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What Causes the Increasing Number of Turkish Ethnic Minority Political Activity in Bulgaria?

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The Turkish minority in Bulgaria represents a case of ethnic interaction that has for the most part sustained a civil character since the collapse of the communist regime in late 1989.  (Warhola et al. 2003) This research proposal aims to understand increasing Turkish ethnic minority political activity in Bulgaria’s politic sphere. In the light of my literature and news report analyses, I developed two hypotheses about the case. Within the knowledge I get, increasing Turkish ethnic minority political activies are linked with fall of communism and democratization process after communist regime (H1a) and; discrimination and forced assimilation led Turkish ethnic minorities to voice and being politically active (H1b). In this research, political activity is measured by leader Turkish ethnic minority political party’s (Movements of Rights and Freedom) vote percentage, number of deputies that the party gets, votes that the party’s get, ranking place of the party among other political parties. Bulgaria’s democracy level is measured by Polity IV results of the country between 1946-2013 and 2016 Freedom House Country Score Table. In this project, I adres independent variable which is democracy level. I examined whether this variable effect my dependent variable which is Turkish ethnic minority political activity. My proposed research will address this gap in the literature, by using a detailed analysis of  Turkish ethnic minority political activity in the Bulgaria.

Historical background

Ethnic Turks began to settle in Bulgaria towards the end of the 14th century, after the Ottoman conquest. On arrival Bulgarian Turks were overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims and in general retained their language and traditions. ( Mahon, 1999) Most of the territory comprising contemporary Bulgaria was under the control of the Ottoman Empire from the late fourteenth century until 1878, when independence was won with the military and diplomatic help of the Russian Empire. The Bulgarians and Turks differ strongly in language, cultural practices, and traditional religious orientation. (Warhola et al. 2003) From 1878, independence onwards Turkish people became an minority and this minority issue became a problem both for Bulgaria and Republic of Turkey. In 1925, newly established Turkish Republic and Bulgaria signed an agreement about the situation of Turkish minorities in the area. “The Turko- Bulgarian Agreement stipulates that the two Governments 'will place no obstacle to the voluntary emigration of Turks from Bulgaria and Bulgarians from Turkey… Between 1928 and 1939 nearly 100,000 Turks left Bulgaria for Turkey. ( M. P. 1951) According to M.P., returns were low until 1949, because in mid 1930s Bulgaria entered into a democratization process and Turkish minorities also enjoyed this area of freedom. Within the communist regime Turkish minorities  gradually started to repressed and Bulgarianization Project had started. Thus far, The Turks were always considered to be Bulgaria's 'model minority.' They were not interested in internal Bulgarian politics and, to be on the safe side, invariably voted for the Government. The Turkish constituencies were always considered 'safe' for Government candidates. In return there was little, if any, interfer ence by the Bulgarian authorities in Turkish social and cultural life. In matters of education and local municipal government the Turks had complete autonomy. (M. P.,1951) Prior to the communist take-over, Turks were permitted their own Turkish-language schools, both religious and secular, which followed a separate curriculum. They had their own religious administration and ecclesiastical courts. Cultural segmentation led to most Turks being unable to function in the Bulgarian language. A survey conducted in 1946 revealed that about half of the Turkish population did not understand Bulgarian.[1] This change, and re- education of Turks extented emigrations to Turkey. In 1950-1951, 1969-1978 and 1989 big mass emigrations are mostly caused by violation of the rights, economic parameters and communist regime’s pressures. Biggest discriminations against Turks, occured between 1984 to 1989.  In 1984-1985 the government embarked upon a policy of forcing Turks to adopt Bulgarian names. Simultaneously, bans were imposed on Muslim religious practices and fines were also imposed for the speaking of Turkish in public places. Resistance to the name-changing campaign led to dismissal from employment, arrests and killings. Throughout the campaign, the government claimed that the name-changing was both voluntary and an aspect of the forging of a ‘unified socialist state'. Mass protests and hunger strikes among Turks began in 1989 and were countered by violent police actions and by the expulsion of Turkish leaders to Turkey. Their departure was followed by a mass emigration of Turks beginning in June 1989. Although many Turks were intimidated into leaving, the majority appear to have left voluntarily. By the end of August 1989, about 350,000 Turks had left Bulgaria. The majority of the emigrants were unable to leave with many possessions and were forced to sell their homes or to cancel rental agreements on disadvantageous terms. With the end of the oppressive communist regime in 1989, many Turks spent only a brief period in Turkey, and by January 1990 about 130,000 had returned.[2]  (See Table 1.)

In order to defend Turkish rights a political party established with the name of “Movement for Rights and Freedom”. Until today, this party defending the rights of the Turks in the political arena of the Bulgaria. Despite other short lived attempts, Movement for Rights and Freedom survived 29 years. It achieved to be the 2nd major party of the parliament in 2014. In the last 2017 elections Movement for Rights and Freedom won 8.99% of the votes and gained 26 seats in the parliament.                          

TABLE 1 Approximate emigration of Turks from Bulgaria

                              Period Number of Muslims emigrating       Number of people

                                                          (Mostly Turk)      













Source: Antonina Zhelyazkova, “The Fate of the Turks in Bulgaria from 1878 to 1989,”, in Antonina Zhelyazkova, ed., Between Adaptation and Nostalgia: The Bulgarian Turks in Turkey (Sofia: International Center for Problems of Minorities and Cultural Interaction), pp. 11–12.



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