Turks in Bulgaria: Wikis


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Turks in Bulgaria
Turks in Bulgaria .jpg
Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha  · Ahmet Cevdet Pasha · Mehmed Talat Paşa · Fakhri Pasha · Nezihe Viranyalı · Koca Yusuf · Kurtdereli Mehmet Pehlivan · Kara Ahmet · Nejdet Zalev · Ismail Abilov · Naim Süleymanoğlu · Halil Mutlu · Yıldız İbrahimova · Esil Duran · Ahmed Dogan ·
Total population
746,664 (in Bulgaria)[1]

326,000 - 480,817 (in Turkey)[2][3]

10,000 - 30,000 (in the Netherlands)[4][5]

2,000 - 10,000 (in Turkish North Cyprus)[6][7]

2,620 (in Ghent Belgium)[8]

Regions with significant populations
Kardzhali  · Razgrad  · Targovishte  · Silistra  · Shumen

Turkish  · Bulgarian



Turks in Bulgaria

Turks in Bulgaria constituted 9.4% of the total population in 2001 and are the largest minority group in Bulgaria. The Turks in Bulgaria are descendants of the early Turkic settlers who came from Anatolia across the narrows of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, as well as some Bulgarian converts to Islam who were Turkified during the Ottoman rule[9][10]. 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.[11][12][13] The Turkish community was formed as an ethnic minority 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, Bulgarian Turks and Gypsies confirms with Y-chromosomal STR haplotype analysis that there is a significant differences between the three ethnic groups. The study revealed a high number of population-specific haplotypes and a low degree of haplotype sharing between the three ethnic communities.[14]



Distribution of Turks in Bulgaria by District in 2001[15]

Today, the Turks of Bulgaria are concentrated in two rural areas, in the Northeast (Ludogorie/Deliorman) and the Southeast (the Eastern Rhodopes).[16] They form the absolute majority in the province of Kardzhali and relative majority in the province of Razgrad.[17]

It is important to note, that it is difficult to establish accurately the number of the Turks and that it's likely that the census numbers are an overestimate because some Roma, Crimean Tatars, Circassians and Pomaks tend to identify themselves as Turk[18][19]

Turks settled in the territory of modern Bulgaria during and after the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the late XIV and early XV centuries. Being the dominant group in the Ottoman Empire for the next 5 centuries, they played an important part in the economic and cultural life of the land. The Turks lived predominantly in some of the big towns in Bulgaria - Plovdiv, Varna and Shumen. The decline of Turkish population relatively to that of the other large ethnic groups in the region (Bulgarians, Greeks) started with the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 17'th century.[citation needed] After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, because of their status as former rulers, the Turks had a stormy relationship with Bulgaria. The estimates of the number of Turks in Bulgaria prior to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 vary from between a third to being the majority of the total population. Turks began emigrating during and after the Russo-Turkish War. The movement continued, with some interruptions, through the late 1980s.

The biggest wave of Turkish emigration occurred in 1989, when 310,000 Turks left Bulgaria as a result of the communist Zhivkov regime's assimilation campaign. That program, which began in 1984, forced all Turks and other Muslims in Bulgaria to adopt Bulgarian 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] 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.[21] During this period the Bulgarian authorities denied all reports of ethnic repression and that ethnic Turks existed in the country. The official government stance was that the Turks in Bulgaria were really Bulgarians who were Turkified and that the entire Turkish population voluntarily chose to changed their Turkish/Muslim names to Bulgarian/Slavic ones.[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 2001 census, there are 746,664 ethnic Turks in Bulgaria[23][24]. Statistic results of the 2000 census on the foreign-born population in Turkey showed that 480,817 residents were born in Bulgaria thus forming the largest foreign-born group in the country.[25]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]


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[26].

