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Voisinages fragiles

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Anastassios Anastassiadis

Une aire en mutation : les transformations dans l’Empire ottoman et l’espace balkanique au XIXe siècle et leur impact sur les questions confessionnelles

The Reform Movement and Debates among the Muslims in Bulgaria, 1895-1908

Mouvement de réforme et discussions chez les musulmans de Bulgarie, 1895-1908

Milena B. Methodieva

Résumé

La condition des musulmans en Bulgarie est un sujet complexe et aux facettes multiples. Puisant surtout dans des journaux publiés à cette période, cet article porte sur les réformes musulmanes en Bulgarie entre 1895 et 1908. Utilisant une rhétorique nationaliste et des comparaisons avec le monde occidental, les jeunes intellectuels musulmans demandent une réforme de l’éducation et un terme à la corruption. L’analyse révèle que les auteurs de ces textes sont pleinement conscients de l’oppression exercée par les élites corrompues et peuvent proposer des solutions aux problèmes sociaux qui la font survivre. De plus, ces réformateurs, affiliés aux jeunes-turcs, montrent la volonté de créer des campagnes publiques qui visent à revendiquer la démission des officiers corrompus.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For example, in the case of Serbia, only the Muslims living in and around the fortresses were allow (...)

1In the course of the 19th century the gradual retreat of the Ottoman Empire from the Balkans gave way to the formation of several aspiring nation-states and one imperial semi-colony and also left large Muslim populations under foreign non-Muslim rule. These Muslim communities considerably varied in size and sometimes in ethnic composition, and while in some respects they shared a common fate, their experiences had their own specific characteristics. For example, the areas on which the original Serbian and Greek states were founded, were not inhabited by compact Muslim populations. In addition, the international treaties that sanctioned their establishment included clauses that either obliged or indirectly encouraged Muslims to leave.1 In contrast, Bosnia and the territory of the future Bulgarian state had large Muslim populations a great part of who stayed on even after these areas were ceded to their new rulers in 1878, and whose rights were guaranteed by the Berlin treaty.

  • 2 A larger and more comprehensive study on this topic is currently under preparation by this author.

2Coming under the rule of the aspiring Bulgarian nation-state was undoubtedly a challenge for the local Muslims. Bulgarian nationalism had a strong anti-Ottoman component, which in certain circumstances could easily turn into anti-Muslim sentiment. In addition, while some Bulgarian governments and politicians saw the good treatment of the local Muslims as a token of proving that Bulgaria was a just and civilized state, often the local authorities and the larger Bulgarian population regarded them as culturally inferior and subjected them to various offenses. Thus, the existing historiography on the subject has largely presented the Muslims as a victimized community that did little more than suffer, bearing the consequences of Bulgarian prejudice and nationalist assault, and whose only initiatives were limited to sending petitions to the Ottoman or Bulgarian authorities and emigrating to the Empire. The current paper seeks to challenge this view. While I agree that the Muslims in Bulgaria were indeed the subject of various discriminatory policies and assaults, I argue that they were more than a passive group simply awaiting salvation from Istanbul or looking towards emigration. On the contrary, they were an agent that sought to shape their own fate and to negotiate their place in Bulgaria and the larger modern world. Furthermore, I emphasize the fact that the Muslims were not a monolithic entity and did not respond uniformly to the challenges they experienced. To demonstrate this suggestion, in the current paper I would like to draw attention to and explore some aspects of a phenomenon that has remained largely neglected by scholars until now: the reform movement and debates among the Muslims in Bulgaria from the mid-1890s until the Young Turk revolution and the Bulgarian declaration of independence in 1908.2

  • 3 After 1885 the two territorial entities will be referred to as Bulgaria or the Principality.
  • 4 On details regarding the demographic distribution in Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, see Sarafov Miha (...)

3The autonomous Bulgarian Principality was established in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin following the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-78. South of the Balkan mountains the Congress decreed the foundation of the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia that remained under the Empire’s administration until 1885 when it was annexed by the Principality.3 In spite of the massive Muslim emigration during the war both the Principality and the province had significant Muslim populations who, in accordance with the Berlin treaty, were allowed to stay. According to the first official Bulgarian census of 1880-81, in the Principality there were 578060 Muslims who were more than a quarter of its population. At same time in Eastern Rumelia there were almost 200000 Muslims who accounted for about a fifth of its inhabitants. Over the years the number of Muslims in both territorial entities steadily declined, mainly as a result of emigration, so towards 1900 there were less than 650000 Muslims in the now united Bulgarian state, comprising about 17 % of all its inhabitants.4 The Muslims, who in the prevailing majority were Sunnis, were represented by several ethno-linguistic groups - Turks, Gypsies, Pomaks and Tatars. The Turks were the most numerous group of all. In spite of those ethnic differences, during the period under consideration all Muslims identified themselves primarily in terms of religion, although on some occasions “Turk” was also used interchangeably as a self-reference among the Turkophone Muslims. The developments discussed in the current paper concerned to one extent or another all Muslim ethno-linguistic groups, perhaps with the exception of the Gypsies, but the Turks were involved most extensively, largely due to their numerical prevalence.

