Due to the failure to form a government in the past two elections, the third election will be held in Bulgaria, this time both general elections and presidential elections will be voted. At the same time, for the first time in the history of Bulgaria, a Turkish Presidential candidate is competing in the elections.
For detailed information about these elections, which are very important for both Bulgaria and Bulgarian Turks, The Diplomatic Observer interviewed Prof. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the president of ANKASAM.
Mr. Erol, could you give brief information about the Bulgarian Turks?
Bulgaria is a country on the transit route from Asia to Europe. In particular, Bulgaria, which connects two continents and has a key geopolitical position, has been positioned as an important center in the transition process of Turks to Europe. For this reason, it is possible to say that the existence of Turks in Bulgaria dates back to ancient times. Later, the Ottoman Empire and the Turks shaped the region and interacted with other groups to create a common civilization. Therefore, the historical bond between Bulgarians and Turks is strong.
Today, the population of Bulgaria is around 7 million. The population of Bulgarian Turks is close to 1 million. The Turks, who are scattered almost throughout the country, live in the cities of Kardzhali, Razgrad, Shumen, Eski Cuma, Silistra, Dobrich, Burgas, Ruse and Sofia. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Bulgaria’s entry into the European Union, there have been significant developments in the rights and living standards of both Bulgarians and Turks. Thus, the difficult times experienced by both Bulgarian Turks and other Bulgarian citizens were left behind. Bulgarian Turks are the second largest ethnic group in Bulgarian society after Bulgarians. Moreover, they have managed to preserve their identity until today. It should also be noted that the second most spoken language in Bulgaria is Turkish.
During the period when the Ottoman Empire established dominance in the Balkans, important studies were carried out in Bulgaria. Especially with the zoning process started, a significant part of the buildings in Bulgaria are the works left by the Turks. Today, it is possible to come across these artifacts in many parts of Bulgarian cities. This means that the Ottomans are not only the Turks of Bulgaria in the region; important structures and civilization remains show that he left a legacy. This is proof of the importance Turks attach to Bulgaria and that Turkish and Bulgarian cultures are deeply connected to each other.
What is the place and importance of Bulgarian Turks in Turkey-Bulgaria relations?
Bulgaria is one of the most important countries of the Balkans. However, the fact that Turkey and Bulgaria were in different blocks during the Cold War prevented the development of relations between the two countries. In the period after 1990, there was an important development in Turkish-Bulgarian relations as Bulgaria turned to the West and became more open to cooperation. While the two countries see each other as “neighborhoods”, it can be said that today’s geographical unity encourages political and economic relations. In terms of history, it is possible to say that the two states have deep common roots. Therefore, leaving aside the historical pains, the calculation of establishing a common future should be made. In this context, it is important to strengthen the unity of Bulgarians and Bulgarian Turks and to improve their living standards.
The rapprochement between Turkey and Bulgaria has many dynamics. These include historical ties, similar cultures, common interests and influential actors playing the role of bridge between them. Especially the Turkish population in Bulgaria is not just a bridge between the two countries; It is also a collaboration channel. Therefore, a strong Turkish presence in Bulgaria means Ankara and Sofia getting stronger and trusting each other.
On the other hand, as it is known, Turkey has been acting together with the Western World for 200 years. Bulgaria, on the other hand, became a member of the European Union in 2007, strengthening its position in the Western World. In this context, it is possible to say that the two countries meet on a common line in foreign policy. Because Bulgarian Turks support Sofia to strengthen its ties with the West as well as its strategic relations with Ankara.
In addition, the fact that Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 shows that the interests on the Ankara-Sofia line also overlap in terms of security. When the last 30 years are examined, it is not possible to talk about a problem in the borders between Turkey and Bulgaria and in the Black Sea. Although this is a sign of trust between the parties, it is possible to say that instability in one country will negatively affect the other country. For this reason, Bulgarian Turks are the guarantee of Bulgaria’s security.
Finally, and perhaps the most important proof of the mission undertaken by the Bulgarian Turks in the relations between Turkey and Bulgaria is the Sofia Representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group between the two countries, the Rights and Freedoms Movement or the Rights and Freedoms Party Deputy Ahmed Recebov Ahmedov. The representation of Bulgaria on the bridge of friendship by a name of Turkish origin is an indication of the trust in the Ankara-Sofia line.
What is the role of Bulgarian Turks in Bulgarian trade, education and cultural life?
Turks make up one-seventh of the Bulgarian population. This ratio reveals the importance and influence of Turks in Bulgarian society. In addition, historically, it is possible to say that the parties were influenced by each other within the framework of the common civilization created.
