The seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Wikipedia
Top secret intelligence files now made public have revealed that back in 1971, the intelligence service of Bulgaria’s communist regime plotted and nearly realized a plan to cause a conflict between Greece and Turkey, and embarrassment for the United States, by setting on fire the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul).
Communist Bulgaria, formally known as the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944-1989), came into being after the Tsardom of Bulgaria (1878-1944), the successor of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, was occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
After then Bulgaria’s elites were persecuted and purged, a puppet communist regime was installed which became an obedient Cold War satellite of the Soviet Union within the Communist Bloc, and its two formal organizations, the military Warsaw Pact, and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon).
The intelligence and secret police services of communist Bulgaria, known as the DS (“State Security"), an equivalent of the Soviet KGB, were often active as a de fact arm of the KGB in international operations.
(Today’s Republic of Bulgaria, a pluralistic democracy established after the end of the communist regime in 1989, became a member of NATO in 2004, and of the European Union, in 2007, restoring the country’s status as a Western nation.)
Declassified top secret files from the archives of the DS, communist Bulgaria’s KGB, have now revealed that the Bulgarian communist regime, and, more specifically, the DS’s First Main Directorate, which was the regime’s foreign intelligence, developed and even prepared to implement a plot to stir a major diplomatic conflict between its then adversaries Greece and Turkey, and to burden the United States with figuring out how to pacify its Balkan NATO allies.
The operation codenamed “Cross" provided for setting on fire the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the former capital of the Byzantine Empire and then of the largely Muslim Ottoman Empire, now the city of Istanbul in Turkey.
While the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is just one of the total of 14 autonomous Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches (which include the Bulgarian Orthodox Church), it is the Mother Church of most of them, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is deemed “primus inter pares", i.e. “first among equals".
What is more, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is intrinsically associated with modern-day Greece, parts of whose territories are in the direct diocese of the Constantinople Patriarch.
The declassified files of communist Bulgaria’s intelligence published in a collection entitled “State Security and the Religions. Part I. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church (1944-1991)", Bulgarian news site Club Z reports.
According to a file marked “Top Secret – Only Copy", the plot of set the building Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul on fire in order to cause tensions between Greece and Turkey was developed by the 7th Department of the First Main Directorate of the DS, and was affirmed by Deputy Head of the Directorate on November 16, 1970, and approved by its Head.
The secret intelligence operation was supposed to be prepared by the middle of 1971, and then executed. The plot of communist Bulgaria’s intelligence seems not to have been implemented because the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s building in Istanbul is not known to have seen any fires.
The declassified files do not explain why the plan was never set in motion but do reveal a detailed account of the reasoning behind it.
The files have first been published by Assoc. Prof. Dilyan Nikolchev from the Theology Department of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski".
Nikolchev is cited as describing the revelation as “scandalous", and comparable in scope to the assassination by DS agents of dissident Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov on the Waterloo Bridge in London in 1978 (which gave rise to the infamous “Bulgarian Umbrella” notion), or DS’s stealing from an Orthodox monastery on the semi-autonomous Mount Athos in Greece of the original of “Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya" – “Slavonic-Bulgarian History", authored in 1762 by Bulgarian monk and scholar St. Paisiy Hilendarski (St. Paisius of Hilendar) (the book that almost literally brought about the Bulgarian National Revival in the 18th-19th century when Bulgaria was still part of Ottoman Turkey).
The plot of the Bulgarian communist regime’s intelligence to stir trouble between Greece and Turkey is more precisely entitled “Sharp Measure ‘Cross’".
(In communist Bulgaria, as in the Soviet Union, the term “active measure" or “active measures" was used to signify intelligence actions of political warfare.)
The top secret file explains why the DS’s foreign intelligence unit decided to target the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to achieve its goals.
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a source of incessantly emerging political clashes between Turkey and Greece," it states, adding that any incident with it invariable leads to reactions by Greece.
“In any political situation, the carrying out of a sharp measure on our part in this tender point would contribute a lot to the exacerbation of the Turkish – Greek relations," states the Deputy Head of the foreign intelligence department.
“The USA will end up in a tough spot in choosing its positions on the conflict that would emerge," he argues in the document, adding that the “sharp measure" against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul would be interpreted as the “deed of circles in Turkey."
Operation “Cross" itself is defined in the top secret file as carrying out “a sharp measure from the sorts of arson or an arson attempt."
The detailed plan on how to realize the plot of the foreign intelligence of the Bulgarian communist regime was as follows: to have the agents on the spot study the location by November 30, 1970; by January 31 to select and recruit two secret collaborators to perpetrate the arson; to send another agent for additional surveying of the location by March 15, 1971, who would determine where incendiary devices could be placed; by April 30, 1971, to send the two arsonist to the location in Istanbul, etc.
The final plan on how to set the building of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on fire in order to cause a political conflict between Greece and Turkey was supposed to be ready by June 30, 1971.
According to the top secret file, the intelligence of the Bulgarian communist regime also planned to boost the effect of its operation against Greece and Turkey by conducting “active measures" “for putting the enemy in a position of delusion."
For the time being, there are no clues as to why the communist Bulgaria’s State Security (DS) decided to abandon or failed to execute its arson plot against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
“I am dumbfounded [by the revelation about the arson plot], and I have been tackling for many years the topic of State Security and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church," concludes researcher Nikolchev, as cited by Club Z.
The top secret intelligence document about the Bulgarian communist regime’s 1971 plot against Greece and Turkey has been made public in a collection entitled “State Security and the Religions. Part I. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church (1944-1991)". Photos: Club Z