Bulgarians

Human habitation of Bulgaria dates from the prehistoric times. Bulgaria is one of oldest states of Europe with a rich and varied history dating back to 3500 B.C. with the Thracians living there when they had established their first state dating back to about the 5th century BC. Homer records that the Thracians were the most populous race after the Indians. For centuries they ruled over most of the Balkans and much of the Aegean. Thracian horsemanship was legendary and their guerrilla tactics were famous among the ancient world. Bulgaria became part of the Roman Empire in the 1st AD century when the Romans subdued area of the present day Bulgaria and divided it into the provinces of Moesia and Thrace.

The Bulgars (also Bolgars, Bulghars or Proto-Bulgarians) were people who settled in the Eastern Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Their ethnicity is uncertain but most scholars posit that they were a Turkic people with some Iranian origins who migrated in the 4th century to Europe from the Central Asia. There are several similarities /significant from the ethnic point of view/ between the characteristics of the Indo-Iranian /who consisted of descendants of Sarmatians and late Scythians/ and the Proto-Bulgarian cultures from the period of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. These several cultural waves that entered Europe during the Migration Period were remnants of Indo-Iranian speaking societies that had formerly reached across the expansive Eurasian steppes since the Bronze Age, thereafter replaced by new Turkic and Mongolic speaking empires.

In 679-80, Bulgar tribes -Bulgurs- from the banks of the Volga River crossed the Danube River, subjugated the 7 Proto-Serb tribes – the 7 Slavic tribes, and settled permanently in the territory of Bulgaria. Unified Bulgarian ethnicity and state date back to the 7th century AD. In the 7th century Bulgurs took over the region and established two states on the Pontic-Caspian steppe : Great Bulgaria, which spanned between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, and Volga Bulgaria, on the territory that is now part of the Russian Republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia. Likewise, they imposed themselves in the Balkans as the elite ruling class of the Danube Bulgar Khanate. In all of these regions they gradually assimilated over a period of centuries by the local ethnic groups and by the 9th century had fully merged with the Slavs, giving rise to several modern peoples claiming descent from them: Volga Tatars and Chuvas, Balkars and Bulgarians.

The first Bulgarian Empire /681-1018/, established by Khan Asparuhk, soon emerged as a significant Balkan power and a significant threat to the Byzantium. Khan Asparoukh headed west and reached the Danube River at the beginning of the last quarter of the 7th century. They founded independent Kingdom that conquered territory from the Byzantine Empire while it was fighting the Arabs in the east and the south. The archaeological and textual evidence reveal that the Bulgars led by Asparoukh, who settled on the both banks of the Danube River delta, were a relatively numerous group of nomads, with a robust military organization and significant experience in the military engineering, which allowed them to built an extensive system of defenses in a relatively short period of time. The Byzantine Empire in 681 formally recognized Bulgar control over the area between the Balkans and the Danube. After the formation of the Bulgarian state in 681, Thracians are the third ethnic group, which is involved in the formation of the Bulgarian nation. In 809 Khan Krum /ruled 803-814/ captured Sofia from the Byzantines, defeated /811/ Emperor Nicephorus I, besieged Constantinople, and withdrew only after obtaining yearly tribute. In 895 Bulgarian King Boris I adopted Christianity, and in 870 Constantinople recognized the independence of the Bulgarian church, with the liturgy in Slav-Bulgarian language. Bulgaria received Byzantine culture through the Slavic literary language developed by SS Cyril and Methodius, the “apostles of the Slavs” in Moravia and brought to the Balkans by their disciples. Schools were established in Preslav and Ohrid and “Cyrillic” was perfected. Bulgaria followed the rest of the West and East church in confronting heresy. “Bogomil” – beloved of God, probably derives from the name of the father of Bogomilism, who taught in Bulgaria between 927 and 950. Bogomilism was born and flourished among the peasants and was in part a protest against oppression and social hierarchy. Dualist in theology, Bogomils believed that the world was created by the devil. The Byzantine emperor Alexis Commenos had bogomils’ leader burned in 1118, and a Synod of 1140 ordered that Bogomil books should be destroyed. At the Synodicon of Tsar Boris in 1211, Bogomils, and their doctrines were anathematized. In spite of persecution, the sect flourished in the Balkans and Asia Minor until submerged by Islam in the 14th century.

Medieval Latin maps show that the present territory of Bulgaria was the geographical region of Surfa /Serbia/. The first Bulgarian Empire reached its height under Tsar Simeon I /893-927/, who took the title of tsar. All Bulgarian political entities that subsequently emerged preserved the traditions /in ethnic name, language and alphabet / of the First Bulgarian Empire /681–1018/, which at times covered most of the Balkans and eventually became a cultural hub for the Slavs in the Middle Ages. In 988 Bulgaria took the Greek region of Epirus from the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Basil II annexed Bulgaria in 1018 and Byzantine Empire again dominated Bulgaria from the early 11th century to the late 12th century.

