by Kemal Bölge
34 years ago, on May 24, 1989, began the mass exodus of about 350,000 Bulgarian Turks, victims of a forced assimilation policy of the communist regime under Todor Zhivkov from 1984-1985. About 800,000 ethnic Turks were forced at that time to give up their Turkish names and adopt Christian Slavic names. Among them was the Olympic weightlifting champion Naim Süleymanoglu, who has died in 2017 at the age of just 50.
Restrictions began as early as the 1960s, when Turkish language instruction was suspended in state schools in 1964 and the Faculty of Turkish Philology at Sofia University was forced to cease operations in 1974.
At that time, under martial law, the communist rulers sent heavily armed army and police units to southern Bulgaria, where the majority of the Turkish minority lived, to force the residents to adopt Bulgarian names, provide them with new identity cards, and discard their Islamic faith.
The use of the Turkish language in public was banned, and previously valid minority rights were abolished. The Turkish minority resisted the policy of ethnic cleansing with protests against the Todor Zhivkov government. Numerous demonstrators were arrested, imprisoned and tortured. Clashes with Bulgarian security forces reportedly killed 40 demonstrators.
Many of the Turkish victims of the Bulgarization campaign could stand it no longer and in May 1989 thousands of Bulgarian Turks made their way to Turkey. By rail, on trucks, buses, cars and tractors, many of these desperate people fled to the neighboring country of their ancestors, which gave them refuge.
The communist-imposed laws on forced assimilation were later reversed, and in 2012 the Bulgarian parliament adopted a declaration condemning forced assimilation and calling the mass exodus of Bulgarian Turks ethnic cleansing.
„Mezar taşlarındaki Türkçe isimleri bile değiştirmeye zorladılar“.
Bulgaristan Türklerinin zorunlu göçü #BBCArşivlerindeTürkiyehttps://t.co/bWoLCkH24p pic.twitter.com/dzNxGnRIVr
— BBC News Türkçe (@bbcturkce) August 31, 2018