Turkey has banned Ahmed Dogan, founder and honorary president of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – and controversial businessman Delyan Peevski, an MP for the party, from entering the country, reports in Bulgarian and Turkish media claimed on February 11.
The initial report in Turkish newspaper Star said that the ban against the two was prompted by Dogan’s recent ouster of long-time ally Lyutfi Mestan as leader of the MRF in December 2015. Dogan had Mestan expelled as leader of the MRF and from all party positions and membership after Mestan read out a declaration in Parliament taking the side of Ankara following Turkey’s downing of a Russian air force bomber near Syrian air space, in November 2015.
Star’s report described Dogan as a “Soviet agent” and notes that MRF’s honorary chairman has been named as a collaborator of the communist-era State Security secret police (Mestan has also been outed as a collaborator of the State Security, although that is not mentioned in the report.)
Peevski – best known in Bulgaria as the media mogul whose short-lived appointment as head of the State Agency for National Security in June 2013 sparked mass protests that ultimately brought down the administration of Plamen Oresharski, albeit not until MRF withdrew its support in June 2014 – is described as being “close to Russian oligarchs” and “emperor of smuggled cigarettes”. A company owned by Peevski holds a minority stake in former state tobacco monopoly Bulgartabac, although some media reports in Bulgaria have claimed that Peevski has control of the cigarette maker through off-shore companies.
Several Bulgarian media, including public broadcasters Bulgarian National Television (BNT) and Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), said that the Turkish embassy in Sofia confirmed the travel ban but declined further comment. BNR’s report said that, when contacted for a second time, the embassy declined to either confirm or deny the existence of such a ban.
MRF MP Chetin Kazak, one of the interim co-leaders of the party, told BNR that MRF was aware of the media reports, but was awaiting an official confirmation from Turkish authorities. BNT quoted Peevski as saying that if such a ban existed, it was proof that “the position of the honorary president of MRF Ahmed Dogan, which I categorically support, was correct and achieved its goal, namely the defence of Bulgarian national interests.”
News website Mediapool, meanwhile, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Betina Zhoteva as saying that there was no “diplomatic practice for the two countries to notify each other of such decisions in advance.” The report said that the Foreign Ministry had no official position on this issue.
Last month, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried to pressure him to back Mestan, but he declined to interfere in the affairs of other parties. “The pressure and the desire of the Turkish leadership to intervene in this conflict made me dubious,” Borissov said on January 4 in an interview with private broadcaster bTV.
(Screenshot of the website of Turkish newspaper Star, which first reported the ban, featuring a collage of Peevski, left, and Dogan.)