Greek Muslim MP: I will not be blackmailed

In an interview with Kathimerini, the lawmaker from Rhodope talks about his ouster from the advisory committee for the Muslim minority in Thrace

Greek Muslim MP: I will not be blackmailed

A recent decision by the so-called “Advisory Committee for the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace” to expel two of its most popular members – Rhodope MP Ilhan Ahmet, from the PASOK-Movement for Change party, and Iasmos Mayor Onder Mumin – reveals the role and clout within the bowels of the Muslim minority of Thrace of extra-institutional mechanisms that act on the orders of the Turkish Consulate in Komotini.

The decision was issued on the night of Sunday, June 12, in the wake of an interview given by Ilhan to a local radio station in which he questioned the right of Turkish Consul General Murat Omeroglu to intervene in minority affairs. Mumin, meanwhile, was expelled for turning down a request for use of the municipal soccer stadium for an event by the Friendship, Equality and Peace (KIEF) party, as the venue was already booked for a local cultural festival.

Their expulsion appears to have been recommended by the chairman of the advisory committee and illegally elected mufti Ibrahim Serif, citing the orders of the consulate, and upheld by all the present officials of the minority council, including the SYRIZA MP for Xanthi, Hussein Zeybek (the other minority MP, Bourchan Baran, also with PASOK, was absent).

The advisory council also issued an aggressive statement, saying that it expelled the two elected members as “undesirables,” while sending the message that “they are not one of us, but Greeks.”

Speaking to Kathimerini in the wake of his ouster, Ilhan said that he will not “succumb to such blackmail.”

Did your expulsion from the advisory committee come out of the blue, or were you expecting it?

I am a member of the advisory committee by virtue of my position as an elected representative of the minority. All of the community’s elected representatives, association presidents and religious representatives sit on this council.

Without diminishing the role of any institutional body in Thrace related to the minority, it is my firm belief that democratically elected representatives of the people, at every level, whether it is Parliament or local and regional government, should have the first and most decisive say on all important decisions taken with regard to our area, and the minority in particular.

Even though I am member, the advisory committee did not invite me to give my views on the subjects over which it claims to be admonishing me. The way it acted is not just an affront to me personally, but also to the minority itself and to the 11,000 citizens who voted for me in the last election, meaning almost half the minority voters in the prefecture of Rhodope. Those who made the decision need to explain it to all these people, therefore, and especially if the decision was upheld, as I’ve learned, by other elected colleagues. I am truly saddened by their stance.

‘My associates and I have observed that this time around, certain extra-institutional circles have moved from mere political criticism to outright threats directed at my person on social media’

In a public statement you issued after your expulsion, you spoke of the “vehement attacks and threats” you have been subjected to recently and which, you note, are the culmination of a succession of such incidents in the past few years. Could you be more specific?

I have been involved in public life since 2004 and have always been among the top choices in every electoral contest. I have never balked at a confrontation or a rift when it comes to serving the public interest and promoting positions that have to do with the development of my constituency and the prosperity of its residents.

But, precisely as I stressed in my statement, my third re-election in 2019 obviously distressed certain circles, who realized that Ahmet Ilhan’s political existence in Rhodope relies on his firm bonds with the simple citizens and does not depend on any establishment that wants to define the area’s political life for their own ends.

In fact, my associates and I have observed that this time around, certain extra-institutional circles have moved from mere political criticism to outright threats directed at my person on social media. This is something I have a duty to condemn and make public as a member of the Greek Parliament. Democracy cannot be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed. Everything must be brought to light!

The committee claims that you committed a “grave error” in trying to “insult” the institutions and organization of the minority and straying from its line for your own political gains. What is this line, who draws it and what were your objections?

Right. That is an interesting question, because the accusation leveled against me by some media and certain circles in the minority community is precisely that I do not toe the line. First of all, no one can impose a position on an MP who acts independently, contentiously and constitutionally. Even our parties meet again and again and exercise the art of dialogue, [respect] democracy and majorities/minorities, when it comes to shaping the final position we will defend in Parliament on basic legislation. “God-given” policies that are imposed by a “higher power” appear almost comical in this day and age, and ludicrous.

But what some parties of the so-called “minority axis” will never forgive me for is the fact that even though I am a member of that minority, I do not focus my energies exclusively on its issues.

What do you feel that you express as a lawmaker and decision maker for the Muslim minority in Thrace?

I represent the hard-working citizens. In fact, I have even earned the derogatory moniker of “farmers’ MP.” It is an honor to be an MP for the farmers in a region where 30% of the local economy depends on agricultural production and revenues. But I also represent my constituency’s businesses, medium-sized and small, and its educators – all those who are seeing their lives get worse and worse every day.

I respect the religious beliefs and sensibilities of all my constituents. I pray with them, and I do not avoid going to the mosque like some of my colleagues do, looking for votes in the mosques but then denigrating our compatriots’ religious sensibilities. It is abundantly clear, however, that I stand for belief in the working-class state, with distinct roles between religion and state and mutual respect for what they do.

It appears that your criticism of the Turkish consul general and his tendency to meddle in the affairs of the minority community was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Is this a practice that is exclusive to him, or has it always been the case that the Turkish envoy controls and manipulates the minority committee?

I cannot explain why, but Murat Omeroglu has a completely hostile attitude toward me, sometimes it is even derogatory, in public settings, in front of my constituents. On the other hand, he is perfectly friendly at social events with other political figures and makes a point of projecting these relationships at every opportunity. It’s not up to me to tell him what to do and how to behave. I don’t even care to. But I hope that he understands what his role is as diplomatic envoy to a country and what the diplomatic protocol requires of him in terms of how he acts and behaves.

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