Emigration of Muslims from Bulgaria to the Bulgarian villages in North Western Anatolia. The case of Kocapınar and Necipköy villages
Stoyan Shivarov (stoyan.shivarov (at) ottomanist.info)
Oriental Collections, Bulgarian National Library
Migrations of Muslims from present-day Bulgaria towards the lands still in possession of Ottoman Empire started during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. It did not cease after that peace treaty, but nevertheless the newly emerged Principality of Bulgaria managed to offer some security to all its subjects and the vast majority of Muslims choose to stay in their homeland. Followed years of relative peaceful, albeit at times quite tense, coexistence between the two states, which even the declaration of Bulgarian independence in 1908, did not destroy. Then with the Balkan wars of 1912-13 and the sharp increase of animosity towards minorities in both countries, many were again forced to migrate, fearing their own security. As a result the Christian Bulgarian population in Ottoman state virtually ceased to exist and in Bulgaria, especially in the newly conquered territories, many Muslim settlements were partially or completely abandoned and erased from the map.
In both countries the hostility towards the internal enemies was based mostly on confessional criteria and not that much on ethnicity. Here I will try to compare the historical fate and the consequent migrations of two communities, completely isolated and marginalized not only by the majority, but even by their coreligionists. These are the Pomaks of the Rhodope Mountains and the Bulgarians in the villages in North Western Anatolia1. The only significant contact these communities had with each other was during a short cohabitation in the several of the Bulgarian village in North Western Anatolia. Though drawing information from various sources, this paper is mainly based on the data collected during two consecutive field research expeditions in villages of North Western Anatolia, conducted in 2009 and 2010.2
The Bulgarians in Anatolia
Bulgarians have always been an important ethnic component in the Ottoman Empire. Even after the creation of the modern Bulgarian state they continued to be so in Thrace and Macedonia regions. There were migrations to this new Balkan state after 1878, but the majority chose not to alter their place of residence and instead hoped that these regions will soon be united. While Bulgarians in Thrace and Macedonia had never lost contact with their compatriots the so called Anatolian Bulgarians were completely cut off from their original community. As their numbers were not great they were (and still are) also out of the interest of researchers, publications about their historical faith or ethnographic features are scarce at best and are based almost entirely on secondary sources that offer only the Bulgarian perspective. Bulgarian historiography mentions around 20 predominantly Bulgarian settlements, but till the research expedition in 2009, with few exceptions, their exact location and / or current names were unknown. Curiously enough easily accessible early 20th century cartographic data has never been utilized.3 Though there is still some doubt about a couple of minor and somewhat temporary (çiftlik) settlements and about villages considered to be Bulgarian, but apparently became Graecized at some point, we were able to produce an accurate map of the Bulgarian settlements in North Western Anatolia.
Slavic speaking Christian Bulgarians in Anatolia were not from the autochthonous inhabitants of the region. There are no primary sources that could answer how and when exactly they crossed the Straits and founded their settlements. The earliest veritable document that could give us some data on this topic is a plea to the governor of the Bulgarian port city of Varna from 1879.4 Three representatives from the villages of Bayramiç, Paun köy (Şevketiye)5 and Koca bunar (Kocapınar) are explaining that while they do not know when exactly their ancestors had settled in Asia Minor most probably this happened “100-120 years ago” seeking shelter from both constant harassment and overtaxation of Ottoman authorities and attacks by bandits. They state that are representing more than 1000 families from 12 “completely Bulgarian” villages, with their inhabitants originally from Thrace, though do not mention any particular villages. Currently they experience difficulties and constant harassment, mainly from Circassians6, and are requesting help from the authorities of the Principality of Bulgaria for them to evacuate. Interesting fact is that all three representatives were illiterate, although they mention that there are Greek schools in most of their villages.7 Bulgarian government did not pay that much attention to this plea and full scale migration did not happen.
