Meet Bulgaria’s many ethnic minorities, from Turks to Russians and from Armenians to Jews
How many: 540 (2001 census, no data in 2011)
Where: Villages around Varna and Dobrich
Religion: Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Who are they?
Bulgaria has only a chunk of this interesting group, the Turkish-speaking Eastern Orthodox Christian who left the Ottoman Empire after the wars of the first half of the 19th Century and settled in Moldova and Ukraine. However, before that time what is now Bulgaria’s North East was the cradle of the Gagauz.
How did the Gagauz appear and who they are is a mystery. The name Gagauz pops into history for the first time as late as the 19th Century. The theories, however, about the origin of the Gagauz, claim much older roots. Some believe that the Gagauz are the only pure-blood heirs of one-time Proto-Bulgarians. Others seek their DNA in later invaders of Turkic origins who had long disappeared from history like the Cumans, the Pechenegs, the Oguz Turks, or the Seljuk Turks
How many: 1,379 (2011 census)
Where: Varna, Pomorie, Sozopol, Burgas, Ahtopol, Plovdiv, Asenovgrad
Religion: Greek Orthodox
Who are they?
Greeks have lived in Bulgaria long before it was set up as a state. The earliest Greeks were colonists in the 7th Century BC who founded flourishing trade outposts that still exist, Varna (formerly Odessos), Sozopol (formerly Appolonia), and Nesebar (formerly Mesemvria) being the most famous. The groups in the interior of Thrace appeared in cities like Plovdiv (Greek name Philippopolis) after 1st Century BC – 1st Century AD when the Balkans became the part of the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire.
Through the centuries, the Greeks formed prosperous communities and mixed with Bulgarians, Turks, Jews, and Armenians in cosmopolitan hubs like Plovdiv and Varna. In the 19th century tension with the Bulgarians escalated. An emerging nation, Bulgaria wanted to emancipate itself from Greek domination in ecclesiastical and educational matters. After 1878, another discord between the two communities appeared – both Bulgaria and Greece struggled for control of Macedonia and Aegean Thrace, resulting in waves of violence towards respective minorities on both sides. In 1906, for example, in Pomorie (formerly Anhialo) local Greeks and Bulgarians clashed, the battle lasted for a day and left a dozen dead and the city in flames.
The number of Greeks in Bulgaria – similarly to that of Bulgarians in Greece – dropped sharply after the exchange of populations, enforced by Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria in the 1920s. In 1920 the Greeks in Bulgaria were 46,759, six years later they were just 10,564.
How many: 2,556 (2011 census)
Where: Sliven and the area, also central and western Stara Planina
Religion: Eastern Orthodox
Who are they?
Nomadic sheep-tending had been big in the Balkans for millennia. Generations of shepherds have pastured their flock in the warm Aegean during the winter and in the cool Rhodope in the summertime. The tradition continued under the Ottomans, practiced by ethnic Bulgarians, Greek-speaking Karakachans, and Turkic Yuruks. The creation of state borders at the turn of the 20th Century put this livelihood to an end. A considerable number of Karakachans were stuck in Bulgaria and the state, in the spirit of the time, did its best to assimilate them. In 1936 the Karakachans were forced to abandon the Greek suffixes in their names, in 1954 they were forced to settle down and for their refusal to do so were punished severely. In 1958 their most precious possession, the sheep flocks, was nationalized. After the collapse of Communism, the Karakachans returned to their roots with the help of a cultural organization and were compensated for their nationalized sheep.
The best time to meet Karakachans is their annual fair in Karandila, near Sliven, held on the first weekend of July