The Forgotten 1989 Ethnic Cleansing of Bulgaria’s Turks

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


In the summer of 1989, the Bulgarian communist regime seeking to prop up its rapidly waning legitimacy played the ethno national card by expelling 360,000 Turks and Muslims across the Iron Curtain to Turkey. It was the single largest ethnic cleansing during the Cold War period in Europe after the wrapping up the postwar ‘transfers’ (that is, expulsions as approved at the Potsdam Conference) of ethnic Germans from Central Europe at the turn of the 1950s. Furthermore, this expulsion of Turks and Muslims from Bulgaria was the sole ethnic cleansing that breached the Iron Curtain. The 1989 ethnic cleansing (ironically known as the ‘Big Excursion’), after the collapse of the Bulgarian communist regime in late 1989, was followed by an unprecedented return of almost half of the expellees to Bulgaria. The return, which partially reversed the effects of this ethnic cleansing, was the first-ever of its kind. Despite the unprecedented character of this 1989 expulsion and the subsequent return, not a single research article, let alone a monograph, has been devoted to these events. This study aspires to start filling in the gaping lacuna through giving an overview of the ethnic cleansing and the return through the lens of the international Anglophone press. Besides calling for a wide international probe into this ethnic cleansing, I conclude by offering a reflection on how this tragic event shaped today’s Bulgaria, and how the persisting attempts to suppress the remembrance of the 1989 expulsion sharply divide Bulgarian society nowadays. The yet unhealed conflict also brushes off negatively onto the country’s relations with Turkey and the European Union.

Research Seminar, Central and East European Studies, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland.
Period9 Dec 2015
Held atUNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, United Kingdom


  • Bulgarian Turks
  • 1989 Ethnic Cleansing
  • End of Communism
  • Cold War
  • Turkey
  • Bulgaria
  • NATO
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Post-Yugoslav wars