Al Jazeera World – Bulgaria, My Land

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Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish community, persecuted and even deported last century, continues its fight for recognition.

Filmmaker: Yelda Yanat Bagci

In Bulgaria, a country of seven million people and a member of the European Union since 2007, Muslims of Turkish origin comprise about 9 percent of the population.

People from what we now call Turkey have lived in the Balkan region since it became part of the Ottoman Empire more than 500 years ago.

But the fortunes of ethnic Turks changed considerably when Bulgaria declared independence in 1908 and the Ottomans lost nearly all their territories in the Balkan Wars (1912-13).

Two-and-a-half million Muslims died in these wars, according to Justin McCarthy, a professor of history at the University of Louisville. A further one million emigrated. Even after these levels of casualties, Bulgaria remained the country with the highest concentration of people of Turkish origin.

“What happened to the Turks in the Balkans was one of the worst things that has ever happened to human beings,” says McCarthy. “It is one of the greatest disasters that has ever been and yet no one knows about it. No one knows anything about it.”

This film tells this little-known story of the how the Bulgarian Turks suffered discrimination, detention, even mass deportation, over their names, language and cultural identity throughout much of the 20th century – and how they continue to fight for equality in the country they call home.

Successive governments acted in different ways towards the Turkish minority in the last century under a policy of so-called “assimilation” – but under Communist rule, schools were closed, their language was banned and they were forced to change their names to Christian ones and undergo mass baptism.

Resentment led to revolt in the 1980s. Demonstrations became violent, protesters were killed and activists jailed or deported. In May 1989, more than 300,000 ethnic Turks were expelled en masse in what became known as “The Big Excursion”. Turkey ended up closing its borders during the exodus and some families were forced to turn back.

After the fall of Communism, Bulgarian Turks launched the Movement for Rights and Freedom party (MRF) in January 1990 and entered parliament that year. They set about reviving and rediscovering their Islamic and cultural heritage. In 2012, the Bulgarian parliament condemned the previous policies of assimilation.

Nevertheless today, covert discrimination against Bulgaria’s Turks persists as does more blatant racism from extreme nationalists and far-right political parties. Bulgaria’s Turks continue to face challenges as they look to achieve complete religious freedom, education in Turkish, their cultural heritage and to fight for equality in a land they’ve inhabited for generations.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. oh how fun was when you lie as hard as you can you sneaky turkish rats you just hidue you dont mention Greece,Serbia and Romania why because you want to make the turks good and make the bulgarians look like we were evil
    were s your counter proof?

  2. this is total bs… first bulgaria is bulgaria. not ottoman… ottomans took our land, raped our women and pillaged our towns and cities. there was no Christians during communism either. religion was forbidden. Turks will never again control Bulgaria. we remember. Bulgari unatsi.

  3. Everything in this documentary is correct. As a witness of the events of so-called name change campaign, I can testify that the events described in this documentary are completely true. You could find out more about the events in the novel “Crack in the Curtain”.

  4. nice try to rewrite history … but first you have to kill us Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbs off to do that .. we know, we remember and we will not forget or forgive

  5. Fun fact: Bulgaria and Bulgarians are of turkic descent which were slavicized centuries ago. The first Bulgarian empire was founded in 681 when Bulgar tribes (Turkic tribes) led by Asparukh entered the Balkans. They even worshiped the God of turks and mongols which name is Tengri. Of course Bulgarian nationalists will deny it and never talk about it.

  6. Bulgarian history has always been falsified always the victim never the murderers. Bulgarians did murder especially under Russian influence. The truth always comes out. Under Todor Zhivkov's rule Bulgarians should hang there heads in shame. However us Turks are a heroic race and no matter all the hardships that we endured nothing can eradicate our Pride and our culture.

  7. This is not just a propaganda! This is very low level of propaganda! Some of the "facts"are just absurde!
    Its say that 5 mln. musulmans were killed in the begining of 20th century, another 5 mln. expeled…………………… Acording the oficial ottoman statistics there were 5 mln. musulmans in the Balkans total. How its posibel to kill 5 mln., to expel 5 mln. and still to have milion musulmans in Bosnia, Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia????

    This "movie"is full with such absurde lies!

    This is way the ottoman empire and modern Turkey was ruled mainly from Balkan musulmans (bulgarians, albanians, serbs, greeks and balkan turks) all most no anatolian turks or arabs inthe ellite of the countrie!

  8. Today Turks are the most benefited minorities in Bulgaria , they can study in their own language, they have radio station and national tv on turkish. There's no conflicts. yet the Turkish government continues to spread propaganda trying to provoke ethnic conflicts and hatred. ….

  9. hey, you guys. i am Turkish, my father was born and raised in Bulgaria and deported in 1989. when i asked my father what happened, he told us the opression they exposed, how government changed their names and showed us some papers he had. but thank god he never impose us anything bad about Bulgarian people. "we were living together for years" he always said. i've never been in Bulgaria so far, but i want to visit my father's village, visit my aunt and travel around Bulgaria someday. (also, me and my sister we want to learn Bulgarian language too. we started with the Cyrillic alphabet. my father helps too. i only know the alphabet for now, i can write and read Turkish and English words in your alphabet. yay!)
    But after reading comments here, i am so upset and i can say as a Turk i am a little afraid to go to Bulgaria. looks like there is still a lot of hate against Turkish people. it makes me sad to see racism and discrimination in Balkans, my homeland.
    P.S.: yes, i know Turks are not innocent and caused pain throughout history (like every other state). i can accept that even though government and majority of Turks doesnt. it's not my fault what happened hundreds of years ago but i am sincerely sorry some jerks did some evil things and caused a lot of pain. it is not hard to accept that some bad things, wrong things happened in the past (still happening actually), there is no need to maintain racism. i object discrimination in turkey, in everywhere. i wish everyone does. racism creates more racism, nothing good can come from it. Love from Ankara.☮ ✌ лове фром анкара ☮ ✌

  10. FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS TURKS NEVER OBJECTED TO THE BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES ??? HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH comeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee on

  11. The problem that a lot of you seem to have a hard time processing is that what "Turks did 500 years ago" has no relevance today. I, nor my family members, nor any turks living in Bulgaria today, can be held accountable for the atrocities that were comitted by our ancestors. This happened to your ancestors 500 years ago, and this is happening to Turks in Bulgaria today. Of course people are going to talk about the present because it is something we can actually do something about. To dwell in the past and say that present day Turks deserved what happened to them because their ancestors did something horrible centuries ago is so ridiculously ignorant. It's like saying "your great great great great great great great great great great grandfather oppressed my great great great great great great great great great great grandfather, therefor I have the right to oppress you!!!". When you have an empty head, people will rent it and fill it with their propaganda. Be smart people, please.

  12. I have several turkish female friends who were born and raised in Bulgaria. They were telling me the same thing ; they even hated turkish and turkey because of the propoganda in primary schools in bulgaria. Can u believe that ? This says a lot about the comments from bulgarians over here.

  13. Al Jezeera ; Pls take a bulgarian history book from one of the primary schools in bulgaria and make a documentary based on that book in order to make those crying bulgarin kids happy over here 🙂 Because they just know what is written on their books . Their world is not more than that 🙂

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