unable to make a living and with a total lack of security on their land, were forced to flee the island.
Imam Ahmet’s Open Letter to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as published in inkomotini.news, is as follows:
I belong to the indigenous tribe of Pomaks, the existence of which you recognised during your 8-9 December, 2017, visit to Komotini [the Turkish consulate in Komotini has wielded enormous influence over the entire Muslim minority of Western Thrace, continually pressuring for its Turkification].
We are monitoring with concern the slippery path of expansionism on which you are treading. With the pretext that imperialist Western powers are encircling your country in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, you are demanding the demilitarisation of the Aegean islands and of Kastelorizo, when your country has deployed a landing army with thousands of troops and offensive weapons a hair’s breadth away from the Greek islands, threatening to invade them.
Mr Erdogan, if you were in Greece’s position, what would you do?
You forget, of course, that these islands have been Greek for thousands of years, many centuries before your ancestors for the first time in their history laid their eyes on the… blue colour of the Aegean.
The islands of Imvros and Tenedos were also Greek. Why do you not implement, correspondingly, the provisions of Article 14 of the Treaty of Lausanne?
[Article 14 stipulates: “The islands of Imbros and Tenedos, remaining under Turkish sovereignty, shall enjoy a special administrative organisation composed of local elements and furnishing every guarantee for the native non-Moslem population in so far as concerns local administration and the protection of persons and property. The maintenance of order will be assured therein by a police force recruited from amongst the local population by the local administration above provided for and placed under its orders. The agreements which have been, or may be, concluded between Greece and Turkey relating to the exchange of the Greek and Turkish populations will not be applied to the inhabitants of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos.”]
Why do you trample over Article 14 of the Treaty of Lausanne and unilaterally ask Greece to implement other international treaties?
In international law one finds the principle “rebus sic stantibus”, which means that the objective conditions under which treaties were signed have changed fundamentally, because Greece is threatened [by Turkey] with war, hence various terms (such as demilitarisation) change and cease to exist. What concern of yours is a treaty to which Turkey was not a signatory?
Stop dredging up the past and historical passions. In response to the “Blue Homeland” [which claims large swathes of Greece’s territorial waters and maritime zones for Turkey], Greece could lay claim to all of Asia Minor and Constantinople. Is it possible in our day and age for leaders and peoples to think in this manner?
Your threats indicate that you are prepared to plunge into mourning thousands of mothers and fathers on both sides of the Aegean, and to add more refugees to the existing Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds, Cypriots, Ukrainians, etc.
Would you send to the front line and sacrifice your children, your son, your daughter, or your son-in-law? Would you accept the slaughter of civilians, the rape of women, the murder of children, making peoples miserable, destroying cities and infrastructure, and pillaging of the wealth of others?
We Pomaks do not want to become 21st century refugees. Your policy is dangerous and torpedoes the good and peaceful relations that the Greek and Turkish peoples should have. No minority wants war, especially we Pomaks, as a century ago hundreds of thousands were slaughtered and millions were displaced, and many of them live in your country.
If your vision is to emulate the example and reach the stature of Mustafa Kemal, you are likely using the wrong…measure. Kemal had clearly stated, “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”. You are doing the exact opposite.
If you are doing all of this in the name of your political survival, and to turn the attention of the friendly Turkish people away from the great economic problems that they face and ensure your re-election, then you have fallen to the level of a very lowly politician.
I remind you that Mussolini, before he invaded Greece, used grandiose rhetoric and boasted about the size of his war machine. You see, however, what happened to him.
President of the Panhellenic Pomaks’ Association
Editor of the Pomak newspaper Zagalisa.