Turks in Bulgaria have encountered many challenges in cultural and religious affairs. Although the threat of being assimilated is not as pressuring as it was in the communist era, some efforts to assimilate Turkish minority in the country continued to remain for the last decade.
One of the main parts of assimilation plan in Bulgaria centered on Turkish names. Bulgarian government exerted immense pressure towards Turks to give their children Bulgarian names and forced others to change their Turkish names.
After communist regime collapsed in Bulgaria, everything is not so well for Turks however at least they do not have a state that wants them to change their name. The country has experienced remarkable progress in terms of human rights and freedoms but Turks in Bulgaria organized several events aiming to bear the memoirs of communist regime in mind so that they would be able to confront same kind of threats more effectively.
In one of the recent events that takes place in Sofia History Museum, organized by the office of Chief Mufti, religious leader of Muslim Turks in Bulgaria, the process of name changing was analyzed.
Attended by the many scholars, the conference mainly focused on the link between name, culture and identity.
At the thirteenth anniversary of the beginning of the process in 1984-1989 when state pressure on Turks to change their names mounted, the conference began with a documentary that exhibits Turks’ suffering from cultural pressure at that time. Some hundreds of Turks’ name were changed with police pressure in Bulgaria in this five years.
In the documentary those who witnessed this unfortunate time period in Rhodope shared their ill-fated experiences in the interviews. One of them tells Bulgaria under Todor Jivkov’s leadership was not the best place to live and added that police raided their villages and forcefully changed their names. Turks they did not want to change names escaped to the mountains and lived there for some time. Some of them got severe illnesses that continue till day.
Another witness explained his personal game changing process “I was praying and heard some voices outside. Police officers came and ran after people around. They came in and I had to stop praying. ‘Chose yourself a Bulgarian name’ one of them cried to me. I replied ‘I have a name’ they reacted me and finally they gave me a Bulgarian name.”
Ass. Prof. İbrahim Yalımov who made a presentation in the conference commented on the concept of ‘name’ and its relation with the Islamic identity of Muslims in Bulgaria said “Islamic tradition attaches great importance to the name because with this name he or she will brought Allah’s judgments. Changing names forcefully is considered to be a rape against identity and character.”
Yalımov added that changing names was not the only pressure towards assimilation. It was just a part of grand plan that aimed to change Turks’ religion, tradition, culture and language which is supposed to end with building up a homogenous nation.
Reminding Bulgaria’s strong dependence on Soviets starting with 1960’s, Ass Prof. Mihail Gruev told “The definition of nationalism turned to the concept of ‘social patriotism’ which associates with communism. The ultimate aim of this process is constituting one nation.”
Along with pressure to change their names, Turks faced also tight restrictions in wearing religious uniforms and exercising Islamic rituals.
SEVDA DUKKANCI – KUZEY NEWS AGENCY