  • 5 In 1905 the literacy level among the Muslims in Bulgaria was 3,67 %, for more detail, see Statistic (...)

4Following the establishment of Bulgaria the Muslims found themselves into a particular position. On one hand its members strongly identified with the larger Ottoman Muslim Balkan population and the Ottoman Empire, which they saw as being their primary protector. On the other, as the situation gradually normalized and Bulgaria embarked on its way of state and nation-building many Muslims sought to adjust themselves to the new circumstances. However, as time passed among them there was a growing sense of crisis and anxiety about the place and fate of the community not only in Bulgaria but also in the larger modern world. There was an overwhelming feeling that the Muslims were lagging behind in many respects. Most of them still made their living in the traditional sectors of the economy, they were the group with the lowest literacy rates - less than 4 %;5 they were underrepresented in local government and parliament, and their leaders could not effectively safeguard their rights. At the same time the community and its religious and cultural heritage were often the target of various violations. They were frequently scorned by the Bulgarians as being backward and culturally inferior, while the state and their Bulgarian neighbors took advantage of their weakness and inability of defending themselves in order to appropriate their estates. This seemed to mirror the condition of the Muslims in other places: it appeared that elsewhere in Europe, Africa and Asia the Muslims were under the growing pressure of the imperial powers who sought to advance their own political and economic interests.

  • 6 On such arguments, see “Bulgaristan havadisi”, Muvazene 14 (Dec. 9, 1897), p. 1-2; “Bulgaristan ve (...)

5This feeling of anxiety became particularly pronounced among an emerging group of young Muslim intellectuals who became the driving force behind a cultural and political reform movement from the mid-1890s onwards. Most of them were graduates of the local rüşdiye schools but there were also some who had attended various higher educational institutions in the Empire, Bulgaria and even Europe. The new intelligentsia argued that emigration was no real answer to the problem, since leaving the country would only doom the Muslims to life in need and destitution.6 The real solution that would save the Muslims from the predicament and would help them assert their honorable place in Bulgaria and the modern world was implementing reform in the community and its institutions.

  • 7 Turan Ömer, Evered Kyle 2005.
  • 8 A similar criticism of the relationship between Tatar and Central Asian jadidism is offered in Khal (...)

6In many respects the reform movement in Bulgaria resembles other contemporary Muslim movements, such as those in Egypt, India and the Russian Empire. However, contrary to what some authors suggest,7 it was not triggered by the spread of Tatar jadidism but was an indigenous phenomenon. To be sure, reformist Muslims and journals in Bulgaria admired the initiatives of Ismail Gasprinski and the Tatar jadids among others. But if those movements might appear identical, that was because they were largely a response to similar challenges, such as the pressure from the ruling power, and shared a common rhetoric and strategy for improvement - the reform of education.8 In Bulgaria, in addition to the rise of the new Muslim intelligentsia, the emergence of calls for reform in the mid-1890s was linked to a series of interrelated internal and external developments. Among them were the end of the regime of Stefan Stambolov, the advent of active Muslim press publishing and the expansion of the Young Turk organization.

  • 9 On Stefan Stambolov, see Perry Duncan 1993, and Gruˇncharov Stoˇıcho 1984.

7Stefan Stambolov (1857-1895), one of the most controversial figures in Bulgarian history, gradually came to exercise overwhelming influence over the political life of the country in the years following the crisis provoked by the deposition of prince Alexander Battenberg in August 1886. In response to internal dissent and external problems, such as the break-up of relations with Russia, Stambolov imposed limits on the political and intellectual life in the country and subjected his opponents to persecution.9 While his rule was by no means the only time in 19th-20th century Bulgarian history when civil and political liberties were curtailed, his resignation in May 1894 was met with widespread popular euphoria as the restoration of freedom and the months after saw the surge of popular debates and discussions.

