By Georgi Gotev
Three Bulgarian municipalities will not receive EU funding under the cross-border cooperation programs between Bulgaria and Turkey. The reason is that Turkey bans partnerships with municipalities who recognise the Armenian genocide.
The Bulgarian municipalities of Burgas, Haskovo and Svilengrad stand no chance to receive EU money, because of obstructions by Turkey, a non-EU member state, the Bulgarian public TV channel bTV announced yesterday (14 March).
The ban comes from the Turkish foreign ministry, which prohibits working with municipalities who recognise 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. In the region of Haskovo, every winter, rivers destroy bridges and dams, and flood villages. 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 required 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. And he added that the Bulgarian municipality of Yambol had done precisely that.
“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.
Apparently the EU can only stop the financing, because trans-border projects require a partner in the neighbouring country. Therefore the risk that the Bulgarian municipalities would lose EU funding because of the political games played by Ankara is real, bTV reports.