Turkey on minority in Bulgaria (1989)

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)

The Bulgarian-Turkish conflict reaches its peak in the summer of 1989, when Bulgaria allows ethnic Turks to abandon the country. Turkish President Kenan Evren states that Bulgaria is responsible for a “great human tragedy.” [i] Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal accuses Bulgaria of “genocide”[ii] and promises to welcome all refugees to Turkey. However, after the mass exodus of 300,000 people to Turkey, Özal is forced to close the border, as Turkey's none-too-healthy economy simply cannot take such a massive influx.[iii] In a full text search for keywords “Bulgaria” and “Turkey” and “minority,” Lexis/ Nexis produces 53 results for the period 6/1/1989- 7/1/1989 (under category European News Sources).

Case Study Features:

Offensive vs. Defensive Signals Indistinguishable: 0

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 in 1987. However, by 1989 Turkish politicians avoid making similar statements and emphasize the need for compromise. There is no international sympathy for the Bulgarian perspective and very little understanding of its need to defend itself. While Manchester Guardian Weekly argues that Ankara is quite legitimately raising an international uproar over this issue,[iv] other sources accuse Bulgaria of committing cultural and religious '”genocide”' against its Turkish minority.[v] Especially after the exodus of hundred of thousands of minority Turks from Bulgaria, the policies of the latter are clearly defined by neutral parties as inhumane and therefore offensive with no elements of indistinguishability present.

Effectiveness of offensive policies :  0

Given the overall support for the Turkish positions, there is no special need for Turkey to make a confrontational move against Bulgaria. Both Britain and the US intervene, and persuade Bulgaria to change its policies.[vi] Thus, it is more beneficial for Ankara to follow a number of diplomatic actions rather than to exercise pressure on Bulgaria, on either military or economic grounds. Introducing an embargo against Bulgaria will primarily harm Turkish products and migrant workers traveling from Germany to Turkey. A military intervention is out of the question, since Soviet intervention cannot be ruled out, even at the time of transition to a post-Cold war environment.

Domestic Challenge: 1

Özal becomes the president in November 1989, just at the time of the crisis, and in the midst of a legitimacy crisis, after facing an electoral defeat in the local elections.  [vii]

Enduring Ethnic Rivalries: 1

Ethnic rivalries date back to the Balkan wars, as well as the treatment of Turkish minorities in the years preceding the 1989 crisis. The Financial Times reports that as many as 500 ethnic Turks have been killed resisting Bulgarian policies in 1985. [viii]

Confrontational Policies: 0

Surprisingly, in this major crisis, Turkey does not manifest confrontational policies. Although some mobilizations occur (the largest protest of about 150,000 demonstrators in Taksim Square is organized by the governing Motherland Party and the opposition Social Democrat and True Path Parties),[ix] the Turkish government resists public pressure and does not issue any military warnings or economic measures against Bulgaria. An effort by the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktas, to settle refugees in Northern Cyprus also fails.[x]


[i] Tim Kelsey, “Bulgaria's expulsions of Turks condemned”, The Toronto Star, June 15, 1989, p.24.

[ii] Ankara home service 1000 gmt 21 Jun 89 Text of report, “Turkish Prime Minister’s ‘Deep Indignation’ over Bulgarian Campaign against Turks”, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, June 23, 1989. 

[iii] Christophe Chiclet, “Bulgaria staring at economic disaster and ethnic strife,” Le Monde Diplomatique, /Manchester, Guardian Weekly, December 31, 1989, p. 14; Mina Toksoz, “Euro-Turkey (The World in 1990), The Economist, January 1, 1990, p. 60.

[iv] “Talking Turkey”, Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 13, 1989, p. 12.

[v] John Holland, “Bulgarian-Turkish Feud over Religion”, United Press International, July 2, 1989.

[vi] Tim Kelsey, “Bulgaria's expulsions of Turks condemned”, The Toronto Star, June 15, 1989, p.24.

[vii] “My president, right or wrong”, The Economist, April 8, 1989, p. 57.

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

[ix] Vedat Erdaman, “Protest Denounces Expulsion of Ethnic Turks From Bulgaria, Associated Press, June 24, 1989.

[x] “Abandoned city offered to Turks from Bulgaria” Globe and Mail, June 16, 1989, p.10.