The Past and Present State of the Turkish – Bulgarian Relations

 By Ömer E.Lütem

Formative Years After the independence of Bulgaria and especially after the Second World War, the core of Turkish-Bulgarian relations was the status of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. This issue, which lost some of its importance in recent years, could again be on the agenda of the two countries in the coming years and therefore it deserves further study and consideration. The Ottomans conquered Bulgaria easily. They were not con- fronted with the fierce resistance that the Serbians showed in Kosovo (1389) and the Hungarians in Mohacs (1526). Being near the Ottoman capital and on the road to other Balkan countries and the Austrian Empire, Bulgaria was of outmost importance for the Ottomans who, chiefly for security reasons, begun to settle Turkish tribes in these lands, which at the time were scarcely populated. Up to the l9th century, Ottoman administration was beneficial to the peoples of Bulgaria, Muslims and Christians alike. Population and income increased in contrast to Anatolia, the Turkish heartland and there was no notice- able uprising in these regions.

This rather positive picture began to change at the beginning of the XIXth century. Ottoman administration was no longer as efficient as it used to be and Russia, after the Napoleonic wars had emerged as an ambitious world power, with imperialistic designs, among others, in the Balkans. On the other hand, Bulgarian intelligentsia, under the influence of the French Revolution, opted for freedom and independence as ideals and was strongly encouraged by the Bulgarian Church. The country became restless, reforms performed by talented governors like Mithat Pasha were of no use, Russian inspired and supported rebellions began to occur here and there, and the biggest of them at Batak was harshly suppressed by the Ottoman irregulars, thus creating indignation all over Europe, especially in England. Russia taking this opportunity declared war to the Ottoman Empire. Due to Ottoman resistance, this war lasted more than a year, but in the end, Russian troops were victorious. The Russians even reached the Ottoman capital but yielding to the other European powers’ requests, they did not enter Istanbul. Russia imposed on the Ottomans the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, which gave independence to Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro and created a huge Bulgaria comprising today’s Bulgaria, Macedonia, northern Greece and large parts of Turkish Thrace. This Treaty was opposed by Austria-Hungary and the British, who rightly suspected that the new Bulgaria would in fact be a Russian satellite. The San Stefano Treaty was revised in Berlin in the same year. The new Bulgaria, which resulted from this Treaty, was a small principality under Ottoman nominal sovereignty. The southern part of Bulgaria became, under the name of Eastern Rumelia, an autonomous Ottoman Province, which was soon to be annexed to the Principality (1885).

Although they did not take part actively in the Turco-Russian war, Bulgarians were became a national ideal. As the lands they coveted were in the hands of Ottomans, anti-Turkish propaganda spread out rapidly. Ottomans were accused of holding the Bulgarians under their yoke for centuries, and it was claimed that the Ottoman rule was the main cause of their underdevelopment. Nobody remembered that except political rights, the non-Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire enjoyed religious and cultural freedoms, and moreover, was encouraged to undertake economic activities. The Muslims living in the Ottoman lands, which later became Bulgaria initially, constituted nearly half of the total population. What happened to them is rather tragic. During the war, the Russian troops and especially Cossack raiders attacked Muslim populations to expel them from their lands and at the slightest resistance slaughtered them. This caused an immense migration towards Istanbul. The lands that they left behind were immediately occupied by the ethnic Bulgarians. According to the Bulgarian census of 1887, the Muslim population decreased nearly fifty per cent with regard to prewar times. Still, in spite of the continuous migration and vexations of the local authorities, a large number of Turks and other Muslims remained in Bulgaria due to the fact that building a new home elsewhere, and even in the motherland Turkey, was not an easy task. According to the Treaty of Berlin, Muslims of Bulgaria should not be discriminated, should freely practice their religion, educate their children, and own their mosques as well as their schools and the properties of the religious foundations (vakıf). In fact, the new conditions that existed in Bulgaria were extremely difficult for the Turks. Most of the mosques and the Muslim’s schools were destroyed. (A striking example is Sofia. Before the war there were 44 mosques in the city. Today only one remains). Few Turks were able to retake their lands from their Bulgarian neighbours. They were not allowed to participate in the political life of the country and they were kept from be- coming high-ranking civil servants or officers in the army. Despite their rights guaranteed in the Treaty of Berlin, Turks were in fact discriminated against as second class citizens of the country. This unwritten status of the Turks lasted more than a century and began to change only after 1989. In pursuing the ideal of “Great Bulgaria”, Bulgaria began to follow an irredentist and revisionist policy under Prince Ferdinand who were taking the opportunity of the turmoil caused by the Young Turks revolution and declared the independence of Bulgaria in 1909 and took the title of Czar, dreaming that he shall be soon crowned in Constantinople. But the Ottoman possessions in Europe were also coveted by Serbia and Greece and it was more than 30 years after the Turco-Russian war of 1877 that the three countries reached an apparent agreement for the partition of the territories in question. Bulgarians won the First Balkan War and lost the Second. Through peace treaties Bulgarians received some Macedonian land, secured an outlet to Aegean Sea and annexed the Kurdzali region whose population were nearly all Muslims. In this way Bulgaria became in a sense more “Turkish” and on the other hand Pomaks became a new problem. The origin of the Pomaks is not clear. It seems that some of the ethnic Bulgarians, probably from the Bogomil confession, accepted Islam in the early Ottoman period. During and just after the Balkan Wars some chauvinists with the connivance of civil and military authorities of the newly conquered regions began converting Pomaks to Christianity by using force. The idea behind this was that ethnic Bulgarians should only be Christians.

