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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
RESETTLEMENTS, MEMORY AND COMMEMORATIVE
RETURNS: THE NOTING OF THE “REVIVAL” PROCESS
IN BULGARIA AND THE POLITICS OF MEMORY
Nikolai Vukov
Over the last decade, there has been a visible enhancement of the research interest
in the topic of the “Revival” process
1
in Bulgaria and of the Bulgarian Turks who resettled to
Turkey in the summer of 1989. Numerous ethnological, historical and sociological studies were
published on important issues, such as the politics to minorities before the political changes of
1989, particularly on Bulgarian Muslims and on Turks in Bulgaria (Büksenshutz 2000, Gruev 2003,
Stoyanov 1998); on the political and social context of carrying out the “Revival” process (Asenov
1996, Gruev, Kalyonski, 2008, Ivanova 2002); on memory and forgetting about these events in
Bulgarian society after 1989 (Hristov 2007), etc. Along the lines of an outlined anthropological
perspective, there have been researched various aspects of the social and cultural of Bulgarian
Turks in the period after 1989: about the split of the resettlers
2
between the place of residence
and their native lands (Dimitrova 1998, Zhelyazkova 1998, Karamihova 2003, Maeva 2006); about
the strategies of collective self-representation of Bulgarian Turks in Bulgaria and in Turkey (see
Elchinova 2001, 2005); and on various practices for maintaining collective memory and identity
(Bochkov 2004, Maeva 2002, Troeva 2011). Most of these issues were an object of reflection and
analysis in various media publications, where the visits of migrants to their native places and the
maintenance of their connection with Bulgaria often spring up at in discussions about to the so
1 “Revival” process [
Văzroditelen protses
] is a term applied for the systematic attempts of assimilation of the
Muslim population in Bulgaria (Turks, Pomaks, Roma, and Tartars] by the communist rule in 1970s and 1980s (itself
preceded with problematic policies of integrating this community by the Bulgarian state, and with various cases of
pressed resettlements in the end of the 19
th
and throughout the 20
th
century). The campaign in the last two decades
of the communist rule involved a forceful changing of Arabic and Turkish names of this population with Bulgarian
and Slavic ones, limitations on the use of mother tongue in public, repressions against the practice of their religion
and against the performing of their traditional customs and rituals. The term
Văzroditelen protses
was introduced by
communist nomenclature in 1985 to propagate the doctrine that all Bulgarian Turks were in fact “ethnic Bulgarians,”
whowere forcefully Islamized during the Ottoman rule, therefore the campaign of their“reintegration”to the Bulgarian
culture and traditions were a kind of“revival”of the national identity of this population. Reaching its peak inmid-1980s,
the assimilation campaign against Muslims in Bulgaria included various forms of repressions (arrests, imprisonment,
sending to labor camps, etc.) on members of this population and led to a wave of their organized protests in the
second half of the 1980s. The protests in the spring of 1989 (known nowadays as the “May Events”) were particularly
massive and they were responded by the communist leader Todor Zhivkov with a proclamation that members of
this population were “free” to leave the country, if they wished so, which actually triggered a mass emigration wave
to neighboring Turkey. Ironically called as “The Great Excursion,” this wave included a around 360,000 people who
resettled in Turkey, around 150,000 of whom returned back to Bulgaria after the fall of the communist rule.
2 The term “izselnitsi,” which is used for Bulgarian Turks, who resettled to Turkey mostly in 1980s as a result
of the assimilation campaign of the communist state, does not have a good equivalent in English translation. In the
current text, I prefer to use the word “resettlers” (rather than migrants, emigrants, etc.), as, firstly, it is traces the link
with the nouns of “settlement and“resettlement”as an overall process of changing places of residents, and – secondly,
it indicates better the elements of pressure that conditioned the spatial removal of this population to neighboring
Turkey.