Bulgarian Turks

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Bulgarian Turks
български турци (Bulgarian)
Bulgaristan Türkleri  (Turkish)
Regions with significant populations
 Bulgaria 588,318 (2011 census)[1]
 Turkey 326,000 (2005)[2]- 372,000 (2014, Bulgaria-born people)[3]
 Netherlands 10,000 - 30,000[4][5]
 Belgium 2,620 just in Ghent[6]
Northern Cyprus TRNC 2,000 - 10,000[7][8]
 Austria 1,000[9]
 Sweden over 300 just in Värö[10]
Turkish  · Bulgarian  · Romani
Sunni Islam and Shia Islam (>75%, 2011 census[11]· Irreligion and Christianity
Percentage of the Turkish population to total local population in all provinces of Bulgaria in 2011
Distribution of the mother tongues by municipalities according to the 2011 census in Bulgaria

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Bulgarian Turks (Bulgarian: български турци, balgarski turtsi, Turkish: Bulgaristan Türkleri) are a Turkish ethnic group from Bulgaria. As of 2011 there are 588,318 Bulgarians of Turkish descent, roughly 8% of the population, making them the country's largest ethnic minority. They primarily live in the southern province of Kardzhali and the northeastern provinces of Shumen, Silistra, Razgrad and Targovishte. There is also a diaspora outside Bulgaria in countries such as Turkey, Austria, Netherlands, and Sweden, the most significant of which are the Bulgarian Turks in Turkey.

Bulgarian Turks are the descendants of Turkic settlers who entered the region after the Turkish conquest of the Balkans in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, as well as Bulgarian converts to Islam who became Turkified during the centuries of Ottoman rule.[12][13]However, it has also been suggested that some Turks living today in Bulgaria may be direct ethnic descendants of earlier medieval Pecheneg, Oğuz, and Cuman Turkic tribes.[14][15][16] The Turkish community became an ethnic minority when the Principality of Bulgaria was established after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. This community is of Turkish ethnic consciousness and differs from the majority Bulgarian ethnicity and the rest of the Bulgarian nation by its own language, religion, culture, customs, and traditions. DNA research investigating the three largest population groups in Bulgaria: Bulgarians, Turks and Roma confirms with Y-chromosomal STR haplotype analysis that there are significant differences between the three ethnic groups. The study revealed a high number of population-specific haplotypes, 54 haplotypes among 63 tested Turkish males.[17]


Percentage of Turkish population by provinces to total population according to the 2011 census[1]

Turks settled in the territory of modern Bulgaria during and after the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Being the dominant group in the Ottoman Empire for the next five centuries, they played an important part in the economic and cultural life of the land. According to the historian Halil Inalcik, the Ottomans ensured significant Turkish presence in forward urban outposts such as Nikopol, Kyustendil, Silistra, Trikala, Skopje and Vidin and their vicinity. Ottoman Muslims constituted the majority in and around strategic routes primarily in the southern Balkans leading from Thrace towards Macedonia and the Adriatic and again from the Maritsa and Tundzha valleys towards the Danube region.[18] According to Aubaret, the French Consul in Ruse in 1876 in the Danube Vilayet (which included the territory of the post-1878 Bulgarian principality without Eastern Rumelia, and also Northern Dobruja and the Niš region) alone there were 1,120,000 Muslims and 1,233,500 non-Muslims of whom 1,150,000 were Bulgarian. Between 1876 and 1878, through emigration, massacres, epidemics and hunger a large portion of the Turkish population vanished. The flow of Turks to Anatolia continued in a steady pattern depending on the policies of the ruling regimes until 1925 after which immigration was regulated. During the 20th century Bulgaria also practiced forced deportations and expulsions, which also targeted the Muslim Pomak population.[19]

The biggest wave of Turkish emigration occurred in 1989, when 310,000 Turks left Bulgaria as a result of the communist Todor Zhivkov regime's assimilation campaign, but around 150,000 returned between 1989 and 1990. That program, which began in 1984, forced all Turks and other Muslims in Bulgaria to adopt Christian names and renounce all Muslim customs. The motivation of the 1984 assimilation campaign was unclear; however, many experts believed that the disproportion between the birth rates of the Turks and the Bulgarians was a major factor.[20] The official government claim was that the Turks in Bulgaria were really Bulgarians who were Turkified, and that they voluntarily chose to change their Turkish/Muslim names to Bulgarian/Slavic ones.[21] During this period the Bulgarian authorities denied all reports of ethnic repression and that ethnic Turks existed in the country. During the name-changing phase of the campaign, Turkish towns and villages were surrounded by army units. Citizens were issued new identity cards with Bulgarian names. Failure to present a new card meant forfeiture of salary, pension payments, and bank withdrawals. Birth or marriage certificates would be issued only in Bulgarian names. Traditional Turkish costumes were banned; homes were searched and all signs of Turkish identity removed. Mosques were closed or demolished. Turkish names on gravestones were replaced with Bulgarian names. According to estimates, 500 to 1,500 people were killed when they resisted assimilation measures, and thousands of others were sent to labor camps or were forcibly resettled.[22]

The fall of communism in Bulgaria led to a reversal of the state's policy towards its citizens of Turkish descent. After the fall of Zhivkov in 1989, the National Assembly of Bulgaria passed laws to restore the cultural rights of the Turkish population. In 1991 a new law gave anyone affected by the name-changing campaign three years to officially restore original names and the names of children born after the name change. In January 1991, Turkish-language lessons were reintroduced as a non-compulsory subject for four hours per week if requested. According to the 2011 census in Bulgaria, there are 588,318 persons from the Turkish ethnic group or 8.8% of all ethnic groups ,[23] of whom 564,858 pointed Turkish as their mother tongue.[24] Statistic results of the Address Based Population Registration System on the foreign-born population residing in Turkey from 2014 showed that 37.6% of a total of 992,597 foreign-born residents were born in Bulgaria, thus forming the largest foreign-born group in the country.[3] The number of Bulgarian citizens from Turkish descent residing in Turkey is put at 326,000, during the 2005 Bulgarian parliamentary elections 120,000 voted either in Bulgaria or polling stations set up in Turkey.[2]

Today, the Turks of Bulgaria are concentrated in two rural areas, in the Northeast (Ludogorie/Deliorman) and the Southeast (the Eastern Rhodopes).[25] They form a majority in the province of Kardzhali (66.2% Turks compared to 30.2% Bulgarians) and a plurality in the province of Razgrad (50.0% Turks compared to 43.0% Bulgarians).[23] Even though they do not constitute the majority of the population in any provincial capital, according to the census 221,522 Turks (38%) live throughout the urban settlements and 366,796 (62%) live throughout the villages. According to this data 31.7% are aged up to 29 years and 3.9% are aged 60 and over.[26] It is important to note, that it is difficult to establish accurately the number of the Turks and that it is likely that the census numbers are an overestimate because some Pomaks, Crimean Tatars, Circassians and Romani tend to identify themselves as Turks.[27][28] In Bulgaria there are also other Turkish-speaking communities such as the Gajal who could be found particularly in the Deliorman region.[29] According to 2002 data, the poverty rate among Turks is 20.9%, in contrast to a rate of 5.6% among Bulgarians and of 61.8% among Romani Gypsies.[30] In 2011 the share of Turks with university degree reached 4.1%, while 26% have secondary education, the same share was 22.8%/47.6% and 0.3%/6.9% for Bulgarians and Romani respectively.[31] Though the majority of Bulgarians have negative feelings towards Romani, it is estimated that just 15% of Bulgarians have negative feelings against Turks, though it is unclear how much this is against the Bulgarian Turks.[32]

Census Turkish ethnic group Bulgarian ethnic group Bulgaria's population
1880/1884ab 727,773 (24.4%) 2,027,241 2,982,949
1887b 607,331 (19.3%) 2,326,250 3,154,375
1892b 569,728 (17.2%) 2,505,326 3,310,713
1900 531,240 (14.2%) 2,888,219 3,744,283
1905 488,010 (12.1%) 3,203,810 4,035,575
1910 465,641 (10.7%) 3,518,756 4,337,513
1920 520,339 (10.7%) 4,036,056 4,846,971
1926 577,552 (10.5%) 4,557,706 5,478,741
1934 591,193 (9.7%) 5,204,217 6,077,939
1946 675,500 (9.6%) 5,903,580 7,029,349
1956 656,025 (8.6%) 6,506,541 7,613,709
1965 780,928 (9.5%) 7,231,243 8,227,966
1975 730,728 (8.4%) 7,930,024 8,727,771
1992 800,052 (9.4%) 7,271,185 8,487,317
2001 746,664 (9.4%) 6,655,210 7,928,901
2011c 588,318 (8.0%) 5,664,624 7,364,570
a Shows the combined results of the 1880 census in the Principality of Bulgaria and the 1884 census in Eastern Rumelia.

b The censuses in 1880, 1887 and 1892 did not have a question on ethnic affiliation. The results for the Principality of Bulgaria are by mother language. In the 1884 census in Eastern Rumelia ethnicities (excluding Gypsies) were classified by religion.
c The 2011 percentage is calculated only from those who answered the optional question on ethnicity (6,680,980 in total).[33]