Possible settlement of Turks in Bulgaria During the pre-Ottoman Period

While most Turks settled during and after the Ottoman conquest, there are indications that some Turks settled before this period. According to early Ottoman 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 Oghuzname Yazicioğlu Ali describes how Turkish Seljuk troops joined their Sultan 'Izz al-Din Kayka'us II (Kaykaus II) to help the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos in his military campaigns.[27] It is thought that during this campaign Seljuks settled in Dobruja.[28]. 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[29]. 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.[30][31][32][33] Part of them returned to Anatolia, while the rest became Christianized and adopted the name of Gagauz.[34] 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.[13] Some historians have presented the view that the Turks in Deliorman are the descendants of Proto-Bulgar Turks, 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.[13]

Settlement of Turks in Bulgaria During the Ottoman Period

Ethnic map of the Balkans 1861
Ethnic map of the Balkans 1877 by the pro-Greek [35] A. Synvet

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 over 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 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.[36] 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 sixteenth century and began to settle them only during the seventeenth 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 form their home bases, the potential threat of such elements was considerably reduced as in the case of the followers of the rebellious Karamanoğlu Pir Ahmet. Tribal resistance was followed by large-scale transfers of Karamanoğlu Türkmen nomads to Rumelia. Deportations in both directions occurred throughout the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries.[36]

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 fifteenth 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 1520-1530 showed that 19% of the Balkan population was Muslim.[37]

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.[38] 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).[39]

Ottoman Architecture in Bulgaria

Plovdiv Cuma Mosque in Plovdiv
An Ottoman-era townhouse in Varna
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 eighteenth 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.[40]

Turks in Bulgaria from Liberation to Communist Rule (1878 to 1945)

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

The estimates of the number of Turks in Bulgaria prior to the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 vary from between a third to being the majority[20] of the total population. As Russian forces and Bulgarian volunteers pushed south in January 1878 they inflicted a welter of atrocities on the local Muslim population.[41]NYT 23.11.1877 A significant number of Muslims (up to 300,000) perished in the war's carnage or due to hardships during their flight. The figure of refugees is estimated between 130,000 and 1 million, who fled with the retreating Ottoman forces,[42][43][44] though some returned after the war. These numbers also may include Turks from areas which are not part of Bulgaria today.[citation needed] It should be noted that the Ottoman army committed numerous atrocities 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.[45][46] There were also many Bulgarian refugees from those territories which remained part of the Ottoman empire.

During the War many Turks, including large and small landowners, left their lands[47]. 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.[47] The decline in the Turkish-speaking population of Bulgaria in the period of 1880-1910 does not include these people and therefore give an absolutely accurate picture of the Turkish emigration for many Turks left before the first census was taken.[47]

Bulgarian population increased from two and a half million in 1892 to three and a half million in 1910, and stood at over four and three-quarter million in 1920. This increase took place while a large number of Bulgaria's Turkish speaking inhabitants were emigrating. In 1881 the Turks represented almost a quarter of the population of Bulgaria and Rumelia, yet by 1892 the proportion was 17.21 percent and in 1910 11.63%; in the same years the Bulgarian speaking elements were 67.84%, 75.67% and 81.63% of the total.[48]

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 Turkish Republic of Western Thrace. The short-lived Turkish Republic had a population of over 230 000 of which app. 80% were Turks and Pomaks.[49] 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.[50]

Turkish Press in Bulgaria 1879 – 1945[51]

The Turkish press in Bulgaria established its self 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 – 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.

RUMELI – 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.

TERBIYE OCAĞI: Established in 1921 by the Islamic Teachers Community in Bulgaria (Bulgaristan Muallimi Islâmiye Cemiyeti) and printed in Varna between 1923 – 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.

DELIORMAN: 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 – 1915 Mustafa Şerif Alyanak took on the job of head editor with weekly editions. Deliorman also functioned as a 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.

TEBLIGAT: 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[52]: “Works by Native Turkish Writers in Bulgaria/Turkish Newspapers Published in Bulgaria”

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 (Turkish nationalist propaganda.[53]

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.[54] In 1875 some 50% of the land in Rumelia was owned by Turks.[55] A decade after 1878 as much as a quarter of the arable land in Bulgaria transferred from Turkish to Bulgarian ownership.[56]

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.[57] 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.[58]

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 such monies.

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 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[59].

