Turks of Bulgaria: Assimilation Policy and Linguistic Oppression

Tuncer Can & Martin Stilyanov Todorov

Syracuse University

December 2004


Some History


The Turks of Bulgaria have lived in the Balkans since the end of the 14 century, after the Ottoman Empire began to establish its existance on the Rumelian soil. Then in the 16th century soical changes in Anatolia led to large groups of ethnic Turks to settle in Bulgaria and elsewehere in the Balkans. According to Ottoman state policy many people from Anatolia were settled into Bulgaria and the Balkans as well. Today, Turks of Bulgaria live compactly in two rural areas in the Northeast (Deliorman/Ludogorie) and the Southeast (the Eastern Rhodopes) (Troebst, 1994; Bachvarov, 1997). Besides the ethnic Turks who are Muslims there are other Muslims in Bulgaria. According to Eminov (1997) historical evidence shows that most of the Muslims in Bulgaria originated from outside the Balkans, while the rest were converts from the indigenous population .


Turkish scholars support the view that conversion was voluntary, however most of Bulgarian historiography supports the hypothesis that Islam was imposed by force, so that Christianity in the region and in particular the Bulgarian nation, would be shattered. Mutafchieva talks of the mass forcible campaigns for imposing Islam for which there is evidence in the Bulgarian folklore. She argues that in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Bulgarian Pomaks were converted in such a way, while somewhat earlier the same had happened to the Bosnians and the Albanians. However, the converting process was not always against the will of the Christians because “the cemaat divided their subjects into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ and took the cizie tax from non-believers, this  was a major source of filling in the treasury.” Non-believers were also not accepted in the military, administration and finance areas, so the Muslims had the advantage in every aspect. That is why there were also people who adopted Islam voluntarily and received some financial privileges because of this (Mutafchieva, 1994:12).


In general, the local non-Muslim population in the Ottoman Empire was organized into the system of “millet”. This word took into consideration only profession and faith, while it ignores the race and the nationality. Although there was indeed no equality between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Empire, the rights of the non-Muslim subjects were recognized and such communities were given considerable autonomy in organizing their own affairs in return for their loyalty to the Empire (Eminov, 1997:46-47).



In 1878 when Bulgaria won its freedom after the Ottoman-Russian war, the situation for the Turks changed completely. Turkish scholars claim that this war changed the population balance in favor of the Bulgarians, while around one million Turks were uprooted from their homes and some 350,000 were killed or died of hunger and epidemics (Carnegie Endowment, 1914). “The Turkish minority in Bulgaria was formed according to the classical patterns where, as a result of the disintegration of a multi-national empire and the drawing of new state borders, a nationality until recently dominant in political life proves isolated from its principal ethnic mass and is forced into a rudimentary existence in an alien environment” (Stoyanov, 1994:268).


During and after the Balkan wars and the First World War, Muslim emigration picked up (Eminov, 1997:48). According to a Bulgarian estimate, approximately 350,000 left between 1880 and 1911. Between the World Wars, some 150,000-200,000 Turks emigrated, mainly on the basis of the Turkish-Bulgarian agreement of 1925 (Hoepken, 1997:55)


However, it is notable that Bulgarian governments in this period (1878-1944) tried to comply with the arrangements of international and bilateral agreements guaranteeing the rights of minorities (Eminov, 1997:49). So to say, there was no open legal discrimination against or political oppression of the Turkish and Muslim communities. According to Neuburger (1997) the newly elected king of Bulgaria, Alexander of Battenburg proclaimed “I shall love all my subjects regardless of their creed.” Around the beginning of the 20th century, Turks had a cultural and religious autonomy. The Bulgarian state did not interfere in the application of the religious – Sheriat – legal system, the self-administration of Turkish schools, the publishing and spreading of books and periodicals in Turkish. With the spread and popularization of “Westernization” and social change at this time effected the Turks as the Turkish geographical names were changed for Bulgarian ones.


However, this period may also be marked as the creation of image of liberation from the “Ottoman Yoke” and Bulgarian nation. Bulgarian cultural efforts such as Ivan Vazov’s “Pod Igoto” (Under the Yoke) and Aleko Konstantinov’s “Bai Ganyu” contributed into this process (Neuburger, 1997). Moreover, in this period, late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, supported by the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences, Stoyu Shishkov did an enthnographic study on the so called “Pomaks” – Slavic speaking Muslims – of Southern Bulgaria. In his study he tried to scientifically prove the “Bulgarian-ness” of these partially “Turkified” and “Islamicized” people. According to Shishkov the “Turks” who were in Bulgarian soil were also the product of the “Ottoman Assimilation politics” and they eventually lost their Bulgarian heritage (Neuburger, 1997).    