Source for 1880/1884 censuses:[34][35]
Source for 1887 and 1892 censuses:[36]
Source (1900–2021 censuses):[37]


Turks, although today numerically small – about 1 million people (about 2 percent of the total Balkan population) - have played a role in shaping the history of the Balkans far beyond their numbers.[38]

Possible settlement in the pre-Ottoman period

While most Turks settled during and after the Ottoman conquest, there are indications that some Turks settled before this period.[39] According to early historical compilations and translations of Ibn Bibi’s History of the Seljuq Sultanate of Rum a well founded account is presented of Turkish immigration from Anatolia to Dobruja. Ibn Bibi’s historical memoirs cover the period 1192–1281 well before Ottoman rule over the Balkans. The work of Ibn Bibi finished in 1281 and was written in Persian for one of the last Rum Seljuk Sultans Kaykhusraw III. In his Turkish translation called the Selçukname Yazıcıoğlu Ali describes how Seljuk Turk troops joined their Sultan 'Izz al-Din Kayka'us II (Kaykaus II) to help the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos in his military campaigns.[40] It is thought that during this campaign Seljuks settled in Dobruja.[41] This migration of Anatolian Turks to Dobruja and their mystic leader Sari Saltik is also described in the works of Ibn Battuta and Evliya Çelebi.[42] According to sources these Seljuk Turks settled in area of Dobruja along the Black Sea coast in the borderland between what is now Bulgaria and their furthest outpost Babadag situated in Northern Dobruja.[43][44][45][46] Part of them returned to Anatolia, while the rest became Christianized and adopted the name of Gagauz.[47] For these reasons it is unclear to which extent this group is connected with today's Turkish inhabitants of the region.[citation needed]. There are also some doubts about these events, which according to some scholars have the characteristics of a folk legend.[16] According to some historians such as Karel Škorpil have presented the view that the Turks in Deliorman are the descendants of Bulgars, who had escaped Slavization and others that these are the descendants of Pechenegs or Cumans who settled in the region around 1055. Islamization of this population before Ottoman rule has also been suggested.

Settlement during the Ottoman period

Ethnological Map of European Turkey and her Dependencies at the Time of the Beginning of the War of 1877, by Karl Sax, I. and R. Austro-Hungarian Consul at Adrianople. Published by the Imperial and Royal Geographical Society, Vienna 1878. Most of the Turkish families who settled in the Bulgarian territories left during population exchanges.
Ethnic composition of the central Balkans in 1870 by the English-German cartograge E.G. Ravenstein.

The conquest of the Balkans by the Ottomans set in motion important population movements, which modified the ethnic and religious composition of the conquered territories. This demographic restructuring was accomplished through colonization of strategic areas of the Balkans with Turks brought or exiled from Anatolia, establishing a firm Turkish Muslim base for further conquests in Europe. Ottoman Empire used colonization as a very effective method to consolidate their position and power in the Balkans. The colonizers that were brought to the Balkans consisted of diverse elements, including groups uneasy for the state, soldiers, nomads, farmers, artisans and merchants, dervishes, preachers and other religious functionaries, and administrative personnel. Among the earliest arrivals were large numbers of pastoral peoples such as the Yürüks, Turcomans (Oghuz Turks), Tatars from Anatolia and Crimean Tatars (Qaraei or Kara Tatar) led by their chieftain Aktav.[48] As the Ottomans expanded their conquests in the Balkans, they brought nomads from Anatolia and settled them along the main highways and in the surrounding mountain regions. Densely populated Turkish colonies were established in the frontier regions of Thrace, the Maritsa and the Tundzha valleys. The colonization policies already begun under Orhan were continued by his successors Murat I (1360–84) and Bayezit I (1389–1402). Additional colonists, mostly nomads again, were established along key transportation and communication routes in Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly. The Ottoman authorities maintained these nomads in their tribal organization through the 16th century and began to settle them only during the 17th century.

In addition to voluntary migrations, the Ottoman authorities used mass deportations (sürgün) as a method of control over potentially rebellious elements in the Balkans and in Anatolia. Far away from their home bases, the potential threat of such elements was considerably reduced as in the case of the followers of the rebellious Karamani Pir Ahmed. Tribal resistance was followed by large-scale transfers of Karamanid and Türkmen nomads to Deliorman and Rumelia. Deportations in both directions occurred throughout the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.[48]

After the defeat of Bayezid I at the battle of Ankara by the forces of Tamerlane in 1402, the Ottomans abandoned their Anatolian domains for a while and considered the Balkans their real home, making Adrianople (Edirne) their new capital. The Timurid invasions and other upheavals in Anatolia brought additional Turkish settlers into the Balkans. Numerous Turkish colonists were settled as farmers in new villages. Vakıf deeds and regısters of the 15th century show that there was a wide movement of colonization, with western Anatolian peasantry settling in Thrace and the eastern Balkans and founding hundreds of new villages. Some other settlers came in search of military and administrative service, and still others to establish Islamic religious institutions. Muslims were settled densely along the two great historical routes of the Peninsula, one going though Thrace and Macedonia to the Adriatic and the other passing through the Maritsa and Tundzha valleys to the Danube. The Yürüks were settled mostly in the mountainous parts of the area. A census conducted between 1520 and 1530 showed that 19% of the Balkan population was Muslim.[49]

The greatest impact of Ottoman colonization in the Balkans, however, was felt in the urban centers. Many towns became major centers for Turkish control and administration, with most Christians gradually withdrawing to the mountains. Historical evidence shows that the Ottomans embarked on a systematic policy of creating new towns and repopulating older towns that had suffered significant population decline and economic dislocation during the two centuries of incessant wars preceding the Ottoman conquest, as well as the ravages of the Ottoman conquest itself. Often re-colonization of old towns and the establishment of new towns were accompanied by bodily transplanting settlers from other areas of the Empire or with Muslim refugees from other lands.[50] Records show that by the end of the 14th century, Muslim Turks formed the absolute majority in large urban towns in Upper Thrace such as Plovdiv (Filibe) and Pazardzhik (Tatar Pazarcik).[51]

Ottoman Architecture in Bulgaria

Old Plovdiv

Ottoman architecture has shaped and left visible marks on the Balkan urban landscape. Two distinct crafts are evident in Ottoman urban culture that of the architect and that of the master builder (maistores in Macedonia and Epirus, kalfa in Anatolia and sometimes in Bulgaria) who shared the responsibilities and tasks for the design and construction of all sorts of building projects. During Mimar Sinan's period as a chief imperial architect until the second half of the 16th century between forty and seventy architects produced designs for a very large labour force, controlled the construction of military and civil facilities, water and road infrastructure from Budapest to Cairo. The centralized has or hassa (sultan's property and service) system had allowed a small number of architects to control all significant imperial and most vakif building sites over the vast territories of the empire. In the 18th century the empire was opened to Western influence. By the late 18th century a growing number of Ottoman Christians were recruited. Until the very end of the Ottoman state the master builders maintained a cultural equilibrium between the Ottoman spirit and architectural innovation both in the Balkans and Anatolia. Turkish, Slavic, and Greek masters combining Western styles with Ottoman views extended the architectural landscape with one of the best examples being the Filibe-Plovdiv symmetrical house. Innovations were derived from the Ottoman house and market (çarşı) buildings in Anatolia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria.[52]

From Liberation to Communist Rule (1878 to 1946)

Ethnic map of Bulgaria according to the census results from 1892 (Pink denotes regions with Bulgarian and Turkish population)[citation needed]
Population of Bulgaria between 1880 and 1910

The estimates of the number of Turks in the current Bulgarian territories prior to the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 vary. Major urban centers were with Muslim majority and remained overwhelmingly Muslim well until the 19th century.[53] According to Aubaret, the French Consul in Ruse in 1876 in the Danube Vilayet alone there were 1,120,000 Muslims and 1,233,500 non-Muslims of whom 1,150,000 were Bulgarian. As Russian forces and Bulgarian volunteers pushed south in January 1878 they inflicted a welter of atrocities on the local Muslim population.[54] NYT 23.11.1877.[unreliable source?] The Ottoman army has also been accused of attacking Muslim non-combatants and using refugees to shield their retreat.[55] Certainly many perished of hardship during their flight. The number of casualties is uncertain, it is estimated at tens of thousands.[56] The figure of refugees is uncertain too, Professor Richard Crampton estimates it as an exodus of 130,000-150,000 people of whom approximately half returned for an intermediary period encouraged by the Congress of Berlin in 1878,[57] while Dr. Hupchick claims that the refugees were 500,000.[58] Atrocities against the Turks and Pomaks committed by Russian troops and Bulgaria units are also described in the 1878 Rhodope Commission signed by French, Italian, English and Turkish representatives. The Commission points out the burning of 80 Muslim villages after signing the armistice and a number of other war crimes against the Muslim civilian population. The Commission presents the figure of 150,000 refugees in and around the Rhodope Mountains.[59]

According to Justin McCarthy,[60][61] the Russian aim was to inflict massive Muslim civilian casualties. The victims are put into four categories: 1) battle casualties 2) murders by Bulgarian and Russian troops 3) denial of necessities for life leading to starvation and death from disease 4) death caused by refugee status. Members of the European press who covered the war in Bulgaria reported on the Russian atrocities against Muslims. Witness accounts from Shumen and Razgrad describe children, women and elderly wounded by sabres and lances. They stated that the entire Muslim population of many villages had been massacred.[62]

It should be noted that the Ottoman army committed numerous atrocities against Christians during its retreat, most notably the complete devastation of Stara Zagora and the surrounding region, which might have provoked some of the attacks against ethnic Turks.[63][64] There were also returning in the homeland Bulgarian refugees from Wallachia, Moldavia and Russia which escaped from the Ottoman rule.