Human rights

Bulgaria's constitution and various international treaties required it to grant minorities, including the Turkish population, equal treatment before law (however, the Tarnovo constitution also required, discriminatorily, direct government control over all minority religious communities[60]). The policy of equal treatment was pursued inconsistently.[61] All in all, Turks and other Muslims were able to freely maintain their own cultural life during most of the time until WWII, but with periods of gross human rights violations, including a major onslaught during the right-wing authoritarian regime in the last decade of that period. Other abuses included denied access to public service and refusal of tax relief and agricultural loans as a way to encourage emigration[62], as well as state appointment of Muslim muftis.

The condition of Turks and Bulgarian Muslims worsened gravely after the 1934 coup d'état and the establishment of Boris III's quasi-dictatorship[63] and remained so until the Communist takeover. Muslim minority teachers were deprived of pensions and the participation of the Muslim community in political and cultural life was minimized. As mentioned above, there was an immediate assault on Turkish-language press and by 1941 all Turkish-language newspapers were banned. This was justified with the claim that it promoted Kemalist ideas[53]. In general, pro-Kemalist organizations were systematically dissolved, as Kemalism was regarded as a form of pan-Turkism that turned the Bulgarian Turks into a fifth column of Turkey.[64] Ironically, emigration to Turkey was nevertheless banned during this until the early 1940s, when the government decided to issue emigration permits en masse in order to get rid of the "fifth column". Turkey, on the other hand, was very reluctant to admit any huge immigration from Bulgaria. At the same time, the overall conditions worsened even more, as the pro-Nazi regime closed all Muslim minority schools as well as schools with a significant number of Muslim or Turkish members, shut down mosques and even medical centres in predominantly Muslim areas, and systematically distributed smaller wartime foodstuff portions to Turks and Muslims than to ethnic Bulgarians.[65]

The Turks were not targets of violent assimilation attempts during most of this period, although Bulgarian-speaking Muslims (Pomaks) were targeted in two such state-organized campaigns - once during the Balkan wars (which was later revoked by the Liberal Party government elected also with Pomak votes), and once in 1942[66], by the notorious “Bulgarian-Mohammedan Cultural-Educational and Charitable Association - Rodina”. This also involved a ban on Pomak-Turkish intermarriage and coercive replacement of the Pomaks' Muslim names with Christian ones.[67]

Turks in Bulgaria 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.[67] This included restoring the Pomaks' Muslim names, banning the "Rodina" organization[67], 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.[67] Further legislation required new Turkish minority textbooks to be issued and allocation of air time for radio broadcasts in Turkish.[68] 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"), Isik ("Light"), Halk Gencligi, Yeni Isik and Yeni Hayat ("New Life").[69] 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.[70][71] However, the emigration of Turks and Pomaks to Turkey was periodically banned starting in 1949; Turkey also obstructed immigration from Bulgaria with tough requirements[72]. 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.[73]

The 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 a branch of the Archeological Museum, and a popular tourist destination [31]

Starting in 1956, the regime gradually began to embark on a long-term assimilation policy towards Muslims and/or Turks in Bulgaria, 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.[74] The most wide-ranging and public one, directed against the Turks, took place in 1984-1985[75] 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[76]). One of the main aspects of these campaigns were the forced name-changing episodes of the country’s Muslim population, as well as efforts to obliterate traditional clothing, prohibit Muslim customs and deny the use of Turkish language.[77] 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 Isik) 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” where 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.[77] 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.[78] By 1974, 500 of the 1,300 inmates of the notorious Belene labour camp were Pomaks who had resisted pressure to change their names[79].

