Iconic Bulgarian Church in Istanbul Reopens, Bulgarian PM Borissov Meets with Turkish President Erdogan and PM Yildirim

Istanbul, January 7 (BTA) - "There will be a serious debate on the future of the European Union in light of Brexit, but Bulgaria will make efforts to restore the good tone and the partnership between Turkey and the EU countries," said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov at a meeting on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government information service reported.

The two met after the inauguration of the restored Bulgarian church St. Stephen in Istanbul.

The sides discussed the priorities of the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the European Union. Borissov underscored that Bulgaria is interested in normalizing the dialogue between Ancara and Brussels and will try to contribute to achieving understanding in order to resolve the issues.

Borissov and Erdogan gave high marks to the positive dynamics between their two countries as well as Turkey's contribution to controlling migrant pressure on the Turkish-Bulgarian border.  The two acknowledged the stepped-up bilateral contacts at a political and expert level in the past months which spurred development of relations in agriculture, transport and energy.

Borissov thanked Turkish President Erdogan for his personal commitment and for the efforts of the Turkish state to restore the temple. He said that Sunday's event is not just a proof of cooperation between the two countries and the tolerance between religions but an example that understanding and peace are the way to achieve progress on all issues.

The Bulgarian church of St. Stephen, one of few surviving cast iron churches in the world, reopened solemnly Sunday here following six years of major restoration
completed at the end of 2017.

The event was attended by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte, the Chief Mufti Mustafa Hadzhi, a Bulgarian delegation, many officials from both countries, diplomats and MPs, as well as hundreds of Bulgarians from Bulgaria and the local Bulgarian community, and many local people.

Speeches were made by PMs Yildirim and Borissov, and President Erdogan, who later unveiled the church. Borissov had meetings first with Yildirim and then with Erdogan.

At the unveiling Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the restoration of the Iron Church is the best example of Turkey's tolerance to the different religions. He said that Turkey is sending a very important message to the world - that it prioritizes the fact that citizens of different religions can worship their religion
and live in harmony and peace in the country. There are deep ties between the Turkish and the Bulgarian people, added Yildirim.

In remarks at the unveiling Borissov said: "In 2018 we should restore relations between the European Union and Turkey back to normal, to the state they were in a few years ago. The significance of today is a message to Europe."

The Bulgarian Prime Minister said that Bulgaria has always strived for perfect relations both with the Christian and the Muslim world. "Only together we can overcome terrorism and be efficient," Borissov underscored.

He added that Turkey is EU's largest neighbour and has the largest army in Europe.

Borissov said that Bulgaria will do whatever it can to help improve relations between the EU and Turkey as this is the only way ahead.

Borissov further said: "We are destined geographically and politically to live together  in peace and be considerate of others. Today Europe and the Balkans can see the relations between a Christian and a Muslim country. Sofia and Istanbul are cities, which are examples of ethnic tolerance."

"Usually in mixed communities expatriates are used for exerting pressure and instigating conflicts," said Borissov, adding: "We have the rare chance to do so that Bulgarian Turks in Turkey and Muslims in Bulgaria be a bridge of friendship, of security and guarantee ethnic tolerance."

For his part, Turkish President Erdogan said that the bitter historic experience should not be an obstacle to good relations.

"This is our attitude and approach to the difference religions and ethnicities -  that we should be together," said Erdogan. He added that in the past years Turkey has been making efforts to restore the temples of various religions such as synagogues and Christian churches and vowed that Turkey will continue to do so
in the future.

President Erdogan said that the restoration of mosques in Bulgaria is proof that Bulgaria respects the different religions and pledged Turkey assistance.

At a meeting with Turkish counterpart Yildirim, Borissov whished the two peoples peace and prosperity.

Borissov said that this was a significant day and a very good investment in the future which will show Europe and the Christian world that relations with EU's largest neighbour can improve. "However small we are, we'll try to contribute to this understanding," said Borissov.

Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim congratulated Bulgaria on holding the rotating EU presidency. He said: "During your presidency good messages have started to appear from our European friends. We haven't had problems with the EU before but let's send a message of tolerance."

Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew were the first to enter the restored church and officiate a consecration service. People who contributed to the restoration effort were recognized with awards.

Christians and Muslims together unveiled the iconic church as a symbol of goodneighbourliness and tolerance, according to Turkish media.

The unveiling took place amidst intense media interest and increased security measures which saw traffic through the Golden Horn suspended.

On the official delegation were Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, Culture Minister Boil Banov, former culture minister Vezhdi Rashidov, Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov, Agriculture Minister Roumen Porozhanov.

Source: Istanbul