During the War many Turks, including large and small landowners, abandoned their lands.[65] Though many returned after the signing of the treaty of Berlin they were soon to find the atmosphere of the lands they had left behind uncongenial and large numbers emigrated once again to the more familiar cultural and political atmosphere of the Ottoman Empire.[65]

Bulgarian population increased from two million at the 1881 census to two and a half million by 1892, and stood at three and a half million by 1910 and at four million by 1920. This increase took place while a large number of Bulgaria's Turkish-speaking inhabitants were emigrating. At the census in 1881 the Turkish-speaking people in Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia were about 700,000 and represented 24.9% of the population, yet by the 1892 census the proportion was 17.21 percent and by the 1910 census 11.63%; in the same years the Bulgarian speaking elements were 67.84%, 75.67% and 81.63% of the total.[66]

During the Balkan Wars in August 1913 the majority Muslim population of Western Thrace (including the regions of the Southern Rhodope Mountains and the Kircaali/Kurdzhali region) established the Provisional Government of Western Thrace. The short-lived republic had a population of over 230 000 of which app. 80% were Turks and Pomaks.[67] Western Thrace was left to Bulgaria with the Istanbul agreement signed on 29 September 1913 which guaranteed the rights of Turks living in the region. The region stayed under Bulgarian control until 1919. Since Bulgarians comprised only a fraction of the population of Western Thrace ceding the territory to Bulgaria was seen as an unacceptable option by both the population of Western Thrace and Turkey at that time. Having lost the territory in 1913 the Ottoman State intended to keep the area mainly Turkish populated with hopes of one day regaining Western Thrace.[68]

Turkish Press in Bulgaria 1879–1945[69]

The Turkish press in Bulgaria established itself almost simultaneously with the foundation of the Bulgarian Principality in 1878. Under the new ("foreign") Bulgarian administration the Turkish intellectuals felt the need to communicate the new laws and regulations to the Turkish population by first providing translations of the Bulgarian State Gazette. During the years the number of Turkish newspapers and publications published in the Principality of Bulgaria rose to 90.

The Turkish Press in Bulgaria was faced with many difficulties and a significant amount of newspapers operated on the verge of being banned and their journalists being expelled from the country. Turkish journalists and teachers organised by establishing the Islamic Teachers Community in Bulgaria (Bulgaristan Muallimi Islâmiye Cemiyeti) and the Union of Turan Communities in Bulgaria (Turan Cemiyetleri Birliği) which was a youth organisation. The leaders of these organisations met during National Congresses held each year in different locations in Bulgaria. The largest National Congress was held in Sofia in 1929 with over 1000 participants.

Between 1895 and 1945 there were several well known Turkish newspapers in Bulgaria:

GAYRET: The newspaper was founded in Plovdiv in 1895 and printed by Filibeli Rıza Paşa. In 1896 the famous Turkish thinker and intellectual Übeydullah Efendi wrote columns in Gayret and in a later stage became the newspaper’s head columnist.

MUVAZENE: The weekly newspaper was first published in 20.8.1897 in Plovdiv by the graduates of the Mektebi Mülkiye Ulumu Siyasie and printed by Filibeli Rıza Paşa. The newspaper’s operations temporarily moved to Varna before returning to back to Plovdiv. One of the most known writers in Muvazene was Ali Fefhmi Bey who promoted the unionisation of the Turkish teachers in Bulgaria and was the instigator of the first Turkish teacher’s congress in Shumen. During the congress the Islamic Teachers Community in Bulgaria (Bulgaristan Muallimi Islâmiye Cemiyeti) was founded.

RUMELİ – BALKAN: Founded in 1904 by Etem Ruhi Balkan. After the first three editions the newspaper’s name was changed to Balkan. Daily editions were published until the eruption of the Balkan Wars in 1912. The newspaper was also printed by Maullimi Mehmet Mahri and Halil Zeki Bey. Since Etem Ruhi was often imprisoned the management of the newspaper shifted to Hüsnü Mahmut in 1912 and 1917 Halil Ibrahim became the head editor. The newspaper ended its publications in 1920.

UHUVVET: Founded by unknown group of journalists in 24.5.1904 the weekly newspaper was printed in Rousse and focused on politics and daily events. In 1905 Mehmet Teftiş became the manager of the newspaper.

TUNA: Founded in 1.9.1905 by Mehmet Teftiş, Tuna was a daily newspaper printed in Rousse. After 415 editions the newspaper ended its operations, however on 13.10.1908 the publications of Tuna resumed after a group of intellectual Turks established a separate company designated to meet the needs for a Turkish daily newspaper in the region. The main contributors in the new Tuna newspaper were Tahir Lütfi Bey, Hafız Abdullah Meçik and Kizanlikli Ali Haydar.

TERBİYE OCAĞI: Established in 1921 by the Islamic Teachers Community in Bulgaria (Bulgaristan Muallimi Islâmiye Cemiyeti) and printed in Varna between 1923 and 1925. Known contributors in Terbiye Ocaği were Osman Nuri Peremeci, Hafız Abdullah Meçik, Hasip Ahmet Aytuna, Mustafa Şerif Alyanak, Mehmet Mahsum, Osmanpazarli Ibrahim Hakki Oğuz, Ali Avni, Ebuşinasi Hasan Sabri, Hüseyin Edip and Tayyarzade Cemil Bey.

YOLDAŞ: Founded in 1921 by Hafız Abdullah Meçik and published every second week in Shumen. Yoldaş was one of the first Turkish children’s publications in Bulgaria.

DELİORMAN: Owned by Mahmut Necmettin Deliorman the newspaper started its publications in 21.10.1922 in Razgrad with Ahmet Ihsan as its head editor. Between 1923 and 1925 Mustafa Şerif Alyanak took on the job of head editor with weekly editions. Deliorman also functioned as the main publication for the Turkish Union of Sport’s Clubs in Bulgaria. Turkish columnists such as Hasip Saffeti, Ahmet Aytuna, Hafiz Ismail Hakki, Yahya Hayati, Hüsmen Celal, Çetin Ebuşinasi and Hasan Sabri were household names in Deliorman.

TURAN: Founded on 6.5.1928 in Vidin, Turan was a channel for the Union of Turkish Youth Communities in Bulgaria. The newspaper was also printed in Kardzhali and Varna until it was closed in 1934.

TEBLİGAT: Founded in 1929 and published by the office of the Grand Mufti and Islamic Foundations in Sofia.

RODOP: Founded in April 1929 in Kardzhali by Lütfi Takanoğlu. Rodop focused on the rights, freedoms and national matters of the Turkish population in Bulgaria. Most known writers in Rodop were Mustafa Şerif Alyanak and Ömer Kaşif Nalbandoğlu. As many other Turkish newspapers in Bulgaria Rodop was forced to stop its operations during 1934 and its writers were either expelled or forced to seek refuge in Turkey.

Professor Ali Eminov from Wayne State College has compiled an extensive list:[70][71]

With the right-wing coup d'état of 1934, Turkish-language press was suppressed. Only in the course of the first year, ten of the newspapers were closed down (including Deliorman and Turan), and by 1939, a single newspaper Havadis ("The News") survived, only to be closed down in turn in 1941. The explanation cited was that the newspapers were disseminating Kemalist (i.e. Turkish nationalist) propaganda.[72]

Transfer of Land

The transfer of land from Turkish to Bulgarian ownership which was the most important effect of Turkish emigration was a complex process. Such transfers had taken place before 1878, for example parts in the Tatar Pazardzhik district, where Bulgarian landowners had been unknown in 1840[citation needed], some two thousand plots had been bought by them between 1872 and 1875. In 1877 and in the following years the process of transfer took place on an immensely greater scale, both here and elsewhere.[73] In 1875 some 50% of the land in Rumelia was owned by Turks.[74] A decade after 1878 as much as a quarter of the arable land in Bulgaria transferred from Turkish to Bulgarian ownership.[75]

With the outbreak of war some Turks sold their property, mostly to wealthy local Bulgarians. Other Turks rented their lands, usually to dependable local Bulgarians, on the understanding that it would be handed back if and when the owners returned. Most departing Turks, however, simply abandoned their land and fled, the fall of Pleven had made it clear that the Russians were to win the War. As the Turks fled many Bulgarians seized some of the land now made vacant.[76] The incidence of seizure varied regionally. In the north-east the Turks were numerous and, feeling safety in numbers, few of them had left and those remaining were therefore strong enough to discourage seizures by Bulgarians. In the north and south-west on the other hand almost all Turks had fled and their lands were immediately taken over by local Bulgarians who often divided up the large estates found in these areas. In the remainder of northern Bulgaria transfers, often under the cloak of renting, took place in approximately one third of the communities. In the Turnovo province, for example, there were seventy-seven Turkish mixed Turkish-Bulgarian villages of which twenty-four (31.0%) were seized by Bulgarians, twenty two (28.5%) were later repossessed by returning Turkish refugees, and another twenty-two remained unaffected; the fate of the remaining nine is unknown. In the south-west there was much more tension and violence. Here there was no provisions about renting and there were cases of Bulgarian peasants not only seizing land but also destroying buildings.[77]

In vast majority of the cases it was local Bulgarians who seized the vacant land but Bulgarians from other parts of Bulgaria where there had been little Turkish emigration and Bulgarian refugees from Ottoman repressions in Macedonia and Western Thrace also took part in the seizures. In later months the publication of the terms of the Treaty of Berlin naturally intensified the flow of refugees from these areas and according to the prefect of Burgas province as helping themselves to émigré land "in a most arbitrary fashion"[citation needed].

