By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Issues including the property of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Turkey, problems linked to the flow of Syrian refugees and the situation of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian minority in Turkey were on the agenda as Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit and Turkishambassador Süleyman Gökçe held talks in Sofia.
The April 7 talks were held at the request of the Turkish ambassador, according to the office of the Holy Synod, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body.
Neofit and ambassador Gökçe expressed a desire to promote understanding and peace in relations between the peoples of the two countries and mutual respect for the religious feelings of citizens of Bulgaria and Turkey, the statement said.
This exchange of sentiment comes against a background of the history of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria being frequently invoked by ultra-nationalist parties, and the Turkish ambassador having expressed deep concern after a mob attacked a mosque in Plovdiv some weeks ago during a protest against court claims by the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, on properties in some places in Bulgaria under restitution laws.
According to the statement by the Holy Synod, the ambassador stated his willingess to work to elevate relations between the two countries to a higher level, and expressed his understanding that leaders of God’s people have great influence. Gökçe expressed his deep and sincere respect for Patriarch Neofit, the most significant and respected spiritual leader in Bulgaria and head of one of the most important institutions in the country, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the statement said.