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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1631

Senator MISSEN(1.09) —I rise in this debate on matters of public interest to raise a question which I think should be better known to members of the public in Australia and on which there have been some developments in this Parliament which I think are important. In particular, I refer to the complaints that are made by members of the Turkish community in Australia at the sufferings undergone by Turkish minorities in Bulgaria. Bulgaria is not a country that we have a great deal to do with, but is perhaps appropriate that we should be dealing with this matter today in view of the fact that today a very significant trial is opening in Rome in which charges are made against the Bulgarians in respect of the attack some years ago on the Pope.

The attitude of the Bulgarian Government on questions of human rights leaves a great deal to be desired and is one which I believe should be exposed on every possible occasion by the representatives of this country. In particular, the Amnesty organisation of this Parliament has received complaints from the representative of the Bulgarian-Turkish Association of Victoria, namely Dr Mehmet Alev. He supplied graphic detail-I must admit, I was not aware of it-of what he has described as 'cultural' genocide in Bulgaria against the Turkish minority. When one considers that there are something like one million people of Turkish derivation in Bulgaria, about one-third of the population, and that they are suffering in the way that he has described, it is, I think, a matter of extreme importance. I know that this is not the only place in Europe where this is happening. I know that in the Hungarian parts of Romania there are complaints of a similar kind, but this appears to be of a greater degree.

Senator Peter Baume —Armenia in 1915.

Senator MISSEN —In Armenia in 1915, of course, people were wiped out to a very great degree in the Ukraine in 1933-1935 a process of famine induced by government activity caused the destruction of people. But the same thing is happening now in Bulgaria. I have spoken to the Minister about two documents I seek to incorporate in Hansard, Dr Mehmet Alev made some general complaints: One is that there is an attempt to wipe out the cultural status of the people who are in this minority in Bulgaria. It is an attempt to destroy the Turkish language and the literature that exist in the area. Likewise in respect to education, the facilities which were available to people to study a Turkish language have been, since 1968, entirely abolished. Furthermore, all Turkish cultural and religious organisations have been closed down and their buildings demolished. It is also illegal to practice traditional Turkish customs now in that country. So that the further details can be appreciated by those who read this speech, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard Dr Mehmet's letter and statement he has supplied on the genocide in Bulgaria against the Turkish minority.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Bulgarian Turkish Association of Australia,

14 Clonaig Street,

Brighton, Victoria, 3187

Telephone: (03) 596-6296

2 April, 1985

The Honourable A. S. Missen


Parliament Offices

400 Flinders Street

Melbourne 3000

Dear Sir, I wish to draw attention to the inhuman acts of the Bulgarian Government towards the one million Turkish minority which is one third of the Bulgarian population.

I enclose some information about the latest developments in this area which shows current policy of genocide of the Bulgarian Government.

In the name of humanity, we request your urgent attention and quick action to stop the genocide in Bulgaria.

Yours sincerely, Dr. Mehmet Alev President Bulgarian Turkish Association of Victoria

Bulgarian Turkish Association of Australia

14 Clonaig Street

Brighton, Victoria 3187

Telephone: (03) 596 6296


There are over one million ethnic Turks residing in Bulgaria. Presently these Turks are living through the most critical period of their lives. In an attempt to abolish their national and cultural identity, the Bulgarian government is following a policy of genocide.

Today the Bulgarian Turkish minority have been deprived of their fundamental rights and liberties. The Turkish community has been robbed of the following:

(1) The use of Turkish language has been prohibited.

(2) Turkish literature, such as books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading material are no longer made available.

(3) Since 1968, the availability of the Turkish language in the education system has been abolished.

(4) Furthermore, all Turkish cultural and religious organisations have been closed down, and their buildings demolished. It is also illegal to practice traditional Turkish customs.

As if these induced changes were not enough, the Bulgarian government has more recently completed ''THE NAME CHANGE OPERATION''. The names of over one million Turks have been altered to Bulgarian names. Those who refused to change their Turkish names have been subjected to torture, imprisonment, and, worst of all, death, by the Bulgarian authorities. For example, in the district of Momcilgrat, 55 were killed, and in the province of Kircali, 160. In Varna, Plovdiv, Sumen, and Razgirat, the death toll is over 800. Their only guilt was to be Turkish and to have Turkish names.

These actions carried out by the Bulgarian government are the most degrading and inhumane means of wiping off the records of a minority group. These barbaric actions are also the lowest form of oppression one human being can impose on another, depriving him of his dignity and basic freedom of choice.

The aim of the Bulgarian authorities is clear. They intend to create a country where there is no room for other minorities. This is a racist policy, and an example of which we have not seen since Adolf Hitler.

Is it a crime to retain one's native language, traditional customs, and, simplest of all, their names?

Article 55, Section (C), of the United Nations Charter states that its members should be respectful of the fundamental rights and liberties of all people, irrespective of their race, colour, and sex. Although Bulgaria is a member of the United Nations, it is not complying and fulfilling its responsibilities toward ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria was dominated by the Turks for 500 years. During this period the Turks had never attempted to change their names, interfere with their language, cultural and religious practices. If it had been otherwise, there would be no Bulgaria today. In contrast, the Bulgarian government, over a short period of 30 years, is trying to eliminate the one million Turkish minority, which is one ninth of Bulgaria's population.