After the war, strong Otto-man protests and massive immigration of the Pomaks to Turkey obliged Bulgarian Government to intervene and stop these practices, which in a way had been aiming at correcting history. However the efforts to “bulgarise” the Pomaks continued afterwards under every political regime reaching its climax with the Communists in the 1970’s when Muslim names of the Pomaks were forcibly changed to Bulgarians names. Since the Balkan Wars had established the frontiers between Turkey and Bulgaria there were no more territorial claims of either sides. The only important question, which remained, was the Turkish/Moslem minority. Just after the proclamation of independence in 1909 Bulgarian Government had reaffirmed the rights of the Muslim minority in the country and after the Balkan Wars, by the Peace Treaty and the convention on the Muftis in 1913 conceded more rights especially in religious matters. Thus, as far as the agreements between the two countries were concerned all Muslims of Bulgaria possessed adequate minority rights. The problem however remained with the implementations of these agreements. The Bulgarian authorities, and especially the local authorities, were generally unwilling to adhere to the provisions of the above-mentioned agreements. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire participated in the First World War as allies of the Central Powers. However their aim was quite different from each other. Ottomans expected that the war put an end to the continuous dismemberment of their territories, hoping to assure in this way the survival of their state. Bulgarians hoped that, once victorious they would be able to realize greater Bulgaria. The Central Powers lost the war. In fact the Peace imposed on Bulgarians in Neuilly (1919), created a smaller Bulgaria by depriving it from its outlet to the Aegean Sea and giving Dobrudza to Rumania.

The Ottoman Empire on the other hand was totally dismembered at Sevres (1920). Bulgaria was obliged to comply with the peace treaty. Turkish nationalists refused to do so and continued to fight. After the defeat of the Greeks a new treaty signed in Lausanne (1923) recognized Turkish sovereignty on Anatolia. In Europe the frontiers of 1913 were preserved. In Bulgaria the Agrarian Party Leader and Prime Minister Stamboliyski put aside the ideal of Great Bulgaria and tried to heal the wounds of war. He established good relations with the Turkish/Muslim minority of his country which being mostly farmers were at the same time his supporters. After the assassination of Stamboliyski in 1923 his successors kept their distance Turkish/Muslim minority but were careful to maintain good relations with the newly established Turkish Republic. On l8th October 1925 the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship which stated that there would be unbreakable, cordial and eternal friendship between them. As this treaty had no time limit and as it is not abolished, it is still in force from the legal point of view. In a Protocol annexed to the Treaty Bulgaria recognized that the Muslims living in its territory will enjoy all the provisions of the Neuilly Treaty and Turkey accepted that the Bulgarians in Turkey will enjoy all the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty. This meant that the Muslims of Bulgaria and the Bulgarians of Turkey were to enjoy all rights concerning religious matter, language, education etc. The two countries signed a Convention of Settlement in the same date. The second article of this document stipulates that the two parties would create no obstacles to the voluntary emigration of the Turks in Bulgaria and the Bulgarians in Turkey.