These compiled into a discrimination against the Turkish minority which started after the June 9 th 1923 coup, and the ousting of Alexander Stamboliiski’s government. The promised 3 million leva subvention for the Turkish schools was not given by the government; teachers of these schools were deprived of their right of retirement; the schools lost their autonomy; the Turkish participation in political life was reduced. While there were 10 Turkish MPs in the Bulgarian National Assembly (1923), in 1925 the number dropped to only 5 and in 1933 there were 4 Turkish MPs left (Stoyanov, 1994:270).


The ascending of Kemalism in new Turkish Republic changed the relations between the Bulgarian state and the Turkish minority even more. Bulgarian and Turkish historians interpret the impact of Kemalism on Bulgarian Turks differently. While the Bulgarians claim that it was a kind of “Panturkism” aiming at the transformation of the Bulgarian Turks into Ankara’s tools, the Turkish say that Kemalism succeeded in transforming the Bulgarian Turks into an “ethnically conscious Turkish minority” (Hoepken, 1997:61). Still some other authors claim that ethnic Turks in Bulgaria did not justify any interest in Kemalism. It is because the Kemalism was extremely secular, it did not match the views held by the majority of the Turks. What is more, the Bulgarian government was interested in the strengthening of the anti-Kemalist forces, it supported everything directed against Kemalism, including the Muslim religion (Hoepken, 1997:61).


In 1926 the Turan Union which was a pro-Kemalist nationalist organization uniting all Turkish cultural, sports and educational societies,  and which developed a political activity, was founded in Bulgaria. In 1930s and 40s, some local Bulgarian “patriotic” organizations (e.g. Rodna Zashtita) started maltreating the Turkish minority, the Turks were forced to speak Bulgarian and their religious practices were restricted. The situation became even worse after the Military Coup (May 19, 1934) when Turkish political parties and organizations were banned, while schools and periodicals reduced in number. All this was accompanied by a mass anti-Bulgarian campaign in Turkey which there were even appeals for military intervention. The period 1936-1937 saw the signing of an agreement between the two governments for the long-term limited emigration of 10,000 Turks annually (Stoyanov, 1994:270-271).


The consolidation of power by the Communist party in Bulgaria did not bring considerable changes in the policy towards the ethnic Turks. There was   pressure on religion, but on the other hand, education and modernization were encouraged. Moreover, there was same amount of atheist pressure from the secular Bulgarian government on all the religious communities in the country (Hoepken, 1997:64). Although freedom of conscience and religion was an integral part of the Dimitrov Constitution adopted in 1947, the new government made a conscious effort to undermine the religious practices of both Muslims and Christians in Bulgaria (Eminov, 1997:51-52). This policy had a limited success. For example, even in the early 1950s, after a massive campaign for Communist Party membership among the Turks of Bulgaria, which made up just five per cent of the Party members (Hoepken, 1997:66). The oppressive applications of this time resulted in the sudden emigration of 155,000 Turks to Turkey in the summer of 1950 and 1951. Bulgarian state supported this emigration as the idea was that these emigrants could also  export the communist ideology into Turkey and sending this many people into Turkey could punish Turkey for its participation in the Korean war. (Petkova, 2002)


Dictated by Moscow, Bulgarian state attemted to integrate the Turkish minority into the “proletariat brotherhood” through Bulgarian-Turkish Communist educated cadres (Neuburger, 1997). The goal of this campaign was to undermine not only religious affiliation, but also the separate ethnic identity of these minority groups. Thus, scolars from Azarbaijan were brought to Bulgaria in 1960’s to educate Turkish teachers who would constitute the base for the Communist education and world view among ethnic Turks. Some Turkish students were also sent to Baku University in Azarbaijan. Neuburger (1997) states that ”Between 1940 – 1960 the Bulgarian state provided state cultural institutions for Turks while liquidating autonmous ones. Furthermore, the regime subjected  Turkish traditions to a massive “campaign of ridicule”, also de-veiling the Turkish women and providing night classes for Turkish women to teach them the modern life and aiming at overcoming religious fanaticism and family conservatism.”


According to Eminov the Turks in Bulgaria were recognized as distinct minority into the 1970s. Turks were even encouraged to develop Turkish ethnic institutions such as native language primary and secondary schools, teacher-training instututes and educational institutes, ethnic press, ethnic theatres, clubs and so on. These institutions were intended to serve as a vehicle for assimilation of Turks, because these same institutions were used to disseminate assimilationist programs and values.  However, these institutions strengthened the Turkish identity, and consequently were denied support by the state and finally were eliminated.