Bulgaria maintained strong Medieval states with the seat of the First Bulgarian Kingdom in Pliska and Preslav /7th – 11th centuries/ and the Veliko Tarnovo as the seat of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom established in the 12th until the 14th century. Bulgarian rulers were in close familiar relationship with the Serbian Kingdom during the Second Bulgaria Kingdom. Saint Sava died in Tarnovo and was buried in the Church of the Forty Martyrs, the Bulgarian capital of that time. With the decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire /1185–1396/1422/, Bulgarian territories came under Ottoman Turkish rule for nearly five centuries. Although some islamization took place, it was Ottoman policy to offer protection to their Christian subjects and to the Orthodox Church so long as they paid their taxes and were free to practice their religion and live according to their Christian principles.

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 1878 led to the establishment of the Third Bulgarian State as a principality in 1878, which gained its full sovereignty in 1908. The government here was oppressive until Russia forced Turkey to give Bulgaria its independence in 1878. The First World War devastated Bulgaria demographically, materially, and psychologically. The country endured a total of 157,000 dead and 154,000 wounded in six years of fighting from 1912 to 1918. In addition, some 100,000 refugees flooded the country from Dobrudzha and Macedonia. The Treaty of Neuilly of 1919 imposed upon Bulgaria reparation payments of 1.5 million gold francs to the Entente powers as well as the transfer of specified quantities of livestock and railroad equipment to Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Bulgaria also had to deliver 50,000 tons of coal annually to Yugoslavia. Bulgaria sided with the Nazis in the Second World War switching sides when Russia entered the war. Soon after a Communist Coalition took over, and a Soviet=style republic was set up in 1947. Defeat in the Balkan Wars and the First World War shattered the dream of a greater Bulgaria that included Macedonia. In 1945 after World War II, Bulgaria became a communist state and was a part of the Eastern Bloc until the political changes in Eastern Europe in nineties of the 20th century, when Communist Party allowed multiparty elections and Bulgaria undertook a transition to parliamentary democracy and free-market capitalism with mixed results. During the 1990’s power changed hands from the UDF /Union of Democratic Forces/ and the BSP /Bulgarian Socialist Party/. In June 2005 a coalition government was formed with Sergei Stanishev as prime minister. In 2007 Bulgaria became a member of the European Union.

South Slavs of the Balkans can be divided into four types : the Dinaric type which includes the Dinaric areas of the Balkans and regions inhabited by Dinaric population who had greatly influenced the indigenous people. The Central Type mainly includes population of the Juzna Morava and the Vardar Rivers basins and the Shopi area which stretches up to the Danube River. To the East-Balkanic Type belongs population mostly settled away from the Balkans, in the Pannonian Plain. Those types of population pretty differ and distinguish themselves, which can be noticed at first site. There are vast areas of the Balkans where the Serb and the Bulgarian ethnic features and characteristics of population melt one into the other, as in the real Macedonia, south of Veles and the Shopi region, between the rivers of Timok and the Iskar. The race features of population east of the Iskar River and Ihtiman up to the Black Sea greatly differ from the other South Slavs who live west of the Iskar River, that along with the Marica River basin, create the ethnic line.

Genetic analysis has shown that modern Bulgarians have genetic markers similar to those of Asian origins. DNA from Asia had greatly influenced the modern Bulgarian DNA. Beside more that 85% of Bulgarians smaller ethnic groups of Bulgaria include Turks, Roma (Gypsies), Armenians and Macedonians. Bulgaria’s three main ancestral cultures – Thracian, Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian – left behind only fragmentary evidence of their individual mythologies. These mythologies combined with each other, developed and transformed to produce the body of folk customs, beliefs, artistic forms and traditional narratives that have existed right up until the modern era and which are now collectively known as Bulgarian folklore.

Bulgarians greet each other by shaking hands. Close female friends may kiss one another on the cheek. The most common formal greetings are Kak ste? (“How are you?”) and Zdraveite (“Hello”). The more informal forms, used with friends, relatives, and coworkers, are Kak si? and Zdrasti or Zdrave. When talking, Bulgarians tend to stand or sit closer together than Westerners. They speak in louder voices and touch each other more often. Today people of Bulgaria preserve and treasure the ancient myths and legends, traditions and habits.

The Bulgarian gestures for “yes” and “no” often confuse people from other countries. For “Yes,” one shakes one’s head from side to side. “No” is signaled by one or two nods up and down (often accompanied by clicking the tongue).

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