We notice that the Turkish side, despite having obtained the minority rights for the all the Muslims of Bulgaria, accepted only the emigration of the Turks. It is obvious that the main concern of the new Turkish Republic was the Turks in Bulgaria. The other Muslims of Bulgaria i.e. Pomaks and Muslim Gypsies were not given the right to voluntary emigration. Instead they were told to seek the permission of Bulgarian as well as Turkish authorities. In practice, however, Turkey always welcomed the emigration of Pomaks in the 1920’s and 1930’s as for the Muslims Gypsies, although they were Turkish speaking their emigration was discouraged and in the 50ies practically forbidden. In the 1920’s the two countries enjoyed good relations al- though their political objectives were quite different. Turkey, that had no territorial claims from her neighbours, since her aim was to establish an era of peace in which she could carry out her reforms. Bulgarians, always bearing in mind the ideal of great Bulgaria were following revanchist and revisionist policies although in those years they were not in a position to defend these views. In the 1930’s the situation changed. Fascists in Italy were successful and the German Nazis, after some electoral gains came to power. Bulgaria, like some other Balkan countries was influenced by these developments. In 1934 with the consent of the King a military coup ended the shaky Bulgarian democracy and a form of fascist regime that lasted about ten years was installed. The Turks of Bulgaria suffered a great deal during those ten years. The successive Bulgarian governments tried to isolate the Turkish minority from Turkey and by forcing Turkish children to go to Bulgarian schools initiated the assimilation policy. Turkey accepted the Latin alphabet in 1928; Turks of Bulgaria did the same. In 1934 the Bulgarian Government obliged the Turkish schools to teach Arabic characters again. All the newspapers in Turkish were ordered to print with Arabic characters. The Commissions, which administered Turkish schools, were abolished and their task was given to the Muftis who were against the reforms undertaken in the Turkish Republic. Many Turkish schools were closed under the pretext that they were not responding to the standards and their pupils were sent to Bulgarian schools. In 1944 only 397 Turkish primary schools remained of the 1673 which existed in 1934. By 1944 all Turkish newspapers were closed. All the Turkish associations gradually were suppressed and some of their members imprisoned where some died. Before 1877 many names of towns, villages, valleys creeks etc. were in Turkish. After the Turco-Russian war some of those names were changed. The governments, which came to power after 1934, systematically changed almost all Turkish names even the names of the villages inhabited only by Turks. It is needless to say that Turkey opposed these measures strongly. But the Bulgarian Governments although they needed at that time to have good relations with Turkey resisted and gave only one concession in restoring in 1938 the Latin alphabet for Turks. But as the Turkish schools and newspapers were gradually closed down that gesture meant little. Four Balkan countries (Turkey, Greece, Romania, Serbia) signed in 1934 a pact and guaranteed mutual territorial integrity. Bulgarians stayed out of this initiative. This was rightly interpreted that Bulgaria had territorial claims on her neighbours. In 1938 Bulgaria signed an agreement of non-aggression with Balkan countries without guaranteeing their territorial integrity. At the beginning of the war Bulgaria, although very pro-German, remained neutral. When Germans obliged Rumania to restore southern Dobruja to Bulgaria an active cooperation with the Axis powers began and in March 1941 Bulgaria officially joined the Axis. Bulgarian troops following German forces occupied Macedonia, Greek Thrace and some parts of Serbia. The dream of Great Bulgaria had become true. King Boris who repeated his father Ferninand’s mistake by becoming a German ally died under mysterious circumstances in 1943. In September 1944, when Soviet troops began to cross the Danube, a coup overthrew the government. A “Fatherland Front” com- posed of the agrarians; communists and some officers governed the country. Soviet forces pursuing the retreating German forces invaded whole Bulgaria. In the following years, under the protection of the Soviet army a communist regime led by Dimitrov was established in Bulgaria which became the most faithful ally of the Soviet Union. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 returned Bulgaria to her prewar frontiers. However she was allowed to keep Southern Dobruja. Turkey, who since 1923 had remained neutral, found it facing Soviet claims on the straits and on some of her eastern provinces. Turkey established close relations with the United States and other western countries, benefiting from the Marshall Plan (1948), sending troops to Korea (1951) and joining NATO (1952). Thus the two countries found themselves in opposing and hostile camps. The Turks of Bulgaria who had suffered a great deal after 1934 and especially during the war welcomed the Fatherland Front that first seemed to support Turkish claims. Turkish schools were re-opened but soon expropriated. This meant that those schools were no longer to be run by the Turkish community but by the Bulgarian State, although they were to continue to teaching in Turkish. Turkish newspapers were allowed to be published again on the condition that they support government policies. Soon however, the Communist regime under the influence of the cold war began to treat the Turkish minority with distrust. In December 1947 Dimitrov warned the Turks to look towards Sofia instead of Istanbul and Ankara and asked them not to act as agents of the enemies of Bulgaria. (i.e. Turkey, United States, Great Britain etc..) In 1949 agricultural lands were expropriated. Turks who practically were all farmers were affected severely by this measure. The already long queues in front of the Turkish Embassy and consulates formed by those hoping to obtain emigration visa for Turkey become even longer. The economic situation of Turkey was not apt to receive a large number of emigrants. Nevertheless Turkey, until August 1950 gave more than 26.000 visa.

The unrest among the Turkish population did not diminish; the queues in front of the Turkish Missions became longer still. With a note-dated l0th of March 1951 the Bulgarian Government accused Turkey of instigating the Turkish minority to emigrate but at the same time not issuing enough visas. The note stated that the Bulgarian Government was ready to give to 250.000 people passports and according to the 1925 settlement agreement asked Turkey not to place any obstacle before the emigration of these persons. Moving 250.000 persons in three months time was more a form of deportation than emigration. This haste could be explained by the fact that Bulgarians were probably acting on behalf of the Soviets who wished to “punish” Turkey for its participation in the Korean War. Seeing this reality and taking into consideration the economic difficulties that this kind of mass emigration was sure to create, Turkey did not accept the Bulgarian proposal but did increased the number of visas issued. On this basis the emigration continued. Turkey stopped the emigration twice because Bulgaria was sending gypsies instead of Turks. On 30th November 1951 emigration was definitively ended by the Bulgarian Government. Up to that date 154.393 persons had immigrated to Turkey.
In the following 12 years the Turkish-Bulgarian relations reached their lowest level. Turks of Bulgaria were strictly forbidden to immigrate to Turkey. On the other hand they continued to be discriminated more than ever. Few Turks were elected to the Central Committee and Parliament. Although faithful communists and representing more than ten per cent of the population, they never became members of the Politburo, minister or vice-ministers. Turks were not allowed to be generals, not even officers in the combat units of the army. In 1959, Turkish schools were united with the Bulgarian schools. This meant that Turkish children were to be taught in Bulgarian but they would at the same time learn Turkish. This measure hardly noticed at that time constituted the first step of the gradual assimilation policy of the communist regime. The dissatisfaction of the Turks continued to grow. In the years 1962 and 1963 Turkish missions in Bulgaria received more than 380.000 petitions from Turks asking to emigrate. After the Cuban crisis, when a period of “detente” was witnessed, the relations of Turkey with the Soviet Union improved. Bulgarians followed their ally. The main perhaps the only important question between the two countries was the Turkish minority. After lengthy negotiations the two sides agreed to solve this problem by emigration. In fact neither Turkey nor Bulgaria wanted emigration. The economic problems of Turkey made the settlement of big numbers of emigrants very difficult. But as Turkish public opinion very much favored emigration, Turkish diplomacy tried to negotiate an agreement on this subject. Bulgaria needed the cheap Turkish man- power for agriculture as ethnic Bulgarian was leaving the countryside for big towns. But to comply with the Soviet wishes Bulgarians accepted to conclude an agreement on emigration. The two countries signed in 1968 an agreement, which allowed the close relatives of the persons who immigrated up to 1952 to Turkey, to immigrate to that country as well.