8The mid-1890s also marked the beginning of active Muslim press publishing. The first Muslim journals in Bulgaria came out in the 1880s but they were largely under state control. Between 1889 and 1894, a period which coincided with the consolidation of Stambolov’s regime, Muslim publishing virtually ceased. Even though Stambolov imposed censorship and kept considerable control over the press in Bulgaria, it appears that the more likely reason for this gap was related to his policy of rapprochement with the Ottoman Empire. He probably knew sultan Abdülhamid’s sensitivity to Turkish-language journals issued abroad, so he did not allow the appearance of any such publication in Bulgaria as one of the series of friendly gestures made in exchange for receiving concessions for the Bulgarian Exarchate in Macedonia. Muslim publishing in Bulgaria revived and experienced considerable development from 1894 onwards. The Turkish-language press of the time became the most important medium through which the reformers propagated their ideas, challenged their adversaries and sought to enlist the Muslims in their efforts.

  • 10 On the activity and ideology of the Young Turks, see Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 1995, Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 2001

9One of the characteristic features of the reform movement in Bulgaria was its close links with the Young Turk organization. In the mid-1890s in Bulgaria there was an influx of Young Turk political émigrés who were fleeing persecution in the Ottoman Empire. The Committee for Union and Progress (CUP), as the Young Turk organization was formally known, was established in 1889 by students in the Imperial Medical Academy in Istanbul as a secret society opposed to the regime of sultan Abdülhamid. The organization quickly gained larger following but launched upon political activity from the mid-1890s onwards after the Ottoman authorities uncovered its network and launched mass arrests.10 Many of its supporters fled to Europe, while others settled in the neighboring Balkan states. Bulgaria presented itself as a suitable ground for Young Turk activity and soon became the organization’s most important center on the Balkans. Young Turk ideas about science, progress and modern civilization, were shared and enthusiastically professed by the new Muslim intelligentsia, so many of them became supporters of the opposition organization. Another notion that found sympathy among the new Muslim intellectuals was the Young Turk resentment to religion, which in Bulgaria found expression as a criticism against the corrupt ulema. Originally, Young Turk ideology distinguished itself for its positivism and strong anti-religious bias but as the organization’s leadership recognized the need to attract wider support, it came to use religious rhetoric and seek the collaboration of disgruntled ulema to add to the legitimacy and appeal of the cause.

10In Bulgaria the particular circumstances led to the development of a more complex attitude towards religion. An outright assault on Islam risked estranging the Young Turks from the local Muslims who often had to safeguard their religious heritage from Bulgarian assaults. Thus, Young Turk publications in Bulgaria often resorted to religious rhetoric or drew upon Islamic symbols, traditions and historical examples. At the same time the growing rivalry between the new Muslim intelligentsia and the traditionalist elite, including the ulema, the exposure of cases of corruption, partisanship and embezzlement of community funds involving muftis and mufti representatives, the low levels of education among religious functionaries in the countryside and the close relationship between the religious establishment in Bulgaria with the regime in Istanbul largely undermined the ulemas authority. Thus, even though people who bore religious rank could be found among the sympathizers of the opposition organization in Bulgaria, the ulema came to be presented as the embodiment of all negative traits of religion and became one of the primary targets of Young Turk criticism. In the rhetoric of the new Muslim intellectuals and the Young Turks only few members of the religious establishment were truly knowledgeable and had preserved their dignity; the rest were the personification of ignorance, corruption, preoccupation with self-interest and subservience to Bulgarian injustice and the tyrannical regime in the Empire. Since religion, the heart of the community, was in decline and was being threatened by the very people who were expected to be its servants, it needed new protectors and the reformers eagerly came to cast themselves in this role. The link between the Young Turk opposition and the reform movement was further reinforced as many émigrés became teachers or journalists and thus came to be involved in various reform enterprises.

  • 11 “Hadisat-ı siyasiye”, Muvazene 11 (Nov. 1897), p. 1.
  • 12 For example of such arguments see “Bulgaristan maarif-i islamiyesi ve çare-i ıslahı”, by Bir Muhaci (...)
  • 13 See for example “Ulûm ve maarif”, by Ahmed Aliev, Balkan (Plovdiv) 328 (Dec. 27, 1907), p. 1-2; Feh (...)

