Earlier this month, the Qatari media network Al Jazeera arrived in Greece’s Thrace region to film a report about its Turkish Muslim minority.
The minority of around 150,000 people has long been an issue of contention between Ankara and Athens, with Turkey calling out Greece for what it calls its failure to grant full rights to the minority, including a state denial of ethnic identity and restrictions on the freedom of religion.
Truths were distorted in the report by filmmaker Glenn Ellis titled “Western Thrace, Contested Space: The Turks of northeast Greece,” in what was essentially covert propaganda for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.
When the report was broadcast on television, it became evident that there was no participation from any Muslim Turkish minority representatives that were not linked to the Turkish government. Furthermore, the report failed to feature the views of the three Muslim lawmakers representing two provinces of Western Thrace or elected Turkish Muslim mayors. The report also raised eyebrows over its failure to speak to any Greek lawmaker or appointed local administrator.
Moreover, the end product was essentially a propaganda broadcast that featured the region through the lens of Turks.
Two other Muslim groups in the region, the Pomak and Roma ethnic groups, were absent from the report. If only the producer had visited the neighbourhood of Drosero in the city of Xanthi, they would have seen volunteers helping in the education of Roma children and how Turkish propagandists in the region exert pressure over the Roma population.
Everyone that was featured in the report stuck to Turkish narratives. For example, Cengiz Ömer, a regional newspaper and radio station owner, spoke about how his outlets had received a 1 million euro penalty, but the report failed to mention that none of Ömer’s activities in the country have not been blocked by the government and he has yet to pay the fine.
Another person featured in the report was Ozan Ahmetoğlu, chairman of the Xanthi Turkish Union, who also happens to be the vice president of the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace (KIEF), a Turkish political party which maintains policies aligned with those of Ankara. Ahmetoğlu is someone who meets regularly with Turkish diplomats and is quite public about his pro-Turkey stance.
Another representative of official Turkish propaganda in the report was Ibrahim Şerif, whose status as the mufti of Komotini has been a years-long subject of debate. The Greek state does not recognise Şerif as a mufti and there is another state-appointed mufti in the region. Only Turkey recognises Şerif. Every Friday, Şerif visits mosques in the Western Thrace region, flagged by Turkish state officials, to showcase Turkey’s support for him. Then photographs of the group visits are shared on social media.
There is a giant army of imams comprised of men and women financially backed by Turkey, imposing the Turkish model of Islam on children in the region. There has also been an intensified two-decade long effort in the area to implant Turkish Islamism and nationalism in the region, which has been covered by think tanks. Of course, none of this was covered by the Al Jazeera report.
Al Jazeera not only focused exclusively on pro-Turkey officials and turned a blind eye to the increasing secular-Islamist polarisation in Western Thrace, but it also failed to feature any opposing view, thereby casting aside the principles of journalism.
What is at the core of the concerns and criticisms levelled at this report by the Greek government is the threat posed by the relentless Islamisation and “divide and rule’’ policy of Turkey.