The implementation of the agreement took ten years. During this period about 120.000 persons immigrated to Turkey. After the above-mentioned agreement the relations between the two countries improved considerably. The two sides signed many agreements on transportation, trade, tourism, visas etc. In the political field Bulgaria never openly took sides with Greece or Southern Cyprus. This gesture was much appreciated in Ankara. The official contacts increased. Between 1968 and 1984 one can count 22 high level visits. Yet the efforts to assimilate Turks continued slowly but surely. The changing of the names of the Pomaks in 1971-1972 was a clear sign for the future. Turkey and other states showed almost no reaction to this event. In reality individuals were obliged to renounce their names and forced to accept a new one that they had not asked for, therefore there was a clear violation of human rights. In 1974 Turkish language lessons witch were compulsory for the ethnic Turks’ children in the schools became optional. As Turks were “discouraged” from taking this option and asking that their children learn Turkish, consequently no Turkish classes were opened. This meant that after 1974 the Turkish minority in Bulgaria was in fact forbidden to learn its own language. This constituted the second step of the gradual assimilation of the Turkish minority. Ten years passed before the communist regime introduced the third and final step for the assimilation of the Turkish minority. In the last days of December 1984 a wide campaign for the changing of more than one million ethnic Turks’ names to Bulgarian names was initiated and successfully completed in a less than three months. The system that the Bulgarian officials used for this was simple. In the countryside where most of the Turks lived, police and in some cases army units surrounded the villages, nobody was allowed to come in or to go out, people were gathered in the main square and asked to choose a Bulgarian name for themselves from the already prepared lists. Those who refused were beaten and/or imprisoned for some time. In case of the rare organized protest, the army intervened and during the clashes some Turks died. Those who were arrested were sent to Belene prison, a kind of concentration camp. Soon all resistance ceased. The main reason for this was that without the new identity cards bearing Bulgarian names, members of the Turkish minority were not accepted in banks, hospitals, public buildings etc. Other measures of assimilation followed: Bulgarian Radio’s broadcasts for the Turkish minority in Turkish ended. There was only one newspaper and one monthly review which was published half in Turkish, half in Bulgarian. Henceforth these were published only in Bulgarian. Speaking Turkish was forbidden and fined up to 20 levas. Listening to Turkish music, wearing traditional Turkish clothes were also forbidden. Turks were not allowed to celebrate Muslim feasts. They were forced to follow Bulgarian ceremonies for births, marriages and burials. In some places Turkish parents were obliged to send their young children to nurseries. The idea behind this measure was to accustom the children to their Bulgarian names and teach them Bulgarian before their mother tongue. All these measures were accompanied by a media campaign, which was designed to convince the Turks that there was to be no more emigration to Turkey. It was expected that the Turks would lose all hope to emigrate and that they would comply with their new conditions in Bulgaria. A second press campaign tried to picture Turkey as a backward country where there was massive unemployment, poverty, abuse, fraud etc. i.e. as a country which is not worth emigrating to. The assimilation campaign against the Turks did not go unnoticed as that which the Pomaks faced had. On the contrary it drew the attention of the Turkish and international press very much. The Turks who had previously emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey learned from their relatives what was happening in Bulgaria and alerted the Turkish press.

The Western press which first repeated what the Turkish press printed was able soon to make its own inquiries on the spot. In the third week of January 1985 a Warsaw Pact summit meeting was planed in Sofia. On that occasion several western newspapers sent their correspondents to Bulgaria. But due to the illness of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party Secretary General Chernenko the meeting was adjourned (Chernenko eventually died on March 10). Thus these correspondents were able to spend more time on the issue of the Turkish minority. The Bulgarian officials that they questioned categorically denied the existence of a name changing campaign. But as the journalists were not allowed to travel the regions where Turks lived in large numbers, the official explanations were not found to be convincing. After a while Bulgarian officials began to state that some Bulgarian citizens wishing to return to their origins were voluntarily taking Bulgarian names. But they were not able to explain how in a short period of time more than one million people chose unanimously to change their names. At the same time a “scientific” explanation of the name changing campaign began to appear in the press. According to this the Turks of Bulgaria were not in fact Turks but Bulgarians who in the past were forcibly converted to Islam and turkified by the Ottomans. This was why a “rebirth process” had been born and these people having found the Bulgarian conscience again began to change their name voluntarily.

