A Bulgarian province drew the ire of the Turkish community in the country by replacing the Turkish names of 838 places with Bulgarian ones.
The council of Stara Zagora in southeastern Bulgaria approved a bill by far-right parties to remove "Turkish-Arabic" names on Thursday, much to the chagrin of the ethnic Turkish community which saw similar policies under previous regimes of the Balkan country.
Proponents of the bill claimed names of places were "modernized" as the old names were incomprehensible for locals. Bulgaria was ruled by the Ottomans for almost five centuries before gaining independence in the 19th century.
The Office of the Mufti for Bulgarian Muslims said in a statement that the decision was reminiscent of an assimilation campaign against Turks by dictator Todor Zhivkov who ruled the country from 1954 to 1989. Under Zhivkov, an assimilation campaign against the Turkish minority in the country resulted in more than 300,000 people migrating to Turkey in the late 1980s. The Bulgarian communists' assimilation policy has been viewed as an attempt by the party's ailing leadership to use nationalism to create a homogeneous country. Starting in 1984, Bulgarian Turks were forced to change their Turkish-sounding names to Bulgarian ones, were banned from speaking Turkish in public and their mosques were closed under a "Process of Revival" by the Communist regime. The mufti's office said the decision was "worrying" and would "harm religious and ethnic tolerance in Bulgaria's multi-faith society."
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a party mainly composed of ethnic Turks, condemned the decision. Meanwhile the Bulgarian nationalist party, the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO), which was the architect of the decision, hailed it as a "completion of a process started by our ancestors in 1878," referring to The Treaty of San Stefano which was signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire and paved the way for autonomy and subsequent independence for the country from the Ottomans.