Meet Bulgaria’s many ethnic minorities, from Turks to Russians and from Armenians to Jews
How many: 6,652 (2011 census)
Where: Communities in Sofia, Plovdiv, Ruse, Varna, Burgas
Language: Bulgarian, Armenian
Religion: Armenian Orthodox
Who are they?
The first Armenians left Asia Minor for the Balkans in the 5th Century, but they really started to arrive en masse in the 8-10th centuries, when the Byzantine emperors organized mass migration of hundreds of thousands. The reason? They were “heretics.” What happened to these Paulicians is not clear. Later waves occurred at the time of the Ottoman invasion of the 14-17th centuries. In 1894-1896 another 20,000 Armenians arrived, escaping hostilities in the Ottoman Empire. About 20 years later about 35,000 Armenians were living in Bulgaria. The number rose considerably when 22,000 refugees arrived after atrocities committed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1922. Under Communism, the Armenian and the Jewish minorities were considered “model” in that they were well-integrated into the Communist system and never caused any trouble.
How many: 9,978 (2011 census)
Where: Throughout Bulgaria, Old Believers villages around Varna and Silistra
Language: Russian, Old Russian
Religion: Russian Orthodox Christian, Old Believers
Who are they?
It is logical to surmise that about 10,000 Russians in modern Bulgaria are the descendants of the White Russian supporters who fled their country after the 1918-1921 Civil War, plus those who married Bulgarian in the post-1944 era and settled here. You will be right, to an extent.
In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution Bulgaria did welcome about 35,000 White Russian military officers and many more civilians. Some of them left the country and continued West. Many, however, stayed and when the Red Army invaded Bulgaria in 1944 many of them were forcibly sent to the Gulags. During Socialism, some Bulgarians went to work in the wood-cutting industry of the former USSR. Some returned with their Russian wives.
However, the first Russians, or Cossacks, appeared in Bulgaria much earlier. They were, and still are, Old Believers, followers of a conservative branch of Russian Orthodoxy that opposed the religious reforms of Tsar Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th Century. These reforms were meant to make the church subservient to the state, so the Old Believers were considered an arch-enemy and were forced to leave. Many of them sought refugee in the tolerant Ottoman Empire. In 1753, several thousand Cossack families settled around Silistra. Of that huge group about 200 Old Believers, known also as Lipovans, remain today. They live in one of the neighborhoods of the village of Aidemir. Another pocket of about 300 Old Believers inhabits the village of Kazashko, near Varna. They arrived in 1905 from Romania, escaping “ungodly” modernization such as obligatory vaccination.
In the beginning, the Old Believers in Bulgaria would not marry locals and strictly followed their tradition. Today, however, intermarriage is common and few of the old traditions are being observed. Many of the elders, though, are still vehement non-smokers. The taboo does not apply to alcohol.
To be continued …