All this is historically incorrect. The Turks of Bulgaria are the descendants of the Turks who during the Ottoman period settled in Bulgaria. There is a great deal of material in the Ottoman archives to prove this point. On the other hand it is natural that some of these Turks married with Bulgarian girls and especially with the Pomaks. It is also natural that some the Bulgarians preferred to convert them- selves to Islam considering that Muslims during Ottoman period had advantages like not paying taxes and holding high official positions. Racist theories no longer have any value. Today’s science accepts that it is not the ethnic origin but the cultural identity, which determines the national consciousness of the people. From that point of view the Turks of Bulgaria have a completely Turkish culture and al- ways considered themselves as Turks. What the Bulgarians Communists did was to try to Bulgarise the Turks by force without paying any attention to their cultural identity. This was not very far from some Nazi practices. As the bilateral relations were at their highest point (in 1981 General Evren visited Bulgaria and President Zhivkov visited Turkey in 1983) the name’s changing campaign caught Turkey by surprise. In mid January President Evren sent the Secretary General of the Presidency and his Private Secretary as emissaries to Present Zhivkov who denied everything and repeated that Bulgaria wished to have good neighbourly relations with Turkey. As the name changing campaign continued the Turkish Government faced uproar of the opposition parties and the press. After a special meeting of the National Assembly, the Turkish Government, as a solution of the emerging crisis pro- posed on 22nd of February a new emigration agreement to Bulgaria. An exchange of notes, which lasted about four months, followed. However it was clear from the beginning that Bulgaria was considering the matter purely an internal affair and consequently had no intention of signing a new emigration agreement. Turkey responded by restricting bilateral relations. The trade between the two countries decreased. Electricity imports from Bulgaria were stopped. Relations in the cultural fields as well as in sports frozen etc. On the other hand Turkey informed all friendly states of the situation of the Turkish minority and asked them to intervene. As a last resort Turkey brought the issue to international organizations like the Interparliamentary Union, NATO Assembly, Council of Europe, CSCE, UNESCO and the relevant bodies of the United Nations. It was the Bulgaria’s turn to be caught by surprise. The position that other countries took on the Turkish minority’s situation differed from each other. United States and United Kingdom supported Turkey’s claims and intervened on behalf of Ankara. Germany, France Italy and other members of the European Union were not in favor to rise the matter bilaterally with Bulgaria and recommended that, as it was a human rights issue it should be handled in the CSCE. During the discussions in meetings of this organization they supported Turkey moderately. Greece was the only EC member that openly acted in favor of Bulgaria. The relations of the two countries improved so much that in September 1986 they signed a declaration of friendship, good neighborly relations and cooperation in which they agreed to consult each other in case a threat to the security of either party should arise. It was argued afterwards Turkey that this was not compatible with Greece’s NATO’s obligations. With the exception of few sates like Syria and Yemen, the great majority of the Muslim countries supported Turkey and the Islamic Conference adopted a resolution on the subject in January 1986 which expressed solidarity with the Muslim minority of Bulgaria and urged his member countries to seek political solutions with the aim of ensuring the religious and cultural rights of this minority. On the other hand the Conference approved that a three-member contact group be appointed to examine the conditions of the Muslims in Bulgaria. The Soviet Union surprisingly did not commit itself to her most faithful ally. This displayed the dissatisfaction of the Soviets with Bulgaria, not only on the minority issue but also with the Zhivkov administration, which was reluctant to implement perestroika. In private, Soviets leaders stated that they considered the minority issue to be an internal affair and advised their Turkish counterparts to try to negotiate with Bulgaria. Non-governmental organizations also took interest in the Turkish minority issue. The prestigious Amnesty International, in a report titled “Imprisonment of Ethnic Turks – Human rights abuses during the forced assimilation of the ethnic Turkish minority” gave all the details of the exactions that the Turks suffered during the name changing campaign. This report was published in 1986 just before the l3th Communist Party Congress and constituted a serious blow for the Bulgarian Government. At the end of that year Naim Süleymanov (bulgarised as Shalamanov), world featherweight weight lifting champion while in Melburn with the Bulgarian national team escaped to Turkey and declared to the press that the name changing was not voluntary but compulsory. This event also caused much embarrassment to the Bulgarian Government. In spite of its very difficult position the Bulgarian Government did not change its stand. This was probably due to the fact that Zhivkov and his close collaborators had reached a point of no return on the Turkish minority issue. To yield to the pressures would probably be considered as a failure and could end their political career. On the other hand the Turkish Government had began to realize that the policy to expose the wrongdoings of the Bulgarian government, al- though successfully led and supported by many countries produced no concrete result. At that point of deadlock the Soviets intervened at proposed that the two sides held talks. During the discreetly held negotiations it was very clear from the beginning that Bulgaria had no intention at all of recognizing the fact that a Turkish minority exists in their country and consequently they did not accept discussing an emigration agreement. They could only agree to consent to some family reunification on humanitarian basis. Some Turks who emigrated or took refuge in Turkey were obliged to leave their family in Bulgaria.

