Following intense criticism within the party to her candidature, Syriza announced this week that it had removed the name of a Roma candidate from its list of candidates for the European Parliament elections next month.
In a statement, left wing main opposition party in Greece Syriza provided no reason why it was withdrawing the candidature of Sabiha Suleiman, a well-known Roma activist in the northeastern region of Thrace.
Syriza said that the decision not to run Suleiman was made at a meeting of the party’s prefectural committee as well as local MPs, in the presence of the party’s general secretary. It added that she was being replaced by Oumit Mestan Osman.
A molecular biologist, Mestan Osman is a member of the region’s Muslim minority, a section of which was not happy with Suleiman’s candidacy because of her attempts to differentiate the Roma Muslim community from the wider Turkish-speaking Muslim community in the region.
A Non-Government Organisation set up by Suleiman in her village of Drosero encourages Roma children to attend Greek-speaking schools instead of the minority schools for Muslims where some classes are conducted in Turkish. As a result of her work, Suleiman told Athens leading radio station Skai FM on Monday that she has been attacked by “people of Turkish origin” in the past.
SYRIZA’s preparations for next month’s local and European Parliament elections suffered another set back this week when Ahmet Kurt, one of the party’s candidates for the regional council in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, was forced to resign after being photographed shaking hands with a Turkish nationalist.
Thrace’s Muslims are divided into ethnic Turks, Roma and Pomaks, who speak a Bulgarian dialect. Under the Lausanne treaty between Greece and Turkey, they are defined by their religion only, not ethnicity or language. Some commentators say that the local Turkish consulate in the region is seeking the Turkification of all the region’s Muslims, while on the other hand there are those who say the government in Athens promotes the differentiation between them.