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The Irony in Turkey's Criticism of Bulgaria

VIOLATION of the human rights of the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria has attracted attention in the international press in the last few weeks, and rightly so. When more than 1 million people are denied the use of their language, culture, and religion, the rest of us should not remain apathetic spectators. The communist regime in Sofia has decreed laws that make it illegal to use the Turkish language and Turkish names. According to the same laws, Turkish schools will be closed down, and mosques will have the same fate. The government is trying to assimilate its Turkish minority by eliminating cultural symbols they can identify with.

The Turkish premier, Turgut Ozal, was outraged by the deportation of 70,000 ethnic Turks from Bulgaria and by the seemingly indifferent reaction of his Western allies. Buy his outrage over what he sees as a double standard for Turks and others who suffer human-rights abuses is ironic, to say the least.

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Turkish governments have one of the worst human-rights records in the world, dating back to the early 1900s and the slaughter of Turkey's Armenian minority.

The current Turkish government, which wants to portray itself as sensitive on human rights, has compiled a shameful record. The international outcry over the Turkish crackdown on the Kurdish ethnic minority in Turkey calmed down only when Iraq was found to treat the Kurds even worse. Teaching and writing in Kurdish has been strictly forbidden by the Turkish authorities since 1924.

Since 1974, Turkey has been employing measures on Cyprus similar to those Bulgaria is using against its Turkish citizens. In 1974, Turkey, a nation of almost 50 million, invaded Cyprus, an island country of 600,000. Turkish troops continue to occupy 37 percent of Cyprus' territory. Two hundred thousand Greek-Cypriots have become refugees in their own country, and 1,619 people - mostly Greek Cypriots - are still missing in action.

Mr. Ozal's government has demanded that the Bulgarians allow the 300,000 ethnic Turks who want to leave Bulgaria ``to retain their money and receive fair compensation for their property.'' Since 1974, Turkish governments not only denied the Greek-Cypriots the fundamental right to visit their homes and villages, but arbitrarily decided to distribute Greek-Cypriot properties to Turks brought to the island to change its demographic character.

The government in Sofia has ruled it illegal to operate a mosque in Bulgaria. In Cyprus, Christian Orthodox churches in the north of the island have not only been closed down, they have been vandalized and demolished. Icons and other Christian pieces are being sold by Turks in Western markets.

For the last month, an Indianapolis court has heard arguments in a case of ``stolen and plundered religious treasures'' from Cyprus. The religious treasures involved in the case are the four sections of mosaics from the Christian Orthodox church of the Virgin of Kanakaria in Lythragomi, a village in Cyprus occupied by the Turkish armed forces. The Kanakaria mosaics were sold to an American art dealer by a Turkish citizen who claims to have had written permission from the Turkish-Cypriot authorities.

Even more ironic, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash, has invited the ethnic Turks of Bulgaria to come and settle in Cyprus. Although the Turkish government has denied such a possibility, Turkish-Cypriot newspapers are still speculating on the location of such a settlement in the island.

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The Turkish government, with the assistance of the recently hired British advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, is trying to improve its human-rights image. The Ozal government is reported to be considering closing the border with Bulgaria to prevent more ethnic Turks from coming because of the economic problems they present. This may indicate Turkey is more concerned with its human-rights record than the welfare of Bulgaria's Turks.

Turkey will need to do more than hire an advertising agency to improve its human-rights image. The treatment of the Kurdish minority in Turkey and the violations of human rights and international law in Cyprus by Turkey cannot be corrected with public relations offensives. As far as the ethnic Turks of Bulgaria are concerned, the government in Ankara seems more concerned with scoring PR points rather than helping these victims of Bulgarian chauvinism.

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