In Burgas and the rest of Eastern Rumelia the Treaty of Berlin intensified the land struggle by making Bulgarians more determined to seize sufficient land before Ottoman sovereignty was restored. It also encouraged the former Turkish owners to return. With these problems the Russian Provisional Administration had to contend.

The Provisional Administration did not have the power, even if it had had the will, to prevent so popular a movement as the seizure of vacant Turkish land, but nor could the Administration allow this movement to go completely unchecked for this would give the Turks and the British the excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of the liberated territories. Given these dangers the Russians handled the agrarian problem with considerable skill. In the summer of 1877 Bulgarian refugees from Macedonia, Thrace and Ottoman Rumelia had been allowed to harvest the crops left by Turkish émigrés and in September all Bulgarians, the incoming refugees and the indigenous, were allowed to sow vacant Turkish land, though it was insisted that this did not in any way signify a transfer of ownership. With the mass exodus of Turks after the Treaty of San Stefano the Provisional Administration had little choice but to allow the Bulgarians to work the vacant land with rent, set at half the value of the harvest, to be paid to the legal owner. In many cases the Bulgarians simply refused to pay this rent and the Russians were not over-zealous in collecting it.

When the Treaty of Berlin guaranteed Turkish property rights and restored southern Bulgaria to the Sultan's sovereignty at least 80,000 of the 150,000 Turkish émigrés had returned by September 1878. This caused enormous problems including housing the returning Turks whose property had been taken over by Bulgarians or destroyed. In September local authorities ordered that any houses taken over by Bulgarians were to be restored to their former owners on the latter's demand, whilst other returning Turks were given Tatar or Circassian land.

These problems were insignificant compared to those raised when the returning Turks demanded the restitution of their lost lands.

In July 1878 the Russian Provisional Administration had come to an agreement with the Porte by which Turkish refugees were allowed to return under military escort, if necessary, and were to have their lands back on condition that they surrendered all their weapons. In August 1878 it was decreed that those returning would not be immune from prosecution and anyone against whom any charges were substantiated would be deprived of his lands. This decree, more than anything else, discouraged the return of more Turks and from the date of this enactment the flow of returning refugees began gradually to diminish. There were, however, many claims still to be dealt with and in November 1878 mixed Turkish and Bulgarian commissions were established in all provinces to examine these claims. The decisions were to be made in accordance with rules drawn up by the Russian embassy in Constantinople in consultation with the Porte, and under them Bulgarians could secure the legal right to a piece of land if they could produce the authentic title-deeds, tapii, and thereby prove that the land at dispute had originally been taken from them forcibly or fraudulently.

After the departure of the Russians in the spring of 1879 the administration in Plovdiv ordered to enforce court decisions returning land to the Turks. Only half of the courts had recorded such decisions. Other actions were even less emotive and in 1880 the position of the Bulgarians in Eastern Rumelia had improved. The Plovdiv government introduced new methods for authenticating claims, allowing local courts to issue new title deeds if they were satisfied that existing documentation proved ownership, or if local communal councils had issued certificates attesting ownership. Most local councils were entirely Bulgarian or were dominated by Bulgarians and decided in favour of their co-nationals far more often than did the mixed commissions with whom the prerogative of adjunction had previously rested. In many instances, too, Bulgarians refused to relinquish land they had seized and as late as 1884 there were still Turkish landlords demanding the implementation of court orders restoring their property.

The Bulgarians in Rumelia were also helped from 1880 onwards because the Turks began to drift once more into exile. This was very much the result of disappointed hopes for a full restoration of Turkish power south of the Balkan range. By 1880 the Bulgarians had gained complete control of the province and to this many Turks, and particularly the richer and previously more influential ones, could not adapt. The Turks had never allowed the Bulgarians social or legal equality. Now they were forced to concede their superiority and for many Turks this was too much to bear and they gratefully accepted offers of land from the Sultan and returned to the more familiar atmosphere of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks were also encouraged to emigrate from Bulgaria by regulations which affected the cultivation of rice - which was originally introduced to the region by the Turks. This was part of a project to eradicate malaria that included also draining of swamps in the Tundzha, Arda, and Maritsa Basins. The project succeeded in eradicating malaria, however, it also exacerbated droughts in those regions. Rice was a staple crop for the Turks and in its prohibition many of them saw yet another sign of unacceptable Bulgarian domination. An even more important impulse to Turkish emigration was the Bulgarian land tax of 1882. By Moslem law all land was owned by God but after the abolition of feudalism in the 1830s use of that land conferred temporary wardship upon the user, and thus the tithe which had been the main levy on land until 1882 conformed to traditional Moslem codes of thought and practice. The land tax did not. Furthermore, land tax applied to all land in a man's possession not, as under the tithe, merely to that part which had been cultivated. This hit the Turks hard for they customarily left a large proportion, in many cases as much as half, of their land fallow. Taxation now fell on the fallow land too but production and earnings could not be increased by the same proportion and as a result many of the remaining Turkish owners of large estates left Rumelia. Significantly 1882 was the peak year for the sale of larger Turkish properties in Rumelia, though the sale of such properties continued steadily throughout the first half of the 1880s. From the end of the war to the summer of 1880 only six large Turkish chifliks in Eastern Rumelia had been sold but the five years before union with the Principality of Bulgaria in 1885 saw the sale of about a hundred. That most of the larger Turkish owners and many smaller ones left Rumelia was undoubtedly an important factor in the easy attainment of Bulgarian supremacy in Rumelia during the early 1880s.

In Principality of Bulgaria as in Rumelia the chaos of war had allowed a number of seizures to go unrecorded meaning that the new occupiers were to be left in untroubled possession of their land. The Constituent Assembly had considered a proposal to legislate such illegal transfers but no action had been taken as Karavelov had easily persuaded the Assembly that it was pointless to legislate about so widespread a phenomenon. The Bulgarians in the Principality could afford such bold stance as there was little danger of direct Ottoman intervention over the land question. There was a constant stream of emigration by Turks from Bulgaria and by the early 1890s so many Turks had left the former Turkish stronghold of north-eastern Bulgaria that the government in Sofia began to fear that the area would be seriously under-populated. In 1891 the Minister of Finance reported to the Subranie that there were 26,315 vacant plots in the country, many of them in the north-east and most of them under twenty dekars in extent.

In Bulgaria the government also took possession of Turkish land which had been vacant for three years. A number of returning Turkish refugees who demanded restitution of or compensation for their lands were denied both on the grounds that they had without duress left their property unworked for three years.[78] Land rights of Muslim owners were largely disregarded despite of being guaranteed by the powers. The historian Michael Palairet has claimed that de-Ottomanization of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia led to the economic decline in the region,[79] which is contradicted by many other historians, who show rapid growth of the economy as well as rapid industrial development and growth of exports in Bulgaria after 1878.[80][81][82]

Language and education

After the Russo-Turkish War in 1878 the Bulgarian Turks lost their social and political domination in Bulgaria. The official Turkish language became the language of a minority. In 1875 there were 2,700 Turkish primary schools, 40 secondary schools and 150 medreses in the Danube Vilayet. By 1913 the number of Turkish schools was reduced to 1,234 all of which had to be financed by the Turkish community.

Following the First World War the Bulgarian government provided financial assistance to the Turkish schools and their number grew to 1,712 with 60,481 pupils. As the fascist regime gained power in 1934, Turkish school, which had adopted the Latin alphabet following the reforms in Turkey, were forced to teach in the Arabic script. This in order to reduce the nationalistic influences coming from Turkey.

As the Communists took control in Bulgaria in 1944 they delivered on their promises for more liberties for the ethnic minorities. Turkish schools were reopened and the usage of the Latin script allowed. The new regime however nationalised the schools and took them under state control. In 1944 there were 84,603 Turkish children in school age, 40,388 of whom did not attend school. According to the law graduates from Turkish schools were considered as illiterate.