The only information for the history of the Bulgarians settlements in North Western Anatolia prior 1878 is from foreign travellers that were keeping logs during their journeys. Except for Kızderbent (in Kocaeli province) the rest of Bulgarian settlements were outside the main roads and did not attract any attention. The first published information about the presence of Bulgarians in this part of Ottoman Empire was an account of an Italian Salvatori, who in 1808 en route to Persia, stopped for a few hours in Kızderbent.8 Other travellers like Tancoigne, Leake, Keppel, Vronchenko (Вронченко) also gave short, sometimes contradictory, accounts on Kızderbent and its inhabitants. Although this was the first Bulgarian village discovered by the end of the 19th century it was completely Graecized and there are no records of migrations to Bulgaria. Still dwellers of Kızderbent retained the Slavic character of their speech, heavily influenced by both Turkish and Greek. Not that much affected by the Balkan wars they stayed on Anatolian soil till 1921. In Greece they are known as Trakatroukide.9
As an exception we could point out the villages of Çataltepe, Urumçe (Nusretiye), Çeltik and Stengel köy (Iskenderköy) in Çanakkale province, where the data are credible. These had been settled by Bulgarians from Ivaylovgrad (Ortaköy) region around 1850. Iskenderköy even later around 1875 with people from Kostur (Kesriye). The reason for these migrations was the search for more income and less tax burden.10
Slavic speaking Muslims known as Pomaks are object of much more historical and general scientific interest. Even after the population exchanges and several migration campaigns (both voluntary and forced) this community is still strong in numbers and manages to defy assimilation, especially in present day Bulgaria and Greece. While scientist and media from the Balkan states continue to dig into the history and ethnography of the Pomaks their efforts are far from complete and because of various purely conjuncture reasons, sometimes quite far from reality. Scholars tend to neglect publications or even sources from outside their home countries, thus failing to notice the connection and often continuity among different Pomak settlements that are separated by state borders and sometimes vast distances. A popular notion among the scientific community in Bulgaria is that Pomaks that emigrated to Anatolian provinces of Turkey during and after the Balkan wars completely lost their cultural heritage and are assimilated into the Turkish society. Our two field study trips proved this not true. While Pomaks in Anatolia integrated into the Turkish society without much trouble there are still many villages that keep their distinct culture and have vivid interest about their Balkan roots. Unfortunately few sources are available to them and in many cases they are unaware of their exact place of origin and instead could only state a region like Selanik or Nevrokop. On the other hand while migration towards and from eastern Thrace are more or less documented in various works in Bulgarian, the colourful region of the former vilayet of Hüdavendigar that probably accepted much more and diverse fugitives is virtually unknown.
It would not be inaccurate to state that for the Bulgaria the 1912 Balkan war started in the Pomak village of Tımrış, centre of the Pomak resistance, when the artillery began shelling the settlement. For years this and several surrounding Pomak populated places had achieved effectively autonomous status and their inhabitants were processing enough firearms to oppose policing attempts.
The example of Kocapınar and Necipköy
I have chosen these two villages, not only because they are an example of Christian - Muslim population exchanges, caused by the Balkan wars. Muslim Pomaks and Christian Bulgarians in Asia Minor are unique communities that were considered inferior even by their coreligionists. In both populated places Pomak refugees arrived while most of the original Bulgarian population was still residing there. Never before or after these two groups had such prolonged contact. The contact - conflict situation is even more interesting considering the completely intelligible language of the two groups.
Kocapınar was the most populous and wealthy of the Bulgarian villages and it was acting as their capital. It continues to be centre for Pomaks from the region to this day and the annual holiday of the village attracts huge crowds. Even though Kocapınar, like most other uphill villages in the region, suffers from depopulation, the former prosperity is still visible. Old houses are almost exclusively made of stone and are more spacious, compared to those in neighbouring settlements. The old Bulgarian school in the village is the largest building I have seen in any of the Bulgarian villages in North Western Anatolia.
According to Tacettin Akkuş around the middle of 19th century there were 80 Greek families and Bulgarians later replaced them.11 This contradicts data recorded from the descendants of the Bulgarians12 and also Ottoman sources from the same period, where many male members of the 83 recorded families have Bulgarian names like 'Stoyan'.13 Akkuş gives 1470 as official number for population of the village in 1905. In 1914 the fugitives that managed to reach Bulgarian soil count to 1028.14
Obviously the local Bulgarians considered emigration to their ancestral homeland, but as in the newly founded Bulgaria, in the North Western Anatolia things reverted to some level of normality and most of the families decided not to leave their property and settle into unknown for them country. The inability of the Bulgarian government to provide assistance also proved decisive. According to several narratives for quite some time Bulgarians were mostly pleased by the efforts of the Ottoman governors to prosecute the Circassian bands. The Young Turks revolution of 1908 was well received by the Anatolian Bulgarians and they started going out of their isolation and began much more active communication with the administrative centres. During this time they did not even resist being drafted in the Ottoman army. Later on we have accounts of Bulgarians from Anatolian villages being drafted and soon after deserting to the Bulgarian forces in Çatalca.15 Mihail Pavlov Chervenkov from Alacabayır (kaza of Balya) reported to Bulgarian authorities after deserting that there were around 40 Anatolian Bulgarians drafted and all of them are eager to switch sides. There were cases of desertation even before the war, as being located in Thrace gave easier opportunity to do so.16 One of the Anatolian Bulgarian deserters escaped from his garrison in Albania and through Serbian controlled areas arrived in Western Bulgaria. Other escaped from Istanbul on a Russian ship to Odessa.
