By Georgi Gotev
(EurActiv) – Three Bulgarian municipalities will not receive European Union (EU) funding under the cross-border cooperation programs between Bulgaria and Turkey. The reason is that Turkey bans partnerships with municipalities who recognize the Armenian Genocide.
The Bulgarian municipalities of Burgas, Haskovo, and Svilengrad do not stand a chance to receive EU money because of obstructions by Turkey, a non-EU member state, the Bulgarian public TV channel bTV announced on March 14.
The ban comes from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which prohibits working with municipalities who recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when hundreds of thousands of Christian Armenians died during forced removals by the Ottoman army from what is now Eastern Turkey.
As Bulgarian municipalities are unable to find a Turkish partner to implement joint projects, they are bound to lose several millions of euros. The most important projects concern the environment, for the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters.
For Bulgaria, the issue constitutes both a diplomatic and economic scandal. During every winter in the region of Haskovo, rivers destroy bridges and dams, as well as villages. The local government lacks the resources to do preventative work. That’s why it was counting on the EU-funded regional partnership with the Turkish municipality of Edirne to do the necessary work. But now the project is dead because Turkey reneged on cooperating.
The Mayor of Edirne, Recep Gürkan, is quoted as saying that the decision of the Turkish Foreign Ministry is final.
“With Haskovo we worked very well, but we already have a ban from our Foreign Ministry. The reason is a decision of the Municipal Council of Haskovo from last year, who used the motif of the Armenian Genocide to name a park in the city,” Gürkan said.
Declarations condemning the Armenian Genocide, adopted by the municipal councils of Bourgas and Svilengrad, have put these municipalities on Turkey’s black list. The Bulgarian Environment Ministry was informed of the case.
Speaking to bTV, Gürkan advised the Bulgarian municipalities to vote again. If the municipal council of Haskovo rescind using the Armenian Genocide as a motif for naming a park, cooperation can start again, he said. It has already been done in the Bulgarian municipality of Yambol.
“Nobody can interfere (with) how we will name a street or a park,” retorted the Mayor of Haskovo, Dobri Belivanov.
Before prohibiting Edirne to work with these communities on projects, Turkey formally ended diplomatic relations with their mayors. With Haskovo, for example, the twinning was frozen.
Brussels can’t do anything
Apparently, the EU can only stop the financing because trans-border projects require a partner in the neighboring country. Therefore, the risk that the Bulgarian municipalities would lose EU funding because of the political games played by Ankara is real, bTV reports.
Turkish-Bulgarian relations have deteriorated in recent years. Bulgaria declared that a Turkish diplomat working at the Consulate General in Burgas is considered a persona non-grata. A government source said the Turkish diplomat carried out activities which breach the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Moreover, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Daniel Mitov, recently said that Ankara needs to decide whether or not it wants to keep its ambassador in Sofia.