In 1956 the number of Turkish schools is put at 1,149 with 100,843 pupils and 4,527 teachers. After 1958 the Turkish language in these schools was replaced with Bulgarian as the official language and Turkish became an elected subject. After 1970 teaching Turkish in schools was abolished and by 1984 the use of the Turkish language itself was deemed illegal. The only two remaining bi-lingual journals Yeni Işık and Yeni Hayat were printed in Bulgarian only.[83]

During Communist rule (1945 to 1989)

Initial improvements (1944–1956)

After the Communist takeover in 1944, the new regime declared itself in favour of all minorities and inter-ethnic equality and fraternity (in accordance with the classic doctrine of proletarian internationalism) and annulled all the "fascist" anti-Muslim decisions of the previous government.[84] This included banning the "Rodina" organization,[84] re-establishing the closed Turkish minority schools and founding new ones. The new constitution had many provisions regarding minority protection and in particular guaranteed the right to mother tongue education and free development of culture for all national minorities.[84] Further legislation required new Turkish minority textbooks to be issued and allocation of air time for radio broadcasts in Turkish.[85] For the first time since the ban by the previous regime, Turkish-language newspapers and magazines and Turkish-language editions of Bulgarian press were launched, starting in 1945, including Vatan ("Fatherland"), Işık ("Light"), Halk Gençliği, Yeni Işık and Yeni Hayat ("New Life").[86] In 1947, even an "affirmative action"-like policy was implemented, as Turkish minority members were accepted to higher education institutions without an entrance examination; such practices would continue in later years, as special efforts were made to further the active involvement of Muslims in the Communist Party and in the political life of the country; but this special treatment may have been motivated also by the hope that such integration could encourage their cultural assimilation as well.[87][88] However, the emigration of Turks and Pomaks to Turkey was periodically banned starting in 1949; Turkey also obstructed immigration from Bulgaria with tough requirements.[89] Also, Turks and other minorities were not admitted into military service for some time, and even after the official decision to allow it in 1952, their admission would still require them to meet certain undefined political criteria.[90]

Assimilation policy (1956–1989)

The Imaret Mosque, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, also known as the Sehabüddin Pasha Mosque, built in 1444; during the late 1980s, the grounds of the mosque were turned into rubbish tip; this photograph was taken in 1987. Today, this mosque is again in use[91] and is also a branch of the Archeological Museum, and a popular tourist destination.[92] In the garden yard of this mosque are a number of grave markers where notable citizens of "Philibe" were buried. These valuable historic markers are badly deteriorated by vandalism, time and neglect.[93]

Starting in 1956, the regime gradually began to embark on a long-term assimilation policy towards the Turks, which was routinely pursued with more or less intensity until the end of Communist rule and culminated in two periods of intensive campaigns, each lasting several years.[94] The most wide-ranging and public one, directed against the Turks, took place in 1984–1985[95] and was officially called "the Revival Process" (a term also used, though more rarely, for the other large campaign, which was organized against the Pomak identity in 1971–1974[96]). One of the main aspects of these campaigns was the forced name-changing episodes of the country’s Muslim population, in addition to efforts to obliterate traditional clothing, prohibit Muslim customs and deny the use of Turkish language.[97] Apart from these violent episodes, the long-term policy was expressed in various other facts: for example, Turkish-language publications were closed down one by one, and by 1981 only a single newspaper (Yeni Işık ) survived, until it ceased to be published in 1985. Significantly, the new "Zhivkov constitution" of 1971 replaced the term "national minorities" with "nationals of non-Bulgarian origin".

Campaign against the Pomaks

The assimilation policy targeted first the Bulgarian speaking Muslim population, the Pomaks, continuing the practice of the pre-Communist regime. Some of the methods used by "Rodina" were adopted by the Communist regime and the Pomaks were systematically targeted mainly in 1964 and 1970–1974. There are numerous examples of the brutality employed during these forced assimilation operations such as the events in March 1972 in the village of Barutin where police and state security forces violently crushed a demonstration against the assimilation policies of the regime by the majority Muslim population killing 2 civilians and inflicting gunshot wounds on scores of others.[97] In March 1973 in the village of Kornitsa situated in the mountainous region of South-West Bulgaria the local Muslim population resisted the forced name changing and attempted to demonstrate against the government’s suppressive actions. As a response the Bulgarian security forces killed 5 villagers and wounded scores of civilians.[98] By 1974, 500 of the 1,300 inmates of the notorious Belene labour camp were Pomaks who had resisted pressure to change their names.[99]

The "Process of Rebirth"

The Process of Rebirth (also "Process of Revival" - Bulgarian:Vazroditelen protses) was the culmination of the assimilation. With this explicit policy, enacted between 1984 and 1989, the Bulgarian government forced Bulgaria’s Turkish community – 900,000 people or 10 percent of the country's population, to change their names. The people affected were all ethnic Turks. By 1984 other Muslims, mostly the Muslim Roma and the Pomaks had already been forced to give up their Turkish or Muslim names for Christian names. The government had been encouraging the educated Turks to voluntarily adopt Bulgarian names.

The exact reasons for Zhivkov's mass-scale assimilation programme are unclear, but it is believed that one of the main factors was the projection that by 1990 the Bulgarian population would experience a zero or negative population growth resulting in increasing Muslim population and declining Bulgarian population.[100]

In June 1984, the Politbureau voted a policy named "For the further unification and inclusion of Turks into the cause of socialism and the policies of the Bulgarian Communist Party". The plan was to rename all Islamic minorities with Slavic names, ban the wearing of distinctive Turkish clothing, to forbid the use of the Turkish language and close down the mosques. The assimilation campaign was sold to the ethnic Bulgarian majority as an attempt for national "revival" and was called by the authorities the "The Revival Process".[101] The ideology behind the term, originally used for the less publicized attempts at assimilation of the Pomaks in the early 1970s, was the claim that the targeted minority had originally been Bulgarian before its conversion or assimilation during the period of Ottoman rule. Thus, the assimilation was supposedly justified by it being a restoration of the population's original "real" identity.

As it was later to turn out the regime was misled by its own agents among the Turkish minority and was taken aback when the Turkish minority refused to submit to the assimilation campaign. The regime found itself in a position where it had to use violence.[101]

On December 24, 1984 Bulgarian police and security forces fired the first shots against the Turkish community in the village of Mlechino (Present name of Süt Kesiği).[102] While Mlechino was held under siege by Bulgarian security forces some 200 Turkish villagers from the smaller nearby towns attempted to break the siege and protest for the return of their passports and reinstatement of their Turkish names. This pattern repeated in many areas in Bulgaria populated with Turks. People from smaller towns and villages attempted to march and enter larger towns and villages to find a government official with greater jurisdiction who would be able to explain why the Turks were being targeted and when they would be able to reinstate their Turkish names and receive back their original identification documents. Often these larger towns of central administration were unreachable since they were besieged by Bulgarian security forces.[103]

On 25 December 1984, close to the town of Benkovski, some 3,000 Turkish protesters from the nearby smaller villages confronted Bulgarian security forces and demanded to have their original identification papers back. The Bulgarian security forces managed to disperse the crowd claiming that they have no idea where their identification papers were and urged them to go back to their villages and inquire from the local mayors. The large police presence was explained with undergoing security forces "exercise manoeuvres". After returning to their towns and discovering that the local municipality didn't have their passports and ID documentation the crowd headed back, this time more decisively, towards the town of Benkovski on the next day (26 December 1984). The Bulgarian police and security forces were prepared and awaiting with some 500 armed men in position. When the crowd of 2,000 Turkish villagers approached the Bulgarian security forces opened fire with automatic weapons wounding 8 people and killing 4. One of the killed was a 17-month-old Turkish baby.[104] The killed were from the villages of Kayaloba, Kitna and Mogiljane. Judging from the wounds of the dead and wounded the police and security force had been aiming at the midsection of the bodies. The captured demonstrators were faced down on the snow for 2 hours and blasted with cold water coming from the fire fighting trucks. In a report by Atanas Kadirev the head of the Ministry of Interior Forces in Kardzhali it is stated "It was interesting that they were able to absorb all the water from the fire fighting trucks in a standing position". The temperature that day was minus 15 degrees Celsius.[103][105]

On the same day, 26 December 1984, the Turkish community in the village of Gruevo, situated in Momchilgrad county, resisted the entry of security forces vehicles into the village by burning truck tires on the main road. The villagers were temporarily successful, but the security forces returned later that night with reinforcements. The electricity to the village was cut. The villagers organised at the village entrance but were blasted with water mixed with sand coming from the hoses of the fire fighting trucks. Some of the security forces opened fire directly at the villagers and several civilians were wounded and killed. The wounded from bullets attempted to seek help from hospitals but were refused medical treatment. There are reports of incarcerated Turks committing "suicide" while held for police questioning.[105][106] In demonstrations in Momchilgrad at least one 16-year-old youngster was shot and killed and there are reports of casualties also in Dzhebel. According to the Bulgarian "Ministry of Interior" during these few Christmas days there have been some 11 demonstrations in which approximately 11,000 Turks participated. A large number of the arrested protesters were later sent to the "Belene labour camp" at the gates of which it is written "All Bulgarian citizens are equal under the laws of the People's Republic of Bulgaria"[103]

