Resolving the Turkish Question in Bulgaria
The ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria had faced discrimination throughout Bulgaria's history. In response to a series of demonstrations in May 1989 for Turkish rights, the Communist government expelled more than 300,000 Bulgarian Turks over the course of the year. With such a large portion of the population affected, Turkish rights in Bulgaria became one of leading human rights issues facing the Bulgarian government in the fall of 1989. In November 1989, the leadership of the Communist Party had changed; new policies followed, including the legalization of several non-Communist political parties. However, the treatment of the Bulgarian Turks seemed unaffected. In this report from the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria in January 1990, the U.S. Ambassador records that while the Bulgarian government promised improvement, there had been no noticeable change in the continuing human rights' violations.
Sofia Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "The Bulgarian Ethnic Turk Problem: Straws in the Wind?," 20 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Summary. While thus far the Mladenov regime has made no major change in the overall Bulgarian policy of forced assimilation of its ethnic Turkish minority, there have been a number of signs that it may adopt a more forthcoming approach to the problem. These include willingness to permit direct telephone dialing to and from Turkey; establishment of a Party Commission to analyze the problem and propose solutions; appointment of an ethnic Turk to the position of Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers; published information that the Council of Ministers has sent instructions to treat returning ethnic Turks more favorably; and permitting the chief mufti actually to complain about the infringement of the religious rights of Bulgarian Muslims. The January 9 meeting of Bulgarian and Turkish foreign ministers in Kuwait will be an important test of just how fast and how far the new regime is willing to move on this critical question. End Summary.
The line taken in private conversations by senior Bulgarian leaders with Embassy officers and visiting USG officials regarding the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish problem has without exception been as follows: the problem is a very serious one; we made mistakes in the past; we want to resolve it and want to have a better relationship with Turkey; but we need time. They constantly assert the problem is very complex and that the incidents of the past summer have raised emotions all around which must be calmed before anything major can be done.