The Bulgarians

Human habitation of Bulgaria dates from the prehistoric times of the Stone Age with permanent or semi-permanent settlement dating back to 6000 BCE and traces of advanced civilization dating back to 5000 BCE. Bulgaria is one of oldest countries of Europe featuing a rich and varied history dating back to 3500 BC with the Thracians living here when they had established their first state back to about the 5th century BC. Homer records that the Thracians are the most populous race after the Indians. For centuries Thracians ruled over most of the Balkans and much of the Aegean area with the Greek colonies that begun to appear in Thrace around the 8th century BC. Thracian horsemanship was legendary and their guerrilla tactics were famous in the ancient world. In the 6th century BC the ever-growing Persians under the leadership of Darius the Great conquered and subjugated the Thracians. Bulgaria became part of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AC when the Romans conquered area of the present day Bulgaria and divided it into the provinces of Moesia and Thrace. In the Roman annals we find evidences on the allied military activities of the Goths, Illyrian, Huns, Tribals and Dardanians whenever Tsarigrad tried to rule the Balkans. Bulgarians along with the Serbs carried out series of campaigns to Constantinople – Tsarigrad.

‘Dardanians – Dardanics – Dardanos were called Troiana prosopia by Solin which used to settle down around the Danube River and Vidin and Orahovac, on the Skitula River in Real Serbia and all along the former Dardania or the southern and the southeastern provinces of the Real Serbia. Their towns were Rashka on the Rashka River which joins the Maritza River, Stip, Samokov, Skopje, Krusevo or Stari Dol, Radovic, Prilep, Bitol, Kostur and so on from its former living areas around the present Nis. The smaller part of this Serb tribe lives in so-called present Albania as the Serbs in mentioned towns and their surroundings’. Novica R. Grujic

The modern Bulgarians are a mixture of largely Slavic-Serb kinsmanship with other ethnic groups /Tatars, Turks etc/. 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 AD to Europe from the Central Asia. There are several similarities /highly 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 Tsardom. 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.

Bulgarians are the people of the Turkic origin /Hunnic-Onogur tribe/ from the central Asia – present Turkmenistan from where they started migration towards the Balkans at the end of the 2nd century AD and have settled in the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea north of the Caucus and east of Volga River and west of Don River in the period from the 4th till the 6th century. In 679-80, the Bulgar tribes /Bulgurs/ were persecuted by the Khazars from the banks of the Volga River and crossed the Danube River. There they subjugated the 7 Proto-Serb tribes – the 7 Slavic tribes with whom they founded a new common kingdom and permanently settled in the conquered country which matches the territory of present Bulgaria. Unified Bulgarian ethnicity and statehood after they became Slavs – the Serbo-Bulgarians dates back to the 7th century AD /680—864/, when 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, the Serbo-Bulgarians 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 with whom they spoke the same Slavic language, giving rise to several modern peoples claiming descent from them: Volga Tatars and Chuvas, Balkars and Bulgarians.

The first Bulgarian Empire – first Bulgarian Tsardom /681-1018/, established by Khan Asparuhk soon emerged as an important Balkan power and a significant threat to the /Byzantium/- the Eastern Roman Empire equally ruled by the Greeks, Armenians, Serbs and Bulgarians. Khan Asparoukh headed west and reached the Danube River at the beginning of the last quarter of the 7th century. They founded independent tsardom that conquered territory from the Byzantine Empire – the Eastern Roman Empire while it was fighting the Arabs in the east and the south. The archaeological and textual evidences 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 River. In the formation of the Bulgarian state in 681 the Thracians are the third ethnic group involved in the creation 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 became empire in 913 during the reign of Tsar Simeon the Great /893-927/ when the First Bulgarian Tsardom was created /913-971/. The Second Bulgarian Empire also included Macedonia /1014-1018/ and was establihed by the famous Tsar Samoil /1185-1422/, inhabited by the Serbs and the Bulgarians living in the common state.

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. The Slavs – Slavic people were the Slavic population who were part of the Orthodox Byzantium Empire, i.e. the Serbs, the Bulgarians and part of the Russians around the Black Sea as they have obeyed the Christian laws and books – the rightful faith proponents. It is known that during the time of Saint Sava, the Serbs, and the Bulgarians and the Russians spoke the same language which we know as the Old-Slavonic language. In 988 Bulgaria took the Greek region of Epirus from the Byzantine Empire. At the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century Byzantium succeeded in destruction of the First Bulgarian Empire and its dynasties. Bulgarian Empire was divided into three Byzantine themas – Bulgaria, Peristrion and Macedonia, and did not manage to regain its administration for the next 200 years. The Byzantine Empire – Eastern Roman Empire had formed its own thema of Morava from the former Serbian principality of Morava – the Eastern states, later named Serbia. 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 state with the seat of the First Bulgarian Empire in Pliska and Preslav /7th – 11th centuries/ and the Veliko Tarnovo as the seat of the Second Bulgarian Empire established in the 12th which lasted until the 14th century. Bulgarian rulers of the Second Bulgarian Empire were in close familiar relationship and matrimonial connections with the Serbian Kingdom during the rule of Stefan Nemanya. The Serbs and the Bulgarians had lived in one state many times in history. When it happened – we have ruled the Balkans and event the Roumeli Empire – the Byzantium. During the time of Saint Sava the Serbs and the Bulgarians spoke the same language – the Slavic language. They had their letters of azbuka, performed liturgy in their own language and had books written in their own language. Saint Sava died in Tarnovo – the Bulgarian capital of that time and was buried in the Church of the Forty Martyrs. Along with the decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire /1185–1396/1422/, Bulgarian territories came under Ottoman Turkish rule for nearly five centuries. In the late 14th century the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria and made it into the core of Rumelia, or “Roman Province” which encompassed the Balkan section of the Ottoman Empire. It was the richest Ottoman region which was also the most ethnically and confessional variegated in the sultan’s realm. Religious communities were organized into non-territorial autonomy entities or ‘millets’, mainly for Armenian Monophysites, Judaists and Orthodox Christians. Muslims were also grouped into their own Millet of Islam. They were privileged over other ethno-religious groups since they paid lower taxes and had exclusive access to the highest offices across the empire. This was so because Islam was this polity’s ruling religion. 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. It is relatively unknown that Prince Mihailo Obrenović signed with the Bulgarian Committee the Agreement on the common state of the Serbs and the Bulgarians – so called Balkanija in Bucharest on the 14th January 1867 that would, if had been realized, elevate to the stage of Kingdom under the rule of Obrenovic Dynasty. The Serbian and the Bulgarian languages would be equal in that state which would feature common political and religious representation and the common state seat with supportive relationship. This meant education of numerous young priests and monks in the Faculty of Theology in Belgrade, and many books were printed in Serbia, with the aim of gaining independence from the ruling Greek church organization. Prince Mihailo Obrenovic achieved excellent cooperation with representatives of the Bulgarian people, and especially with the Bulgarian emigration in Romania. Support he provided to the Bulgarian people was enormous and often had caused very unpleasant pressures on Serbia from the side of the Sublime Porte, but also from Austria, Britain and Russia.

