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Like Moscow, Bulgaria contends with rising Muslim population

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Sofia's tampering with names and numbers may have produced a situation where even Bulgaria's communist rulers have no clear idea how many Muslim citizens they have. There are many indications that Turks and other Muslims in Bulgaria, long rural and politically passive, have been experiencing the same kind of resurgence of self-awareness that has affected Muslims everywhere during the past decade.

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In addition, they have frequent contact with Turks who travel through Bulgaria, 1 million strong each year, to and from employment in Europe. They envy the freedom of movement Turkish citizens enjoy and learn of the advantages of life in a noncommunist society from letters from relatives in Turkey. The Sofia regime's efforts to isolate them have not worked but have recently been extended, according to the Turkish press, to jamming of Turkish-language radio broadcasts.

The Turkish Republic has never made any territorial claims on Bulgaria. Since the early 1950s, Ankara has refused to accept a large influx of immigrants. A few thousand Bulgarian Turks have continued to come to Turkey each year within the framework of carefully supervised arrangements for uniting families. They have joined older groups of Bulgarian-origin in the provinces of Bursa and Eskisehir.

Even if Turkey were eager to add all Bulgarian Turks to her own 50 million inhabitants, Sofia could not afford the economic loss, for Muslims are among the country's most productive farmers. No solution for the problem is in sight.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sofia on Feb. 14, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Ankara insisted it was not a protest action but simply an effort to get more firsthand information on ethnic Turks.

There have been private appeals to Amnesty International and there is talk of raising the issue in the United Nations and other international bodies.

The senate of Ankara University issued a statement on Feb. 8 condemning ``the current Bulgarian regime not only for failing to implement international agreements on the rights of minorities, but the principles of its own minority policy. . . .

``High-level jobs have long been denied to ethnic Turks,'' the statement continues, ``and most of their mosques as well as their schools have been closed.''

Persistent reports reaching Western embassies here say that large numbers of people have died in clashes between the security forces and ethnic Turks since last summer. They have come under increasing pressure from the authorities to abandon their distinctive identities since 1978, when Turkey said that it could no longer take any more of them as immigrants. The latest reports speak of a far higher level of violence when security forces moved into the other heavily Turkish area, Dobrudja, in the northeast in the second week of January. There are reports of house-to-house fighting, shootings, stabbings, and rape with troops resorting to chemical spraying from helicopters to quell unrest. Western diplomats say they believe the casualty toll approaches 200.

Bulgarian authorities say the reports are ``pure fiction.'' They blame the Turkish news media for plotting to undermine official relations between the two states.