Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 07:45 GMT

Assessment for Turks in Bulgaria

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Turks in Bulgaria, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Bulgaria Facts
Area:    110,994 sq. km.
Capital:    Sofia
Total Population:    8,240,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is no risk of rebellion for the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. In the past they have not engaged in violent activities, preferring to address their issues via democratic competition. Since this avenue proved to be successful, the presence of factors such as geographic concentration and high group organization and cohesion does not suggest that rebellion would occur. The Bulgarian regime has been stable in the entire post-Communist period, and there has been no repression against the group.

The Bulgarian regime improved consistently throughout the past decade, showing signs of democratic consolidation and improvement for the situation of the Turks. Many measures aimed at responding to the demands of the group have been implemented. A factor in this transformation for the better has been the support Turkey, Bulgaria's neighbor to the south and now a fellow-NATO member, has given to Bulgaria government regarding ethnic Turks. There was also no spillover from the Balkan conflicts into Bulgaria.

The potential for protests is also very low. The various Bulgarian governments, which have relied on the Turkish minority party for support in parliament, have not engaged in acts of repression against the Turks, whose cultural and political rights are respected. The support that Turkey offers to the ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria encourages politically negotiated solutions.

Analytic Summary

Most Turks live in two main areas where they represent the majority of the inhabitants, one in the northeast of the country (Silistra – Varna), the other in the southeastern corner (Haskovo – Kurdzali) (GROUPCON = 1). The feature that sets the Turks apart from the majority population is religion (BELIEF = 1); a large majority of Turks are Muslim, whereas the majority of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox. However, there are also ethnic Bulgarians who are Muslim. Turks have their own language, Turkish, which is now taught in schools at most levels of education (LANG = 1). For a large part of history, Bulgaria came under the domination of the Ottoman Empire, where religion and not ethnicity was the most relevant distinction. Under the Ottomans, the Turks were an advantaged minority, enjoying most privileges and occupying ruling administrative positions. After Bulgarian independence (late 19th century), there was not a strong backlash against the Turks. The worst period in terms of discrimination and mistreatment occurred in recent history, in the mid-1980s under the leadership of the Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who initiated a policy of Bulgarization and cultural assimilation. As a consequence, a large number of Bulgarian Turks fled to Turkey. Most of them returned after the fall of Communism.

The cultural rights of Turks are generally well respected, including broadcasting print media and schooling in Turkish. However, there has been some state interference in the religious activities of some Islamic factions (CULP0101-03 = 2). Economically, the Turks are disadvantaged relative to the Bulgarians in terms of income, presence in professions and presence in the commercial sector (ECDIFXX03 = 2), and the overall level of discrimination is seen one of social exclusion but with neutral state policies (ECDIS03 = 3). Politically, the Turks have representatives at high levels of the legislative and the executive as well as at the local level in areas where they form the majority (POLDIS00 = 0). The only demographic stress facing the Turks is a higher birthrate than the rest of the population (DMBIRT00-03 = 3).

Most of the grievances have to do with the improvement of the Turks' economic situation (ECOGR301-03, ECOGR401-03 = 3) and with more support for the Turkish language and cultural traditions (CULGR201-03, CULGR301-03, CULGR401-03 = 2).

The Turks present a very cohesive front; they have been organized since the very first free election held in Bulgaria, representing the third largest political force in the country. Their party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, has been part of government coalitions and made alliances with both left- and right-wing Bulgarian parties. Turkey has provided moral support for the organization. In 2001, a non-political association was established under the name of "Evet". Evet claims to be working to protect the interests of Bulgarian Turks and to integrate the minority into the larger society; they appear to have offices set up in a few towns in southern Bulgaria. Both parties remain committed to the conventional political process (GOJPA03 = 2).

There have been no incidents of inter-group conflict recently (INTERCON01-03 = 0) and no incidents of protest or rebellion (PROT00-03, REB00-03 = 0).


Nikolaev, Rada "Bulgaria's 1992 Census : Results, Problems and Implications" RFE/RL Research Report, 1993, 2(6), pp. 58-62.

Human Rights Watch World Report: Bulgaria (2001-2002).

Lexis/Nexis: Reuters 1989-2003.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports for 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001-2003.

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