Turkey, Bulgaria expel respective diplomats for ‘interference in domestic affairs’
SOFIA / ANKARA
Turkey has retaliated to Sofia’s decision to declare a Turkish diplomat “persona non grata” by expelling Bulgarian consul Zornitsa Petrova Apostolova, causing both diplomats to leave their posts in the latest indication of heightened tensions between the neighbors following Turkey’s rift with Russia over the downing of a Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a diplomatic note to its Turkish counterpart, demanding Turkish attaché Uğur Emiroğlu leaves his post at the Burgaz Consulate Generale, accusing the diplomat of interfering with Bulgaria’s domestic affairs.
Bulgarian press reported on Feb. 21 that Emiroğlu, an official from Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), was declared “persona non grata” for engaging in activities in the religious sphere, although his task was to work in social services. European Union news website EurActiv quoted diplomatic sources and alleged Emiroğlu’s activities in Bulgaria were deemed “incompatible with his diplomatic status,” although the nature of the activities was not specified.
Meanwhile, Focus news agency claimed the administration in Sofia was disturbed by Emiroğlu’s relations with the Muslim minority in Bulgaria. According to allegations, Emiroğlu had been putting pressure on the minority to extend their support to Bulgarian politician Lütfi Mestan, who was ousted from his post as leader of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish party on Dec. 25, 2015, after declaring his support for Turkey in its row with Moscow over the downing of a Russian fighter jet.
Reliable sources familiar with the issue briefly confirmed that Emiroğlu was declared persona non grata by Bulgaria. Bulgarian officials cited Emiroğlu’s activities which didn’t comply with his diplomatic status as the reason, the sources said. Yet, Turkish officials have argued that such reasoning was “groundless,” the same sources based in Ankara told Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 23. Bulgaria’s move prompted Ankara to take a counteraction by declaring Apostolova persona on grata, the sources said.
As Sofia declined to retreat from its original position despite Ankara’s denial of the accusations, Turkey retaliated by declaring a Bulgarian diplomat “persona non grata.”
Apostolova, who was on duty at Bulgaria’s consulate general in Istanbul, was asked to leave Turkish territory, resulting in a situation where both diplomats were expelled from their respective duty stations.
The situation is indicative of the growing rift between Ankara and Sofia over the latter’s unique position in mainstream Europe for having close relations with Moscow despite being a member of the European Union and part of the NATO alliance.