The "Revival Process"

The assimilation attempts culminated between 1984-1989 when the target became Bulgaria’s Turkish community and the Bulgarian government forced 900,000 people, 10 percent of the country's population, to change their names. The people affected were all ethnic Turks. By 1984 the Roma and the Pomaks had already been forced to give up their Turkish or Muslim names for Bulgarian 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.[80]

In June 1984, the Politbureau voted a policy named “For the further unification and inclusion of Bulgarian Turks into the cause of socialism and the policies of the Bulgarian Communist Party". The plan was to re-name 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”.[81] The ideology behind the term, originally used for the less publicized attempts at assimilation of the Pomaks in the early 1970s, was 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 its 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 taken aback when the Turkish minority refused to submit to the aims of the assimilation campaign. The regime found its self in a position where they had to use violence.[81]

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)[82]. While Mlechino was held under siege by Bulgarian security forces some 200 Turkish villagers from the smaller near by towns attempted to break the siege and protest for the return of their passports and reinstatement of their Muslim 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 were the Turks being targeted and when would they be able to reinstate their Muslim 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.[83]

On 25 December 1984, close to the town of Benkovski, some 3,000 Turkish protesters from the near by 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 (26th of December 1984). The Bulgarian police and security forces were prepared and awaiting with some 500 armed men in positions. When the crowd of 2,000 Turkish villagers approached the Bulgarian security forces opened fire with automatic weapons wounding 8 people of which 3 women and killing 4. One of the killed was a 17-month old baby Türken[84]. 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 mid-section 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.[83][85]

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.[86][87] 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”[83]

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”.[88] Over 30 people are reported killed during the events in Yablanovo.[89]

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.[81]

Militant attacks

Several militant attacks were committed in the period between 1984 and 1985. Some of the acts were committed before the start of the "Revival Process" (December 1984). 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.[90] One woman was killed and 41 were wounded.[91] On March 9, 1985, an explosive device was planted on the Sofia-Burgas train[92] and exploded on Bunovo station in a car that was specifically designated for mothers with children, killing seven people (two children) and wounding nine[92]. 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.[90][92][93] According to other sources the Turkish National Liberation Front was not founded until June 1985[94] (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.[95], though this is not a widely accepted theory.[96][citation needed]

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 in Bulgaria. 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 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.[97] On the 6th of May members of the Turkish community initiated mass hungers strikes and demanded the restitution of the their Muslim names and civil liberties in accordance with the country’s constitution and international treaties signed by Bulgaria. The participants were member 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.[98] 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[99]. 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", who wanted to live there. There followed an exodus[100] 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.[101].

Migration and Expulsion of Turks from Bulgaria to Turkey

Migration and Expulsion to Turkey, 1878–1989
Years Total
1877–78 130,000 - 1 000,000[102][103][104]
1912–1930 240,000[105]
1931-1939 100,000[106]
1950-1951 150,000[107]
1969-1974 52,000[108]
1979 50,000[109]
1989 320,000[110]

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.[111][112]

Turks in Post-Communist Bulgaria

Collapse of Zhivkov regime and civil liberties given to Turks

On November 10th, 1989 Bulgaria's Communist regime was overthrown. On December 29th a governmental decision was made allowing the Turks of Bulgaria to re-adopt their Turkish names. This was ratified as a law in March of 1990. Within one year some 600 thousand applications were received for the reinstatement of Turkish birth given names. In the same year 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[32].

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 MRF (The Movement for Rights and Freedoms). 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..[113]

The Fatherland Party of Labour (FPL) was established as the political wing of the National Committee for Defense of National Interests (CDNI). According to its own historiography the FPL 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 its self 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.[114]

Bulgarian nationalist forces tried to take advantage of the country’s hard economic and uncertain political conditions. In November of 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”[115][116][117] 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.[118]

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—and the entire issue diverted valuable energy from the national reform effort. The problem was mostly solved by the end of 1991.

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[119].

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 [120][33].

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms

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 for opposition to the Zhivkov policy of assimilating ethnic Turks. 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.[121] Political overtures were made regularly to the UDF, and some local cooperation occurred in 1991. Although the MRF remained the fastest growing party in Bulgaria, however, the sensitivity of the Turkish issue caused official UDF policy to keep the MRF in isolation. This did not prevent the UDF from accepting the MRF as a coalition partner after the 1991 parliamentary elections.

