Bulgaria’s Turks remember exodus, fight for their names


Turkish migrants from Bulgaria pose with a large Turkish flag after they arrive in Turkey through the İpsala border crossing, June 6, 1989.

It has been 30 years since Turks in Bulgaria were forced into an exodus due to an assimilation policy forcing them to change their names, along with their ethnic identity. Those who took shelter in Turkey remember the harsh years

Forced migration, exodus or ethnic purge, it has many names, but the Turks of Bulgaria still vividly remember their mass departure from their homeland to Turkey in the face of a severe assimilation campaign.

Forced to change their names and shed anything that could associate them with their ethnic identity, Turks who trace their history in the Balkan country to centuries of Ottoman rule, left for Turkey in the 1980s. Some 350,000 people came to Turkey amid a harsh campaign to erase their identity by the Bulgarian regime between 1984 and 1989. Many fought peacefully, but the regime never softened, culminating in a mass exodus in 1989. It was the largest migration of people in Europe after World War II.

Under dictator Todor Zhivkov, who ruled the country from 1954 to 1989, an assimilation campaign against the Turkish minority in the country sought to curb their rights under the pretext of creating a homogeneous country. It started in 1984 with orders for Turks to change their Turkish-sounding names to Bulgarian ones and continued with a ban from speaking Turkish in public. It wasn’t limited to language and soon, mosques of the Turkish minority were closed by the communist dictatorship pursuing what it called a “Process of Revival.” The community resisted through peaceful protests but increasing restrictions on their daily lives forced them to leave for neighboring Turkey where they were embraced by the government. The nation was angered by “Bulgarian cruelty to Turks,” as newspaper headlines of the era reflected.



Categories: Bulgaria, Europe, Turkey, Turks

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