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Türkiye, biggest country in region, has big role to play: Former Bulgarian Premier Petkov

Kiril Petkov, Bulgaria’s former prime minister, said he believes that “Türkiye, being the biggest country in the region, has a big role to play.”

Speaking to Anadolu, the co-chair of the We Continue the Change (PP) Party Petkov, who served as the prime minister in 2021-2022, highlighted Türkiye’s efforts on the grain corridor and the demining of the Black Sea.

“We have over 300,000 people in Türkiye that can vote. The best way for Türkiye, for the Bulgarian Turks in Türkiye and for their relatives on the other side of the border is Bulgaria to be stable, Bulgaria to be democratic, Bulgaria to have institutions and the poor populations of the rural areas in Bulgaria with Bulgarian Turks to be thriving,” Petkov said.

He also emphasized that in the nearly two years they were in power, they achieved success in the fight against poverty and in the judiciary.

The birth rate in Bulgaria increased and 42,000 people from abroad returned to Bulgaria, Petkov also noted, adding that this was thanks to the policies they implemented.

‘We would never send soldiers or human power to Ukraine’

Petkov said the Russia-Ukraine war started in the first months of his term as prime minister, during a difficult period, recalling that they were one of the countries that provided the biggest aid to Ukraine, sending ammunition coming from the UK and the US, as well as hosting 300,000 people fleeing the war.

“So many Bulgarians have brought with the idea that Russia is the big brother to Bulgaria,” Petkov noted, saying that his support for Ukraine during his premiership made people in Bulgaria uncomfortable because of traditional ties with Russia.

Emphasizing that he believes he did the right thing by helping Ukraine, Petkov said: “If Ukraine loses, the next in line is us.”

“So, I think we have to fight for the freedom of Europe. Now, there is a red line for me that I would not cross, even supporting. We would never send soldiers or human power to Ukraine. But if we can help them with ammunition, we’re happy to do it,” he further said.

‘My grandparents were also in labor camps during communism’

Regarding the assimilation policies and concentration camps against Turks and Muslims until 1989 by the communist elites who came to power in 1944, Petkov reminded that the Bulgarian regime of the time changed people’s names and deported them from the country, noting: “My grandparents were also in the labor camps during communism.”

Regarding the punishment of those responsible, Petkov said: “When we have a normal working court, what we have realized is that many governments have changed. We’ve become part of the EU. We’ve become part of NATO.

“But the system of the prosecutor’s office, of the courts, is still the old one. And that’s our fight.”

Nikolai Denkov, who assumed the post of prime minister for nine months until March 2024 under the agreement between the GERB party and the PP-DB alliance, pointed to the situation of Turks in Bulgaria and said that despite some success stories, the regions where Turks live are underinvested and that they tried to fix this during their time in power.

“The official figures show that inequality in the regions, inequality in the people is reduced in the last several years which was not the case before that,” said Denkov.

About the concentration camps where opponents of the system, especially Muslim Turks, were tortured and the Belene Concentration Camp, where a commemoration for the victims was organized recently, he said: “What we did in the last parliament for example was to support the idea to ease the procedures, the conditions for retirement of the people that suffered from this regime.

“So this was accepted by all the leading parties in the parliament. We had another decision like that before that so the people that suffered to be compensated as much as possible in these times.”

Bulgaria’s judicial system not working properly

Denkov continued: “Unfortunately in Bulgaria we couldn’t resolve the problem with those that actually did these acts and it was not only for the Turks, it was also for the other Bulgarian dissidents. And this is something that we couldn’t solve. So, this is something that we didn’t succeed and it was not specific for your case, it was in general.”

Stating that the judicial system in Bulgaria is not working properly, Denkov said this is not only related to Turks.

“The conflict line should remain as far away from the EU and NATO members as possible.”

On Türkiye-Bulgaria relations, he said: “I can say that we worked extremely well and we work extremely well with Turkey in all the aspects of our bilateral relations. I will start for example with the migration problems at the border.

“So we had a very good collaboration. And we decreased significantly the flow of migrants across the land border.”

On the grain corridor to carry Ukrainian grain, Denkov underscored: “The second, we worked very well with Türkiye on one side and Romania on the other side to secure the corridor. But also in the integration of our NATO forces in the eastern flank at the Black Sea. So, we signed the contract for the mine cleaning. And it was quite a positive joint effort. So, all this is giving a confidence that we can work together.”

Speaking about the possibility of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war spreading to Europe, Denkov said all European politicians are aware of the need for caution in this regard.

Ukraine should be supported, he noted, adding: “Some of them (politicians) say give everything to Russia that they want, the Russian leaders, and the war will stop. And I personally don’t believe in this.”

Referring to speeches by Russian politicians on Moscow’s aspirations to “expand,” Denkov said: “So, I do think we have to be strong, we have to be tough, so that the line of the conflict should stay as far away as possible from the European Union, from the NATO members, and that’s why we have to support Ukraine. I’m convinced in this.”