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The Bulgarian Mohammedans (Pomaks) in the East and Central Rhodopes

The Bulgarian Mohammedans (Pomaks) in the East and Central Rhodopes

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Published by Mehmed Sinap

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Mehmed Sinap on Oct 10, 2012
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 Bogdana Todorova
Institute for the Study of Society and KnowledgeBulgarian Academy of Sciencee-mail: bony69bg@yahoo.com
Speculations about Islam, Islamization and Funda-mentalism proceed from the deficit of a serious historicstudy on the origin and activity of the Bulgarian Muslims(the Pomaks), which is due to both the politicization andideologization of this theme through many centuries, andvarious national and chauvinistic interests. From the be-ginning of the 1890's and especially in the 1920’s and1930's, the continuous campaign in the press encouragespublic opinion to differentiate religious affiliation fromethnic affiliation and to accept the Pomaks as the part of the Bulgarian nation. In the 1960’s, there is a growingpressure to integrate the “Bulgarian Muslims” (the Po-maks) into the community of the ethnic Turks at the sametime that the ethnic Turks use the privileges of commu-nism, of which they were gradually deprived later.Twenty years after the change, the state continues to abdi-cate its responsibilities for this clearly Bulgarian compactmass of the population, whose mother tongue is Bulgar-ian. The state does not pay attention to the poor, to educa-tion, to the large unemployment rate, the lack of invest-ments in these regions, the lack of infrastructure, the dis-covery of the adequate and transparent way of financingthe religious education of these people, or to their need toparticipate actively in the processes of building civil soci-ety.
Key words:
pomaks, identity, country in transition.
The global, postmodern, neoliberal Europeandiscoursivity proposes a legally-formal, rationallysubstantiated approach for a tolerant acceptance andcohabitation with diversity and Otherness as well asa formalistically rationalized way for solving the ex-istential crises of Man. We can set the emotionally-axiologically substantiated (attractive to human per-sonalities and communities) Bulgarian model of ex-istence to this. The proposed social relations thatcome from the centuries of co-experienced being bythe regions with a mixed population are much moreattractive than the European ratio regarding Other-ness and Selfness. The social dominance of the es-sence of the individual is very important and it isone of the most essential features of the Eastern atti-tude. In Islam, the social Ego is closely related toethical character. It is not important how Selfnessfunctions under a definite social position but the so-cial ideal, to which the Selfness is aimed, is impor-tant. The Koran is a specific moral code, but indi-viduality in its European understanding is practicallylacking in it. If we compare Western and Easterntypes of individuality (in the spirit of Steiner), wesee that Western personality forms rising from con-tact with the personified God while interpersonalcontacts are secondary in relation to this contact
.Therefore, the problem of identification andidentity is related to the problem of the existence of Selfness, combining in itself different images of Self. What can destroy it or represent a real threat toit is the so-called crisis of identity
.The present paper aims to underline the connec-tion between the individual crisis of personality andthe accompanying historical and social crises of thesociety.
Historical background
The speculations on the questions for Islam,Islamization and fundamentalism proceed from thedeficit of serious historic study on the origin and ac-tivity of the Bulgarian Mohamedans (the Pomaks),
Steiner, E,S. 1990: Man in history. Moscow. 38–47.
For the first time this concept is used during WorldWar I.