The new constitution -- Zhivkov’s Constitution -- of 1971 spoke of “citizens of non-Bulgarian extraction” (Art. 45 (7)) and “in 1977 the BCP proclaimed that Bulgaria already was ‘almost of a single ethnic type and was nearing complete homogeneity’” (Mutafchieva, 1994:35). This led to the change of the minority policy of the Bulgarian state. In 1971, the assimilation of the country’s minority populations became an explicit oficial policy (Eminov).  As shown in Eminov, the term “unified Bulgarian nation” appeared in the official press in 1973, in 1977 the Communist Party daily newspaper Rabotnichesko Delo, in an article, defined Bulgaria as “almost completely of one ethnic type and moving toward complete national homogenity.” And in 1979, the party leader Todor Zhivkov claimed that “the Bulgarian national question has been solved definitively and categorically by the population itself.” 


In 1984 there was a radical change of strategy regarding the minorities. The Bulgarian government excluded the term “Turk” from official discourse, and replaced it by “Muslim Bulgarian citizens” or “Bulgarians with restored [Bulgarian] names,” implying that the so-called “Turks” were “Bulgarians” in origin. New history books were written to avoid the term “Turks.” Bulgarian historians went further by eliminating the references of Turkish existence in the Balkan Peninsula. The population growth of Turkish community in the late 1960s and 1970s and the increasing awareness of Turkish identity after the Cyprus affair were undoubtedly among the motivating factors for these actions. During the mid 1970s most Turkish schools were closed and Turkish language newspapers and journals were terminated. (Eminov,  1997; Neuburger , 1997)


The peak of this policy turned into practice in 1984-1985 with the so-called “Revivalist Process” (known as Vuzroditelskiyat Protses/Revival Process/Rebirth Campaign/Regeneration Process). The first phase was called “priobshtavane” (“inclusion”, “unity”), which declared the Turkish minority to have nothing to do with Turks in the Turkish motherland (Hoepken, 1997:67; Amnesty International, 1986:9; Neuburger, 1997). The formulation of Stoyu Shishkov was put into action in this period. In 1965 a special team of scholars at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences was set up to prove that all Bulgarian Turks had been forcibly converted to Islam and “Bulgarian blood runs in their veins” (Mutafchieva, 1994:34)


During the Revivalist Process (between 1984-1989), the Party launched a direct attack on the identity of the Turkish population. It forcefully changed their names to Bulgarian ones, banned public use of the Turkish language and Muslim religious rituals (Hoepken, 1997:67-69). This was nothing new in the state’s approach, between 1960 – 1976 it had changed the names of some 220,000 Bulgarian Pomaks. Between 1981 and 1983 the Gypsies underwent the same process, and finally between 1984 and 1985 Turkish minority was forced to change their muslim and Turkish names into Bulgarian names. So, in March 1985, Bulgaria was at last a unified single nation state, where everyone living in Bulgaria was Bulgarian.


According to Pulton (1993) on December 24, 1984 thousands of Turkish people gathered in Benkovski (Kurdzhali district) and on December 27, 1984 outside the Momchilgrad Town Hall, to protest the changing of their names. The demonstrtations were met by army units and then by members of the elite special security force (i.e. the “red berets”). In late January-early February 1985 the town of Yablanovo in eastern Stara Planina was sieged by Bulgarian army forces for three days and according to some reports there were 34 were killed and 29 or 30 were taken to the Kotel hospital with gunshot wounds. There were also many Turkish activists who were arrested and detained in the prison camp in Belene. Although their exact numbers cannot be stated, estimates range from 450 to 1,000 ethnic Turk prisoners in connection with the Revivalist Process (Poulton, 1993:142; Amnesty International, 1986:14).

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. According to estimates, 500 to 1,500 people were killed when they resisted assimilation measures, and thousands of others went to labor camps or were forcibly resettled. According to Fountarova (……) “in this period all Turkish language courses were prohobited. Assimilation meant that Turkish could no longer be taught at all, and the Turkish language was forbidden, even at home. Fines were levied for speaking Turkish in public.“ (Country Studies-Bulgaria Handbook, 2003)

Religious practices were hindered and “the traditional Muslim burial rituals were characterized as contrary to socialist practice and were replaced with a ‘socialist’ burial ritual” (Eminov, 1997:59). Women weraing traditional clothes were not served by the stores and restaurants. Circumcision of young Muslim boys was banned, if performed the family and the person who realized the ritual were punished (Eminov, 1997:58-61; Amnesty International, 1986:9).