One of the most notable confrontations between the ethnic Turk population and the Bulgarian State Security apparatus and army was in the village of Yablanovo during January 1985 where the Turkish population resisted the tanks of the 3rd Bulgarian Army for 3 days. When the village was overrun by the Bulgarian Army the town hall was made a temporary Command Centre and became the scene of terrifying acts of brutality in the name of "Bulgarisation". The torture and violation of the captured resisting Turks was later continued in the underground cellars of the Ministry of Interior in the city of Sliven. The interrogation methods applied on the captured villagers were depicted with the torture of "Jesus Christ before his crucifixion".[107] Over 30 people are reported killed during the events in Yablanovo.[108]

The regime’s violence did achieve its immediate aims. All Turks had been registered with Slavic names, Turkish was forbidden in public and the mosques abandoned. This however was not the end of the matter but the beginning of the revival of the Turkish identity where the oppressed minority strongly re-defined itself as Muslim and distinct. Bulgarians came to be seen as occupiers and oppressors and protest demonstrations took place in some of the bigger villages in the southern and northern Turk enclaves. Moreover, the Turkish community received the solidarity of Bulgarian intellectuals and opponents of the regime.[101]

Militant attacks

Several militant attacks were committed in the period between 1984 and 1985. The first attack was on August 30, 1984, when one bomb exploded on Plovdiv's railway station and another one in the Varna airport on a date when Todor Zhivkov was scheduled to visit the two towns.[109] One woman was killed and 41 were wounded.[110] On March 9, 1985, attacks going even further as an explosive device was planted on the Sofia-Burgas train[111] and exploded on Bunovo station in a car that was specifically designated for mothers with children, killing seven people (two children) and wounding nine.[111] The accused perpetrators, three Turkish men from the Burgas region who belonged to the illegal Turkish National Liberation Front (TNLF), were arrested, sentenced to death and executed in 1988.[109][111][112] According to other sources the Turkish National Liberation Front was not founded until June 1985[113] (three months after the Bunovo attack). Certain publicists, such as Bulgarian politician and lawyer Yanko Yankov, have suggested that the three men were actually associates of the Bulgarian State Security Service, drawing the conclusion that the terrorist acts were provocations, organized by the regime.,[114] On July 7, 1987, militants detonates three military fragmentation grenades outside hotel "International" in Golden Sands resort at the time occupied with East German holiday-makers, trying to get attention and publicity for the renaming process.

Apart from these acts, the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria used nonviolent ways to resist the regime's oppression, though as noted above there were some violent clashes during the actual renaming process. Notably, intellectuals founded a movement, which was claimed to be the predecessor of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). It used civil disobedience and focused on providing information to the outside world of the physical persecution and suppression suffered by the Turks. The activities of the movement consisted of peaceful demonstrations and hunger strikes with the goal of restoring civil liberties and basic human rights.

The "Big Excursion"

In May 1989, there were disturbances in regions inhabited by members of the Turkish minority. In the so-called "May events" of 1989, emotions reached the boiling point and tens of thousands of Turkish demonstrators took to the streets in the north-eastern and south-eastern provinces. The demonstrations were violently suppressed by police and the military forces.[115] On 6 May, members of the Turkish community initiated mass hungers strikes and demanded the restitution of their Muslim names and civil liberties in accordance with the country’s constitution and international treaties signed by Bulgaria. The participants were members of the "Democratic League" and the "Independent Association". The regime responded with mass detentions and the deportation of activists to foreign countries such as Austria and Turkey. Individuals were driven to the Yugoslav, Romanian or Turkish borders, presented with a tourist passport and extradited without even having a chance of contacting their families first. The mass demonstration in major cities and the regions like Razgrad, Shumen, Kardzhali and Silistra continued systematically all through May 1989.[116] According to the Turkish government, 50 people were killed during the clashes with Bulgarian security forces. The Bulgarian government has put the death toll at only 7.[117] On 10 May 1989, travel restrictions to foreign countries were partly lifted (only for the members of the Turkish minority). Todor Zhivkov gave a speech on 29 May 1989, in which he stated that those who didn't want to live in Bulgaria could emigrate to Turkey and demanded that Turkey open its borders in order to receive all "Bulgarian Muslims". There followed an exodus[118] of over 300,000 Turks to Turkey, which became known as "The Big Excursion". The first wave of refugees was forcefully extradited from Bulgaria. These first deportees consisted of the prisoners of the Belene labour camp, their families and other Turkish activists. People were given 24 hours to gather their luggage before being driven to the border with Turkey in special convoys. Under psychological pressures and fear these were followed by hundreds of thousands. There were also cases were activists of Turkish movements pressured Turks to leave. During the protests in May, the Turkish population effectively abandoned their workplaces in the industrial and agricultural sector. The loss of hundreds of thousands of workers had severe consequences on the production cycle and the whole Bulgarian economy.[119]

In 1998, the Bulgarian president condemned the Revival process and The Big Excursion,[120] nine years after it took place.

Migration and Expulsion of Turks from Bulgaria to Turkey

Migration and Expulsion to Turkey, 1878–1989
Years Total
1877–78 130,000 (of which half returned)[57] or 500,000[58]
1912–1930 240,000[121]
1931–1939 100,000[121]
1950–1951 150,000[121]
1952–1968 24[122]
1969–1974 52,000[123]
1979 50,000[124]
1979–1988 10[122]
1989 320,000 (to 1990 150,000 of them returned in Bulgaria)[125]
1989–2001 16[126]

Official recognition of ethnic cleansing

The Bulgarian Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Religious Freedom approved in February 2010 a declaration, condemning the Communist regime's attempt to forcefully assimilate the country's ethnic Turkish population. The Committee declared the forceful expulsion of 360 000 Turks in 1989 as a form of ethnic cleansing. The committee requested the Bulgarian judiciary and the Chief Prosecutor to renew the case against the architects of the Revival Process.[127][128]

Turks in Post-Communist Bulgaria

Collapse of Zhivkov regime and civil liberties given to Turks

On November 10, 1989, Bulgaria's Communist regime was overthrown. On December 29, the government allowed the Turks of Bulgaria to resume use of their Turkish names. This decision was recognized by law in March 1990. By 1991, some 600 thousand applications were received for the reinstatement of Turkish birth given names. Also in 1991, the Institutition of the Spiritual leader of the Muslims in Bulgaria, the Grand Mufti’s Office was founded. In 1991 a new Constitution was adopted granting citizens of non-Bulgarian origin a wide range of rights and lifting the legislative ban on teaching in Turkish. In January of the same year another law was adopted allowing the Turks to change their names or "strike out" their Slavonic endings like "ov", "ova", "ev", "eva" within three years.[129]

As in other parts of Eastern Europe, the repeal of single-party rule in Bulgaria exposed the long-standing grievances of an ethnic minority. The urban intelligentsia that participated in the 1990 reform movement pushed the post-Zhivkov governments toward restoring constitutionally guaranteed human rights to the Turks. But abrogation of Zhivkov's assimilation program soon after his fall brought massive protests by ethnic Bulgarians.

In January 1990, the Social Council of Citizens, a national body representing all political and ethnic groups, reached a compromise that guaranteed the Turks freedom of religion, choice of names, and unimpeded practice of cultural traditions and use of Turkish within the community. In turn the Bulgarians were promised that Bulgarian would remain the official language and that no movement for autonomy or separatism would be tolerated. Especially in areas where Turks outnumbered Bulgarians, the latter feared progressive "Islamification" or even invasion and annexation by Turkey—a fear that was based on the traditional enmity after the Ottoman rule and had been stirred up after the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. This had been part of the propaganda during by the Zhivkov assimilation campaign and was revived by politicians in post-Communist Bulgaria. Because radical elements of the Turkish population did advocate separatism, however, the non-annexation provision of the compromise was vital.

The Bulgarian governments that followed Zhivkov tried to realize the conditions of the compromise as quickly as possible. In the multiparty election of 1990, the Turks won representation in the National Assembly by twenty-three candidates of the predominantly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). At that point, ethnic Bulgarians, many remaining from the Zhivkov regime, still held nearly all top jobs in government and industry, even in the predominantly Turkish Kurdzhali Province.[citation needed] Parts of Bulgarian society felt threatened by the rise of the MRF. The Bulgarian National Radical Party (BNRP) threatened to surround the Bulgarian Parliament building on the day of the newly elected legislature was scheduled to convene. The BNRP protested the participation of ethnic Turks in the National Assembly and the teaching of Turkish language as a standard curriculum in secondary school with large numbers of Turkish students.[130]

The Patriotic Party of Labour (OPT) was established as the political wing of the National Committee for Defense of National Interests (CDNI). According to its own historiography the OPT emerged due to pressure from ordinary Bulgarian citizens who were outraged by the fact that the MRF was allowed to participate in the 1990 elections. CDNI members were mainly small-shop owners, artisans, farmers and elements of the local communist nomenklatura. The CDNI did not limit itself to rhetoric but also arranged protests against ethnic Turks returning to Bulgaria to claim back their names and property. In October 1991 violent outbreaks occurred between Bulgarian nationalists and Turkish activists in Razgrad.[131]

Bulgarian nationalist forces tried to take advantage of the country’s hard economic and uncertain political conditions. In November 1990 massive protests were staged by Bulgarian nationalists in Razgrad area inhabited by a large number of Turks. The nationalists declared an "independent Bulgarian republic" and refused to recognize Sofia’s authority over the region. In late November the "Razgrad Republic"[132][133][134] was renamed the Association of Free Bulgarian Cities, linking several towns with large Turkish population. The CDNI and other groups opposed restoration of Turkish names, Turkish language lessons in Bulgarian schools and the recognition of ethnic Turks as a national minority in Bulgaria.[131]