In the name of humanity, the Bulgarian Turkish Association of Australia invites the Australian government and all the members of Parliament to view the latest tragic incidents in Bulgaria, which are affecting the Turkish minority, and to voice protest regarding the inhumane actions of the Bulgarian government. We also request that the Australian government bring this issue before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Dr. Mehmet Alev, President

Bulgarian Turkish Association of Australia

Senator MISSEN —As will be seen from that record, the situation is extremely serious, particularly the attempt to destroy the names of people. This goes rather further than most countries have gone insofar as there has been a forced name change by the Bulgarian Government. Over a million Turks have had their names altered to Bulgarian names. Those who have resisted this have been killed. Examples are given in the letter of the numbers of them who have been killed because of their resistance to this move. This, I think, is a particularly dramatic and unfortunate circumstance. As a result of receiving this letter, I wrote, as Chairman of the parliamentary Amnesty group, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and, though there has been some delay, I am now pleased to see that I have had a reply. It is dated 8 May 1985 and it comes from Mr I. M. Hutchens of the Public Affairs Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I seek leave to incorporate that letter in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-


8 May 1985 85.114.00 558/36/2/11

Senator Alan Missen,

Senator for Victoria,

Commonwealth Parliament Offices,

400 Flinders Street,

Melbourne, Vic. 3000

Dear Senator Missen, As has already been explained to your office, your letter of 11 April to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the situation of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria was not received in time to meet your deadline. I do regret this, and now respond in Mr Hayden's absence. As requested in your letter, departmental representatives present at meetings of the Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International will also be able to provide additional information on this issue.

The Government has been closely monitoring the situation through its embassies in the region. In addition, detailed information similar to that which you have received was in February provided to Departments in Canberra by a delegation from the Bulgarian-Turkish Association.

The Government does not accept the claim made by the Bulgarian authorities that such acts of Bulgarianisation as the changing of individuals' names are ''spontaneous and voluntary''. It entertains few doubts that the Turkish minority is being subjected to the denial of its cultural rights in the most crude form, and that the Bulgarian Government's aim is to strip it of its ethnic identity. The present repression is an intensification of a long-standing campaign which contravenes not only normally accepted standards of human rights, but provisions of a number of UN Human Rights instruments to which Bulgaria is a party.

The Australian Ambassador to Bulgaria has expressed Australia's concern to the Bulgarian Government. We will continue to monitor the situation and will make further representations as appropriate. Moreover, should the government assess that to do so would assist the victims of such violations, it will consider raising the matter in appropriate United Nations' bodies in line with its policy of condemning human rights violations wherever they might occur.

Yours sincerely, I. H. Hutchens Public Affairs Branch

Senator MISSEN —That is an encouraging response to the problem. The Government has been aware of this information for a short period and has been inquiring of our representatives abroad and also elsewhere. The Government is monitoring the matter and has made a strong protest to the Bulgarian authorities. As the letter says, the Government quite clearly rejects the claim that such acts of Bulgarianisation as the changing of individuals' names are, according to the Bulgarian authorities 'spontaneous and voluntary'. It entertains few doubts that the Turkish minority is being subjected to denial of its cultural rights in the most crude form and that the Bulgarian Government's aim is to strip it of its ethnic identity. It is important to realise that the Australian Ambassador to Bulgaria has expressed Australia's abhorrence of and concern in this matter and that the Government is continuing to press its representations there.

In the letter is a general statement that we will proceed in our United Nations activities to take the matter further. I point out to honourable senators present that this is clearly a breach of what is recognised by all countries under the United Nations Charter as being essential to human liberty. Article 55 of that Charter states:

With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples the United Nations shall promote: universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Clearly, in a general sense and quite apart from the ways in which it is set out in further covenants which have been prepared by the United Nations to which we and the Bulgarian Government are signatories, it is necessary to observe that discrimination against people by reason of their race is abhorrent to the world. In fact it is racist in the extreme and calls for the greatest condemnation from our country and from other democratic nations. I trust that we will as a nation use our membership of the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations as a vehicle whereby we can make very clear and loud our complaint about this conduct. Things like this must be known in the world. They clearly have not been well enough known among Australians. We have very few dealings with Bulgaria and it is important that we, as one of the democratic countries, should make it very clear that we find this situation intolerable and suggest that it should stop.

I raise this matter today, believing that it is important to this country and to the Turkish people who live in this country, who are terrified by this attack upon the minority of their people in Bulgaria. It is a very big and important minority. It is interesting that in the 500 years in which Turkey controlled Bulgaria, no attempt was made to do this sort of thing. No attempt was made to destroy the culture, the records and the names of the people who were of Bulgarian extraction. Yet in the last 30 years or so when the tables have been turned this is happening. If this is progress in the world one wonders what worse things are in store for us. I hope that we in Australia will vehemently support what has been done by the Australian Government to date, and that the Australian Government will take the matter further so that our voice is heard in protest against this genocide by the Government of Bulgaria.