In the past, Bulgarian governments had one thing in common despite many ideological differences. That being the pursuit of assimilation policies against ethnic and religious minorities including the country’s largest minority, ethnic Turks. With the EU membership process, Sofia has gave up discriminative implications and started to follow inclusive strategies towards its own people. However, some recent developments are reminiscent of the old repressive administrative style of the country.
One instance has occurred in Kircaeli where there is a strong presence of ethnic Turks. The Bulgarian independence march, which was composed for Bulgarian separation from the Ottoman Empire, is aired almost every day from the city’s historical clock tower.
The city in which almost 150 thousand people live is just 90km away from Turkey and 120km from Greece. In 1989, many Turks had to leave Kircaeli due to repressive policies, but the city still has many landmarks left-over from its former Ottoman administrators. Ethnic Turks constitute 70 per cent of total population.
Kırcaeli has 115 Turkish villages. In the center of the city, the Merkez Mosque stands as a monument of 17th century Ottoman heritage. The Merkez Mosque is also the only place of worship still open for Muslims. On special occasion, such as the Friday and Eid prayers, Kircaeli’s Muslim community fills the mosque.
One of Kircaeli’s symbols is the clock tower standing in front of municipality building. However, the airing of the anti-Turkish march on an hourly basis has been the target of criticisim from the largely Turkish population of Kırcaeli. It does not seem that any legal initiative to suspend this will change the current situation.
After Bulgaria’s seperation from the Ottoman Empire, a large Turkish population remained in the new Bulgarian state, despite hundreds and thousands of Turks leaving their home for Turkey. Considered as an extension of the Ottomans Empire, the Turks in Bulgaria were victimized for most of the 20th century. The pressure on the Turkish minority was intensified during the years of the Cold War when Turkey and Bulgaria were holding contradicting positions in international relations. Thus, the second wave of migration took place in 1989 years after the First World War. The largest part of the second immigration process occurred in 1992 when the late Turkish politician Turgut Ozal was president.
Jivkov pursued policies for assimilation
The assimilationist policies embraced by the Bulgarian leader Todor Jivkov, who insisted on this strategy during 1980s, left no choice for Turks but to move to Turkey. Turks were forced to change their names from Muslim names to Bulgarian ones, the mosques were shut down and the use of the Turkish language was prohibited. In a short period of time, the number of Turks who migrated from Bulgaria to Turkey exceeded 300,000.
Those who had to leave Bulgaria settled in Bursa, Corlu and Istanbul. Since they still have relatives and relations with Bulgaria, their lives started to pass between two countries. Approximately half of the migrants returned to Bulgaria after the regime change. The reason ofr this is the new government’s respect to religious and ethnic diversity. It allows the use of Turkish names and removes all restrictions against Muslims.
The result of the last census showed 10% of total of 7.5 million people have a Turkish background. Kircaeli, Shumnu, Filibe, Silistre and Dobruca are the cities in which the population of ethnic Turks dominates.
Kuzey News AgencyLast Mod: 01 Kasım 2013, 14:37