Bulgarian state declared no official resistance to the Revivalist Process. On the contrary, it was described as “a new force, a spontaneous and comprehensive process of reconstructing the Bulgarian names of our compatriots who had Turkish-Arabic names. Moreover, people of Bulgaria became conscious of their Bulgarian origins and reconsidered their own past. So, they chose to change their names and to integrate into the Bulgarian nation again. Turks in Bulgaria were thus presented as people who “were exposed to the intensive working over of bourgeois Turkish propaganda, which created nationalism, religious confusion, and a conservative life-style. The reactionary forces in neighboring Turkey made futile efforts to speak in the name of the citizens with Turkish-Arabic names living in Bulgaria and arbitrary to draw them into the Turkish nation. The reconstruction of the Bulgarian names will contribute to withdrawing the reactionary Turkish influence from our co-citizens so that they can live peacefully and without contradiction (Amnesty International, 1986). This was the Bulgarian explanation of the Revivalist Process.

Internationally, the name-changing campaign in Bulgaria was met with severe condemnation, NATO statement dating August 9, 1989 says that “there, unfortunately, exists a grave situation in Bulgaria. Policies of forced assimilation and repression against Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin have continued for nearly 5 years in contravention of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) documents.” Turkish sources claimed that hundreds of Turks were killed during the campaign; the names of Turks who were already dead were changed; the fathers and grandfathers of the Turks were also given Bulgarian names, so that the claim of common Bulgarian descent is substantiated (Simsir, 1988:29).


The Bulgarian government tried to defend itself against the condemnation, sometimes using curious arguments. On August 26, 1985 at the 38th Session of the Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in Geneva, Valentin Bozhilov, Deputy Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN, cited Midhat Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, who wrote in a French journal in 1878, “Firstly, it must be borne in mind that among the Bulgarians who arouse so much interest there are more than one million Moslems. These Moslems did not come from Asia to establish themselves in Bulgaria, as it is widely believed. They are themselves descendants of those Bulgarians converted to Islam at the time of the conquest and during the following years. They are children of one common country, from one common race, and share a common origin” (AI, 1986:39).


Todor Zhivkov made a public speech on the National Television on May 29, 1989. In his speech, he asked Turkey to open up its borders to every Bulgarian Muslim willing to emigrate. This speech provoked a real emigration euphoria in the compact Turkish areas of Bulgaria, which resulted in the fact that in the summer of 1989 half of the work force in Bulgarian agriculture was lost due to the unprecedented “Big Excursion.” In the period May-August, 369,839 people left for Turkey. Some 320,000 of them managed to cross the border. By the end of the year, 154,937 people (42 per cent of the total number of emigrants) returned to Bulgaria as they were disappointed by the reception on the Turkish side, while 214,902 stayed in Turkey (Stoyanov, 1998:204-214).


On July 18, 1989 the Senate of the 101st Congress of the USA voted unanimously on the Byrd-DeConcini Amendment No.279. This amendment expressed “the sense of the Congress condemning Bulgaria’s brutal treatment of its Turkish minority” and it allocated about $10 million as assistance to the Republic of Turkey, in order for the latter to cope with the huge influx of refugees (Senate Record Vote, 1989).


After the downfall of the Zhivkov regime and the return of a part of the Bulgarian Turks who had emigrated in 1989, the government allowed restoration of the Turkish and Arabic names through the Names of Bulgarian Citizens Act (March 1990). “By March 1991 more than 600,000 Turks, Bulgarian Muslims and Roma had already applied for re-appropriation of their old ‘Islamic-Arabic’ names” (Hoepken, 1997:72). Regardless of all the positive developments after the fall of communism, ethnic Turks in Bulgaria still face some problems that resulted from the neglect of their minority status in the country.


The Post-communist Bulgarian government and the parliament condemned the “Regeneration Process”, as a result Turks of Bulgaria today are politically represented in the Bulgarian Parliament by “The Movement for Rights and Freedoms” (MRF). MRF even went into the govenrment through a coalition with the Union of Democratic Forces Party (UDF). The founder of the Turkish political Party was Ahmed Dogan, a former prisoner who was imprisoned during 1986-1989 for opposition to Zhivkov’s assimilation policy. Today, one of the Vice-presidents of 39th Bulgarian National Assembly is Turkish in origin, Younal Loutfi. He has been a founder of MRF and an MP since 1990. In the 39th Bulgarian National Assembly there are some 20 deputies from MRF and 1 independent deputy of Turkish origin.        