All this precarious equilibrium was shaken by the start of the two consecutive Balkan wars that shaped anew not only the Balkan Peninsula but also Anatolia. As the military actions were on the Balkans Pomaks were affected both by direct force (mainly by paramilitary formation) and pressure to change their faith. Later was considered as way to erase the reason for them not being “pure Bulgarians”. Also, Pomaks from the Rhodope region have long history of animosity and at times open hostility with their Christian neighbours, most important one dating back to the “Massacre of Batak” which has never been forgotten nor forgiven. Even to this day Batak events are an important topic for the Bulgarian society, affecting mainly the general attitude toward Turkish minority17, and puts strain on the relations in Rhodopes. Recent (May 2011) canonisation by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of the Batak victims added further to the already existing tension, created by the far right nationalistic sentiments.
Although the regular Bulgarian army never fully participated in skirmishes within Rhodopes, the paramilitary groups (mainly VMORO) were supplied, trained and supervised by officers on active duty. The villages were quickly overwhelmed and the ones most fiercely defying Bulgarian forces were treated harsh and in some cases - as with the centre of resistance Tımrış - completely demolished.18 They suffered the most and together with dwellers from neighbouring settlements like Çereºovo, Mihalkovo, Beden, Çuren, Breze, Petvar etc. were forced flew to the areas, still in Ottoman possession. A bit later Pomak population from the area of larger Nevrokop and Drama also started to flee. People from Barutin, Kribul, Koçan, Jijevo, Fırgovo, Ablanica, Kara Bulak (Borino), Babyak, Çirnovitsa, Pepelaj. They were not the first fugitives to reach Kocapýnar though as several Albanian families arrived shortly before them.
But the Bulgarians were still there. So it was the beginning of a tense cohabitation with Pomaks and Albanians. All the oral accounts from Bulgarian refugees, as well as our talks with their children and grandchildren tell the story of increasing tension and hostility towards Bulgarians while official authorities were looking neutral at best on the harassment done by Pomaks. It was not unusual for regular army units to stop in the village and search males for firearms. Their pleas to the governor for help were not taken in consideration as obviously they were already considered not trustworthy (probably it was known that drafted Bulgarians are defecting easily) and thus undesirable population.
Still considering mutual distrust between Bulgarians and Pomaks there is no reported open violence amid the two communities. Apart from petty harassments which should have persuaded Bulgarians to leave and their property to be sized from the still homeless Pomaks.
There were also constant pleas to the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul for organizing full evacuation which was made in April-may 1914, with ships departing from the port of Bandýrma. Most of these refugees settled in Dedeaðaç and Gümülcine, thus just after several years they were again forced to migrate, because of Bulgaria's defeat in the World war. Though people from Kocapýnar did not exchange their villages with the Pomak refugees from Rhodopes, some settled in abandoned by Turks settlements like Malki Voden (Subüklün).
Currently Kocapınar is also the village with most intense communication with Bulgaria19. Even during 1970 and 1980s there were cases of Bulgarians born there to visit the village. Our best informer Hüseyin Esener (Terzi Hüseyin) also visited Koçan in present day Bulgaria where his ancestors were born. On the annual village holiday in 2009 for example there were representatives of the Bulgarian Mufti. And after dissemination of results from our research the Bulgarian consul in Bursa did visit Kocapınar (February 2010).
Situated only several kilometres away from Kocapnar. According to the Bulgarian consulate, just before the evacuation in 1914, there were 80 houses with around 400 inhabitants. There were also a church and a Greek school.
Whole village evacuated in May 1914, again via the port of Bandırma to Thrace and again just several years later they were driven out by the Greek army. Most of them settled in Burgas region, where their descendants reside to this day. This is one of the Bulgarian villages that actually suffered human losses during the migration. Several dwellers together with the muhtar of the village were robbed and killed on the way to Bandırma.20 Again the Circassian bands were responsible.
During our field research in 2009 we uncovered data that is not present in other sources. Treasure hunting is widespread in the whole region, both because there are many ruins from Byzantine and even earlier times, but also because in almost every former Bulgarian village there is a legend of a rich inhabitant that hid possessions somewhere. That is the reason many of the houses to be consciously demolished, looking for possible coins in the walls. In Nacipköy the legend is about the wealthy cleric named Manol (Papaz Manol) - his house is still inhabited. We found the most extreme case of treasure hunting to be here. Apart from the various excavations around the village an even more striking example was inside the old mosque. Somebody dig a hole in the middle of the old mosque, which was closed down in 2006. The mosque had been built over the foundation of the Bulgarian church. Nobody could give us satisfactionary explanation why a new mosque has been erected as the village population actually shrank during last decades.