It was a common practice of the communist regimes not to allow all the members of one family to travel abroad together. At least one of them and in most cases a child was kept behind as a kind of hostage to deter the parents from taking refuge in foreign countries. As far as Turkey was concerned there were around hundred children in that situation. In 1987 and 1988 Bulgarian sent them to Turkey, to their parents. In the favorable atmosphere created by this event the two countries decided to make official the negotiations that they held since the end of 1986 and to that end signed in February 1988 a protocol which established two working groups. The first one aimed at finding solutions to the problems existing in bilateral relations including the field of humanitarian relations and preparing a draft declaration containing the principles of good neighbourliness. The second working group would deal with economics, trade, tourism, technology, transport, communication and culture. The work of this group was promising.

In the First Working Group Turkish officials tried to raise the Turkish minority issue as a problem which existed in bilateral relations. Bulgarians denied the existence of a Turkish minority in their country. It was at this point that the negotiations never were officially never broken off had in fact ended. In 1989 Bulgarian Parliament, to be in conformity with the CSCE’s principles adopted a new passport law liberalizing foreign travel to a certain extend. At the same time some “undesirable” Turks were expelled to Yugoslavia and Austria. On the 20th of May in a village named Todor Ikonomovo (Turkish name Mahmuzlu) mainly inhabited by the Turks of northern Bulgaria some Turks argued with policemen about the new passport law. Policemen lost control of the situation and fired and killed some of the villagers. The next day there were some manifestations in the neighbouring villages. Again police forces intervened. According to official figures a total of seven persons died. President Zhivkov, in a television speech delivered on the 29th of May, after praising the communist regime for what it did for the welfare of the Bulgaria’s Muslims, asked Turkey in a challenging tone to open its frontiers for the Bulgarians who wished to go there. Prime Minister Özal replied that the Turkish borders were open and had never been closed and invited the Bulgarian Government to negotiate a comprehensive emigration agreement. Bulgarian Government began to deport some Turks to Turkey. On the other hand thousands of Turks benefiting from the new passport law asked to go to Turkey. They were not obstructed. Thus the biggest exodus in Europe in the period of detente began. Bulgarian Government which in 1985 and in the following years had refused The Turkish proposal for an emigration agreement in fact started the emigration in 1989. That contradiction could be explained by the fact that President Zhivkov did not understand the true nature of the events of May 20 and 21. He most probably believed that these pacifistic manifestations were some kind of a riot and that if he gave the Turks what they wanted, i.e. the chance to immigrate to Turkey, the crisis would come to an end. By doing so he surely over- looked the damage that the emigration of the Turks was to cause to the Bulgarian economy. On the other hand as the settlement of the immigrants would create huge problems for Turkey, the decision to let the Turks emigrate aimed most probably also to “punishing” the receiving country. Immigrants came to Turkish border gates in big numbers. Although they were permitted to enter rapidly there were queues for kilometers. People came in old lorries and cars with all their belongings, children and elderly peoples suffering from the heat and malnutrition as well as dehydration. When they entered Turkey although well received, most of them did not know what to do. Some took refuge with their relatives. Others were obliged to go to the tents of the Turkish Red Crescent where they could sleep and found food. Few jobs were available immediately. Soon annoyance and despair spread. Some returned to Bulgaria but most of them persevered. In mid-August the number of the immigrants reached 300.000. At that pace it was expected that one million immigrants would arrive by the end of the year. It seemed that all the Turks of Bulgaria wished to emigrate. The Turkish Government who used at that date all its capacity of accommodation halted on the 2lst of August the free emigration and declared that up to 1.000 emigration visa would be granted each day. This should have been a victory for President Zhivkov but Bulgaria had other problems at that time and the Turkish decision was hardly criticized.
To compensate the deficiency in manpower, which resulted from the emigration of the Turks, Bulgarian Government issued a decree ordering all able men and women to join work battalions. Although partially implemented, those measures caused much discontent among the population. On the other hand the definite departure of hundred thousands of people created a great deal of confusion and some disorder in the country. The “rebirth process” had ended pitifully and the Government and the Communist Party had failed. Since totalitarian regimes could not endure failure the end of Zhivkov was near. In mid-October a CSCE meeting on environmental protection was held in Sofıa. Some opposition groups like Eco-Glasnost and Podkrepa (unofficial trade union) which were not recognized but tolerated by the Government organized demonstrations asking for more democracy believing that the presence of many foreign representatives and journalists would be in their favor. Foreign Minister Mladenov who was severely criticized by Zhivkov for allowing the CSCE meeting to take place in Sofia, apparently obtained the support of the Soviets to oust him. Unable to obtain the majority in the Politburo meeting on the 9th of November, Zhivkov resigned the following day. Thus the career of a perfect Stalinist, Khrushchevist and Brezhnevist who was not able to adapt himself to the glasnost policies of Gorbachev and who persecuted the innocent Turkish minority ended after thirty-five years in office. Mladenov replaced Zhivkov. Demonstrations asking more liberties and democratic reforms continued. The Government gave in by organizing round table meetings at which all opposition groups participated. On the 28th of December about 5.000 Turks gathered outside of the National Assembly asking for the restoration of their real names. The following day, upon the request of the Central Committee of the Communist Party the Government condemned the arbitrary changing of names, affirmed the freedom of religion and the right of every one to speak an other language than Bulgarian in their non-official communications and to freely practice their customs. During the first week of January 1990 some 10.000 ethnic Bulgarians of the regions inhabited mainly by Turks organized demonstrations shouting anti-Turkish slogans and asking for the resignation of the Government. These demonstrations showed that Zhivkov’s racial hate policies had some popular support. However the Government stood firms and even released from prisons about 40 Turks who in the past resisted to the changing of the Turkish names. By doing so Mladenov and the new members of the Politburo aimed to ease the tensions and disorder that Zhivkov’s assimilation policies caused in the country and hoped to correct the tarnished Bulgarian image in the international public opinion. The Communist Party tried to adapt himself to new conditions. The articles of the Bulgarian Constitution which stated that the Bulgarian Communist Party was the leading force in the society and State was abolished. Lukanov, known as the best reformist in the Party, became Prime Minister. Mladenov transferred the title of the General Secretary of the Communist Party to the veteran Lilov and contented himself as Head of State. Finally the Communist Party changed its name to Bulgarian Socialist Party. BSP, obtaining 47.15 % of the votes won the election on the 10th of June. Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF), the main opposition party won 34.84 %, the historical Agrarian Party (BZNS) 8% and the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) founded mainly by ethnic Turks 6.03 %. However BSP was not able to profit from this victory. Mladenov was obliged to resign on July 6th because he was heard saying during a manifestation in December 1989 “The best thing to do is to bring the talks in”.