The Status and the Oppression of Turkish Language in Bulgaria


Turkish is a Turkic language that belongs to the Ural-Altaic linguistic family. Other languages of this group are Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Gagaus, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Chuvash and Mongol languages. Each of these languages is spoken by more than one million people. Modern Turkish is not a homogeneous language. It is a compilation of the Istanbul, Ankara, Karaman, East-Anatolian, Konian and Balkan dialects. Today, Istanbul Turkish has the status of standard variety. Turkish language got many borrowings from Arabic and Persian during Ottoman period due to religious and political reasons. It was written with the Arabic alphabet. Modern Turkish evolved from the Ottoman Turkish through a long nationalistic effort to purify it from the Arab and Persian vocabulary. Ibrahim Shinasi (1826-1871) was the first to propose the Latin script to replace the Arab script. During the Young Turks period some writers  also wrote in a language much closer to today’s Turkish.


After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk started a number of secular reforms. One of them was regarding purifying the language. The Law on the Reform of the Turkish Language, adopted in 1928, replaced the Arab with the Latin script. In practice, the new script became compulsory for all Turks only in 1930. The new alphabet, containing 29 letters, was based on the phonetic principle, i.e. the words are written the way they are pronounced. The Arabic and Persian vocabulary was replaced by words based on archaic texts or created by some Turkish roots and affixes.


Turkish is consistently an agglutinative language, which makes it sometimes a favorite of linguists as the brightest example of agglutination. In the 19th century, prominent German linguists thought agglutination to be a sign of inferiority of the Turkic languages to the highly inflectional Indo-European ones, and this was also taken to mean that their speakers were inferior to the speakers of Indo-European languages. Curiously enough, the same view was revived in Bulgaria in the 1970-1980s. Turkish was considered an Asiatic tongue, which resisted the modernization carried out in Bulgarian as an Indo-European language (Poulton, 1993:126-127).


Turkish identity in Bulgaria is a combination of linguistic, religious, cultural and historical factors. Bulgarian state has given importance to one of these factors in different periods. As stated above, while in the beginning of the Bulgarian state the religious factor had been favoured and given much freedom, it later would be replaced by linguistic factor as schools and newspaper in Turkish language had been supported, and even later the linguage has been banned completely. 


After the establishment of the new secular Turkish Republic, the situation of Turks in Bulgaria changed and the ideology of the Turkish identity underwent an upheaval. Around the end of the 1920s, the first secular Turkish organization “Turan” was set up. Officially, it was promoted as a youth sport and cultural organization but it was clearly under Kemalist influence. It fought against assimilation by the Bulgarians and for the transformation of the Turkish population into a “national Turkish minority” (Hoepken, 1997:61). Turkish newspapers, published Bulgaria in Turkish language, like “Deliorman” and “Turan” supported the new Kemalist views and principles and propagated against the Islamic concepts. There were some other newspapers like “Medeniyet” who were supporting the religious vews against Kemalism. They were supported by Bulgarian state against the Kemalist supporters.


In attempt to replace the arabic alphabet, representing the religious side, with the latin alphabet, representing the Kemalist side, failed in 1920s. However, eventually in 1938 it was changed after a lot of diplomatic activities between Turkish Republic and Bulgarian state. After 1940s the number of Turkish newspapers and schools decreased. (Hoepken, 1997:64). Before the Communist take over of 1944, there were around 740 Turkish schools in Bulgaria with some native Turkish speakers coming directly from Turkey (Eminov, 1997; Stoyanov, 1997).


The language of the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria changed after 1944 due to a number of reasons. First, along with the whole Bulgarian society, the Turks in Bulgaria underwent major social changes under the influence of the Communist ideology. These changes had no equivalent in Turkey. Thus, the language of the Bulgarian Turks started incorporating some “socialist” vocabulary. Typical words were “TKZS” (collective farm), “glaven agronom” (chief agronomist), “drugarka” (teacher, Mrs.), “Diyado Mraz” (the Soviet Russian equivalent of Santa Claus), “deveti septemvri” (9th of September, the day of the Socialist Revolution in 1944) and “purvi may” (1st of May, International Workers’ Day) (Eminov, 1997:151-152).


The rise of Bulgarian nationalism, the closure of Turkish schools between 1959 and 1970, the banning of the Turkish media and the usage of the Turkish language in private and public in 1984-1989 were the basis of the change of the locally spoken Turkish language. Ethnic Turks could no longer incorporate Turkish words in their language that corresponded to many spheres of their life. Bulgarian words filled in that gap. This is very visible in the vocabulary expressing concepts of modern technology. These are, for example, “hladilnik” (refrigerator), “ruchna spirachka” (hand brake), “radiostantsiya” (radio-station) (Eminov, 1997:151-153).

Other words are simple lexical borrowings from the Bulgarian environment: “magaziner” (storekeeper), “izpit” (exam), “globa” (fine), “otpusk” (vacation), “butilka” (bottle), etc. The next group comprises of Bulgarian words, which have their Turkish equivalents, but the latter are not used. These are, for example, “zapad” (west), “shum” (noise), “brat” (brother), “bratovched” (cousin). The Bulgarian language influenced also the use of the Turkish suffix system and grammar (Eminov, 1997:151-153).


