Bulgarian Muslims

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The Bulgarian Muslims or Muslim Bulgarians (Bulgarian: Българи-мохамедани, Bǎlgari-mohamedani, as of recently also Българи-мюсюлмани, Bǎlgari-mjusjulmani, locally called pomak, ahryan, poganets, marvak, or poturnak) are Bulgarians of Islamic faith.[1] They are generally thought to be the descendents of the local Slavs who converted to Islam during Ottoman rule.[2] Most scholars have agreed that the Bulgarian Muslims are a "religious group of Bulgarian Slavs who speak Bulgarian as their mother tongue and do not understand Turkish, but whose religion and customs are Islamic".[3][4][5] Bulgarian Muslims live mostly in the RhodopesSmolyan Province, the southern part of the Pazardzhik and Kardzhali Provinces and the eastern part of the Blagoevgrad Province in Southern Bulgaria. They also live in a group of villages in the Lovech Province in Northern Bulgaria. The name Pomak is pejorative in Bulgarian and is resented by most members of the community, especially by non-practising Muslims. The name adopted and used instead of Pomak is Bulgarian Muslims.[6]

Bulgarian Muslims do not represent a homogenous community and have a multitude of ethnic and religious identities. A clear majority of them (127,350[7] according to the latest census in 2001) declare themselves to be ethnic Bulgarians of Islamic faith. However, a significant percentage, in particular in the Central and Eastern Rhodopes (the Smolyan and Kardzhali Province), are not religious or choose to disassociate themselves from Islam. Thus, the Smolyan Province, which is largely populated by Bulgarian Muslims (approximately 117,000 or 71% of the population according to the Ministry of Interior in 1989[8]), has the highest number of people who did not declare any religion in the 2001 Census—39,003 or 27.8% of the population of the province[9]—compared to a national average of only 3.6%. Considering the insignificant change in the number of Bulgarian Christians (from approximately 47,000 in 1989[8] to 41,792[9] in 2001), the total number of ethnic Bulgarians in the province (122,806 or 87.7%[10]) and that only 58,758 people or 41.9% of the population of the province declared to profess Islam in 2001, the vast majority of the undeclared must be of Bulgarian Muslim extraction.[improper synthesis?]

A similar phenomenon is observed in the Kardzhali Province (approximately 30,000 Bulgarian Muslims in 1989) and the Lovech Province (approximately 8,000 Bulgarian Muslims in 1989), where the percentage of the undeclared is also well above the national average: 13,430 or 8.2% for Kardzhali and 10,739 or 6.3% for Lovech, respectively. In both provinces, the number of ethnic Bulgarians is higher (for Kardzhali, significantly higher) than the number of Orthodox Christians - 55,930 Bulgarians compared with 35,551 Orthodox Christians for Kardzhali and 152,194 Bulgarians compared with 148,023 Orthodox Christians for Lovech.[9][10]

An additional, though smaller, number of Bulgarian Muslims, also from the Central and Eastern Rhodopes, have converted into Orthodox Christianity or have adopted a Christian identity since 1990. The process of conversion has affected mostly Muslim Bulgarians living among or next to ethnic Turks, i.e. the regions of Nedelino, Kirkovo, Zlatograd and Krumovgrad.[11][12][13][14] In some cases, the conversion has affected whole villages, which have adopted a Christian Bulgarian identity, as in the case of Zabardo in the Chepelare Municipality[15] or the younger generations in a village, as in the case with the village of Pripek in the Dzhebel Municipality.[16] Use of Bulgarian names among Muslims is common. For example, only one-third of the Muslim Bulgarian population of the region of Kirkovo, mostly people aged over 60, have Turkish or Arabic names.[12]

Unlike the Bulgarian Muslims in the Central and Eastern Rhodopes, who usually have a Bulgarian identity and are mostly secular Muslims, non-religious or have even adopted Christianity, the ones living on the western fringes of the Rhodopes (in the provinces of Pazardzhik and Blagoevgrad) are strongly religious and have preserved the Muslim customs and clothing. For example, out of 62,431 self-declared Muslims in the Blagoevgrad Province in 2001,[9] 31,857[10] (more than half) have opted for Turkish ethnicity although the self-declared speakers of Turkish as a mother tongue are only 19,819.[17] Considering that mother tongue in the Bulgarian census is counted on the basis of a declaration of the respondent and not on actual proof of what language this person speaks at home and that an inquiry of the Ministry of the Interior in 1989 gave only 3,689 ethnic Turks and 56,191 Pomaks for the Blagoevgrad Province, it is highly likely that the vast majority of the Turks in the province are actually Pomaks. A similar phenomenon exists in the Pazardzhik Province where there may be between 10,000 and 15,000 Pomaks.

