Page 33 - MIGRATION

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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
of the three countries prioritised reinforcing the respective national identity, which resulted
in deleting the memory of the cultural diversity in the contested areas and the multifaceted
local identities. Although years have gone by and generations have changed, these places keep
traces of the cultural palette, covert or visible in different degrees, and this is what I would like to
demonstrate here.
The international agreements were not favourable to Bulgaria, which triggered the
resettlement of the Bulgarian population from Eastern and Western Thrace. As a result of the
forced migration, more than 200,000 (and according to some sources, more than 400,000)
Bulgarians from the lands that are now in Greece and Turkey were granted asylum in Bulgaria
(Miletich 1989; Filchev 2007).
From the very beginning, a lot of families settled close to the border in the hope that they
would be able to go back to their native lands. The Bulgarians from Western Thrace favoured
the districts of Plovdiv and Stara Zagora to move to, while the Strandzha migrants prefered the
Burgas andVarna regions (Filchev 2007: 8). This tendency persistedwith the next migrationwaves
too. The Bulgarians resettling from Eastern and Western Thrace moved to the towns and villages
designated by the state: these were existing towns and villages, in which they had refugee
neighbourhoods; alternatively they were accommodated in deserted villages and farm houses.
Often, settling down permanently only happened after a prolonged period of time with short-
term stays at different places. Today Thracian Bulgarians are dispersed all over the country (cf.
Stoyanova 2012). Still, compact groups of the resettlers’ descendants are noticeable in the north-
eastern and south-eastern regions of Bulgaria, along the Black-Sea coast, in smaller villages, or
in bigger towns and cities, among which Varna, Burgas, Stara Zagora, Haskovo, Kirdzhali, Plovdiv,
Sofia, Sliven, Yambol, etc.
The usage of ‘Thracians’ with reference to today’s population of Thrace is perceived as
a regional identity in Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria. In the Bulgarian public domain, ‘Thracian
Bulgarians’ denotes the people, who settled in Bulgaria due to the forced migration from Eastern
and Western Thrace at the end of the nineteenth century up to the 1930s. Although it was only
the 1913 asylum seekers who were given the status of ‘refugees’, the label is generally attached
to all resettlers from Southern Thrace, regardless of when or why they had to migrate.
Thracian Bulgarians are the bearers of different local cultures. What they have in common
is having to leave their homes behind, settling down to a place thought of as ‘the land of our
ancestors’, experiencing the locals’ perception of them as ‘alien’, overcoming otherness, adapting
and socialising in the host society. The community is visible in the public domain through its
institutions, through the symbols and signs they share, the memory recorded in writing, the
rituals, the memory sites, etc.
A key social actor, representative of the Thracian Bulgarians, is the
Union of the Thracian
Societies in Bulgaria
(UTSB). It brings together the local Thracian organisations. The Thracian