It was obvious that a politician raised in an authoritarian regime could not easily become democrat. The opposition leader Zhelyu Zhelev was elected President on August 1st, 1990. BSP candidate Kyuranov was far from obtaining the two-thirds of the existing votes. On the other hand Lukanov government, unable to solve the ever increasing economic problems resigned on November 29th, after a general strike. The Bulgarian “socialists” although maintaining the majority in the National Assembly participated with the UDF and the Agrarians in the coalition government of Dimiter Popov who himself had no party affiliation. As expected BSP lost its majority in the general election held on October l3th, 1991. They won the general election in December 1994 again. But the Government of Zhan Videnov, the BSP President, could only last two years and in the early general election of April 1997 the socialists lost again. BSP failure to stay in power can be explained by the fact that while the country needed real reforms BSP tried to maintain as much as of the communist regime structures and policies as possible. The Union of Democratic Forces is a political party composed of several democratic parties and political groups with the common goal of opposing the communist regime. As those parties and groups maintained their own identity, UDF always had a problem of cohesion, which resulted in slowness in decision-making and sometimes inefficiency in action. That is why the UDF lost the 1990 election; obtained nearly the same percentage of votes with the communists in the 1991 elections and only after the support of Turkish representatives (MRF) that they were able to form a government which did not last long and was replaced by the Luben Berov government. UDF lost again the 1994 elections. After the nearly complete failure of the BSP Zhan Videnov government and because they constituted the only alternative to BSP, the UDF won the 1997 elections. UDF found certain cohesion under the rather authoritarian leadership of Ivan Kostov whose government, having the support of the President Petar Stoyanov, resolutely began to pursue reformist domestic policies. On the other hand by asking for memberships in the European Union and NATO the Kostov Government definitely engaged Bulgaria in democratic Europe. The Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) is the third political force of post communist Bulgaria. Founded mainly by Turks who were persecuted during the Zhivkov regime as well as some ethnic Bulgarians, this party headed by Ahmet Doğan basically defends the rights of the minorities in Bulgaria i.e. Turks, Pomaks, gypsies etc. MRF was attacked by BSP and in a lesser degree by UDF for being founded on ethnic basis and therefore not being constitutional. After long legal disputes MRF was recognized by the Constitutional Court and was able to register itself as a “party” in a regional court. Since new accusations of being an ethnical Party was always possible and could lead its suspension, MRF has always been very keen to operate as a regular “Bulgarian” party. This was true to such extend that when MRF supported the “expert” government of Luben Berov in 1992 the post of Deputy Prime Minister that was offered to MRF was not taken by Ahmet Doğan in his capacity of the party leader but an- other member of the party, Mr. Evgeni Matinchev, an ethnic Bulgarian. The concern for survival of the MRF did not prevent it from strongly defending the Turkish minority rights in the Parliament. Subsequently Turkish was taught as an optional subject to children of Turkish origin, a newspaper in Turkish was published, national radio and television was allowed to broadcast in Turkish, three religious schools were opened with the aim of teaching the basics of Islam etc. Yet as the Bulgarian Constitution did not mention minority rights all these achievements had a temporary nature, given that the Parliament or the Governments which adopted these measures could under different political circumstances repeal them.
Some members of MRF accused the Party of not being able to defend the Turkish minority’s rights vigorously and resigned to form other parties or joined UDF. This weakened MRF, which formed The Union for National Salvation with small monarchist and centrist groups and obtained in the 1997 election 7.6 % of the votes and 19 seats. MRF which is no longer unanimously supported by the Turkish minority is still the unique guarantee of their rights in Bulgaria. After the restoration of the Turkish names in December 1989 the strained Turkish-Bulgarian relations eased. However it was obvious that the socialists who usually followed the line of the Soviets and later the Federation of Russia, and who in the Balkans favored Greece were very reluctant if not unwilling to cooperate with Turkey. On the other hand UDF Governments always tried to be on good terms with Turkey and urged cooperation. The socialists began in 1990 to voice concern about the military strength of Turkey. This preoccupation increased after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. In fact it was mainly a concealed attempt to put pressure on Turkey. The Turkish governments tried to assure Bulgaria and to this end signed in 1991 in Sofia and on 1992 in Edirne two documents on confidence building measures in the military field and concluded several agreements on military cooperation in the following years. The Treaty of Friendship, good-neighbourly relations, Cooperation and Security signed by Bulgarian Prime Minister Dimitur Popov, the visit of the Turkish President of the Republic Turgut Özal in 1993 in Bulgaria, the visit to Turkey of the Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev in 1994 and the return visit of the President of the Re- public Süleyman Demirel in the following year and many agreements signed during these visits contributed very much to building mutual confidence and gave impetus to the collaboration of the two countries. The socialists came to power at the beginning of 1995. Without formally rejecting the achievements of the last years they did nothing to further them. After two years standstill the visit of the newly elected Bulgarian President Peter Stoyanov to Turkey constituted a breakthrough in the relations of the two countries. In his speech to the Turkish National Assembly Bulgarian President asked forgiveness for what had been done to the Turkish minority in his country. This act of courage was much appreciated by the Turkish government. The Prime Ministers Yılmaz and Kostov met several time and decided to increase the cooperation between the two countries and expressed their determination to find solutions to some issues inherited from the past. Indeed the experts of two countries quickly agreed on the demarcation of the frontier adjacent to the Black Sea.