Further integration of Turkish minority into Bulgarian society, city life, cooperative jobs and the assimilative school education has brought many more borrowings from Bulgarian into the Turkish spoken by the Turks in Bulgaria. Furthermore, during the assimilation process and before, Bulgarian schooling system encorporated Nursery Schools and Pre-school education where, especially in cities and even in villages, children of Turkish minority were being taken under care as early as at the age of 2. At the age of 6 every child had to be taken to first grade, sometimes even by force. At the age of 2 while Turkish children were almost speaking their mother tongue, were exposed to Bulgarian language so that before first grade all of them were able to speak Bulgarian along with their mother tongue. Most of the Turkish children were speaking Turkish at home and Bulgarian at school, and were, at present as well are, bilinguals. However, as Communist governments of Bulgaria didn’t accept the existence of Turks and banned the Turkish language, this phenomenon has been neglected. Especially after 1970s, most of the Turkish people were multilingual as during the schooling they also learnt Russian as a foreign language and in some cases English, German or French as well.


Bilingualism gives rise to code-switching and code mixing which also has a detrimental effect on Turkish language. Athough they have a Turkish equivalent, most of the discourse markers used by Turks are in Bulgarian for example,  “na primer” (for example), “podobno” (suitable), “osobenno” (especially), “gore-dolu” (so-so), “pochti” (almost), “absolyutno” (absoutely), “na istina” (really), “na protiv” (vica-versa), “karai” (let it be), “davai (let it go).


Eminov (1997) informs of a study in early 1980s in a Turkish village Polyanovo near Aitos in East Bulgaria. In the village almost everybody was using Bulgarian borrowings, but males who completed their education before Bulgarian language education became compulsory in the 1950s spoke Turkish well and Bulgarian very badly. Another group of middle-aged men, born some 10-15 years before the start of compulsory education, was fluent in Bulgarian at the level of non-native speakers. The women of the same group were not that fluent in Bulgarian, since, unlike men, not many of them studied beyond the primary school level, and they studied in Turkish. Although they did not study as much as the men did, they were fluent enough in Bulgarian, since they had learned Bulgarian as small children and later on they had enough opportunities to use it in their social environment. The youngest group, the ones born after 1950, regardless of their gender, spoke Bulgarian as their native language and sometimes felt more confident with Bulgarian than with Turkish.


“Despite the centuries separating them from their Anatolian and Asia Minor origins, these Turks have not become assimilated into the surrounding Bulgarian culture but have preserved their own language and culture -- slightly different from that of modern Turkey but nonetheless distinctly Turkish” (Eminov, 1997:144). Over the last several generations, a trend towards more fluent use of the Bulgarian language has been observed. There is also a significant lexical and grammatical interference from Bulgarian in the native Turkish dialect (Eminov, 1997:144).


Throughout the years in areas like poetry, drama, narration and folk music Turkish language has been used. In 1950’s there had been Turkish theatres in Shoumen, Razgrad and Kurdzhali (1952-1953). Poetry has been an especially popular form of art among minority artists such as Samim Rifat, Muharrem Yumuk, Aliosman Ayrantok, Mehmet Muzekka Con, Hafiz Islam Ergin, Mulazim Chavushev, S. Bilalof, Rasim Bilazerof, Hasan Karahuseyinof, Latif Alief, Mehmet Chavushev, Ahmet Sherifof, Sabahattin Bayramof, Recep Kupchu, Niyazi Huseyinof, Sahin Mustafaof, Mustafa Mutkof, Naci Ferhadof, etc. There had been also some female Turkish poets: Mufkure Mollova, Emenaz Ismailova, Havva Pehlivanova, Necmiye Mehmedova, Muzaffer Niyazieva, Saziye Hamdieva, etc. In the period 1959-1968, there had been 34 books written by 24 Turkish poets. It is interesting to point out that these poets used some words from Bulgarian and Azeri in their works (Simsir, 1986:23).


Sabri Tatov published the first novel in Turkish in Bulgaria in 1963 “ Gun dođarken”, later in 1967 he published two long stories “Koyun Hamanasi” and “Iki Arada.” Also Halit Aliosmanof wrote “Sacilan Kivilcimlar” in 1965 and Ishak Rashidof published his “Ayrilirken” in 1968 (Simsir, 1986:23-24). From 1959 on, short stories were collected in anthologies. In 1961, around 50 Turkish authors published their works in separate books. For the period 1961-1968, around 30 storybooks of 23 writers were published in Sofia (Simsir, 1986:24). In regard to Turkish minority drama, it was developed both by amateur groups known as Heveskarlar Kollektifi (The Collective of Heveskarlar) and by three professional groups in Shoumen, Razgrad and Kurdzhali. Playwright Ismail Bekir translated many dramatic works into Turkish as well as wrote seven original plays (Simsir, 1986:24-25).


