Balkan Turks Culture and Solidarity Association, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), and the state-run Turks Abroad and Related Communities Presidency (YTB) are working on a project that will put the forced exodus of Bulgaria's Turkish community in the 1980s under the spotlight by creating a visual archive of the entire ordeal.
The organizers will collect documents, photos, videos, diaries and accounts of the victims ahead of the 30th anniversary of the incident that displaced some 350,000 people.
Balkan Turks Culture and Solidarity Association deputy chair and project coordinator Ayhan Oran says their want to keep the memories of the exodus alive.
The collected materials are being uploaded on the 1989 Forced Migration website. "We have long thought about how we can tell the world the story of these people's suffering. We decided to set up a website in English, Bulgarian and Turkish. We upload everything about the forced migration - from memoirs of victims to letters, photographs and diaries."
"People who suffered from this evil act want their voices to be heard," Oran told Anadolu Agency (AA). Later this month, a commemorative event will be held in northwestern Turkey's Kocaeli and academics will discuss the facts about the exodus. The event will also screen documentaries and hold an exhibition. Eyewitnesses of the exodus will also give a first-hand account of their suffering.
Oran says they also plan to prepare an almanac of newspaper articles and a book.
Forced to change their names and shed anything that could associate them with their ethnic identity, Turks who trace their history in the Balkan country to centuries of Ottoman rule left for Turkey in the 1980s.
Some 350,000 people came to Turkey amid a harsh campaign to erase their identity by the Bulgarian regime between 1984 and 1989. Many fought peacefully, but the regime never softened, culminating in a mass exodus in 1989. It was the largest migration of people in Europe after World War II.
Under dictator Todor Zhivkov, who ruled the country from 1954 to 1989, an assimilation campaign against the Turkish minority in the country sought to curb their rights under the pretext of creating a homogeneous country. It started in 1984 with orders for Turks to change their Turkish-sounding names to Bulgarian ones and continued with a ban from speaking Turkish in public. It wasn't limited to language and soon, mosques of the Turkish minority was closed by the communist dictatorship pursuing what it called a "Process of Revival." The community resisted through peaceful protests but increasing restrictions on their daily lives forced them to leave for neighboring Turkey where they were embraced by the government.
On May 20, 1989, protests in Turkish villages faced crackdowns and increasing violence at the hands of the Bulgarian regime that forced many to flee to the border. This was what the regime sought, and when the borders were opened, thousands left for Turkey. Today, a large number of community members are scattered all across the country, particularly in western cities and Istanbul where they reside in housing complexes built by the Turkish government for the victims.
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