The solution of this problem, which was unsuccessfully debated for a half of a century, brought a new atmosphere of goodwill to the relations. On the other hand the trade between the two countries and Turkish investments in Bulgaria increased considerably. Finally the two countries cooperated closely on the issues concerning the security and stability of the Balkans, Nowadays everybody agrees to qualify Turkish-Bulgarian relations as excellent. It is obvious that it is in the interest of the two countries to try to maintain their relations on this high level. However the future stumbling block of the relations could once again be the Turkish minority. Although all forms of official persecutions has ended, the discrimination still exists in practice and Turks, especially those of Kurdzali and very dissatisfied with their conditions, continue to immigrate to Turkey.

The main book on the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and on the Turkish-Bulgarian relations up to 1985 is “The Turks of Bulgaria” (London 1988) by Bilâl N. Şimşir.

The newly published “The Turkish Minority in Bulgaria (1878-1908)” (Ankara, 1998) by Ömer Turan is interesting but does not go beyond 1908. “Turkish and Other Muslim Minorities of Bulgaria” (London, 1997) by Ali Eminov draws the attention by the information given on the Pomaks and Muslim Gypsies.

“The Turks of Bulgaria: The History, Cultural and Political Fate of a Minority” (Istanbul, 1990) edited by K.H. Karpat contains articles by well know historians.

“The Turkish Presence in Bulgaria” (Ankara, 1985) contains the communications presented to a seminar having the same title. The persecutions the Turks suffered during the name changing pain is best described in “Bulgaria: imprisonment of Ethnic Turks – Human rights abuses during the forced assimilation of the ethnic Turkish Minority” (London 1986) by Amnesty international.

On the history of Bulgaria Michael Kiel’s “Art and Society of Bulgaria in the Turkish Period” (Assign/Maastricht, 1985) gives a fair idea on the Ottoman period. R.J. Crampton’s books “A Short History of Bulgaria” (Cambridge, 1987) and “Bulgaria 1878-1918, A History” (New York, 1983) are considered classics.

For the Kings Ferdinand and his son Boris two books give inside information: “Foxy Ferdinand, Tsar of Bulgaria” (London 1979) by Stephen Constant and “Crown of Thorns – The Reign of King Boris of Bul-garia, 1918- 1943” (London, 1987) by S. Groueff and J.d. Velkov.

For the Communist period one can mention “Bulgarian Communism – The Road to Power, 1934-1944” (Westport, 1971) by Nissan Oren and “Bulgaria Under Communist Rule” (New York, 1970) by F.G. Brown but also “Bulgaria-Politics, Economics and Society” (London 1988) by Robert J. McIntyre.

There is unfortunately no valuable biography of Todor Zhivkov. For the new period which begins in 1990, Albert P. Meloye’s “Creating Parlimentary Government: The Transition to Democracy in Bulgaria” gives useful information on domestic policies of today Bulgaria.

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