In March 1964 Todor Zhivkov, Bulgarian Head of state at the time, made the following speech: “There are suitable conditions for our country’s Turks to use their culture and language freely. Children of this community should learn their own language and know it very well. This necessitates that Turkish language instruction in schools must be given importance. As it is now and in the future, the Turks will use their language and maintain their traditions, create contemporary masterpieces and sing their folk songs” (Simsir, 1986:25). Soon after this speech, the Communist party completely reversed its policy towards the cultural development of the Turkish minority. Bulgarian Turkish artists were forbidden to publish books in their own language and the books they had already published were taken off from library shelves and were destroyed (Simsir, 1986:25).


This oppression on Turkish language has brought the decline. Bulgarian influence has been enormous since then. Bulgarian borrowings have increased in almost all contexts of social life, from food to institutions, from personal relations to hospital contexts. Some examples are “pepelnik” (ash tray), “pantofki” (slippers), “knishka” (drivers license),  “torta” (pastry), “gashti” (snickers), “odekolon” (cologne), “guma” (tyre), “boiler” (water heater), “temperatura” (temperature), “odialo” (blanket), “himikal” (pen), “morkof” (carrot), “lyutenitsa” (tomato paste), “peralnia” (washing machine), “supa” (soup), “kashkaval” (chese), “vratovruzka” (tie), “reis” (bus), “chashka” (glass), “parno” (heater), “tok” (electricity), “krushka” (bulb), “snimka” (picture), “zavod” (factory), “prahosmukachka” (hoover), “kran” (crane), “magazin” (shop), “kuhnia” (kitchen), “spisanie” (magazine), “mastilo” (ink), “jitel” (citizen), “granitsa” (border), “prevrýzka” (bandage), “burkan” (jar), “kruchma” (bar), “avtogara” (bus station), “poluvreme” (half time), “imunizatsiya” (immunization), “rezultat” (result), “izsledvane” (examination, tests), “ispisvane” (prescribe), “instruktor” (instructor), “zastrahovka” (insurance), “obshtejitiye” (dormitory), “pochivka” (holiday), “sreţta” (date), “invalid” (invalid), “kletva” (swear), “seria” (series), “komplekt” (complete), “nemski” (german), “ostrov” (island), “turgovia” (commerce), “turjestvo” (celebration), “samolet” (plane), “svruh” (peak), chujbina” (abroad), “otsustvie” (absent), “izpit” (exam), “trudovo” (practice), “obuchenie” (training), “otpuska” (holiday), “uchitel” (teacher), “chitalishte” (school), “katastrofa” (accident), “kvartira” (rented place), “hazaika” (house owner), “smetka” (bill), “delo” (deal, law suit), “zakon” (law), “praktika” (practice), “vhod” (entrance), “zaem” (rent), “suobshtenie”(message), “letishte” (airport), “tetradka” (notebook), “uchebnik”(coursebook), “otverka” (srew driver),


According to 1994 Results of Poulation Census, some 813639 Turkish people speak Turkish language in Bulgaria as their mother tongue. They constitute the %8 - %12 of the overall Bulgarian population (Bachvarov, 1997; and elsewhere).


Today the ethnic Turkish minority is free to speak its own language in private and as well as in public. Since the membership talks of Bulgarian government with the European Union, there has been a recognition of Turkish minority and cultural rights of other minorities. The Bulgarian National Radio broadcasts some programs in Turkish in the regions of Northeast and Southeast Bulgaria. The official website of the Bulgarian National Radio publishes its pages in Turkish language too. On Bulgarian National Television there are programs for news in Turkish language. There are newspapers published in Turkish language as well. Some newspapers like “Hak ve Ozgurluk”, official newspaper of MRF, devoted some pages on teaching Turkish language.


In 1991 Bulgarian government passed the National Education Act and reintroduced Turkish language lessons in public schools. This  was met by some opposition campaigns from Bulgarian nationalists and caused some delay in conducting these lessons. Today, Turkish children have Turkish language classes where they can make up classes of 12, which also imposes some resrtictions. This being the fact, Turkish language is still under pressure lacking enough learning and teaching materials as well as enough teachers. The materials are provided free of charge by the Turkish Ministry of Education, but are approved by Bulgarian Ministry of Eucation. The sign of Turkish identity like Turkish hymn, flag and the picture of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, along with other parts of historical disputes were removed from the Turkish language books. This gives rise to poor vocabulary input and is considered insufficient for the needs of the minority.


