Crimean Tatars in Bulgaria

Crimean Tatars In Bulgaria

After 1241, the year of the earliest recorded Tatar invasion of Bulgaria, the Second Bulgarian Empire maintained constant political contacts with the Tatars. In this early period (13th and 14th century), "Tatar" was not an ethnonym but a general term for the armies of Genghis Khan’s successors. The First Tatar settlements in Bulgaria may be dated to the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century, when military units persecuted in the wake of dynastic feuds in the Golden Horde defected to Bulgarian rulers (Pavlov, 1997).

From the late 14th to the late 15th century, several groups of Tatars settled in the Bulgarian territory (then under Ottoman rule) for various reasons. The settlers, probably nomads, eventually adopted a sedentary way of life and, in some areas, survived as compact communities for more than two centuries. The records show that the Tatars were inclined to raid villages and resist authority, and were therefore resettled among the local, just as restive, populations in Thrace. The Tatars were assigned special messenger and military missions, and were incorporated into the Ottoman military administration. This fact, along with their small number, the closeness between the "Tatar" and local Ottoman Turkish languages, and the common religion, led to the eventual loss of group Tatar identity.

Unlike the situation in Thrace, the ethnic composition of Dobruja attests to the existence of a large Tatar community from the 15th to the 20th century. The Ottoman conquest of Bessarabia created conditions for the constant migration of Tatars from the Northern Black Sea region to Dobruja in the 1530s and 1540s.

The 18th century saw the beginning of a radical change in the ethnic composition of the Northern Black Sea region as a result of Russian invasions. Between 1783, when the Crimean Khanate was annexed to Russia, and 1874, there were several waves of emigration from the Crimea and Kuban, and a considerable number of Crimean Tatars settled in the Bulgarian lands. The Tatars who live in Bulgaria today are descended precisely from those immigrants, who kept their identity.

The largest wave of emigration was during and after the Crimean War (1853–1856). Of the approximately 230,000 Tatars who emigrated from 1854 to 1862, about 60,000 settled on Bulgarian territory (Romanski, 1917, p. 266). The majority dispersed in Northern Bulgaria especially in Dobruja, on the plains near the Danube River and in the area of Vidin.

The mass settlement of Tatars in the Bulgarian lands led to the establishment of traditional relations between Bulgarians and Tatars. Contrary to the Circassian immigration, Bulgarian National Revival society did not disapprove of the settlement of Tatars.

The Tatars themselves were in a state of ethnopsychological shock but, in all likelihood thanks to their nomadic past, succeeded in adapting to "the alien world". This first period in the modern history of the Tatar group in Bulgaria (1862–1878) was characterized by economic and environmental adjustment to the new realities and the consolidation of all Kipchak-speaking refugees.

The development of the Tatar group and its identity after Bulgaria’s 1878 Liberation was determined by political factors. On the one hand, the host country changed. Having settled in the Ottoman Empire, the Tatars, who had not changed their ethnic and ecological environment, suddenly found themselves in another political organism - Bulgaria, a state that differed greatly from its predecessor. This came as another ethnopsychological shock to the Tatars and prompted a new wave of emigration. Even those who remained in Bulgaria - about 18,000 people most of them in the areas with Turkish populations in Northeastern Bulgaria found it hard to achieve a balance, and many of them eventually emigrated to Turkey.

The second factor of ethnic changes was the nascent Crimean Tatar national "renaissance" and differentiation in the late 19th and early 20th century. Notably, the national idea of the Tatars developed at a time when the majority of them were beyond the boundaries of their historical homeland. Since the national idea was immature among the Crimean Tatars, they were susceptible to assimilation which, in the Bulgarian conditions, was effected not by the nation-state but by another ethnic group - Bulgarian Turks.

Other factors also accounted for the specificity of each period in the history of the Tatars in Bulgaria. In the post-Liberation period (1878-1912/1918), there were generally no major changes in the Tatar group - there was no large-scale emigration, and the process of ethnic consolidation continued.

The period from the Treaty of Neuilly to the Treaty of Craiova (1919–1940) saw a number of radical changes. Southern Dobruja, home to two-thirds of Bulgaria’s Tatar population, was annexed to Romania. The Tatars found themselves in a state with large Tatar populations around Medgidia, Mangalia and Köstence (Constanţa). On the other hand, the start of this period coincided with a short-lived Tatar nation-state in the Crimea and the constitution of the Turkish secular state. Modern Tatar nationalism embraced Pan-Turkism arid turned to Ankara for support as a result of Kemalist propaganda. This period saw large-scale Tatar emigration to Turkey and the establishment of a circle around the magazine "Emel" (1929-1930 in Dobrich), which used Pan-Turkic slogans as a cover for the promulgation of Turkish policies. Arguably, this was the beginning of the political Turkification of Tatars (Antonov, 1995).

The general tendencies remained the same in the next period (1940 to the early 1950s), except that Bulgaria recovered Southern Dobruja, whose Tatar population had decreased by half.

In the communist period, collectivization and industrialization destroyed the traditional lifestyle of the Tatars too. The natural but slow assimilation into the Turkish community endogamy was no longer possible considering the small number of the Tatar population - was intensified by modernization. There was also a socioeconomic factor the desire to take advantage of the privileges which the communist authorities granted to the Turkish community.

The communist regime pursued inconsistent policies towards the Tatars. It originally adopted Moscow’s attitude to the Crimean Tatars, officially ignoring their presence in Bulgaria (they were last mentioned in the 1956 census, before reappearing as late as 1992).

In 1962, the Politburo of the Bulgarian Communist Party’s Central Committee proposed taking action against the Turkification of Gypsies, Tatars and Bulgarian Muslims. The measures included study of the ethnic origins of Bulgaria’s Tatars. This attested to a new policy: accentuating the community's ethnocultural specificity in an effort to highlight and restore the distinction (blurred as a result of Turkification) between Tatars and Turks.

The reforms in the 1990s have led to a restoration of Islamic Turkic names and the creation of conditions for normal contacts with relatives in Turkey, as well as for independent cultural and educational activities. There have been signs of a rebirth of Tatar identity.

Read more about Crimean Tatars In Bulgaria:  Ethnonym, Origins, Language, Religion, Livelihood, Symbols, Traditional Culture, History, Value System

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