Pomaks in Necipköy are mostly refugees from Çereşovo (almost the whole village settled here), but also families from Tımrış and Osikovo that fled in the beginning of the Balkan war. They managed to reach the Anatolian shore through the port of Kavala. We do not have exact numbers, but according to the Bulgarian general census from 1920 there were only three Pomaks21 in Çereşovo, while before it was predominantly Pomak village22.
In Necipköy Pomaks and Bulgarians spent more than year in cohabitation. In contrast with Kocapınar here we do not have many details on this period. Things get more complicated when we do not have any mentioning about such close existence in the recorded memories of the returned Anatolian Bulgarians. While completely sure that such thing happened we could conclude that there were no major accidents for them to remain in the memory of the refugees.
To this moment almost all research on the migrations caused by the Balkan wars has been based on archival sources or government statistical data. Accounts of the witnesses and victims of the events were used mostly for propaganda purposes and are without doubt exaggerated. Surprisingly a whole century after the events there is still much fieldwork to be done23, as sometimes there are many contradictions among the archival sources from different countries or simply they are vastly inaccurate. Especially such isolated and largely illiterate groups like Anatolian Bulgarians and Pomaks are in the periphery of both governmental politics and registration efforts as they are only a fraction of much larger confessional communities - Christians in Asia Minor and Balkan Muslims.24 While Pomaks are undergoing a process of increasing interest towards their past Anatolian Bulgarians, because of their small numbers, are in danger of being completely forgotten and being mentioned only as Christians or as a part of the former Greek population in Asia Minor. It is not uncommon even for the second generation refugees not have even a slightest clue about the exact location of the villages of their parents as they know its name only in unofficial dialect form or it was renamed by Bulgarian or Turkish authorities. The only viable solution for such shortcomings is an extensive research based both on primary archival sources, governmental statistics, narratives and field research. Omitting just one of these leads to a long chain of inaccurate interpretations, which, especially regarding the Balkans should be strictly avoided as they are often used to deepen the religious and ethnic separations.
1 Currently these villages are located in Balıkesir, Bursa and Çanakkale provinces.
2 Together with my colleagues Georgi Zelengora and Konstantin Panayotov we were able to conduct two field research trips to North Western Anatolia in 2009 and 2010. Our efforts are part of “Neighbouring Bulgaria” scientific project, supported by grant by “Bulgarian Science Fund”. Additional information could be found at http://sasedna.blogspot.com
3 I would like to thank to Mr. Ali Adımcı from the Hecettepe Universitesi library, who helped me finding Ottoman and Turkish maps from the first half of 20th century.
4 Transcript published in Миграционни движения на българите 1878-1941, Т. 1, София 1993, с. 69-70.
5 Names of the villages are given in Latin script, but according to the Bulgarian pronunciation with current name in brackets. All subsequent references are according the current spelling in Turkish.
6 Circassian bands are stated as a main problem up to the mass migration in 1914.
7 According to the Yearbook of the Ministry of Education from 1317 (1898) there were Greek schools in five of the villages. Currently I am unable to confirm whether some schools were closed down later or the representatives were exaggerating a bit.
8 Josef Dobrovsky, Slovanka, V. 1, Praha 1814, pp. 86.
9 Thanks to Nick Nicholas from Australian National Data Service that gave me information about the language and villages in Greece, where the Trakatroukides have settled.
10 Димитър Шишманов, Невероятната съдба на малоазийските българи, София 2001, с. 108.
11 Tacettin Akkuş, Gönen ve Köyleri Tarihçesi, Istanbul 2001, s. 133.
12 Шишманов, с. 72
13 BOA, ML.VRD.TMT.d, nr. 07249
14 Лука Доросиев, Българските колонии в Мала Азия, сп. БАН, ХХІV, 1922, с. 32-193.
15 Шишманов, с. 9.
16 Шишманов, с. 217.
17 Recently there is some shift in the Batak massacre evaluation that tries to put responsibility on the Turkish minority instead of Pomaks.
18 As of today Tırmrış does not exist except as a historical place. The ruins are still there as is the Muslim graveyard.
19 When compared to other villages of other 1912-1914 Pomak fugitives.
20 Доросиев, с.
21 The term used is “Bulgarian Muslims”.
22 We do not have the exact numbers as this village is not included in the 1899 salname. Still we have some archival sources from the mid to late 19th century, including cizye registers that prove Christians being vastly outnumbered.
23 An excellent example, based both on archival sources and fieldwork, is the monography of Kemal Gözler, Les villages pomaks de Lofça aux XVe et XVI siècles, Ankara, 2001.
24 One striking example of such inaccurate data on Anatolian Bulgarians are the numbers, published in the pre 20th century Ottoman Yearbooks. In 1897 Yearbook of the vilayet of Hüdavendigar there are only 2431 Bulgarians recorded. If one relies solely on such statistics it is quite hard to explain more than two fold increase of their population in 1906.