11The debates and discussions within the Muslim community centered on the question of how to improve its condition. To anyone observing developments at the time there was little doubt that the Muslims were behind the other religious groups in many respects. The Muslims in Bulgaria, just like Muslims elsewhere, noted one journal drawing up a chemistry metaphor, existed in three states - poor, humbled and abused.11 This condition, the intellectuals argued, was largely a consequence of unfavorable developments among the Muslims themselves. They often pointed to several problems that plagued the community and its leadership, such as the lack of unity, partisanship, corruption and financial abuses within the vakıf administration. Yet, the main cause was ignorance and lack of modern education. Many Muslims, the reformers asserted, mislead by their selfish leaders had not appreciated the value of knowledge and that is why they suffered, endured humiliation and lived in poverty. Modern schooling and learning the sciences was the solution that would deliver them from their predicament, help them improve their economic standing, uphold their rights and allow them to take their honorable place in the modern world.12 Refusal and even delay in following this advice would doom the Muslims to more misery and even threaten their religion. To deal with ignorance, the root of all evils, reform had to start with the modernization of the Muslim education system. Education would open the way to more successful participation of the Muslims in Bulgarian political life, which would eventually bring about their welfare. Thus, cultural reform would pave the way to political mobilization. Finally, the reformers stressed that the Muslims had to rely largely on their own effort; while state support, Bulgarian or Ottoman, was desirable, the community had to take the initiative in its own hands.13

  • 14 “Makale-i mahsusa”, Muvazene 307 (Dec. 2, 1903), p. 1-2.
  • 15 “Mekteplerimiz”, Muvazene 1 (Sept. 2, 1897), p. 2; “Yehudi milletinin...”, Muvazene 42 (June 23, 18 (...)

12A frequently cited proof of the powers of education was the advancement and progress achieved by Europe.14 In the same spirit the Muslim intelligentsia sought to contrast the condition of the Muslims with that of the other religious communities and argued that their prosperity was due to the better condition of their schools and so they often urged the Muslims to take an example from the Bulgarians, Greeks, Jews or Armenians in the way they cared for their schools.15

  • 16 “Bulgaristan ve Rumelî-i Şarki...”, Muvazene 34 (April 28, 1898), p. 2; “Karınabad’dan”, Muvazene 3 (...)
  • 17 Very often Bulgarian responses to Ottoman protests of Muslim mistreatment included a denunciation o (...)

13The reformers also criticized the Bulgarian authorities, in most cases with good reason, for failing to protect the Muslims and treat them equally with their Bulgarian compatriots. In such instances they used most prominently the argument that Bulgaria was a country ruled by constitution and parliament, and it had been obliged by the Berlin treaty to treat equally all religious communities living on its territory.16 This argument reflected not only one of the widely publicized Young Turk goals, the struggle for restoration of the constitution and parliament in the Empire, but also Bulgarian rhetoric. In the course of time the Bulgarians increasingly came to see themselves as civilized people living in a just and civilized state that aspired to model itself after the contemporary European powers. This sentiment was particularly pronounced in their dealings with the Ottomans especially when it came to matters concerning the condition of the Muslims in Bulgaria and the Exarchists in Ottoman Macedonia and Thrace. In response to Ottoman protests against various incidents of Muslim mistreatment, Bulgarian officials and diplomats not only questioned the validity or gravity of such charges but also asserted Bulgaria’s superiority drawing sharp contrast between the two countries. Unlike the Ottoman Empire, which they argued was notorious for its lawlessness, oppression and disrespect for the Berlin clauses, the Principality faithfully observed its obligations set up by the treaty and was a country where justice and equality were guaranteed by constitution and parliament.17

14While the reformist Muslims criticized the Bulgarian authorities for not living up to their responsibility to treat the Muslims equally with the other religious groups, their most bitter criticism was directed at the traditionalist Muslim elite and ulema who had emerged as their rivals. Those “hocas, ağas, beys and effendis”, as they were frequently called in the reformist press, led by ignorance and selfish desire to maintain authority put their own interests over the community’s common good. They were blamed for stifling reform initiatives and thus condemning the community to life in misery; they sold vakıf property, often in collusion with the Bulgarian authorities, and appropriated its income. Those who had power as muftis, members of parliament or participants in the local structures of authority were castigated for failing to defend the Muslims’ interests and staying silent in the face of various injustices committed against the community just for the sake of being reelected. In addition, the ulema were presented as being the personification of corruption, bad morals and ignorance in both worldly and religious matters.

15An article published in 1903 in Muvazene, which was the most outstanding reformist journal at the time, is a typical representation of the reformers’ attitude and argumentation.

