Turkish Minorities in Communist Bulgaria
(…) It was now the autumn of 1985, my fifth visit to Sofia. As on previous visits, I had arrived by train from Romania. Guillermo again met me at the door of the Grand Hotel. „We must hurry, Robby. Nikolai Todorov, the Vice President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Director of the Institute of Balkan Studies, is waiting for you.“ I had returned to Sofia on account of disturbing reports. The Communist authorities were forcing 900,000 people, 10 percent of the country’s population, to change their names. The people affected were all ethnic Turks, the human residue of Turkey’s 500-year-long subjugation of Bulgaria. Every „Mehmet“ was made to become a „Mikhail,“ and so on.
It usually happened in the middle of the night. The rumble of army half-tracks and the blinding glare of searchlights would disturb the sleep of an ethnic Turkish village. Militiamen would then burst into every home and thrust a photocopied form in front of the man of the house, in which he was to write the new Bulgarian names of every member of his family. Those who refused or hesitated, watched as their wives or daughters were raped by the militiamen. According to Amnesty International and Western diplomats, the militiamen beat up thousands and executed hundreds. Thousands more were imprisoned or driven into internal exile. I remember Nikolai Todorov only as a gray man in a gray suit in a cold and dark room; I had to sit, with my coat on, by the window in order to see my notebook. Todorov spoke in a monotone. There was no emotion in his voice. Guillermo translated: „The state has to protect the interests of the nation, and in the Balkans a nation means one particular ethnic group. Keeping the peace in this region means that every minority has to be completely assimilated into the majority.“ Guillermo then took me to see another Bulgarian official, who was more blunt: „If it weren’t for Turkish invasion in the the fourteenth century we would be eighty million now (instead of nine million). They assimilated us; now we will assimilate them. The Turks still have an invoice to pay for killing [Vasil] Levsky. (…)
(…) I was going to school in Varna at the time,“ a Bulgarian woman I met on that visit to Kurdzhali began telling me. „In late 1984, I arrived back in Kurdzhali for my Christmas holiday. Nobody had told me anything. The whole train station was filled with soldiers and militia, in groups of four. Everywhere there were soldiers. The Turkish area of town was completely sealed off. We imagined that terrible things were happening there. We kept quiet. We were afraid. It was the Turks‘ problem. It was terrible what happened. But except for changing their names which now can be changed back -what bad did we Bulgarians do?“ „What about the murders and rapes?“ I asked her „Yes, there were murders and rapes. That was terrible. But now the Turks have more rights than we Bulgarians have. All you foreigners care about is the Turks. That is the only reason you come here. Now we fear that Turkey will take us over. They are larger than us and have a stronger economy.“ (…) p.226
Source: Balkan Ghosts – A Journey Through History, by Robert D. Kaplan