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NEWS 20 May 16

Bulgarian Turkish Parties Clash at Commemoration

The annual commemoration of the resistance of Bulgarian Turks to assimilation by the former Communist regime turned into a battle between two rival ethnic Turkish parties. 

Mariya Cheresheva
MRF supporters at Thursday's rally. | Photo: MRF press office

Citizens of the mainly ethnic Turkish town of Djebel in southeast Bulgaria on May 19 commemorated the peaceful resistance of Bulgaria's Turks to Communist-era assimulation, in an atmosphere of sharp division.

Dzebel’s main square turned into a conflict zone between the largest ethnic Turkish party in Bulgaria, the Movements for Rights and Freedoms, MRF, and the newly formed DOST party, formed by MRF’s expelled leader, Lyutvi Mestan.

Thousands of MRF supporters booed Mestan when he joined the rally on Thursday.

Djebel’s mayor, Bahri Omer, who recently left the MRF to join DOST, was also met with boos and shouts of “Traitor” by some locals who symbolically turned their backs on him when he went on stage.

The MRF’s newly appointed leader, Mustafa Karadayi, and senior party representatives were cheered by a large group of supporters who waved slogans such as “Unity”, “Brotherhood” and “MRF”.

Thousands of people from all around Bulgaria and Turkey gather in Djebel every year to commemorate the so-called “Revival Process” in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turks were given the choice of forcible assimilatation by the former Communist regime, including loss of their old names, or forced to leave for Turkey.

On May 19, 1989, people in Djebel and other surrounding villages staged a massive peaceful protest, demanding their original names back.

The rally was brutally crushed by the police. Hundreds of people disappeared or were sent to labour camps. Large-scale deportations to Turkey, called “The Big Excursion” followed.

Formed after the fall of the regime in the early Nineties with the aim of protecting the rights of Bulgaria’s main minority, MRF has always has a monopoly on the commemorations of the Revival Process.

But this year it faced a surprise. After leaving its ranks earlier in 2016, Djebel mayor Bahri Omer banned the MRF from rallying in the town’s main square.

The ban was later overturned in the regional court in Kardjali and the MRF staged their event in the centre of Djebel, competing with DOST’s parallel rally.

The chaotic event symbolically marked the growing disarray in the politics of Bulgaria’s Turks.

Still not officially registered by a Bulgarian court, DOST, which means “friend” in Turkish, is accused of being Turkey’s "Trojan horse" in Bulgaria.

At the end of 2015, the MRF’s shadow leader, Ahmed Dogan, claimed that Mestan had acted as a “fifth column” for Turkey after the downing of the Russian fighter plane by the Turkish army in November 2015. Mestan took Turkey's side in the acrimonious dispute.

After he was expelled from the MRF on December 24, Mestan took refuge in the Turkish embassy in Sofia, saying he was afraid for his security.

Not surprisingly, the Turkish ambassador to Bulgaria, Suleyman Gokce, attended Thursday’s commemoration upon Mestan’s personal invitation.

The Mayor of Bursa in Turkey, Recep Altepe, also joined the rally, promising more investments in the region. He also called on everyone to be “dosts” - "friends”.


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