The teacher preparation is being carried through two universities in Shoumen and in Kurdzhali, the one in Kurdzhali is a branch of the University of Plovdiv. Furthermore, since 1992, the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, by an offer from the Turkish Embassy in Bulgaria, has been sending teachers to Turkey for summer specialization. In academic year 1997/1998, there were around 40,000 Turkish students taking Turkish language classes as an optional subject in the Bulgarian municipal schools. Altogether, there were around 694 teachers (Chakir, 1999).


To sum up, it is very clear that especially communist governments of Bulgarian state have encorporated assimilation policies againts Turkish Minority. However, the democratization of the Bulgarian Republic and the talks to become a member of European Union have brought the basic human rights, like speaking its own native language and expressive itself with it, to the Turkish minority in Bulgaria back. The Turks of Bulgaria have the hopes to preserve their own identity enjoying the freedom to speak their own language, publishing newspapers in their own Turkish language and learning their native language at schools. This freedom came at a cost of many deaths, humiliation, oppression, changing the names of a whole social group, banning of a language, imprisonment and finally emigration of hundred thousands in the end of the 20th century in the heart of democratic Europe.  





Amnesty International. (1987): “Bulgaria: Continuing Human Rights Abuses Against Ethnic Turks.”


Bachvarov, M. (1997): “The Current Ethnic Panorama in Bulgaria.”, Geo Journal, Nov. pp. 215-224. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands. 


Carnegie Endowment for International peace (2003) REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION To Inquire into the causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars1914


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation (1995), “Drugite balkanski voini” [The Other Balkan Wars], (Sofia: Bulgaria).


Creed, Gerald W. (1990). “The Basis of Bulgaria’s Ethnic Policies,” The Anthropology of East Europe Review, Vol.9, No.2, Fall 1990.


Eminov, Ali (1997): “Turkish and Other Muslim Minorities in Bulgaria”, London: Hurst & Co.


Helsinki Watch (1986): “Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Bulgaria”, New York: Human Rights Watch.


Helsinki Watch (1987): “Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Bulgaria, An Update”, New York: Human Rights Watch.


Helsinki Watch (1989): Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Expulsion of the Bulgarian Turks, (New York: US Helsinki Watch Committee).


Hoepken, W. (1997): “From Religious Identity to Ethnic Mobilization: The Turks of Bulgaria Before, Under and Since, Communism, in Muslim Identity and the Balkan State”, (eds.) Hugh Poulton and Suha Taji Farouki, London


http://countrystudies.us/bulgaria/25.htm (December 7th, 2004)


http://www.parliament.bg/ (December 5th, 2004)


International Helsinki Federation (1997). “Human Rights Developments in 1996”, Vienna, IHF.


Lenkova, M. (1999): CEDIME-SE Report: “Minorities in Southeast Europe: Turks of Bulgaria”,  Bulgarian Helsinki Commitee (November 15th, 2004,   http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/pdf/cedime-se-bulgaria-turks.PDF)


Mutafchieva, V. (1994): “The Turks’, The Jews’, and The Gypsies’ Character.” , Program of the European Communities: “Relations of Compatibility and Incompatibility Between Christians and Muslims in Bulgaria”. Draft Seminar Report.


Neuburger, M. (1997): “Bulgaro-Turkish Encounters and the Re-imaging of the Bulgarian Nation (1878-1995)” , East European Quarterly 31(1): 1-20

Petkova, L.(2002): “The ethnic Turks in Bulgaria: Social Integration and Impact on Bulgarian Turkish Relations 1947 – 2000”, The Global Review of Ethnopolitics Vol. 1 No:4 June 2002, 42-59 Budapest


Poulton, Hugh. (1997). “Changing Notions of National Identity Among Muslims in Thrace and Macedonia: Turks, Pomaks and Roma.” in Hugh Poulton and Suha Taji-Farouki, eds., “Muslim Identity and the Balkan State”. (London: Hurst and Company).


Simsir, B.(1988): “The Turks of Bulgaria”, London: K. Rustem and Bro.


Stoyanov, V. (1993). “Turskoto naselenie v Bulgaria i ofitsiyalnata maltsinstvena politika. 1878-1944” [Turks of Bulgaria and the Official Minority Policy 1878-1944], “Stranitsi ot bulgarskata istoriya” [Pages from Bulgarian History], Vol.2, (Sofia).


United States Department of State (1997): “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996”, Washington, DC: US Government Printing House.


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