8. Mai 2008

Vatan Newspaper
Istanbul, Turkey

To the Greek newspaper's article concerning the same subject

Andreas Gross: «Turkey plays a particularly important role to bring different civilizations together who thought recently that they won’t be able to avoid clashes»

What do you think about the problems in the Gokceada and Bozcaada islands?

Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos) are two beautiful islands in the Aegean Sea, just in front of the entrance to the Dardanelle passage. The islands inhabitants have been the victims of the big wars in the first half of the 20th century and the small wars and tensions between Greece and Turkey in the second half of the 20th century (Cyprus-Crises). Today they all would like to overcome this sad legacy and to build up a more peaceful and common future.

The specificity of the two islands is that historically, already in the antique times and even under the Ottoman Empire they and their inhabitants have been marked by the Greek culture. But 1923 in the Lausanne Treaty after the Greco-Turkish war they have been given to new Republic of Turkey, while western Trace although the inhabitants there were predominantly Muslims und Turks was given to Greece, while the other Islands in the sea stayed with Greece or at that time with Italy (Rhodos and Kos).

1912 both island were inhabited by about 16’000 persons; today only 11’000 persons are still living there. 1912 Gokceada, at that time called Imvros, was populated by 9357 ethnically Greeks and 99 Turks, today we see there 8672 Turks and 254 Turkish citizens with a Greek origin and culture. Bozcaada, at that time called Tenedos, was 1912 ethnically populated in a more balanced way: 5420 Greeks and 1200 Turks; today you find there 2274 Turks and 22 Turkish citizens with Greek origins. The changes are dramatic; persons often did not leave the island voluntarily, but were pushed out by economic and political pressure and tensions. Today nobody puts into question the Turkish sovereignty over the islands, but nearly everybody would like to sustain their mixed culture and therefore would like to motivate some of the Turkish citizens with Greek origins who left the islands to come back and settle there again.

What is your impression from your meetings on there?

Both Islands are beautiful and full of people with good will and good intentions from both cultural backgrounds. Gokceada (Imvros) is much bigger and has many villages where more than 200 of the old houses inhabited by the Turkish citizens with a Greek culture are still destroyed what leaves a kind of a depressive impression on you. Bozcaada (Tenedos) is much smaller, closer to the mainland, and much better integrated. You feel immediately both, the Greek and the Turkish culture within the pitoresque harbor town, when the ferry has landed there.

What are your observations on the islands?

We spoke with many different peoples from both cultural communities, of course with the local authorities too. The main observation was that all of them would like to overcome a difficult past in order to build a common future which integrates the two cultures and from which both can mutually profit. Bilingualism and multiculturalism are great assets in today’s world. In the case of the two islands it would stimulate the economic development of both which would serve the interests of all inhabitants independently of there cultural background.

What can you say about the reasons for the about problems on the islands?

The main problems concern the schooling and the propriety rights as well as the heritage of the propriety. When the Turkish citizens of Greek origin are able to solve the latter two and a bilingual school teaching is possible again, than the erosion of the number of the inhabitants with a Greek background can not only be stopped but some of those who left may come back and contribute effectively to the development of the islands.

What do you think which possible solutions have a potential to be proceed in and can be used in reality?

I do not want to anticipate already the whole report I have to submit in Strasburg, but after talks during Friday in Ankara with officials from the government I do not have the impression that these problems can not be solved. The education minister’s secretary expressed to me his will to offer bilingual school classes whenever enough children of the Greek minority are on the islands who would like to go to school there. And there is a new will also in Ankara as well as in the local authorities to solve the juridical problems around propriety and heritage so that the old houses might be repaired and reconstructed, also young families with a Greek cultural horizon may find new space to live in and the mutual trust and confidence in a common future might be strengthened.

What suggestions will be included in your report which you will present to the European Parliament?

I am not a member of the European Parliament but of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) which brings together 47 countries dedicated to Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law. In the CoE Turkey is a very old member, Switzerland is there since 1963 and since 1996 even Russia – all three not EU-members! The CoE is a real pan-European organization and older and bigger than the European Union which on the other hand has a supranational character and therefore is much closer integrated.

My report will be first discussed in the Legal Affairs Committees where the rights of all minorities in the CoE countries are of special concern. That’s why there is in this committee also a report in the making about the situation of the Turkish Muslim minority in the Western Trace area of Greece. Perhaps both reports will be debated and decided during the autumn part session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE in early October in Strasbourg. In the coming years we will most probably also look to the Turkish minorities in the Greek islands of Rhodos and Kos.

I saw the case report to the Parliamentary Assembly for to observing the situation in islands. There are such names as: Torosyan, Tigran, Armenia, EDG / Rustayman, Armen, Armenia, SOC ... I would like to learn that how is it possible for the MP's from the non EU countries suggest a report to the Parliamentary Assembly?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is not the base of the EU but the parliament of the Council of Europe member states. Armenia is there also a member and their MP’s have the full rights to sign motions upon which reports are elaborated as well as the Turkish MP’s or the French MP’s have. In the Parliamentary Assembly’s discussions we often try to develop a European perspective which overcomes national or nationalistic attitudes; that’s why the PACE is not only a political university for democracy but also a hospital where many nationalistic prejudgments are cured and old mentalities transformed in more constructive ones.

Will you come here again? Are you interested to any other problems related with Turkey or the facts about the minorities living in the Turkey?

I like to come to Turkey as often as possible. Its for me one of the most interesting countries of Europe today and it plays a particularly important role to bring different civilizations together who thought recently that they won’t be able to avoid clashes. I do hope that the effort of the Turkish people to integrate Human Rights and Democracy in a pluralistic society where many belief in Islam will be successful and all the minorities in Turkey will find the places they need to develop there strengths – in the interest of whole Turkey. And by the way Istanbul for me is still one of the most cosmopolitical Cities I know all over the world!

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