There is a perception in the world public opinion that the Turkish presence in Greece is restricted to Western Thrace. However, there is a Turkish population of about 6,000 people who live in the Dodecanese Islands, mainly in Rhodes and Kos. Greek authorities refused to grant “minority” status to the Turkish descendants claiming that these islands were under Italian rule and not part of Greece when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923.
On the other hand, we would like to mention a subject which grieves us deeply. Turkish citizens born in Anatolia do not seem to be aware of the existence of our fellowmen living in Rhodes, Kos and the Dodecanese Islands. Some of them are surprised when they come across Turkish shopkeepers on the islands they visit as tourists. This feeling of surprise increases even more when these people see the cultural works inherited from the Ottomans, which are in a bad shape due to lack care although their number exceeds those in many Turkish cities.
The problems concerning the Turks living the islands of Rhodes and Kos started to be expressed and sounded off by the Rhodes, Kos and Dodecanese Islands Turks Culture and Solidarity Association as of 1996.
The issue was first raised before the international public opinion in 2012-2013 when the decisions of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were conveyed to the Parliamentary Association of the European Council (PACE). the report entitled “The situation of the Greek Citizens of Turkish Descent in Rhodes and Kos” drafted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was ratified by the Standing Committee of PACE on 9th March 2012.
Although it failed to satisfy the Turks fully, the report addressed expectations of Greek citizens of Turkish descent, such as expressing their Turkish identity freely; having a voice in the management of the Foundations; restoring the functions of the Muftiate; starting Turkish language and religion courses in schools; reopening the closed mosques to religious service; and granting Greek citizenship and civil rights to the Turkish residents of the Dodecanese Islands.
The problems concerning the Turkish identity of Rhodes and Kos were first expressed before a nongovernmental organization by the President of Rhodes, Kos and Dodecanese Islands Turks Culture and Solidarity Association Mustafa Kaymakçı at the 6th Session of the Forum on Minority Issues held in Geneva on 26th -27th November 2013. During the forum, it was expressed that Greece refused to grant the island Turks their Turkish identity but accepted them as “Greek Moslems”. Kaymakçı also stated that the Turks living in these islands were deprived of the right to education in their native tongues and that the Seat of the Mufti had been vacant since 1972.
The Association recently participated in the 59th Congress of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FEUN) in Flensburg Germany on 7th -11th May 2014. Its membership to FEUN was ratified during this congress. FUEN is an international non-governmental civil society organization established with the slogan “You Are Not Alone” to protect the rights of 100 million strong national minorities within Europe.
To sum up, the Turkish Identity in Rhodes and Kos appeared to be a forgotten issue until recently although these islands are very close to mainland Turkey.
However, they are a handful of minority citizens trying to survive in the islands not an aching wound of the past like the population Exchange and this means their gradual assimilation and losing their human dignity. Not only the world public opinion but also the Turkish public opinion should respond to this cry.
In this context, the International Symposium on the Turkish Identity in Rhodes and Kos has been organized so as to call attention to the issue in the national and international public opinion. The symposium has an historical importance in that it is the first of its kind event in the national and international arena.
Issues discussed at the symposium include the opening presentation entitled “Current Problems Concerning the Turkish Identity in Rhodes and Kos” as well as “The Turkish-Greek Relations from the Spiral of Conflict-Crisis to Change in Conception”; “Historical Development of the Problem of Aegean Islands”; “The Forgotten Turks of the Aegean through the Eyes of a Journalist”; “Individual Rights in the European Union and the Turkish Identity in Rhodes and Kos”; “Social and Cultural Life of Rhodes and Kos Turks”; “The State of Turkish-Moslem Foundations in Rhodes”; “Turkish Artworks in Rhodes and Kos”;”Examples from the Rhodes-Turkish Architecture: Clock Tower and the High School Building” and “The Tradition of Games among Rhodes and Kos Turks”.
The book entitled “The Turkish Identity in Rhodes and Kos” presented to your attention consists of papers presented in Turkish and English at the symposium.
The book also contains a short history of the Rhodes, Kos and Dodecanese Islands Turks Culture and Solidarity Association. Some press statements conveyed to the public opinion by the association as well as a number of letters addressed to the Greek Embassy in Turkey and Executive Committee of the Rhodes and Kos Foundation Administration were also added to this summary.
Many individuals and institutions were kind enough to provide support for the organization of the symposium and the preparation of the book. We are indebted to the academicians, who exposed these issues through their presentations, T. C. Yurt Dışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, Ege Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü, Ege Üniversitesi Türk Dünyası Araştırmaları Enstitüsü Müdürlüğü. We also extend our thanks to the members of the Executive Committee of our association as well as all our fellowmen from Rhodes and Kos.
Prof. Dr. Mustafa KAYMAKÇI
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Cihan ÖZGÜN
18st September 2014