Finally, there are those Bulgarian Muslims who have chosen not to declare their ethnicity in the 2001 Census[citation needed]. The percentage of undeclared in the Smolyan Province (9,696 or 6.9%), the Kardzhali Province (4,565 or 2.8%) and the Blagoevgrad Province (4,242 or 1.2%) is well above the national average of 0.8%.[10] These are most likely to be Muslim Bulgarians who would have opted for another ethnicity, for example "Pomak" or "Muslim", if these were allowed as answers at the census or are unclear themselves about their own ethnic identity.

Due to the multitude of different ethnic and religious identities of the Muslim Bulgarians, it is extremely difficult to calculate the exact number of the members of the community in Bulgaria. An inquiry conducted by the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior in 1989 estimated their number at 269,000.[8] A summation of the different groups with different religious and ethnic identities (approximately 130,000 Muslim Bulgarians, approximately 55,000-65,000 non-religious Bulgarians, up to 50,000 Muslim Turks, 15,000 to 20,000 undeclared and an unclear number, probably at least several thousands, of Christian Bulgarians) yields approximately the same number. Despite the multitude of different ethnic and religious affiliations, the predominant ethnic identity would be Bulgarian (approximately 200,000 or three-quarters of the total population) and the predominant religious identity would be Muslim (again approximately 200,000 or three-quarters of the total population). However, if only self-consciousness and self-declaration are taken into consideration, the number of Muslim Bulgarians would be only 131,531, i.e. the ones who have declared as such at the 2001 census.

Muslim Bulgarians in the Rhodopes speak a variety of archaic Bulgarian dialects. Under the influence of mass media and school education, the dialects have been almost completely unified with standard Bulgarian among Muslim Bulgarians living in Bulgaria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Бакалов, Георги; Милен Куманов (2003). "Помохамеданчване на българи". Електронно издание "История на България" (in Bulgarian). София: Труд, Сирма. ISBN 954528613X.
  2. ^ Kristen Ghodsee, "Religious freedoms and Islamic revivalism: some contradiction of American foreign policy in Southeast Europe", East European Studies News (May–June 2007), 5.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Petia Mankova. "Ulf Brunnbauer". Gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  5. ^ The Balkans, Minorities and States in Conflict (1993), Minority Rights Publication, by Hugh Poulton, p. 111.
  6. ^ Бакалов, Георги; Милен Куманов (2003). "Българи-мохамедани". Електронно издание "История на България" (in Bulgarian). София: Труд, Сирма. ISBN 954528613X.
  7. ^ "СТРУКТУРА НА НАСЕЛЕНИЕТО ПО ВЕРОИЗПОВЕДАНИЕ". Nsi.bg. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  8. ^ a b c Улрих Бюксеншютц. "Малцинствената политика в България. Политиката на БКП към евреи, роми, помаци и турци (1944-1989)" (PDF). Imir-bg.org. p. 129. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  9. ^ a b c d "National Statistical Institute". Nsi.bg. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  10. ^ a b c d "National Statistical Institute". Nsi.bg. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2010-09-06.
  12. ^ a b "Цифрови Системи – първият Интернет доставчик в България. Интернет услуги, хостинг услуги, софтуерни услуги, системна интеграция". Bgnews.bg. 2013-08-22. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2010-09-06.
  14. ^ "Цифрови Системи – първият Интернет доставчик в България. Интернет услуги, хостинг услуги, софтуерни услуги, системна интеграция". Digsys.bg. 2013-08-22. Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
  15. ^ [2][dead link]
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2010-09-06.
  17. ^ "National Statistical Institute". Nsi.bg. Retrieved 2016-08-27.