  • 18 “Ulûm ve maarif”, by “Bir Dede”, Muvazene 306 (Nov. 25, 1903), p. 1.

Since education resembles the life and soul of the nation, an uneducated nation is like a soulless body. And a soulless body has no value. Similarly, the societies and the nations that are ignorant of education have no virtue, no national consciousness. The ignorant nations are always under the yoke of the civilized ones. They lose their nationality and gradually even their religion. Although this is a reality, that is to say the civilized nations and states are growing and progressing day by day and enjoying reform and welfare, while the ignorant nations remain in the pit of misery and slavery due to their lack of education and ignorance, although we observe this throughout history, it is a pity that the Muslims of Bulgaria wallow in corruption and ignorance, and do not think about their own future or that of their little children and continue living their animal-like lives in an indifferent way.
This shows that the Muslims, wherever they are, have stayed behind all other religious groups in understanding the power and value of education.
Those who wear fezzes on their heads, the turbaned ağas, beys and efendis who bear Muslim names are examples of what the Muslims think and what is on their mind. Even though many sacred hadiths have sanctioned (the necessity) of education and learning sciences, (these people) do not pay attention to this question that concerns the life and death of the Muslims in Bulgaria; they do not work for the improvement of the schools and providing education worthy of our age to the children of the fatherland; they do not show even a trace of patriotism and humanity and because of their personal grudges and interests they ruin the existing schools; they destroy them by not spending what is necessary from the vakıfs and from (other) income.
What could the Muslim community expect from a bunch of microbes, who are the embodiment of ignorance from which (the people) need to liberate themselves, who profit from the innocence of the people and do not think of anything else but knitting their own baskets, who along with not serving any benevolent cause suck people’s blood and destroy the Muslim world intellectually and materially!
Since they always profit from the ignorance of the people they work with all their power for maintaining ignorance and leaving the Muslims in Bulgaria blind; in such a way they secure their personal interests. How is it that they never accept anything in this regard! If the so-called leaders who are indeed petty people had a trace of national and patriotic feelings, the Muslims of Bulgaria would not be the last ones among all other people after twenty-five years of freedom and liberty; they would have advanced at least a few steps along the road of education. But Muslim education in Bulgaria right now is no different than it used to be. How many Muslims in the villages can write their names, apart from the hocas, who can read but cannot write and even if they write, they cannot read their writing after (the ink) has dried? I suppose the Muslims, wherever they are, remain all the same (eski hamam, eski tas). On the other hand the other nations advance. (The Muslims) get enslaved and subjected, while the foreign nations become masters and rulers. And the lazy Muslim community does not even look around, it does not get the warning. It suffers and it is always doomed to suffer. This is the condition and position of the Muslims!18

  • 19 See for example “Geçen hafta Şadravan’ın...”, Muvazene 4 (Sept. 23, 1897), p. 2; “Beş seneden beru… (...)
  • 20 “Şehrimizde münteşir...”, Muvazene 89 (July 30, 1903), p. 2; “Evkaf-ı islamiye”, Muvazene 315 (Feb. (...)
  • 21 About Haskovo, see “Hasköy’den aldığımız...”, Muvazene 19 (Jan. 13, 1898), p. 1; “Hasköy’den aldığı (...)

16The ulema, the traditionalist elite and their supporters risked more than being the target of written denunciation. Part of the reformers’ strategy to expose the corruptness of their rivals was to reveal the abuses in the administration of vakıf finances and in this endeavor they used actively the Muslim press. Thus, in the autumn of 1897 only weeks after it began coming out Muvazene used the mounting scandal involving the vakıf board and mufti in Filibe to encourage the local community to make an inquiry into the financial records of the vakıfs, expose their maladministration and bring the ones responsible to justice.19 In 1903-1904 in the course of another similar scandal the journal even sent its own investigation team and published a detailed report of the findings.20 Likewise, Muslims from other cities, such as Haskovo, Russe and Silistra launched similar investigations and the results of their inquiries - the missing sums and the names of those implicated - were published in Muvazene.21

  • 22 One of the petitions against the mufti had 900-1000 signatures, “Balkan gazetesi idaresine” (Turkis (...)
  • 23 BOA, A.PRK. AZJ 16/37, Jan. 23, 1889.
  • 24 “Şumnu’dan aldığımız bir mektup...”, Muvazene 316 (Feb. 11, 1904), p. 2.
  • 25 BOA, Y.MTV 285/99, Court decision, Nov. 19, 1905, p. 2.

