Turkey on minority in Bulgaria (1987)

Suggested Citation: Neophytos G. Loizides, Greek-Turkish Negotiations and Crises 1983-2003 Dataset , Queen's University Belfast (available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentrefortheStudyofEthnicConflict/TeachingResearch/Datasets/Greek-TurkishNegotiationsandCrises1983-2003/#d.en.173636)

This case study examines Turkish response to the treatment of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. During the second half of the 1980s, the Bulgarian government initiates a program of forced assimilation for the Muslim minorities of the country (mostly Turkish and Pomak). In 1984, the hard-line Communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, introduces measures that prohibit ethnic Turks from speaking Turkish, practicing Islamic rites, or even using Muslim names (instead of the Slavic ones). In 1986, Amnesty International officially states it has received the names of more than 100 ethnic Turks reported to have been killed and of more than 250 arrested.[i] Observers are unable to penetrate the affected areas, and relevant information is sketchy. The Turkish parliament in Ankara holds a secret session in February 1985, and eventually takes a number of diplomatic measures to diffuse the crisis, but to no effect.[ii] The conflict escalates dangerously when Turgut Özal makes a campaign speech in Bursa in August 18, 1987, in which he suggests that Ankara will deal with Bulgaria as it has with Cyprus.[iii] In a full text search for keywords “Bulgaria” and “Turkey” and “minority,” Lexis/ Nexis produces 28 results for the period 2/14/1985- 3/14/1985 (under category European News Sources).

Case Study Features:

Effectiveness of offensive policies :  0

None of Turkey’s confrontational policies can be seen as effective. The war threat of 1987 makes the Bulgarians more aggressive[iv]: Turkey might be superior militarily to Bulgaria, but the latter enjoys the protection of the Soviet Union. It is very unlikely that NATO, particularly Greece, will side with Turkey in this conflict.

Offensive vs. Defensive Signals Indistinguishable: 1

Minority issues often contain this element of indistinguishability. Policies aiming to defend the minority can be perceived as threatening to the other side, such as, for example, Özal’s threat of war against Bulgaria.

Domestic Challenge : 1

Özal makes his threat against Bulgaria in a campaign speech in Bursa on August 18, 1987. He faces elections in November 1987.[v]

Enduring Ethnic Rivalries: 1

There is an element of rivalry resulting from the fact that since 1984 Turks in Bulgaria have been severely repressed. The Financial Times reports that as many as 500 ethnic Turks have been killed resisting Bulgarian policies in 1985. [vi]

Confrontational Policies: 1

Prime Minister Özal warns that Ankara will deal with Bulgaria as it has with Cyprus.[vii] This is coded as a threat of war, since Turkey invaded and occupied Cyprus in 1974. The case study confirms the diversionary theory of war.


[i] Henry Kamm, “Bulgarian-Turkish Tensions on Minority Rise”, The New York Times, October 4, 1987, p.9.

[ii] , “A bizarre Balkan problem / Persecution of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria”,  The Guardian February 22, 1985,  

[iii] Henry Kamm, “Bulgarian-Turkish Tensions on Minority Rise”, The New York Times, October 4, 1987, p.9.

[iv] Bulgarian Telegraph Agency in English 1200 gmt 15 Sep 87, “Bulgarian comment on threats by Turkish Premier”, The British Broadcasting Corporation, September 17, 1987

[v]   Ozal's New Cabinet Installed”, Facts on File, December 31, 1987, p. 988.

[vi] David Barchard and David Buchan, “Ankara tries to temper outcry over effort to 'Bulgarise' Turks,” Financial Times, February 20, 1985, p.2. 

[vii] Henry Kamm, “Bulgarian-Turkish Tensions on Minority Rise,” The New York Times, October 4, 1987, p.9.