Cumartesi, Ağustos 13, 2022
Ana SayfaMakaleProblems of Muslim and Turkish Minorities in Bulgaria

Problems of Muslim and Turkish Minorities in Bulgaria

Bulgaria, which neighbors Turkey, is surrounded by the Black Sea on the East, Turkey, and Greece on the South, North Macedonia, and Serbia on the West, and Romania on the North. According to the 1993 data, Bulgaria’s population is approximately 10 million, with around 800-900.000 of it being Turk, around 300-400.000 being Pomak and an almost exact number having of Roman/ Gypsy descent (Oran 1993, 114). In the 2011 census, however, the population was determined to be 77.364.570 with Bulgarians making up 85,2%, Turks 9,1%, Romans 5,2%, and other minorities 1% of the population. 10% of the population defined themselves as Muslims.

While the Muslims who are close to 1,5 million in number are mostly Sunni Muslims, it has also been claimed that there are approximately 50-60 thousand Alevi Muslims (Cambazov 2016,131). 604.246 people stated their native language to be Turkish, 280.979 people stated Romanian, and 47.071 people stated a different language. 

Turkish Presence in Bulgaria and Negative Practices Against Turks

  • Although the rights of the Muslim and the Turkish communities have been guaranteed by some treaties, assimilation policies have been implemented in many areas from the Second World War to the present, especially during the communist years. If these policies are examined;
  • Forced migration implementations: 150,000 Turks in 1950-1951 and 130,000 Turks migrated to Turkey due to the Immigration Agreement signed with Turkey in 1968, 2500 minority intellectuals were expelled in 1989 (Özlem 2008, 351; Bayraktar 2007, 84; Oran 1993, 114) -115),
  • Communism era practices (1942-1989): Attempting to force atheism and communism to be adopted through the “Re-Cultural Revival Project” and “Bulgarianization” campaigns (Karaman 2018, 39-40),
  • Implementations in education: prohibition of Turkish education (1971), nationalization of Turkish schools and properties (1946), merging of Turkish and Bulgarian schools (1952), complete closure of Turkish minority schools (1959), presentation of Bulgarian Turks in history books as an inimical and disloyal community, lacking teachers in educational institutions, not allowing Turkish to be studied in schools even though it is a selective course (Gökdağ 2012, 10; Özlem 2008, 351; 365; İsov 2014, 44; İspova 2016, 538; Türk & Özlem 2016, 25).
  • The problem of using the Turkish name: The use of the expressions “Bulgarian citizen of Turkish origin, Turkish-speaking population, Bulgarian Turk, Bulgarian Mohammedan and Bulgarian Muslim” by rejecting the term “Turk”, and applying an assimilation policy to the Turks with the “Name Change Campaign” of Prime Minister Todor Jivkov ( 1984), giving Bulgarian names to Turks and Turkish villages (Tunalı 2018, 125),
  • The problem with the usage of Turkish: Banning the usage of Turkish in the public domain, Turks being penalized with 20 Bulgarian Levs per Turkish Word, Closure of Turkish newspapers and radio channels, Renaming Turkish squares and places by municipalities (Özlem 2016, 100; Arslan 2015, 8; Türk & Özlem 2016, 11; 27),
  • Religious oppressions: Blocking the mawlid and circumcision ceremonies by closing down mosques, opposing burial by Islamic rules, expropriation of properties of mosques and foundations belonging to the Grand Mufti and Turks, Salafis, and Wahhabis increasing their religious activities in the region (Karaman 2018, 40; Türk and Özlem 2016,
  • 11; Dede 2014, 21; Özlem 2016, 197).
  • Legal problems: The misrepresentation of the minority in governmental domains, the Bulgarian state defining Turks as “citizens whose native language is not Bulgarian”, even though Turks are defined as “Turkish minority” in EU reports (Özlem 2008, 365),
  • Dearths in the field of media: Turkish radio and TV broadcasting at
  • symbolic times, lack of Turkish national newspapers as a result of systemic oppressions and financial difficulties (Türk ve Özlem 2016, 23; 27),
  • Pomaks are also faced with serious assimilation policies. These being;
  • The Denial of the existence of Pomaks: Pomaks being recognized as Bulgarians, “The Pomak identification does not exist. They are Bulgarians.” propaganda being distributed in TV channels, the oppression against and detention of activists defending the Pomak identity.  (Ispova 2016, 548-549),
  • Forced migration practices: the forced migration of Pomaks to Turkey after 1950 (Taşcan 2017, 387),
  • Name change policies: forcing the names of approximately 220,000 Pomaks to be changed between 1960 and 1976, erasing Muslim names from tombstones and writing Christian names instead (Karaman 2018, 40).
  • Problems Encountered by Romanis/ Gypsies
  • Another significant minority in Bulgaria is the Romani people, namely the Gypsies. In the 2011 census, their population was determined as 325,343, and it was determined that they constituted 4.9% of the country. According to unofficial data, it is claimed that their population is approximately 750,000 and that they have registered themselves as Turks in the census. While 18% of the Romanis defined themselves as Muslim, 37% defined as Orthodox, and 10% as Protestant (Özlem 2016-2, 75-76).
  • Romanis also face important issues and are subject to assimilation policies, especially in areas such as finance, health, and education. If these were to be analyzed;
  • Social exclusion: Romanis come fore as the poorest, uneducated group that is least likely to find a job and targeted for hate speech and exclusion. (Atasoy 2010, 186),
  • Economic discrimination: The Romanis are under greater economic pressure compared to other minorities, the unemployment and the rate of those who do not have social security among the Romanis is 70%, the Romanis live in poor conditions, they cannot benefit from health services to a large extent,
  • Lack of Education: Among the minorities, the community with the lowest level of education is the Romanis, with nearly 90% of the Romanis having primary and
  • secondary education (Özlem 2016-2, 78-84),
  • Political participation problems: The prevention of the registration of the Democratic Roma Union party in July 1990, problems experienced by Romani political parties in their ethnic politics (Özlem 2016-2, 85-86),

The Muslim and Turkish minorities in the Balkans

Today there are Muslim and/or Turkish minorities such as Albanians, Turkish, Bosnians, Pomaks, Macedonian Muslims, Slav Muslims, and Romanis/ Gypsies in 11 states in the Balkan region. Although various constitutional rights have been entitled to minorities, assimilation policies are carried out and violation of rights are happening nonetheless.

Erdem Eren
İstanbul Yıldız Teknik Üniversitesinde Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler alanında lisans eğitimini tamamladı.İstanbul Sabahattin Zaim Üniversitesinde"Balkanlardaki Türk Kamu Diplomasisi ve Faaliyet Alanları” tezi ile yüksek lisansını tamamladı.Şu an İstanbul Rumeli Üniversitesi Rumeli Çalışmaları Uygulama ve Araştırma Merkezinde Araştırma görevlisi doktorant olarak görev almaktadır
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