17The reformers also initiated campaigns for the ousting of muftis who were accused of corruption, partisanship and misconduct. One of the high-profile cases was the campaign against the Russe mufti Osman Nuri, which lasted for several months in 1898. Its development was closely followed by Muslims from other cities, some of who found that they shared similar problems. In what would become a commonly repeated scenario, the campaign also pitted Young Turk sympathizers against some of the Ottoman diplomatic representatives. In that particular case one of the organizers of campaign against the mufti was Ahmed Zeki, a Muslim from Russia, who in addition to being the owner of the short-lived journal Balkan (1898) was one of the most outspoken Young Turk leaders in Bulgaria, while Osman Nuri was backed by the local Ottoman trade representative Hami Bey. The mufti’s opponents organized a demonstration, wrote denunciations in the Muslim press and presented petitions to the Ottoman and Bulgarian authorities. They accused Osman Nuri, who had been mufti for 8-10 years, of appropriating money and even bragging about it, doing nothing in the face of offences against the Muslims and their institutions, and giving the funds designated for the schools to support his partisans.22 In 1904 another large-scale campaign was initiated against Kesimzâde Mehmed Rüşdü of Shumen, a former mufti, head of the local vakıf commission and member of the Bulgarian parliament who was also known for his support to the Ottoman state. In 1889, for example, he visited Istanbul in a vain attempt to obtain an audience with the sultan to request from him to be more actively involved in the protection of the Muslims in Bulgaria.23 The campaign against Kesimzâde was led by one of his former associates, Necib Paşa Çilingirov, who had become a Young Turk sympathizer. Similar to other cases, Kesimzâde was accused of negligence in the administration of vakıfs and embezzlement of funds.24 In 1905 after more than a year of intense pressure from the newly elected vakıf commission in Shumen led by Necib Çilingirov, Kesimzâde was brought to court and sentenced to repay the funds he had allegedly appropriated.25

  • 26 See the memoirs of Edhem Ruhi, one of the high profile leaders of the Young Turk organization in Ge (...)
  • 27 Meçik Hafiz Abdullah 1977, p. 15.
  • 28 “Provadililerin maarife hidmeti” by “Bir Dede”, Muvazene 309 (Dec. 17, 1903), p. 2; “Balçık’a tabi’ (...)
  • 29 “Tatar Pazarcık’tan”, Muvazene 323 (April 6, 1904), p. 2.
  • 30 “Varna’ya tabi’ Sarı Hızır kariyesinden” by “Köy çobanı”, Muvazene 321 (March 23, 1904), p. 2.
  • 31 “Varna’dan: konsolos patırdısı”, Muvazene 297 (Sept. 24, 1903), p. 2.
  • 32 BOA, A.MTZ.04 117/89 Kesimzâde to OC, May 22, 1904, incidentally Kesimzâde refers to his adversarie (...)

18While the Muslim press provides a wealth of information about the ideas and agenda of the reformers, the response of their opponents and the reaction of the prevailing majority of the Muslim community are more difficult to gouge. In most cases we have information about that through the response and sources of the reformers. It appears that they had an unenviable reputation among the more conservative circles of the community and the traditionalist leadership, which was damaged even further by their link to the Young Turk organization. They were regarded as apostates (mürted),26 while one of the teachers from Shumen recalled how the locals dubbed the kıraathane (reading room) in town where the reformers and more liberal Muslims gathered, as “infidel nest” (gavurocağı), and the Young Turk sympathizers “’Jeunes’-infidels” (cöngavuru).27 In certain places Muslim leaders sought to challenge the appeal of the new-method schools and the rüşdiyes by preaching that they were contrary to Islam,28 turned the students into “curse-readers” (lânethân)29 and even threatened to make them socialists.30 Other adversaries exploited the link between the reformers and the Young Turks to denounce their actions as being against the sultan and the Ottoman state, who were largely seen as the protectors of the local Muslim community.31 Such argumentation was also used by Kesimzâde to defend himself during the campaign against him. He blamed the drive on the plotting of the Young Turks, whom he considered traitors to the Muslim community and the Ottoman state and asserted that their real goal was nothing more than putting a hand on the vakıf income to promote their own seditious activity.32

  • 33 BOA, Y.MTV 285/99 Shumen Muslims to Meşihat, April 3, 1906, 3.