There are some problems in the Bulgarian economy. For this reason, the economic activity of the Turks in the country is restricted. Although the Bulgarian population of 7 million is mentioned, it is claimed that 5 million people live in the country. The most important reason for this is that both Turks and other Bulgarian citizens go to EU countries to work. It is difficult to say that Bulgaria has fully found its hopes in the European Union membership. For European countries, Bulgaria is a kind of cheap labor center. Whereas, it will mean a strong Bulgaria, a more stable Balkans and a strong Europe in the region. Today, despite similar problems, the influence of Bulgarian Turks in the economy is increasing. Especially with the strengthening of the relations between Turkey and Bulgaria, Turkish investors are turning to Bulgaria more. There are three reasons for this trend. These are the geographical proximity, the geopolitical position of Bulgaria and the influence of the Bulgarian Turks in the country. Also organized within the framework of non-governmental organizations, Bulgarian Turks continue their work within the framework of organizations such as the Bulgarian-Turkish Businessmen’s Association (BULTİŞ).
The other hand, it is possible to talk about various newspapers and magazines of Bulgarian Turks. In this context, newspapers such as Rights and Freedom, Muslims and Güven can be counted. Also, Filiz, Cır Cır and Balon magazine or newspaper supplements attract attention to appeal to children. The activities of the Bulgarian Turks on literature also continue. For example, Nöbettepe magazine, which publishes within the framework of literature and culture, has recently been launched. In addition to these, it is possible to see the activities of Bulgarian Turks in this process in the world that is globalizing and evolving towards an online format. In particular, Kırcaali News, which broadcasts with the discourse of “Free Voice of Turks in Bulgaria”, continues its activities. In addition, the Turkish Cultural Association continues its activities on institutions and organizations such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Folk Culture House, Istikbal Folk Culture House and Barış Folk Culture House. As a result, Bulgaria became one of the important centers of Turkish culture in the historical process. Today, it is possible to say that it has the potential to become such a center again.
The Higher Islamic Institute was opened in Bulgaria in 1990. The Institute, which provides four years of education and trains imams, muftis and religious teachers, continues its activities today. In addition, there is the Bulgarian National High Islamic Council representing the Muslims in Bulgaria. At the same time, Bulgarian Turks are also making important studies and achieving success in art, literature and sports.
In short, although the Bulgarian Turks continue to have various problems in economy and education, they have significant gains especially in cultural, religious and freedoms. These gains were achieved in parallel with both the struggle of the Bulgarian Turks and the democratization of Bulgaria.
What is the position of Bulgarian Turks in Bulgarian politics?
It is possible to talk about two parties of the Bulgarian Turks operating within the legal framework in the country’s politics. One of them is HÖH-DPS, which was founded in 1990, and the other is the Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DOST) Party. The most important missions undertaken by the two parties today are; It is the adaptation of Turkish society to Bulgarian politics, voicing their rights and operating on a legal basis. However, in the elections held on July 11, 2021, it is seen that HÖH-DPS received around 10% of the votes and represented the Turks with 29 deputies. In addition, HÖH-DPS sent four deputies to the European Parliament. On the other hand, Mustafa Karadayı, Chairman of the HÖH, became a candidate for the presidency in the elections to be held on November 14, 2021.
In addition to these, it is possible to talk about political formations such as the Freedom and Honor People’s Party (HŞHP) and the National Rights and Freedoms Movement Party (UHÖH). However, HŞHP and UHÖH are small parties.
Bulgarian Turks do not play a role in Bulgarian politics only through these two parties. For example, after the elections held on April 4, 2021, former Minister of Culture Vejdi Raşidov was elected as a member of the Citizens Party for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and Taner Türkoğlu as a member of parliament from the There Is Such a State Party (ITN). These two examples also show that Bulgarian Turks do not act on their ethnic and religious identities.
While various countries use their ethnic extensions in different lands as a tool of instability; From the Ankara-Sofia line, it is seen that the Bulgarian Turks have assumed the role of peace-making actors. The most important proofs of this are the peaceful environment in Bulgarian society and the mission adopted by the Turks. In addition, the failure to form a government in 2021 shows the division in Bulgarian politics. In return, the Turks could use their key positions to become the unifying factor in Bulgarian politics. As seen in the past, Turkish parties generally participated in coalition administrations and took place as key actors. It is possible for them to use this potential again.
What makes these last elections different from other elections and makes them more important?
First of all, on November 14, 2021, elections for the president, vice president and parliament will be held in Bulgaria. However, parliamentary elections will be held for the third time this year. Because, in the elections held on April 4 and July 11, a government could not be formed. This shows that there is a political instability and uncertainty in Bulgaria. The political uncertainty in question not only harms the development and political stability of Bulgaria, but also causes the Turkish-Bulgarian relations to slow down.