However, everything was suspended because of the assassination of Prince Mihajlo in June 1868. In October 1915 the Bulgarian Army attacked Serbia from the back in the regions of Timok River, Nisava River and the Juzna Morava River when relations between neighboring states turned into extremely bad and hostile. It was a fierce attack to the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia which withdraw accross the Albanian mountains because of the Triple Entente invasion by which Bulgaria took side of the Central powers in the Great War. The Bulgarian forces started immediately with atrocities on civilians and destroyed all traces of the Serb existence on the occupied area, which lasted for full three years. Bulgarians committed forced Bulgarization of civilian population and took over 200.000 Serbs to more than 22 concentration camps in Bulgaria –  Sliven, Plovdiv, Gornja Orehovica, Jambol, Doblich, Shumen, Sofia, Pernik, Haskovo and other.

“At the Bulgarian gatherings performed in winter of 1884 in Bulgaria and Trakia, besides the East Roumelia, was requested the unification to the Princedom of Bulgaria of Macedonia and the large part of the Old Serbia which would have make sensless stipulations of the Berlin Congress and would have tried creation of Bulgaria under regulations of Treaty of San Stefano. Significance of the gatherings  carried out in Serbia in February and March 1885 is the fact that there participated prominent Serbs who populated the areas of Old Serbia and Macedonia, who have witnessed whom truly those territories belonged in ethnic, language and cultural sense”. Aleksandar Mitić

Respond to the Bulgarian terror in the First World War was the Toplica Appraisal which was crushed in blood, and took over 20.000 victims. When the Macedonian Front broke in Dobro Polje in September 1918 the Western allies did not allow the Serbs to forward to Sofia. 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.

… The Peace Treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was signed in San Stefano on 03 March 1878. This Peace Treaty provided conditions for creation of „Great Bulgaria“ which would include parts of southeast Serbia and Macedonia. The Serbian-Turkish border was defined by the village of Ristovac. After the Berlin Congress the Turks started with horrible revenges. There was large number of people killed in Kumanovo, and locals were hiding where they could find shelters. Serbs from the surrounding settlements arrived to Vranje in attempt for find rescue and help. The Bulgarian Komitas – Comitadjis movement continued with political and religious pressures with the aim of Bulgarization of population. In 1903 the Chetnik Executive Committee was created in Vranje. This Committee contained thirty most reputed Vranje people. Živojin Rafajlović was elected the head of the Committee. The task of the Committee was supply of the chetniks with weapons and ammunition and transfer of groups along secret corridors to the Turkish territory. In 1905 during fights with Turks in the area of Vranje, the troop of Petar Todorovic from Kragujevac was executed. At that time chetniks carried out large preparations for war against the Turks in the Vranje area. Then the priest Ljuba was very young. Being distinguished patriot, he joins the chetnik movement, due to imposed Bulgarian exarchate and constant raids. The chetnik movement played great role at the beginning of the war in 1912. In coordination with the Serbian Army, they reached the strategic point of Kula by the village of Starac, that opened the road towards the valley of the Pcinja River. Battles of the Serbs and the Turks in Kumanovo was fierce, with lots of casualties on both sides. Serbs as victors had provided way for liberation of the other parts. However, after the war with the Turks, suddenly the war with Bulgarians starts. Obsession of the Bulgarians with the border issue and unfulfilled appetite for the Serb territories is obvious by their act of break of the League of Balkans. This League was formed in cooperation with Russians and supposed alliance between the Serbs and the Bulgarians in case of attack of an other country. Due to the dispute about the borders, by the end of June 1913 the Bulgarians broke the agreement and attacked Serbia. They believed they would easily overpower Serbia, exhausted by the war with the Turks, and afterwards integrate parts around Pirot, Nis and Vranje. They failed. In the Toplica area, during 1917 Bulgarians killed about 20000 people and burnt down some 55 village, in putting down painfully the Serb insurrection against the Bulgarian occupation…. 

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).