19One of the rare glimpses of the reaction of some Muslims to the initiatives of the reformers was a petition to the Ottoman authorities signed by a number of Muslims from Shumen - ulema, artisans and small traders - in support of Kesimzâde during the campaign against him. The petition accused the “seditious people” (erbab-ı fesad) in town, in such a context typically referring to the Young Turks, in sowing discord among the local Muslims and thus ultimately serving Bulgarian goals of dividing and weakening the community. In a language similar to that used in the reformist press, the petition accused them of ignorance and selfishness. Under the pretext of reforming education they sought to expand their seditious societies, the “’Union’ reading rooms” (İttihad kıraathaneleri), from where they propagated disobedience to the sultan. The people gathering at the reading room in Shumen under the leadership of Necib Çilingirov, who hypocritically boasted with various Ottoman honors and decorations, even used the Macedonian and Armenian committees to terrorize the Muslims loyal to the sultan. In addition to all that the troublemakers also threatened the religious pillars of Muslim society in Bulgaria: they attacked pious muftis known for their loyalty to the Ottoman state, such as Kesimzâde, and elected ignorant ones who were ready to collaborate with them and give the vakıf money for the support of the “’Union’ reading room”. Kesimzâde did not appropriate the funds, the petition vehemently argued, but spent them on maintaining the Islamic establishments in Shumen. While Kesimzâde had served the Muslim community faithfully for thirty years and maintained the mosques in good condition, the newly elected vakıf commission, contrary to what it preached, had recently allowed the destruction of a mosque in the city.33

  • 34 See for example “Ramazan”, Muvazene 21 (Jan. 27, 1898), p. 2; “Filibe’de Muvazene gazetesi müdüriye (...)
  • 35 See for example “İlân”, Muvazene 290 (Aug. 6, 1903), p. 4; 293 (Aug. 27, 1903), p. 4; “İlân”, from (...)
  • 36 “Şumnu muallimin-i islamiye kongresi”, Tuna 265 (Aug. 4, 1906), p. 2-3; “Şumnu muallimin-i islamiye (...)

20Yet, the activity of the reformers was not limited to publishing vitriolic denunciations of their adversaries and didactic articles about the benefits of modern schooling but involved some practical attempts for improving the community’s institutions. Reformist journals, such as Muvazene, Tuna, Uhuvvet and Balkan (Filibe), for example, contributed to publicization of the debates taking place among various Muslim communities throughout the country, popularization of education innovations and initiatives for ensuring material support for the schools.34 They also became the main medium where education boards, teachers and recent school graduates advertised their job openings and candidacies.35 Among the most significant accomplishments were the convening of the first Muslim teachers’ congress in 1906 and the establishment of the association of Muslim teachers. The congress turned into an annual event and became a forum where the delegates discussed directly matters, such as the ways of improving methods of teaching, funding and the introduction of a unified Muslim school system.36

21The polemics and campaigns among the Muslim community could become heated and even antagonistic, while the publications featuring in various reformist journals did convey the sense of an irreconcilable conflict between those “caring for education” (maarifperver) and the traditional leaders who were invariably portrayed as ignorant and corrupt. However, the reality was more complex and the boundaries between these two groups - more fluid, as was demonstrated by the case of the row between Necib Çilingirov and Kesimzâde. Journal editors and teachers were among the first who spearheaded the reform efforts and their voice was most prominently heard in reformist publications but the ideas they espoused soon gained popularity among Muslims from various other social and professional backgrounds. Smaller and larger merchants, artisans, students and even ulema became involved and often were the ones to launch various initiatives, and it was their participation that made these efforts a movement.

Bibliographie

Archival & primary sources

Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (BOA), Istanbul.

Statisticheski godishnik na Bǔlgarskoto Tsarstvo, god. 1, 1909, Sofia, Dǔrzhavna pechatnitsa, 1910.

Tsentralen Dǔrzhaven Arkhiv (TsDA), Sofia.

Bibliography

Fehmi Ali 1901

Fehmi Ali, Bulgaristan İslamları, Filibe, Muvazene Matbaası, 1901.

Gruˇncharov Stoˇıcho 1984

Gruˇncharov Stoˇıcho, Politicheskite sili i monarhicheskiat institut v Bǔlgaria, 1886-1894, Sofia, Nauka i izkustvo, 1984.

Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 1995

Hanioğlu M. Şükrü, The Young Turks in Opposition, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 2001

Hanioğlu M. Şükrü, Preparation for a Revolution: the Young Turks, 1902-1908, New York, Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hertslet Edward 1891

Hertslet Edward, Map of Europe by Treaty, London, Butterworth’s, vol. 2, 1891.