A choice to be made in such an environment becomes more important. Because, thanks to a strong government to be established, the political uncertainty in the country can be eliminated. For this reason, it is important for Bulgarian Turks to participate in the elections and vote. Also, as it is known, Bulgaria is a member of the EU. Participation of Bulgarian Turks in the elections means stronger representation both in Bulgarian politics and in the European Parliament. Bulgarian Turks, who are a strong actor in Bulgarian democracy, will strengthen the friendship on the Ankara-Sofia line and the historical bridge role of Bulgarian Turks between Anatolia and Europe will gain a new dimension and sit in a political framework.
However, Turkey-Bulgaria friendship and Bulgaria’s inclusion in the Turkish World; even his participation in the Turkic Council is not ethnic; will encourage the formation of a common civilization and cooperation basin. The only actor that can consolidate this process is the Bulgarian Turks. Between the parties, there is a process that dates back to the pre-Ottoman era, and the construction of civilization based on historical roots and common values. It is very important for Bulgaria to take part in the new construction process under the leadership of the Turkic Council.
The inclusion of Bulgaria in the Turkish World and the realization of a civilization based on common values are also valuable within the framework of regional dynamics. In particular, Sofia is one of the key actors in keeping the Black Sea as a sea of peace, maintaining lasting peace in the Balkans and ensuring the security of Europe. In addition, nowadays, where routes are gaining more and more importance, Bulgaria has the potential to be one of the central countries on the route reaching Europe from Asia and Africa. The coming together of Turkey and Bulgaria will make the structures that ensure peace and stability in the Balkans and the Black Sea region stronger. The fact that the Turkic Council is an effective actor and mechanism especially in Turkey-Bulgaria relations will turn the region into a center of security, stability and prosperity. Therefore, the participation of Bulgarian Turks in the elections will contribute to the stability, security, cooperation processes and development of the region as well as to the Bulgarian democracy.
In short, these elections differ in terms of representation on behalf of the Turkish World and the presence of Bulgaria here. The Turkish population participating in strong and democratic processes in Bulgaria will mean a stabilized Bulgaria. In addition, it can be said that close friendship ties between Ankara and Sofia, the inclusion of Bulgaria in the Turkish World, the more effective representation of Turks in Europe and the creation of a civilization and cooperation basin in the Balkans. From the point of view of our compatriots, the most important feature of these elections is the emergence of a presidential candidate for the first time in the history of the HÖH. HÖH Chairman Mustafa Karadayı’s declaration of his candidacy for the Presidency following the “Where is the Motherland” polemic between him and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, and his public statements during his visit to Turkey constitute a response to R. Radev, who has drawn Turkish ethnic identity into political debates. It is important in terms of having the opportunity to reconsolidate both the cognate population, which has moved away from the MRF for various reasons in the past years, under the umbrella of the MRF with national discourses.
In this context, what is the expectation from Bulgarian Turks? What is the duty of Bulgarian Turks?
Turks are one of the most important communities of Bulgaria and have an important role in the future of the country. It is possible to say that Turks have important duties for a Bulgaria that is open to the world, strong and develops healthy relations with Turkey. Especially in the short term, the most important task for the Turks is to participate in the planned elections and to strengthen the Bulgarian democracy. Participating in elections and voting is also a civic duty. Of course, this is not limited to Bulgaria. Participating in the elections is of great importance for Turks who are citizens of Bulgaria other than Bulgaria.
There is no mention of ethnic or religious minorities in the Bulgarian Constitution. However, there are some expressions for those whose mother tongue is not Bulgarian. Although there were bad memories in the past, it is possible to say that the Turks have gained some gains today. The most important of these is the teaching of Turkish as an elective course. In addition, although it is stated that there are some problems, these are not insurmountable issues. Because in this process, Bulgarian Turks, who follow a policy within the legal framework, need to act jointly in order to overcome the problems in question.
In this context, it can be said that it would be beneficial for Bulgarian Turks to gather around parties such as HÖH-DPS and to demonstrate strong will. Because, as we have emphasized from the very beginning, a strong Turkish will means a strong Bulgarian democracy, a strong Ankara-Sofia relationship and a strong representation in Europe.
At this point, I would like to underline that HÖH has a very important and historical task. HÖH needs to develop a sincere discourse in order to regain its voters who have been separated from its body over the years. It will undoubtedly be of great benefit if this discourse is aimed at gaining the audience that can be described as “offended” and in a unifying manner. It is naturally the most natural expectation to see Bulgarian Turks acting in unity and under one roof in Turkey’s heart.
On the other hand, the issue that should not be overlooked is the Turks in Turkey who will vote for the elections in Bulgaria. Bulgaria establishes the highest number of ballot boxes in Turkey for its citizens abroad to vote. This shows that Bulgarian citizens in Turkey also have an important duty. It can be said that these people, who must fulfill their civic duty, can also stabilize Bulgarian politics. On the other hand, the votes to be cast can be seen as supporting the stability of Bulgaria from Turkey.