Page 27 - MIGRATION

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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
generalizing category of calling them“
izselnitsi
”(re-settlers) itself. In thepublic discourse inBulgaria
this label has become something like “a brand name” for a particular group of people – ethnic
Turks, born in Bulgaria, facing mass migration to Turkey in the summer of 1989 as a result of the
policies of the “Revival Process” (the category also encompasses their children and grandchildren,
irrespective of whether they were born before or after the fact of out-migration). The uses of this
notion are usually revealing of political connotations – whether prompted by the connection
established between the re-settlers and a specific policy on behalf of the communist regime in
Bulgaria, or fostered by discussions which link this group of people with their participation in
the political life in Bulgaria since 1990 (consider their association with notions such as “election
tourism”, “ethnic vote”, “the hard political base of
Dvizhenie za prava i svobodi
[Movement for Rights
and Freedoms]”, among a number of others). Even if only signposted, these connotations are also
revealing of an ambivalent attitude towards the re-settlers, this time on the Bulgarian side of the
border. It should come as no surprise then if the label “
izselnitsi
” (re-settlers) provokes objections
among the people to whom it is attributed.
At an academic conference marking the 20
th
anniversary of that mass out-migration,
organized by the Yıldız Technical University in Istanbul in December 2009, some of the re-settlers
present at the event saw in me the single representative of Bulgarian public opinion. The most
important question raised by the audience then was about the label - they asked why we referred
to themas re-settlers andwhether it wouldn’t bemore appropriate in their case to talk about ethnic
cleansing and even genocide. The discussion which followed revealed that my interlocutors were
actually looking for a label which would emphasize the political motive behind this out-migration
– “
izselnik
” obviously did not prove sufficient to them in this respect. The rhetoric of declared
preference leads in the direction of comparing that with other similar cases of mass migration due
to political pressure (See, for instance, Ballinger 2002: 130). Those who lived through situations
of mass traumatic displacement often pose claims for recognizing the exceptionality of their
experience or link them to the classical example of the exodus – the Biblical story of Jewish escape
from Egypt, as well as with other familiar and recognized examples of victims and martyrdom
(ibid. 40).
Thesearch for acategorywhichwouldemphasize thepolitical aspectbehindthedelineation
of a re-settler “community” should not be understood only as a strategy which is directed at the
Bulgarian side – an expectation for a formal recognition on behalf of the present authorities for
the repressions endured in the past, as well as the supranational, “historical” recognition through
comparisons with unequivocally recognized examples of victims of political violence. Here there
is also evidence of aiming at reconciling (or at least of bringing closer together) two official
categorizations – those of the Bulgarian and the Turkish societies. The re-settlers actually attempt
to connect and reconcile two national narratives, constructed historically as oppositions to each
other, at times even radically so. This is an attempt at re-negotiating formal categories which
are employed to describe them. It is not co-incidental that my interlocutors offer comments on
this issue only when they feel they are addressing a wider audience – at public events, when
they are in the capacity of representatives of organizations or institutions, when they see me as a