These conditions forced the government to find a balance between Turkish demands and demonstrations for full recognition of their culture and language, and some Bulgarians' concerns about preferential treatment for the ethnic minority. In 1991 the most important issue of the controversy was restoring Turkish language teaching in the schools of Turkish ethnic districts. In 1991 the Popov government took initial steps in this direction, but long delays brought massive Turkish protests, especially in Kurdzhali. In mid-1991 continuing strikes and protests on both sides of the issue had brought no new discussions of compromise. Frustration with unmet promises encouraged Turkish separatists in both Bulgaria and Turkey, which in turn fueled the ethnocentric fears of the Bulgarian majority[citation needed] —and the entire issue diverted valuable energy from the national reform effort. The problem was mostly solved in 1991. In the same year a new constitution was adopted which guaranteed citizen with a native language other than Bulgarian the right to study and use their language.[135]

Some developments noted by the US Department of State 2000 report include the fact that Turkish-language classes funded by the government continued, and that on 2 October 2000 Bulgarian national television launched Turkish-language newscasts.[136]

Since 1992, the Turkish language teachers of Bulgaria have been trained in Turkey. At the initial stage only textbooks published in Turkey were used for teaching Turkish, later on, in 1996, Bulgaria's Ministry of Education and Science began publishing the manuals of the Turkish language. A number of newspapers and magazines are published: the "Müslümanlar" ("Muslims"), "Hak ve Özgürlük" ("Right and freedom"), "Güven" ("Trust"), "Jır-Jır" ("Cricket", a magazine for children), "Islam kültürü" ("Islamic culture"), "Balon", "Filiz". In Turkey summer holidays for the Turkish children living in Bulgaria are organized. During the holidays the children are taught the Koran, Turkish literature, Turkish history and language.[129][137]

Movement for Rights and Freedoms

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At the end of 1984 an underground terrorist[138] organization called the National Liberation Movement of the Turks in Bulgaria was formed in Bulgaria which headed the Turkish community's opposition movement and is responsible for several terrorist acts such as one at the train station at Bunovo which was targeted at a train killing 6 civilians and wounding 9. Three of the members were sentenced to death for the bombing and executed. On January 4, 1990 the activists of the movement, registered an organization with the legal name Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) (in Bulgarian: Движение за права и свободи: in Turkish: Hak ve Özgürlükler Hareketi) in Varna, headed by Ahmed Dogan, though a former Bulgarian communist agent himself, his main philosophy was against the communist regime. At the moment of registration it had 33 members, at present, according to the organization's website, 68000 members plus 24000 in the organization's youth wing.[139] With 120,000 members, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) was the fourth largest political organization in Bulgaria in 1991, but it occupied a special place in the political process. The leader of the movement, Ahmed Dogan, was imprisoned in 1986. Founded in 1990 to represent the interests of the Turkish ethnic minority, the MRF gained twenty three seats in the first parliamentary election that year, giving it the fourth-largest parliamentary voting bloc. Its agenda precluded mass media coverage or building coalitions with other parties, because of the strong anti-Turkish element in Bulgaria's political culture. By mid-1991, the UDF had held only one joint demonstration with the MRF; their failure to reconcile differences was considered a major weakness in the opposition to the majority BSP. In early 1990, the MRF protested vigorously but unsuccessfully its exclusion from national round table discussions among the major Bulgarian parties.

In 1991 the MRF broadened its platform to embrace all issues of civil rights in Bulgaria, aiming "to contribute to the unity of the Bulgarian people and to the full and unequivocal compliance with the rights and freedoms of mankind and of all ethnic, religious, and cultural communities in Bulgaria." The MRF took this step partly to avoid the constitutional prohibition of political parties based on ethnic or religious groups. The group's specific goals were ensuring that the new constitution protect ethnic minorities adequately; introducing Turkish as an optional school subject; and bringing to trial the leaders of the assimilation campaign in the 1980s. To calm Bulgarian concerns, the MRF categorically renounced Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, and ambitions for autonomy within Bulgaria.[140]

2013 Parliamentary election, distribution of votes by constituency (Movement for Rights and Freedoms in purple)
Distribution of seats by constituency from the election

In the first general elections in 1990 after the communist regime which the Muslims boycotted, the party won 6.0% of the popular vote and 24 out of 400 seats and became the fourth largest party in the parliament. In the parliamentary elections in 1991 it won 7.6% of the vote and remained with 24 seats in а 240-seat parliament. In the elections in 1994 it won 5.4% of the vote and its seats decreased to 15. In the elections in 1997 it won 7.6% of the vote and 19 out of 240 seats. It won in the elections in 2001 7.5% of the vote and 21 out of 240 seats. Subsequently, for the first time the party joined a coalition government, which was led by the winner of the elections (NDSV). Under the control of the party were 2 out of 17 Bulgarian ministries - the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and the Minister without portfolio, the rest 15 remained under the control of NDSV. At the 2005 elections it increased to 12.8% of vote and 34 out of 240 seats and kept in power as a part of the coalition led by the BSP and NDSV party. The ministries under the control of the Movement of Rights and Freedoms increased to 3 out of 18. In the budget of 2008, MRF directed a large parts of the subsidies for agriculture to tobacco growers (which are predominantly Turks, Pomaks, and Romani) leaving staple crops, like wheat, without subsidies for buying the seed for sowing. This evoked protests by farmers in the regions of Vratsa, Knezha, and Dobrudzha. At the 2009 elections it increased to 14.0% of vote and 37 out of 240 seats. Following the election, the government was totally occupied by the decisive winner, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms returned to opposition after being part of coalition governments two consecutive terms between 2001 and 2009. At the 2009 European Parliament elections the party won 14.1% of the vote and 3 MEPs out of 18. Two of the MEPs are ethnic Turks (Filiz Husmenova and Metin Kazak) and one (Vladko Panayotov) is ethnic Bulgarian. According to exit polls of the Bulgarian parliamentary election in 2013, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms gained 11.3% of the vote, it keeps 36 seats and remains the third largest voting bloc. The party won the elections in five regions where the Muslim population resides - Kardzhali, Razgrad, Silistra, Targovishte and Shumen provinces; the party also wins abroad with 49% of the vote, in general the most polling stations and voters in a foreign country wherever were in Turkey, from where the party included 50,000 votes more to its result of 350,000 votes. One more Turkish party, founded in 2011 and headed by Korman Ismailov - People's Party Freedom and Dignity (PPFD) in a coalition with NDSV won 1.531% of the vote and therefore did not cross the 4% threshold to enter the parliament.[141] Another political party founded in 1998 and representing a smaller fraction of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria is the National Movement for Rights and Freedoms (NMRF), which do not participate in the parliamentary elections. The party is headed by Güner Tahir and has on several occasions formed an alliance with the MRF during nationwide local elections.[142] During the 1999 local elections the NMRF gained some 80 000 votes.[143]

Turkish names of cities, towns, villages and geographical locations

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Over 3200 locations in Bulgaria are also known by some Turks in their Turkish names.[144]

Bulgarian Name Turkish Name Comments
Aksakovo Acemler
Ardino Eğridere
Aitos Aydos
Beloslav Gebece
Blagoevgrad Yukarı Cuma
Botevgrad Orhaniye
Burgas Burgaz
Dalgopol Yeni-Köy
Devin Devlen
Devnya Devne
Dobrich Hacıoğlu Pazarcık
Dolni Chiflik Aşağı Çiftlik
Dulovo Akkadınlar
Dzhebel Cebel
Golyamo Tsarkvishte (village) Küçük Tekeler Küçük means small translated interestingly as Golyamo which means large.

Tekeler was evolved from Tekkeler which means Dervish convent to Tsarkvishte which means church.