Bogdana Todorova
which is due both to the centuries long politicizationand ideologization of these questions and various na-tional and chauvinistic interests. The social contextof the historical memory in Bulgaria is related to theprocess of the construction of the nation and espe-cially the efforts to integrate and homogenize thepopulation. First, this directly affects the Bulgarian-speaking Muslim population (the Bulgarian Mo-hammedans) and its place in the new independentstate, which is itself not interested in integration,leaving that to the larger Muslim group. In all popu-lation accountings from the end of the 19
century(1880, 1885, 1888) Bulgarian speaking Muslims arerecorded as ‘Turks’. Yet in the accounting from1905 the separate group of the Pomaks appears.The term Pomaks itself is used as the name of theMuslim communities that speak Serbian, Greek orWalachian, with the corresponding specifications:the Serbian Pomaks (Bošnijaci), Greek Pomaks(Walachidi), Vlaški Pomaci. Pomaks is not a tradi-tional name and it was not the name of all the Bul-garian Mohammedans. It was established through journalism and literature by taking the place of thepre-existing regional names. One can read in theTurkish encyclopaedia for ‘Pomak’ that these wereBulgarians who shifted to Islam preserving theirlanguage and national spirit. The term “BulgarianMohammedans” was established in Bulgarian his-torical literature after their Liberation from Turkishslavery in 1878. At an everyday level, the localterms Ahrijani and Kauri appear in the spoken lan-guage.The question this raises is about that part of theBulgarian population (about 250,000 people) thatdetermines itself as ethnical Bulgarians and whohave accepted Islam as their religion. Within thisgroup there is a part who lately either returned to thereligion of their ancestors – Eastern Orthodoxy – , joined the Evangelical Church, accepted some otherconfession, or, more recently, adopted an atheisticphilosophical conception of the world. TheBulgarian Mohammedans are linguistically thepurest Bulgarians as they managed to keep theSlavic features and language untill now better thanthe Christians. A large part of the modern scientificresearch of the Bulgarian Mohammedans is aimed atthe study of their ancient Bulgarian language,folklore customs and original traditional culture
See The old features in the life and culture of theRhodopean Bulgarians 1965: IEIM, Vol. 7, 95–106.
The geographical limit of the Bulgarian Mo-hammedans coincides with the ethnic territory of theBulgarians from the second half of the 19
centuryand the beginning of the 20
century. To the Northof the Balkan mountain the Love
, Pleven, Teteven,Bijala Slatina, Vratza, T
rnovo and Russe districts.At the territory of the east Rhodopes, the BulgarianMohammedans are present in the regions of Smo-lyan and Kirdzhali. The immigrants from the vil-lages of Banite, Madan, Zlatograd and Rudozemform the appearance of the villages of Skakak andVišna (the Ruen municipality) as well as the villagesof Bosilkovo and Manoli
(Sungurlare). The Bulgar-ian Mohammedans in the territory of Greece (Belo-morska Trakija) – Ksanti, Rodopi and Evros, are bi-lingual due the assimilatory policy of the Greekgovernment, which allows education only in Turkishor Greek. However, in our other southern neighbourTurkey (Lijule Burgas and Odrin districts) they pre-served an excellent Bulgarian language. There isalso a community of Bulgarian Muslims in the terri-tory of the West Rhodopes in the regions of Dospat,Devin,
epina, Smolena, Peštera, Zlatograd,Asenovgrad, Plovodv, Gijumijurdžina, in Macedonia– the regions of Nevrokop, Drama, Solun, M
glen,Veleš, Resen, Bitolija, Prilep, Kostur, Tikveš, te-tovo, Strumica, Voden, Skopije), and in Albania – inthe regions of Golo B
rdo and Reka.The Bulgarian Ethnic origin of the Rhodopeanpopulation is confirmed by the 3-year study of the French scholar Ami Boue, who finds that notall the Mohammedans in the Ottoman Empire areTurkish.The question of whether the shift to Islam is aresult of a centrally planned and systematically ap-plied policy of assimilation or is the product of anindividually performed social, political and religiousadaptation is the subject of internal discussions anddifferences in Bulgarian historiography
. Non-violent or voluntary conversion to Islam can be con-sidered a result of an indirect pressure or coercion(economic and social – tax privileges and allevia-tions, but not administrative alleviations) with theaim to achieve a social reclassification. From an au-thentic Defter for the expenses of newly-IslamizedBulgarians during the period June 1679 till May1680, which is present in the Oriental Department of 
The research of Prof. Strašimir Dimitrov and thecollections of documents published by Prof. Pet
r Petrovhave an especially high significance.
