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Bulgaria Fires Back Over Erdogan’s Provocative Comments

The Turkish president’s remark about “victims and oppressed brothers” in the Balkans rankles in the former Ottoman colonies. 14 March 2018

“The meaning of Turkey does not fit within 780,000 [square] kilometers,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, speaking before a congress of his AK party in the Turkish city of Sakarya, EurActiv reports.


“We send our greetings to all the victims and oppressed brothers of ours in Sarajevo, Skopje, Xanthi, Komotini, Kardzhali, and Mostar,” Erdogan said. “… These cities are physically located in the borders of other countries, but they are part of our spiritual boundaries.”


Erdogan at Sakarya 350Turkish President Erdogan, speaking at the AK party congress in Sakarya on 11 March. Screenshot via Zafer Sarı/YouTube


The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry responded yesterday, apparently triggered by Erdogan’s mentioning Kardzhali, a Bulgarian town close to the Turkish border.


“Any country with a rich and long history could claim that its spiritual and cultural borders go beyond the physical ones,” the ministry wrote. “In fact, today's state borders have been endorsed by international treaties, recognized by all states, and are not subject to doubt or revision. Bulgaria and the Republic of Turkey, who enjoy excellent bilateral relations, are no exception to these treaties.”


Erdogan’s remarks are hardly the first sign of Turkey’s growing interest in the Balkans, a region it dominated for centuries. In recent years, Turkish companies have been actively investing in the economies of various countries in the region, and the state itself has contributed to a number of infrastructure projects. Ankara is partly funding, for example, a new highway to connect Belgrade with Sarajevo. With Serbia, Turkey has concluded agreements on energy cooperation and free trade.


Some in the region fear such activities could stretch to the political realm. In the run-up to the latest Bulgarian parliamentary elections of March 2017, Sofia accused Turkey of meddling in the electoral process by supporting a party that was trying to win support among Bulgaria’s 600,000-strong Turkish minority.


According to EurActiv, Erdogan’s weekend remarks have the potential to undermine the upcoming EU-Turkey summit, which Bulgaria, as the current rotating head of the EU, will host on 26 March in Varna.


During the summit, EU-Turkey relations, regional issues, global foreign policy, and security issues are expected to be discussed, according to the Turkish Anadolu news agency.



  • Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in January that geostrategic players are growing more active in the Balkans, and he counted Turkey among them.


  • The Turkish government has been trying to get the support of several Balkan states’ governments in its efforts to root out elements of the Gulen movement in the region. Turkey found a friendly ear in Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, and in 2016 came to agreements with Macedonia and Bulgaria about closing institutions or extraditing individuals linked to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Islamic thinker whom Erdogan accuses of instigating the failed coup attempt in July 2016.


Compiled by Wasse Jonkhans
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The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

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