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Bulgaria's Turks and Turkey's Kurds
by Europe & Us
2007-11-16 09:46:37
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The new leader of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) brought up the model of pro-Turkish Rights and Freedoms Party (RFP) of Bulgaria as a solution to the problems Kurds are facing in Turkey. That has triggered polemics, likely to continue for long. As a matter of fact, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously noted the similarities and suggested that the RFP would set a model for Kurds in certain aspects. However, there are opinion makers talking through their hats as always.

europeusEstablished in 1993 the RFP of Bulgaria is a well-known structure. Conditions of Bulgarian Turks are also well known here. However comparisons with the situation faced by Kurds here, are systematically missing the point. Through racist remarks, emphasis is made on Kurds' difference from civilized Turks of Bulgaria, accusing the former with genetic predisposition for violence and terror.

There are three basic and distinctive differences between these two minorities that we should emphasize.

First of all, Bulgarians never denied existence of Turks and recognized them as a minority. That did not change since the first self-government in 1878 followed by the 1908 independence and until the collapse of the communist regime in 1989. In the early 20th century, establishment of a new state brought efforts to the fore so as to convert Muslims to Christianity or 'Bulgarize' minorities. The 1947 constitution in Bulgaria foresaw education in the mother tongue and fostering own culture of minorities next to mandatory education in Bulgarian language. However, there was no mention about minorities in the 1971 constitution. Memories of forced 'bulgarization' of minorities in the final days of the communist regime are still vivid. These efforts in vain and the massive migration of ethnic Turks to Turkey probably sped up the collapse of the regime

On the other hand, religious differences always impeded assimilation. When the RFP was established, the party already had a large group of homogenous constituents, ready to vote for it.

Secondly, anytime they faced hardship Turks living in Bulgaria had a Turkey to go to. Migrations similar to the 1989 exodus have silently continued since 1878. Turks of Bulgaria formed a remarkable solidarity network in Turkey. Thus, they were not yearning for secession from Bulgaria, despite living close to the border. Moreover they have never attempted to use weapons to solve problems, given the existence of a deep-rooted habit of rebellion in the Balkans.

The third difference between Turks in Bulgaria and Kurds in Turkey is the way Bulgarian governments have successfully utilized the European Union accession process. They managed very well to solve minority-related issues as part of the country's EU bid, almost in a way to teach a lesson or two to Turkey and other central European countries. Bulgarians did not leave things half done like here. They granted their minorities all rights according to the Copenhagen Political Criteria. Turks getting organized around the RFP were primary beneficiaries of these efforts. During the EU accession process, they first received the right to have radio and television broadcasting in Turkish and then to have education in their mother tongue at public schools.

All these basic differences do not present obstacles for Kurds to form a political party in Turkey similar to Bulgaria's RFP. Even more so, the differences mentioned above set a model in approach, outline and solution for Kurds. However, survival of an ethnic political party in a country like Turkey with a unitary state structure is not easy. The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) model trying to overcome identity problems through religious community and economic development presents a limited solution. The formula setting the truce between the two models, as in Bulgaria, lies in the EU process; actually in the security guarantee supplied indirectly through EU membership.

Meanwhile, let's not forget the harassments, investigations and legal cases against demands similar to RFP of the another Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) in Turkey. A party led by Abdülmelik Fırat and who unwaveringly rejects violent actions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK).

Cengiz is head of the EU Research Center of the Bahcesehir University - Istanbul

(Taken from

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