Bulgaria Forces Turkish Exodus of Thousands

Flow of Turks Leaving Bulgaria Swells to Hundreds of Thousands
May 16, 2019
Going ‘home’: Bulgarian Turks who settled in Istanbul
May 16, 2019

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June 22, 1989, Page 00001Buy ReprintsThe New York Times Archives

They trooped by the hundreds across the border today, this latest breed of displaced persons, pushing the remnants of their lives in carts and wheelbarrows.

They were people of Turkish descent who have lived for countless generations in Bulgaria. But now they are being expelled, or encouraged to leave, in a wave of intimidation and religious repression that has no end in sight.

Turkish officials say that 52,000 refugees have arrived from Bulgaria since the forced exodus began in May, and that the total grows by 2,000 a day. At that rate, there could be 100,000 here by mid-July. Some Solution Imperative

Turkey, which is also sheltering 36,000 Iraqi Kurds in refugee camps in the southeast, finds itself straining to keep pace. It says it has pleaded in vain for talks with Bulgaria on ways to regulate the flow and to protect the property and other rights of the ethnic Turks. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has pledged that, if need be, he will accept every one of the estimated 1.5 million Turks in Bulgaria.

Some of those crossing into Turkey today said they had seen soldiers shoot down their neighbors last month when they marched in protest against Bulgaria’s five-year-old campaign to eradicate their Islamic identity. Tanks now patrol some of their villages in eastern Bulgaria, they said. Relations Were Never GoodContinue reading the main story

Even in the best of times, they added, it has been difficult for them to escape verbal abuse or fines or beatings from the Bulgarian authorities for speaking Turkish, or for not using assigned Slavic names.

”For five years we have not been treated like normal human beings,” said Kazim Ahmedov, a 26-year-old factory worker whose Bulgarian passport gives his name as Deyan Botef. ”We were treated like the worst kinds of animals.”

One fresh arrival was Ismet Ahmedov, a farmer from the town of Balik, who is no relation to the other Mr. Ahmedov. ”We were in our home when the soldiers came,” he said. ”They gave us our passports and told us to leave immediately.”

So he and his relatives, 11 people in all, found themselves today at this border checkpoint in western Turkey, loading onto a truck the few personal possessions they could take with them: bundles of clothes, a pink plastic dog and other toys, two thermos bottles, several small chests.

They were lucky. They had other relatives in Istanbul with whom they could live for awhile.

Some Bulgarian Turks are forced to spend at least a few days in meager tent cities set up at border crossings in Kapikule and Derekoy, 60 miles to the northeast. Still others are being sent elsewhere to temporary quarters in school dormitories, hospitals and police stations. Official Assistance in Leaving

They arrive here as a ragtag army, mostly by car and train. For a hefty price, they say, the Bulgarian authorities agreed to haul some of their belongings to the border, items that could not fit into a car. At the checkpoint, they unload the trucks themselves, cart the material into Turkey and then put it onto Turkish trucks.

Kapikule, as a result, is choked with vehicles and by people pushing carts. A young man and woman brought with them today a dolly piled high with clothes, an electric oven and the battered frame of a couch. Behind them an old woman walked, carrying a weathered wooden chair in each arm.

Turkish border guards say a line of cars waiting to enter Turkey stretches 15 miles into Bulgarian territory. A few hundred yards from the checkpoint, at the Kapikule station, a train arrives from Bulgaria each day, carrying as many as 1,000 refugees.

Those arriving are so numerous that it takes two days or more for their papers to be checked, and so they sleep in their cars or in police booths. Total Change Wanted

Bulgaria’s harsh campaign of assimilation began in 1984. Turkish-language schools and newspapers were shut down. Mosques were closed in the predominantly Christian country except on religious holidays, and Turkish names were removed from tombstones. The refugees say Turkish boys are periodically examined to see if they have been circumcised.

”They wanted to change all our customs,” said Enver Ibadullah Merlid, 76. ”They even would not let me wear a beret because many Turks wear one.”

In Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, officials are quoted as denying that they persecute Turks because, they say, there are no such people in Bulgaria -only Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule.

There is a wry quality in this controversy because Turkey is often accused of treating its Kurdish minority of eight million in a similar manner, a charge that Turkish officials reject. The Ankara Government, for example, refuses to allow the Kurdish language to be used in schools, and refers to Kurds as ”mountain Turks.” Argument Over Numbers

In eastern Bulgaria, street protests erupted in Turkish areas last month, leading to clashes with Bulgarian security forces. Officials at Ankara say that at least 50 people were killed and 200 wounded, but the Bulgarian Government insists the death toll was 3.

At the checkpoint here, refugees scoff at that figure. Osman Mustafov, a tractor driver from the town of Razgrad, said he personally saw two men killed on May 20. ”I was at their funeral,” he said. ”We put white flowers on their graves.”

After this burst of violence, Bulgaria began to expel Turks, forcing them to leave bank accounts and most of their belongings behind. How long the exodus will continue is not clear.

Meanwhile, refugees say that it has changed in character, and involves not only deportations but also migrations by ethnic Turks who have suddenly be given passports after years of being told no. Technically, the passports are for 90-day visits as tourists, and the Turks may return if they wish. But few, if any, want to now.

”We will die on our own soil,” said Mazlum Mustayev, 45, a truck driver. He meant Turkey.

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