Primary Sources

Improving the Status of the Turks in Bulgaria?


The ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria had faced discrimination throughout Bulgaria's history. In response to a series of demonstrations in May 1989 for Turkish rights, the Communist government expelled more than 300,000 Bulgarian Turks over the course of the year. With such a large portion of the population affected, Turkish rights in Bulgaria became one of leading human rights issues facing the Bulgarian government in the fall of 1989. On 16 December 1989, a Turkish rally was held in the city of Gotse Delchev, allowing the Bulgarian Turks to air their grievances and gather support from the political opposition to the Communist government. This report from the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria recounts some of the human rights' violations. Though the Communist Party leadership had changed on November 10 in response to popular protests, the Bulgarian Turks had yet to see any improvement in their own status.


Sofia Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Muslims Meet to Hear Human Rights Leaders in Pomak Region," 19 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

For our purposes the stories they [Muslim Turks] told us can be divided into two categories, pre- and post-November 10....

Before November 10:

  • The mosque in the village of Bladska was destroyed a year ago.
  • Fines for speaking Turkish reached 100 leva.
  • During the civil mobilization 190 people from Kornitsa, Breznitsa, and Luzhnitsa were "interned", not used for labor.
  • Religious circumcision is still not possible.
  • One man was forced to bury his father as a Christian.
  • When someone applies for a passport, word is passed to the workplace and the person is fired.
  • Pomak children are reportedly given grades in school based on their village of origin.
  • Teachers in the Pomak region have been fired and imprisoned for teaching children about their heritage.

Since November 10: Nothing has changed according to the dozens who spoke to us: They have little confidence in the authorities to bring about any improvement to their lot.

  • Pomaks are still denied passports for foreign travel.
  • The Turkish language is still forbidden (as recently as last week, the wife of one of the Turks had been admonished).
  • Mail to and from Turkey is regularly intercepted.
  • On December 10, only 2 of 24 cars from Breznitsa, Kormitsa, and Luzhnitsa reached Sofia for the demonstration. The rest of the cars were turned back by militsia who leveled automatic weapons at them.
  • Bulgarians in Gotse Delchev had reportedly been required to work a full day on November 16 so they could not attend the meeting.
  • The December 15, 1989, edition of the newspaper "Madanska Tribuna" carried a front page article titled "Clear Position" which stated "whoever speaks Bulgarian language, cannot have a Turkish name."
  • One week ago a Party Secretary in a Pomak village reportedly took the school children to a mosque and had them break the windows. Other children had been collecting money for renovating the mosque.

How to Cite this Source

U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, "Improving the Status of the Turks in Bulgaria?" Making the History of 1989, Item #214, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).