Davutoğlu warns Bulgaria over compensation demands

Davutoğlu warns Bulgaria over compensation demands

January 06, 2010, Wednesday/ 16:18:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
Turkey warned yesterday that Bulgaria's reported demands for compensation for displaced people in the early 20th century might harm bilateral ties and questioned the legitimacy of the Bulgarian calls, saying Turks suffered as much as Bulgarians during that period of history.

“The continuation of Turkish-Bulgarian friendship is in the interests of both countries. It is of utmost benefit to refrain from statements that could harm this friendship,” said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at a joint press conference with his visiting Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim. He said Turkey and Bulgaria have been discussing issues relevant to the mass transfers of Turks and Bulgarians during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. A Bulgarian cabinet minister who runs the country's Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Bojidar Dimitrov, said in remarks published on Sunday that Turkey should pay billions of dollars for the property Bulgarian refugees left behind in Turkey.

Dimitrov suggested there would be consequences in Turkey’s bid to join the European Union if Turkey refuses to pay the compensation. “Turkey is surely able to pay this sum; after all, it’s the 16th largest economic power in the world,” he told Bulgarian newspaper 24 Hours, putting a price of $20 billion (€14 billion) on the settlement. “One of the three conditions of Turkey’s full membership of the EU is solving the problem of the abandoned real estate of Thracian refugees.”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke to reporters at a joint press conference with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, following talks in Ankara.

Turkey, Brazil to draft plan for strategic cooperation

The Turkish and Brazilian governments have agreed to prepare an action plan to build strategic cooperation between their countries, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced yesterday after talks with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim.

“I believe that Turkey-Brazil relations could make a major contribution to global and regional peace,” Davutoğlu said at a joint press conference, adding that the proposed strategic plan would serve efforts to expand cooperation between the two countries. There was no information immediately available about the content of the plan, but Amorim suggested that it would be similar to deals Brazil already has in place with Argentina, France, China and Spain. He said Brazil wanted to expand cooperation in the fields of economy and trade and to intensify political dialogue.

Davutoğlu noted that there was no problem in economic and political ties between Turkey and Brazil and added that bilateral relations have improved significantly over the last several years in both regional and global issues. Turkey and Brazil, said the minister, work together in the UN Security Council, and Brazil has made significant contributions to the Alliance of Civilizations project. The minister added that the two countries shared the same perspective on many global matters including climate change and the nuclear issue.

Amorim attended a business meeting in Ankara on Monday. When asked to comment on prospects for Brazilian state oil company Petrobras to explore for oil in southeastern Anatolia, he said it would be up to Petrobras to decide, saying the company plans its actions on the basis of a commercial assessment of feasibility.

Petrobras and the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) are jointly conducting an oil drilling operation in the Black Sea. The Leiv Eiriksson, one of the biggest oil drilling platforms in the world, arrived in the Black Sea this week as part of the ultra-deep drilling project. Ankara Today’s Zaman 

Speaking to Internet news portal EUobserver, an official in the Bulgarian government press office, Veselin Ninov, confirmed on Monday that Dimitrov’s statement reflects government policy and that the dispute is being handled by a Bulgarian-Turkish intergovernmental working group. Ninov mentioned a different sum, however. “This is a matter of official government policy. There is a contract between the two parties, dated 1925. This is an official contract, so, according to the contracting parties, the Turkish government must repay $10 billion to $12 billion to the Bulgarian refugees,” he told EUobserver. He also said that the issue was historical, not political.

Bulgaria claims Turkey must pay the sum under a 1925 treaty, under which it recognized the rights of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian refugees who left Thrace in 1913. According to Bulgaria, this agreement has never been implemented.

Davutoğlu, however, disputed the Bulgarian claims, saying Turks living in today’s Bulgaria also had to leave their homes and property behind while migrating to Turkey. “There were nearly 2 million Turks who had to immigrate to Turkey,” he said, emphasizing that the issue should be discussed extensively and on a rational basis.

He added that Turkey would continue to work with its neighbors to improve cooperation. The dispute could lead to further complications in Turkey’s already troubled EU bid. Asked if Bulgaria is ready to veto progress in EU-Turkey negotiations because of the dispute, Ninov said: “There is such an option. But this is just one of many other conditions of Bulgarian support for Turkish membership. There are also issues relating to energy and water management projects.”

Turkey opened accession negotiations with the EU in 2005 but progress has been limited since then. Talks on eight of the 35 chapters were suspended due to the Cyprus problem. France, which opposes Turkish full membership, and Greek Cyprus, which pressures the EU for sanctions on Turkey because of its refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes, also unilaterally block a total of 10 chapters, leaving only a few chapters left open for negotiations.

Davutoğlu also said there has been no official request from Bulgaria for the compensation of Bulgarian refugees under the 1925 treaty.

“There are no official attempts in this regard. It is in both countries’ interests that Turkey-Bulgaria relations, which constitute a very good model, remain the way they are,” the foreign minister said.

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