Gotse Delchev (town) Nevrekop Nevrekop was old name of Gotse Delchev
Haskovo Hasköy
Harmanli Harmanlı
Hitrino Şeytancık
Isperih Kemallar
Iglika Kalaycı
Ivaylovgrad Ortaköy
Kadievo Kadıköy
Kameno Kayalı
Kalimantsi Gevrekler
Kaolinovo Bohçalar
Kardzhali Kırcaali
Kaspichan Kaspiçan
Kaynardzha Küçük Kaynarca
Kazanlak Kızanlık
Krumovgrad Koşukavak The name derives from "koşu": running, and "kavak": poplar, horse races on a poplar-grown course
Kubrat (town) Kurtbunar
Loznitsa Kubadın
Lovech Lofça
Mihailovski Kaykı
Momchilgrad Mestanlı
Nikola Kozlevo Civel, Tavşankozlucası
Novi Pazar, Bulgaria Yeni Pazar
Omurtag (town) Osman Pazar
Pazardzhik Tatar Pazarcık
Pleven Plevne
Plovdiv Filibe Named after Alexander the Great's father Philip II of Macedon in ancient times this city was also known as Phillipopolis.
Popovo Pop Köy
Provadiya Prevadi
Razgrad Hezargrad
Rousse Rusçuk
Ruen Ulanlı
Samuil (village) Işıklar
Shumen Şumnu
Silistra Silistre
Sliven İslimye
Slivo Pole Kaşıklar
Sokolartsi, Kotel Province Duvancilar
Stara Zagora Eski Zağra
Svilengrad Cisri Mustafa Paşa
Suvorovo Kozluca
Targovishte Eski Cuma
Tervel (town) Kurt Bunar
Topolovgrad Kavaklı
Topuzovo, Kotel Province Topuzlar
Tsar Kaloyan, Razgrad Province Torlak
Tsenovo, Rousse Province Çauşköy
Valchi Dol Kurt-Dere
Veliki Preslav Eski İstanbulluk
Venets, Shumen Province Köklüce
Vetovo Vetova, Vet-Ova
Vetrino Yasa-Tepe
Zavet (town) Zavut
Zlatograd Darıdere
Zhivkovo Kızılkaya
Buzludzha Buzluca Peak in the Central Stara Planina
Bulgaranovo Kademler Village in Omurtag region
Veselets Yagcilar Village in Omurtag region
Borimechkovo Yörükler Village in Pazardzhik region. In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 returning refugees from four burned villages (Cafarli, Duvanli, Okçullu, and Oruçlu) settled in Okçullu which became known as Yörükler.
Dobrudja Babadag Deriving from Baba Sari Saltik
Hainboaz Hain-Boğaz Hainboaz mountain pass, known in Bulgaria as the Pass of the Republic
Stara Planina Koca Balkan Literally meaning "Great Mountain" this is the mountain that gives its name to the entire region and the Balkan Peninsula. Its Bulgarian name means "Old Mountain".
Sredna Gora Orta Balkan Literally means "Middle Mountain".


Distribution of the ethnic groups by municipalities according to the 2011 census:
Red: Bulgarian ethnic group
Green: Turkish ethnic group
Distribution of the Turkish population in Bulgaria by provinces according to the 2001 census

Distribution of the Bulgarian Turks by province, according to the 2011 Bulgarian census:

Provinces Turkish population
(2011 census)
Percentage of
Turkish population
Province's population
Kurdzhali 86,527 66.2% 152,808
Razgrad 57,261 50.02% 125,190
Shumen 50,878 30.29% 180,528
Burgas 49,354 13.32% 415,817
Silistra 40,272 36.09% 119,474
Plovdiv 40,255 6.49% 683,027
Targovishte 38,231 35.80% 120,818
Varna 30,469 7.17% 475,074
Ruse 28,658 13.23% 235,252
Haskovo 28,444 12.51% 246,238
Dobrich 23,484 13.50% 189,677
Blagoevgrad 17,027 6.00% 323,552
Sliven 16,784 9.69% 197,473
Veliko Tarnovo 15,709 6.71% 258,494
Stara Zagora 15,035 4.88% 333,265
Pazardzhik 14,062 5.72% 275,548
Pleven 8,666 3.61% 269,752
Sofia City 6,526 0.55% 1,291,591
Gabrovo 6,464 5.60% 122,702
Smolyan 4,696 4.93% 121,752
Lovech 4,337 3.33% 141,422
Yambol 3,600 2.93% 131,447
Vratsa 565 0.35% 186,848
Sofia Province 422 0.18% 247,489
Pernik 231 0.18% 133,530
Montana 171 0.12% 148,098
Kyustendil 105 0.08% 136,686
Vidin 85 0.09% 101,018
Total 588,318 8.81% 7,364,570
Source: 2011 census[23][145]


Islamic identity remains strong and over 95% of the Turkish ethnic group identify as Muslim on the census, this is considered a main difference between the Turkish and the rest of the population in Bulgaria, especially the dominant Bulgarian ethnic group from which 95% declare Orthodox Christian identity on census. The Turks make up the basis or 74% of the Muslim community in Bulgaria, with most other Muslims being the Pomaks. In 2001, there were also about 10,000 Christian Turks, but unlike the Bulgarians, they are split nearly evenly among Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants.

Distribution of Muslims in Bulgaria

A table showing the results of the 2001 census in Bulgaria regarding religious self-identification:

The Turkish population in Bulgaria by confession
Professing group Adherents from the Turkish population Adherents from the total population
Number  % Number  %
Muslims 713,024 95.5 966,978 12.2
Irreligious 23,146 3.1 308,116 3.9
Orthodox Christians 5,425 0.7 6,552,751 82.6
Roman Catholic Christians 2,561 0.3 43,811 0.6
Protestant Christians 2,066 0.3 42,308 0.5
Others 442 0.1 14,937 0.2
Total population 746,664 100.0 7,928,901 100.0
Source: 2001 census:[146][147]


A table showing the results of the 2001 census in Bulgaria regarding linguistic self-identification:

The Turkish population in Bulgaria by mother tongue
Mother tongue Speakers from the Turkish population Speakers from the total population
Number  % Number  %
Turkish 720,136 96.4 762,516 9.6
Bulgarian 26,147 3.5 6,697,158 84.5
Others and unspecified 381 0.1 469,227 5.9
Total population 746,664 100.0 7,928,901 100.0
Source: 2001 census:[148][149]

Bulgarian Turkish literature

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Bulgarian Turks have produced perhaps the most substantial amount of literature in the Turkish language outside Turkey. The list of noted writers includes: Aşık Hıfzi, Hüseyin Raci Efendi, Ali Osman Ayrantok, Mehmet Müzekka Con, İzzet Dinç, Mustafa Serit Alyanak, Muharrem Yumuk Mehmet, Behçet Perim, Ali Kemal Balkanlı, Lütfi Erçin, Osman Kesikoğlu, Mehmet Fikri, Oğuz Peltek, Mehmet Muradov, Selim Bilalov, Osman Kılıç, Riza Mollov, Mustafa Kahveciev, Nuri Turgut Adalı, Yusuf Kerimov, Kemal Bunarciev, Salih Baklacıev, Süleyman Gavazov, Hasan Karahüseyinov, Sabri Tatov, Ahmet Timisev, Hüseyin Oğuz, Ahmet Şerifov, Mülazim Çavuşev, Mefkure Mollova, Niyazi Hüseyinov, Lütfi Demirov, Muharrem Tahsinov, Mehmet Bekirov, İshak Raşidov, Nadiye Ahmedova, Sabahattin Bayramov, Halit Aliosmanov, Mehmet Sansarov, İslam Beytullov, Ismail Çavusev, Turhan Rasiev, Ismail Yakubov, Naci Ferhadov, Mukaddes Akmonova – Saidova, Yasar Gafur, Ali Boncuk, Ahmet Mehmedov, Isa Cebeciev, Mustafa Aladag, Ahmet Eminov, Ibrahim Kamberoglu, İsmail Bekirov, Mehmet Davudov, Hüsmen İsmailov, Kazım Memişev, İsmail İbişev, Mehmet Çavuşev, Muhammet Yusufov, Yusuf Ahmedov, Recep Küpçüev, Nevzat Mehmedov, Ömer Osmanov, Ali Bayramov, Latif Aliev, Mustafa Mutkov, Ali Kadirov, Halim Halilibrahimov, Faik İsmailov, Ali Pirov, Mustafa Çetev, Süleyman Yusufov, Durhan Hasanov, Mehmet Memov, Nazmi Nuriev, Osman Azizov, Sabri İbrahimov, Ali Durmuşev, Alis Saidov, Fehim Şentürk, Fevzi Kadirov, Saban Mahmudov, Sahin Mustafaov, Latif Karagöz, Kadir Osmanov, Mustafa Ömer Asi, Ahmet Aptiev, Necmiye Mehmedova, Lamia Varnalı, Ahmet Aliev, Nevzat Yakubov, İsmet Bayramov, Nebiye İbrahimova, Ahmet Kadirov, Avni Veliev, Arzu Tahirova, Durhan Aliev, Saffet Eren, Emine Hocova, Aysel İsmailova Süleymanova, Kadriye Cesur, Nafize Habip, Naim Bakoğlu, Beyhan Nalbantov, Ali Tiryaki, Fatma Hüseyin[150]

Distribution of Turkish dialects in Bulgaria

There are two main dialects; the first one is spoken in every area in south-east Bulgaria and is also used in the neighbouring countries (Greece and Turkey). It can be identified from the second one by looking at the "present continuous time"; it has the suffix forms -yirin, -yisin, -yiri. In formal Turkish they are -yorum, -yorsun, -yor. In the second dialect, used near Kurdzhali, the forms are; -værin, -væsin, -væri.[151][152]

Notable Bulgarian Turks

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See also

Further reading

  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  • Library of Congress – Federal Research Division, Country Profile: Bulgaria, October 2006


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  137. "Bulgarsitan’dan 70 Turk Ogrenci, Tatilini Tekirdag’da degerlendiriyor", "BTHA" Bulgar-Turk Haber Ajansi - 24, 07 2004
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  140. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  141. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  142. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  143. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  144. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  145. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  146. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  147. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  148. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  149. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  150. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  151. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  152. Salimehmed, Naylen; Bulgaristan Kırcaali ili ve çevresi Türk ağzı [Turkish dialect of Kırcaali province and its around], 2006 Edirne