Ethnic cleansing during the Cold War: the forgotten 1989 expulsion of Turks from communist Bulgaria

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In the summer of 1989, the Bulgarian communist regime seeking to prop up its rapidly waning legitimacy played the ethnonational 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’ (or in reality, the expulsions as approved at the Potsdam Conference) of ethnic Germans from Central Europe by the turn of the 1950s. Furthermore, this expulsion of Turks and Muslims from Bulgaria was the sole act of ethnic cleansing that breached the Iron Curtain. The 1989 ethnic cleansing (ironically known as the ‘Big Excursion’), was followed by an unprecedented return of almost half of the expellees to Bulgaria, after the collapse of the Bulgarian communist regime in late 1989. 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 lacuna through giving an overview of the ethnic cleansing and of the return of expelees through the lens of the international Anglophone press, but also with the use of Bulgarian, German, Polish, Turkish and Yugoslav (that is, Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian) newspapers. 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 negatively affects the country’s relations with Turkey and the European Union. It seems that the only way out of this debilitating conundrum is establishing a truth and reconciliation commission that at long last would ensure transitional justice for all Bulgarians irrespective of language, religion or ethnicity.

Keywords: 1989, Bulgaria, ‘Big Excursion,’ conflict resolution, ethnic cleansing, expulsion of Turks and Muslims from Bulgaria to Turkey, lieu de mémoire, peace studies, right to homeland, Turkey

Number of words: 135,000

Tentative date of publication: late 2018
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon; New York, NY
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages274
ISBN (Electronic)9781351062701
ISBN (Print)9781138480520, 9780367588564
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Modern European History


  • Turkey
  • Bulgaria
  • Ethnic cleanisng
  • Cold War
  • Turks
  • Bulgarians
  • Nationalism
  • Islam
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Communism
  • Soviet bloc
  • Peace studies
  • lieu de mémoire


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