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Bulgarian PM chides minister over threats on Turkey’s EU bid January 20, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, EU, European Union, Turkey.
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Borisov scolded his minister over threats against Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov scolded his minister over threats against Turkey and indicated that a compensation issue for a refugee case dating back to 1913 was not linked to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Turkish Foreign Minister warned Sofia to avoid remarks that may harm ties between the neighbouring countries.

Ahmet Davutoglu said, “It is in both countries’ interests that Turkey-Bulgaria relations, which constitute a very good model, remain the way they are.”

On Tuesday, minister Bozhidar Dimitrov said his country would block Turkey’s accession to the European Union unless Turkey agreed to pay the compensation.

Dimitrov had said Bulgaria planned to speed up the collection of documents so it could submit a claim estimated at $20 billion against Turkey by the end of the year.

More than 250,000 ethnic Bulgarians were expelled from eastern Thrace, lying on the western side of the Bosphorus, in 1913. Turkey recognised the rights of the refugees in a 1925 treaty, but the agreement was never implemented, Dimitrov said.

“What happened in the history did not happen as a unilateral immigration. Nearly two million Turks had to leave their homes in Bulgaria and they headed back to Turkey. And any discussion of these historical issues needs a wider and a comprehensive debate. But the continuation of the friendly relations between Turkey and Bulgaria is in the good of both countries. There is great benefit in avoiding from making such statements which might harm the friendship,” Davutoglu said.

Bulgarian Turks were forced to leave the country during the so-called “revival process” at the end of the 80s. A “revival process” launched by the late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to forcibly assimilate Muslims culminated with a campaign to force them to change their names, and the exodus of over 300,000 ethnic Turks to neighbouring Turkey in 1989.

“No direct link”

Borisov, due to visit Turkey later this month or in early February, said Dimitrov’s statement did not reflect the official position of the centre-right government, which took office in July.

“I have warned Mr Bozhidar Dimitrov that we will simply part ways if something similar happens again,” Borisov told private BTV channel late on Wednesday.

“When you announce such things without the prime minister, the government or the parliament having discussed it, you do not do it in your capacity as historian or head of a museum. You directly engage the prime minister and create a problem.”

Dimitrov, who oversees the Agency for Bulgarians Abroad and the state archives, is a historian and former head of the Bulgarian National Museum.

A government spokesman said Sofia was supporting reforms in Turkey and any bilateral issues, like the compensation one, have no direct link with the European Union’s expansion.

According to Amnesty International, at least 100 Muslims died in his four-month campaign to force them to change their names to Bulgarian, which banned the Turkish language in public. It also banned the wearing of headscarves and other Islamic customs such as circumcision and funeral rights.

Muslims make up about 12 percent of the Balkan country’s 7.6 million people and they are native in European Union member-Bulgaria. Most are the descendants of ethnic Turks who arrived during five centuries of Ottoman rule that ended in 1878. Muslims and Christians live alongside in a culture known as “komshuluk,” or neighbourly relations.

Bulgaria joined the 27-member bloc in 2007.

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