Tensions Run High in Bulgarian Parliament over Ottoman Empire Genocide

Politics » DOMESTIC | March 9, 2011, Wednesday // 12:12
Bulgaria: Tensions Run High in Bulgarian Parliament over Ottoman Empire Genocide Historian and Socialist MP Professor Andrey Pantev condemned the nationalists for wanting to denounce the genocide against Bulgarians in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Photo by BGNES

Bulgaria's Parliament saw a rather heated debate Wednesday morning as the nationalist party "Ataka" proposed a draft declaration to denounce the genocide over Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire – which was eventually rejected due to the high number of abstaining MPs.

A total of 39 MPs voted in favor of the motion, 26 voted against, and 50 abstained, with less than half of the total of 240 MPs taking part in the vote.

A total of 18 Ataka MPs together with 17 MPs from the ruling center-right party GERB and 4 from the right-wing Blue Coalition voted in favor. The rest of the GERB and Blue Coalition deputies abstained, while the ethnic Turkish party DPS and Bulgarian Socialist Party voted against.

The motion refers to the period from 1396 – when the Second Bulgarian Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks – until 1913 – when the First Balkan War technically freed the Balkan Christians from the Ottoman Empire. (The autonomous Bulgarian state was restored in 1878 on a part of the Bulgarian populated territories, and became independent in 1908.)

Bulgaria views the five hundred years of "Ottoman Yoke" – when it was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire – as a time of ethnic and religious violence against Bulgarians and other Balkan peoples and a period when a debilitating feudal system reintroduced by a foreign occupier set the nation back in its development by hundreds of years cutting off from the rest of Europe.

Even though there were numerous cases of mass slaughter of Bulgarians and other Christians in the Ottoman Empire – including during the many uprisings staged against the Ottoman authorities – the issue of condemning genocide in that time period has not been taken up by the mainstream Bulgarian historians mainly because the term is arbitrary with respect to periods before the 20th century when extermination campaigns were carried out with "modern" methods.

The most chilling account of a slaughter of Bulgarians that reached the international community and the West was about it the slaughters during the April Uprising of 1876 authored by American journalist Januarius MacGahan, later taken up by British Prime Minister William Gladstone for his work "Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East."

The Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire recognized by a number of countries refers to a later period - during and after World War I.

The motion of the nationalist party Ataka to condemn the genocide over Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire was vigorously opposed by members of the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) as well as by Professor Andrey Pantev, a renowned historian, currently a MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

"You are irritated by the term "Ottoman dominance", you are talking about a Turkish yoke even though the Turkish state was set up many years after Bulgaria's Liberation," stated DPS MP Lyutvi Mestan referring to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1922 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

He accused the Ataka party of using their draft declaration in order to increase their political visibility with election goals in mind.

He further declared the Ataka motion was inadmissible on technical grounds based on a resolution of the European Parliament stating that a parliament cannot accept legislation with respect to the past.

"We are witnessing a unique historical experiment. How come the Bulgarian parliamentarians from the period after the Liberation such as Stefan Stambolov, Zahari Stoyanov, and Petko Karavelov did not think of such a passionate declaration? They must have been a lot wiser. And now somebody shows up claiming to be a defender of the Bulgarian past. Nobody denies the endless suffering of the Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire but is it the job of the Bulgarian Parliament now to deal with that? If the motion is adopted, it will be a demonstration of "sparkling water" nationalism. Patriotism is not a party subsidy and not a bank, and not an election campaign, not even a profession. Nobody denies the heroic martyrdom and sacrifice of the Bulgarians in their fight for freedom. Why didn't they think in Peru to denounce the Spaniards for genocide? What does genocide mean? It is the total, not partial, not conditional, extermination," declared Prof. Andrey Pantev.

"I am not going to answer to marketplace talk," Pantev retorted to the shouting by Siderov while he was talking - "No genocide was committed against Bulgarian churches and chitalishta (i.e. cultural clubs). There was a yoke but that something different. We honor the memory of those who were slaughtered, even the Turks themselves honor them on March 3, our national holiday," the historian stated.

The position of the human rights committee of the Parliament, which declared itself against the motion, also notes the position of the Foreign Ministry that its adoption could strain Bulgaria's relations with Turkey.

This infuriated the nationalists with their leader Volen Siderov urging Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov to fire the "clerks" who wrote it.

"The communist party brought its heavy artillery. Professors like Pantev are the reason the Bulgarian students don't know their history," Siderov retorted.

Professor Pantev was also blasted by the deputy chair of Ataka and deputy chair of the Parliament Pavel Shopov.

"There have been lowly statements in this Parliament but this is beyond any of them. The Socialist Party demonstrated again that it never cared for the Bulgarian national interest and memory," Shopov said.

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Tags: Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Turkey, liberation, Liberation Day, Ataka, nationalists, DPS, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, ethnic Turkish, GERB, Bulgarian Socialist Party, DPS, Blue Coalition, Andrey Pantev, Lyutvi Mestan, Volen Siderov, Pavel Shopov, turkey, Ottoman Turkey, Januarius MacGahan, William Gladstone, April Uprising, March 3
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