Participation in Bulgarian politics

Distribution of votes for MRF by district in 2003,2005,2007[122]

The Bulgarian Turks are represented at every level of government - local, with MRF having mayors in 35 muncipalities [123], at parliamentary level with MRF having 38 deputies and at executive level, where there is currently one Turkish minister - Vezhdi Rashidov, though he's not a MRF member. MRF might be said to be overreprsented[citation needed](for example, there were 38 MRF deputies (15.8% of the total in 2009, with the party receiving 610 521 votes - 14.5% of the vote, their highest to date) and only slightly more than 9% ethnic Turks, the party's main electorate).[124][125]. In the prior 2005 parliamentary elections the result was 14% of the total vote providing for 34 seats in parliament. Back in the end of 1984 an underground organization called «National Liberation Movement of the Turks in Bulgaria» was formed in Bulgaria which headed the Turkish community's antigovernmental movement. 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 the Bulgarian city of Varna. At the moment of registration it had 33 members, at present, according to the organization's website, 68 thousand members plus 24 thousand in the organization's youth wing [34]. As a result of elections held in 2001 and 2005, the MRF was included in the coalition government. At the parliamentary elections held on June 17, 2001, the MRF got 21 deputy mandates by 7.45% of votes. In the parliament, there was also an independent Turkish deputy, Osman Ahmed Oktay. The Turkish party formed a coalition government in a non-Turkic country. Mehmet Dikmen, Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment represented the MRF. Filiz Huseynova, presently working at the European Parliament, held the post of the State Minister for minorities. Earlier she was the Deputy Mayor on humanitarian issues in her native town Silistra; she was appointed Minister on July 17, 2003. On June 25, 2005 the parliamentary elections were held. The party's success was very impressive: it won 14.07% of the votes, 34 MRF members entered the parliament; two of them were Bulgarians. A new coalition was formed which at this time consisted of three parties: the Bulgarian Socialist Party, «National Movement of Simeon II» and the MRF. 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. During the May 2007 Bulgarian European Parliament elections the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) gained 20,26% of the vote and currently has 3 MEPs in the European Parliament. 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) (offshoot from MRF). The party is headed by Güner Tahir and has on several occasions formed an alliance with the MRF during nationwide local elections.[126] During the 1999 local elections the NMRF gained some 80 000 votes.[127]

Historical Turkish names of cities, towns, villages and geographical locations

Over 3200 locations in Bulgaria are currently identifiable by their Turkish names alongside their official Bulgarian designation.

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 Dobriç
Dolni Chiflik Aşağı Çiftlik
Dulovo Akkadınlar
Dzhebel Cebel
Gotse Delchev (town) Nevrekop
Haskovo Hasköy
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
Slivo Pole Kaşıklar
Smolyan Paşmaklı
Stara Zagora Eski Zağra
Svilengrad Mustafa Paşa
Suvorovo Kozluca
Targovishte Eski Cuma
Topolovgrad Kavaklı
Tsar Kaloyan, Razgrad Province Torlak
Tsenovo, Rousse Province Çauşköy
Valchi Dol Kurt-Dere
Veliki Preslav Eski İstanbulluk
Venets, Shumen Province Köklüce
Vetovo Vetova
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 Babadağ 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".


Districts Turkish population
(2001 census)
Percentage of
the total population
Kurdzhali 101,116 61.65
Razgrad 71,963 47.21
Shumen 59,551 29.14
Burgas 58,636 13.84
Plovdiv 52,499 7.33
Targovishte 49,495 35.95
Silistra 48,761 34.34
Varna 37,502 8.12
Ruse 37,050 13.92
Blagoevgrad 31,857 9.34
Haskovo 31,266 11.27
Dobrich 28,231 13.12
Sliven 22,971 10.51
Veliko Tarnovo 22,562 7.70
Pazardzhik 20,448 6.58
Stara Zagora 18,529 5.00
Pleven 16,931 5.43
Gabrovo 9,109 6.32
Lovech 8,476 4.99
Smolyan 6,212 4.44
Sofia-cap. 6,036 0.52
Yambol 4,181 2.68
Vratsa 2,000 0.82
Sofia 654 0.24
Montana 235 0.13
Kyustendil 146 0.09
Vidin 139 0.11
Pernik 108 0.07
Total 746,664 9.42
(Source: 2001 census) [128]