The Bulgarian Mohammedans (Pomaks) in the East and Central Rhodopes: the Problem of Identity
the national Library, there are a total of 339 persons(193 of which males and 146 females), 22 males and2 females which accepted Islam during the huntingof the Sultan. (Petrov 1987: 150, 151)There are exceptions in cases where the shift toIslam is en mass for larger or smaller groups of thepopulation, irrespective of whether it is voluntary orcompulsory: Bosna, Albania, the Rhodopes (thePomaks), Macedonia (the Torbeši), Serbia (the Gori- jani).It is fully natural and justified that after the de-mocratic changes in 1989 a process of reconsidera-tion started that implied an extremely controversialand politicized question about the Ottoman past. In1998, an article entitled “An Effort to re-think theStable Historical Models” was published by one of the best Bulgarian Ottomanists, Evgeni Radušev,that examines the demographic and ethno-religiousprocesses in the West Rhodopes between the 10
 and 15
centuries . E. Radušev claims that thedocumentation from the Ottoman archives that hasrecently become accessible to Bulgarian researchersallows us to speak to the process of Islamization thathave led to the mass introduction of a new religion(Radušev 1998: 48), (Radušev, Kova
ev 1996).Thirty years ago, Prof. Strašimir Dimitrov showedthat given the Džizie registrations of the WestRhodopes, Islamization was not a result of one massand forced campaign, which is ordered by the gov-ernment, but rather by a continuous process.All the respondents (ethnical Turks, Pomaksand Christians) of my fieldwork (2006
In November 2010, the three-year study (2006–2010)“Does the Bulgarian ethnic model exist – myth or realitywithin the common European problem of the tolerancebetween Christians and Muslims” was launched by aresearch team from the Anthropology and ReligiousStudies section at the Institute for Philosophical Researchat the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, with the financialsupport of the Fund for Scientific Research of theBulgarian Ministry of Education and Science. The projectaimed to re-examine the ‘Bulgarian ethnic model’, apopular construct during the transitional period inBulgaria (since 1989), in light of real empirical datagathered during an extensive in-depth study in some of the areas with mixed religious and ethnic groups. Thestudy employed the method of in-depth analysis of fieldsemi-structured biographical interviews adopting PaulThompson’s oral history methodology. The target groupsof the study were religious leaders and believersbelonging to the two major religious groups – OrthodoxChristians and Muslims – in the East Rhodope Mountains.The empirical data analysis has had a unique character notonly because the chosen region has remained largely
the territory of the East Rhodopes defined BulgarianMohammedans as more strongly believing if defin-ing their religious identity.Humanistic psychology sets belief as the inter-nal power of the subject that gives it the possibilityto be itself above all. To live, the subject must be-lieve in the significance of her own behaviours. Be-lief is the unproved concept of truth but not the truthitself. It is not identical with religious belief, which,as the pool of religious concepts, experiences andexpectations, joins to religious culture and religious-psychological processes, in which catharsis takesplace. Belief is not sufficient as the gnoseologicaland psychological feature of religiosity.The axiological analysis of belief allows one toshow the different degrees of believing and belief asa value for the person. It can be also a hyper-valuethat defines the main live meaning. As this hyper-value, it has a global essence for the structure of sub- jective reality. It comprises all internal relations andis the most important feature of the ideal. Especiallyimportant for the axiological-meaningful under-standing of belief is its imperativity. In this case,modality (the moments of doubt, unbelief or indefi-nite conditions) is reduced regarding the state andsignificance of belief. The presence of an internalauthority satisfies the human need for an Absolute asthe instance that possesses the Absolute truth.The absolute helps humanity to overcome afeeling of guilt, to remove from itself imperfectionswhich are set in human nature, and finally to turn itsexistence to eternal existence. Religious belief is anapproach for a cultural solution of fundamental,eternal and existential problems. It is an approach to justify human existence. It is also the hope of salva-tion. It gives solace and removes the fear of death,the transience of the terrestrial, the almightiness of time. It joins the human to the eternal. The idea forGod and the immortality of the soul are already pre-set, so religious belief removes from the human theburden of the choice of a creative search and the truesense of life.Life, existence and crisis are a whole. The crisisis a stimulus for a change of experience, and the so-lution arises when an individual is obliged to choosebetween different possibilities. Through critical
uninvestigated so far but also due to the interdisciplinarynature of the analysis which avoids conventionalsociological models and instead applies anthropologicalviews in the context of philosophy of religion and thespecifics of inter-religious dialogue.

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