Turkey's Labour Minister Calls on Bulgarian Turk Expats to Vote DOST
Turkish Labour and Social Policy Minister Mehmet Müezzinoglu has called on Turkey-based expatriates from Bulgaria to vote for DOST, the party of ex-DPS leader Lyutvi Mestan, Bulgarian and Turkish media report.
Bulgaria will hold an early election on March 26. For the first time, the ethnic Turk-dominated Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), purporting to cater to Bulgarian Turks' interests, is facing a strong challenge in the same niche by its former chairman Lyutvi Mestan's DOST party.
"As the Turkish Republic, which wants its Turkish people in Bulgaria to become more powerful, we must support the DOST party, in order to put them into the background," Turkish daily Milliyet quotes Müezzinoglu as saying.
According to the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) and Mediapool.bg, the minister says the aim of helping the DOST coalition is to ensure "a better future for our [Turks'] compatriots in Bulgaria."
Müezzinoglu is said to have made the comments at a meeting with members of Bulgarian expatriates' organizations in Istanbul.
Reportedly, he has promised Turkey-based expats that the government in Ankara will facilitate their stay in the country.
Expat organizations say thousands of people who have arrived in Turkey since the so-called Revival Process began back in the 1980s currently have no valid passports and cannot receive Turkish documents.
One of the organizations' chairman is quoted as saying the Turkish government has now decided to allow those whose identity documents have expired to return to Bulgaria without paying fines at the border and return to take part in the election.
Müezzinoglu in turn has said authorities will allow ethnic Turks who arrived from Bulgaria and other Balkan nations to stay for a period of five years, the time required if one seeks to become a Turkish citizen.
Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turks live in the Bulgaria, most in its south and south-east but many also in the north-east. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to leave in the 1980s as part of the so-called "Revival process", under Communist rule. Many more have left since the democratic changes began in the 1990s.
Under Communist rule, Bulgarian authorities decided to change names of ethnic Bulgarian Muslims and Bulgarian Turks during the Revival Process to speed up their assimilation. The measure was only revoked at the end of 1989.
For twenty-seven years, the DPS party has portrayed itself as the guarantor of stability and good bonds between ethnic Bulgarians and Bulgarian Turks in the country and has virtually held a monopoly on their vote.
But since DOST emerged, the DPS has been portraying the new party and its leader (who has met Turkey's president more than once over the last few years) as a fifth column of Ankara and an organization close to the ruling party.
DOST for its part is highly critical of the DPS which it portrays as a tool of the oligarchy, a symbol of the status quo and a force seeking to push Bulgaria away from its Euro-Atlanticist path.