Turkish ambassador: Ankara does not interfere in the internal affairs of Bulgaria
Turkey does not interfere in and influence the internal affairs of any country, including Bulgaria, Ankara’s ambassador in Sofia Süleyman Gökçe said on April 25.
Allegations that it did were unjustified, manipulative and a distortion of the facts, Gökçe said in a television interview.
“If you talk about national security and threats, let’s talk about terrorism. Bulgaria knows nothing about terrorism and I hope that it never does, because that is something terrible,” he said.
“Statements that Turkey is an enemy and that it interfered in Bulgaria’s internal affairs, and that it is a threat to its national security, must stop. That’s not constructive, positive and useful. It does not facilitate our bilateral relations. We have a history of hundreds of years, we have also a future together,” Gökçe said.
In Bulgaria, which was under Ottoman rule for about five centuries, claims of Turkish inteference in domestic politics are a recurring theme. Long a signature issue for Bulgarian nationalist politicians, reports about the role of Ankara in seeking to intervene in the March elections were headline-makers and led to tensions between Sofia and Ankara.
In the March elections, alleged interference by Ankara – reportedly to favour Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party – led to nationalists protesting at the Turkish border in a bid to block buses carrying voters into Bulgaria, and later to a highly controversial proposal to strip Bulgarian passport-holders not resident in the country of their constitutional voting rights.
President Roumen Radev spoke on the topic and was reported to be behind the proposal for a domicile requirement for Bulgarians to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections. Radev in turn was criticised by his predecessor, Rossen Plevneliev, for focusing solely on Turkey when – according to Plevneliev – other countries including Russia, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia sought to interfere in Bulgarian politics.
Gökçe did not want to comment on Radev’s statement that Turkey is not a democratic state, saying that it was not the job of an ambassador to make political speeches.
“The largest number of votes of Bulgarian citizens abroad really comes from Turkey. However, the number of polling stations is deliberately limited in order to force those people to go to vote in another country. Do you think this is a modern way to solve these issues?” Gökçe said.
In 2016, Bulgaria’s National Assembly amended electoral law to impose a limit of 35 polling stations in non-European Union countries. Proposed by nationalist politicians, the move was seen as directed against Bulgarian citizens in Turkey.
In the interview, Gökçe was asked to comment on the referendum held in Turkey as well as the passing of full power into the hands of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey’s ambassador said that the referendum was successful and he did not agree with criticism that the election had not been conducted fairly.
“There were more than 175 000 district committees in Turkey. There were more than a million representatives and observers who were nominated by all political parties. About three-quarters of them were from the opposition parties, which is a huge number,” Gökçe said.
“I personally do not see any problem. I visited such a district committee and saw about 15 people from all political parties and independent observers who have the primary responsibility to control and observe everything,” he said.
Asked whether the death penalty would be brought back in Turkey, he said there are political aspects he does not want to comment on. Gökçe asked why Bulgaria is interested.
“It would be a shame if Europe pushed Turkey away, thanks to a wrong policy and arrogance. To call a democratically-elected leader a dictator and arrogant is absolute stupidity,” he said.
Asked what kind of questions he would ask the future prime minister of Bulgaria, Gökçe said he would want leadership shown for the good of bilateral relations.
“Do not follow populist pressures. The real issues that are of concern to Bulgarian citizens are very different: Bulgaria is a wonderful country, we appreciate and support your prosperity and stability, the problem is all this pollution and contamination with negativity – it has become a national hobby,” Gökçe said.
Currently, negotiations are underway between Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party and the nationalist United Patriots on the formation of a coalition government to be headed by Borissov.
On April 13, GERB and the United Patriots made public the policies on which they had agreed, in a 21-page document posted online. On foreign policy, the document says that this will be guided by pragmatic pursuit of the national interest and non-interference in the internal affairs of Bulgaria.
Gökçe previously has been the subject of calls by nationalist politicians for his expulsion from Bulgaria. In January 2016, he was handed a note by the Foreign Ministry about his conduct during the controversy over the expulsion of Mestan as leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and on March 7 2017, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry after Turkish cabinet minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu was reported to have made a public call to Bulgarian citizens in Turkey to vote for Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party.