Literature by Turks in Bulgaria

The Turks in Bulgaria have produced perhaps the most substantial amount of literature in Turkish language outside Turkey. The list of noted writers includes: Asik Hifzi, Hüseyin Raci Efendi, Ali Osman Ayrantok, Mehmet Müzekka Con, Izzet Dinç, Mustafa Serit Alyanak, Muharrem Yumuk Mehmet, Behçet Perim, Ali Kemal Balkanli, Lütfi Erçin, Osman Kesikoglu, Mehmet Fikri, Oguz Peltek, Mehmet Muradov, Selim Bilalov, Osman Kiliç, Riza Mollov, Mustafa Kahveciev , Nuri Turgut Adali, Yusuf Kerimov, Kemal Bunarciev, Salih Baklaciev, Süleyman Gavazov, Hasan Karahüseyinov, Sabri Tatov, Ahmet Timisev, Hüseyin Oguz, Ahmet Serifov , Mülazim Çavusev, Mefkure Mollova, Niyazi Hüseyinov, Lütfi Demirov, Muharrem Tahsinov, Mehmet Bekirov, Ishak Rasidov, Nadiye Ahmedova, Sabahattin Bayramov, Halit Aliosmanov, Mehmet Sansarov, Islam 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, Ismail Bekirov, Mehmet Davudov, Hüsmen Ismailov, Kazim Memisev, Ismail Ibisev, Mehmet Çavusev, Muhammet Yusufov, Yusuf Ahmedov, Recep Küpçüev, Nevzat Mehmedov, Ömer Osmanov, Ali Bayramov, Latif Aliev, Mustafa Mutkov, Ali Kadirov, Halim Halilibrahimov, Faik Ismailov, Ali Pirov, Mustafa Çetev, Süleyman Yusufov, Durhan Hasanov, Mehmet Memov, Nazmi Nuriev, Osman Azizov, Sabri Ibrahimov, Ali Durmusev, Alis Saidov, Fehim Sentürk, Fevzi Kadirov, Saban Mahmudov, Sahin Mustafaov, Latif Karagöz, Kadir Osmanov, Mustafa Ömer Asi, Ahmet Aptiev, Necmiye Mehmedova, Lamia Varnali, Ahmet Aliev, Nevzat Yakubov, Ismet Bayramov, Nebiye Ibrahimova, Ahmet Kadirov, Avni Veliev, Arzu Tahirova, Durhan Aliev, Saffet Eren, Emine Hocova, Aysel Ismailova Süleymanova, Kadriye Cesur, Nafize Habip, Naim Bakoğlu, Beyhan Nalbantov, Ali Tiryaki, Fatma Hüseyin[129]

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.[citation needed]

Turkish Language/Dialects in Bulgaria/Balkans and Related Materials

Notable Bulgarian Turks

See also

Further reading

  • Mahon, Milena (November 1999). "The Turkish minority under communist Bulgaria - politics of ethnicity and power". Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans 1 (2): 149–162. doi:10.1080/14613199908413996. 


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  104. ^ Karpat, Kemal H. "Studies on Ottoman social and political history: selected articles and essays" 2004 pp.764
  105. ^ Traian Stoianovich: "Balkan worlds: the first and last Europe" pp.200
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  111. ^ [26]Bulgaria MPs Move to Declare Revival Process as Ethnic Cleansing
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  114. ^ Janusz Bugajski: "Political parties of Eastern Europe: a guide to politics in the post" 2002 pp.805-807
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  122. ^ Централна Избирателна Комисия
  123. ^ http://www.dps.bg/cgi-bin/e-cms/vis/vis.pl?s=001&p=0046&n=&vis=
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  126. ^ Гюнер Тахир - лидер на НДПС
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  128. ^ Source: Population by districts and ethnic groups as of 01.03.2001
  129. ^ Bulgaristan Yazılı Türk Edebiyatı


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