Ahmet Dođan, founder and long standing leader of Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party, the majority of whose members and supporters are composed of the Turks in Bulgaria, survived an assassination attempt on Saturday (January 19, 2013). The event occurred during the Party’s national congress, set to elect the new party leader. Dođan was delivering his speech and was about to announce his retreat from the active leadership of MRF. Suddenly, the assaulter walked on the stage and pointed the gun to Dođan. Fortunately, no shoot fired and Dođan was rescued unharmed.
As the Sofia police reported, the assaulter, Oktay Enimemehmedov, is a 25-year-old resident of Burgas, student in Sofia and was present as a delegate at the congress. He has crime record for possession of drugs, theft and hooliganism. According to Bulgarian Interior Ministry Psychology Unit head Nedelcho Stoychev, he left a letter in his apartment for his mother apologizing for not completing his education and saying that he was likely to be killed. What is strange is that although the attack was real, the gun was mock with no real bullets in it, only charged with blank cartridges. As the police identified, he used an Ekol Volga which is a non-lethal self-defence weapon that can also be used in shooting practice. However, it may seriously injure when it is fired at close distance. In the incident, he was directly pointed on Dođan’s face. Luckily, the unfortunate event claimed no lives.
Who is responsible?
Immediately after the incident, different scenarios appeared at the Bulgarian media. Some argue that this event is a conspiracy organized by the political rivals of Ahmet Dođan to eliminate him from the political arena. For a long time, Dođan has been under severe criticism for chairing the MRF since its foundation in 1990, nearly 23 years. This long-standing leadership, not surprisingly, created a discomfort among some parts of society, including the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. The political elites of MRF has been accused of corruption and diverging from the party objectives set at the outset. Over and above, the incumbent ruling elite in the party is criticized for creating ‘‘iron oligarchy’’ within the party structure. It is for sure that providing the integrity and entirety of votes is quite an important concern for diaspora politics, but the transparency and inclusiveness is of no less importance. For this reason, some segments of Turks in Bulgaria demand refreshment and revitalization within MRF.
Others claim that, it might have been masterminded as a show-off. In fact, Ahmet Dođan lives in a relatively isolated and intensely secured environment. He has his own security guards in addition to official protection provided by the National Security Service -which is a Bulgarian state agency devoted to guard senior Bulgarian statesmen and politicians who are believed to be under threat. On the other hand, the assaulter used a gas pistol and it signs that he did not really want to kill Dođan. As a result, the supporters of this view claim, the incident is organized by the MRF to provide intra-party consolidation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, this argument is far from being convincing because no one in MRF can bear the consequences in case the reality comes to light. Both in Turkey and Bulgaria, top state institutions including Presidency Office, Foreign Ministry and Prime Ministry Office, are closely following the process and officially asked for transparent investigation regarding the incident. If it is proven that it is a fake assassination, the consequences would be sensational for both Ahmet Dođan and MRF.
Role of MRF in Bulgarian politics
Ahmed Dođan was a key figure in achieving inter-ethnic compromise in Bulgaria since the early 1990s. In 1985, he was among the founders of the Turkish National Freedom Movement that forcefully reacted against the so called "Revival Process", an official assimilation campaign lead by the Bulgarian Communist Party to assimilate Turks of Bulgaria to adopt Slavic names, forbidding Turkish language, restricting all religious freedoms. Dođan took part in protests against assimilation process and headed the Movement in 1986. Hundreds of Turks, who attended the protest in different cities over the country and violated the bans, were either jailed in the prison or sent to Belene camp. After the fall of Communism in November 1989, he and many others were released. They formed MRF to advocate the rights Turks in Bulgaria. In a short period of time, MRF was strongly backed by Turks and turned into a key stakeholder in Bulgarian politics. Since the fall of Communist regime in Bulgaria, it became active at all levels of government, as the leader of MRF, Ahmet Dođan has been a member of every parliamentary term, and this guaranteed not only the rights and freedoms of Turks in Bulgaria but also tranquillity in the country.
Ahmet Dođan and MRF’s record, however, is not only composed of the achievements in the eyes of Turks in Bulgaria. The critiques argue that MRF is not active enough in protecting and promoting the rights of Turks despite the opportunities available to the party. For example, MRF was a part of coalition government during the EU candidateship period. In 2001, they formed a government with the National Movement "Simeon the Second" (NMSS) and got two ministers. In the same vein, in 2005, the MRF emerged as the third biggest party in the parliamentary elections with 12,8 per cent (467,000) of total votes and secured 34 MPs. After tough negotiations, Bulgarian Socialist Party, NMSS, and MRF formed a government in which the MRF got 3 ministries.
In fact, the criticisms emerged exactly at this point because there was no major progress regarding the rights of Turkish minority in Bulgaria in the cultural and educational realms. The major reclamation of Turks is ‘‘ten minutes daily news’’ in the Bulgarian National Television. Similarly, Turkish language is one of the elective courses along with English, French etc. rather than being a part of weekly course schedule. Bulgaria signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities yet put a reservation. In this regard, minority groups in Bulgaria, including the largest minority group Turks, were not adopted as national minority; instead they are recognised as ‘‘Bulgarian citizens with different ethnic origins.’’
Burden on the shoulder of Bulgarian authorities
If one looks Ahmet Dođan’s role in Bulgarian politics at a closer distance, it becomes apparent that he is a key figure for various reasons. Therefore the latest assassination event needs to be investigated transparently and swiftly because the conspiracy theories have already occupied the centre-stage of the political debates.
The official investigation should target the following question: who are the actors behind this assassination attempt and what are their main motivations? It may be an individual attempt or there may be organized actors behind the events. It is of course not possible for us to detain whether it is an individual insanity or an organized event. We expect the relevant Bulgarian authorities to clarify point. What we can say for the time being is that the only way to put a decisive end to all rumours is to act swiftly and responsibly. In this context, the burden first and foremost lies on the shoulder of the Bulgarian authorities.