Khalid Adeeb 1998

Khalid Adeeb, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998.

Meçik Hafiz Abdullah 1977

Meçik Hafiz Abdullah, Şumnu: Bulgaristan Türklerinin Kültür Hayatı, İzmir, 1977.

Perry Duncan 1993

Perry Duncan, Stefan Stambolov and the Emergence of Modern Bulgaria, 1870-1895, Duke, Duke University Press, 1993.

Ruhi Edhem 1947

Ruhi Edhem, Edhem Ruhi Balkan Hatıraları - Canlı Tarihler 6, Ankara, Türkiye Matbaası, 1947.

Sarafov Mihail Konstantinov, 1894

Sarafov Mihail Konstantinov, “Naselenieto v Kniazhestvo Bǔlgaria spored trite pǔrvi prebroyavania”, part 3, Periodichesko Spisanie 44 (1894), p. 201-246.

Turan Ömer, Evered Kyle 2005

Turan Ömer, Evered Kyle, “Jadidism in South-Eastern Europe: The Influence of Ismail Bey Gaspıralı among Bulgarian Turks”, Middle Eastern Studies 41,4 (2005), p. 481-502.

Newspapers & periodicals

Balkan (Plovdiv)

Balkan (Russe)

Muvazene

Periodichesko Spisanie

Tuna

Notes

1 For example, in the case of Serbia, only the Muslims living in and around the fortresses were allowed to stay. See Hertslet Edward 1891, vol. 2, doc. 146, Hatt-i Sherif by the Sublime Porte to Servia, Constantinople, October 1, 1829, p. 832-834; doc. 150, Firman of the Sultan of Turkey, relating to Servia, Constantinople, October 1830, p. 842-847; doc. 169, Firman of the Sultan Mahmoud II, addressed to the Prince of Servia, December 1833, p. 929-935. With regards to Greece, the agreement’s wording was less explicit, stating that it gave permission “to individuals to quit the ceded territories and to sell their estates”, Hertslet Edward 1891, vol. 2, doc. 161, Agreement between Great Britain, France, Russia and Turkey for the Definitive settlement of the Continental Limits of Greece, Constantinople, July 21, 1832, 903-908. Also of relevance vol. 1, doc. 136, Treaty between Great Britain, France and Russia for pacification of Greece, London, July 6, 1827, p. 769-774.

2 A larger and more comprehensive study on this topic is currently under preparation by this author.

3 After 1885 the two territorial entities will be referred to as Bulgaria or the Principality.

4 On details regarding the demographic distribution in Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, see Sarafov Mihail Konstantinov “Naselenieto v Kniazhestvo Bǔlgaria spored trite pǔrvi prebroyavania”, part 3, Periodichesko Spisanie 44 (1894), p. 201-246, and Statisticheski godishnik na Bǔlgarskoto Tsarstvo, god. 1, 1909, Sofia, Dǔrzhavna pechatnitsa, 1910, p. 38-39, 42.

5 In 1905 the literacy level among the Muslims in Bulgaria was 3,67 %, for more detail, see Statisticheski godishnik, p. 62-65. It should also be borne in mind that literacy within the community varied depending on gender, mother-tongue/ethnic group, age and whether the community was urban or rural. Thus, among all Muslims the gypsies were the group with lowest levels of literacy, 2,26 % for 1905. For the Turks, who formed the majority of all Muslims it was 3,96 %. Towards 1905 urban male Turks had literacy rates of around 20 %. In comparison, at that time the Bulgarians had a literacy rate of 32,27 %, while more than half of all Jews and Armenians were literate, see Statisticheski godishnik, p. 72-73. The statistics do not make explicit the language of literacy, yet in for the Turkophone Muslims and the Tatars it was most likely Turkish; there is less clarity in the case of the Pomaks and the Gypsies.

6 On such arguments, see “Bulgaristan havadisi”, Muvazene 14 (Dec. 9, 1897), p. 1-2; “Bulgaristan ve Rumeli-i Şarkî...”, Muvazene 34 (April 28, 1898), p. 2-3.

7 Turan Ömer, Evered Kyle 2005.

8 A similar criticism of the relationship between Tatar and Central Asian jadidism is offered in Khalid Adeeb 1998, p. 8-9, p. 90-93.

9 On Stefan Stambolov, see Perry Duncan 1993, and Gruˇncharov Stoˇıcho 1984.

10 On the activity and ideology of the Young Turks, see Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 1995, Hanioğlu M. Şükrü 2001.

11 “Hadisat-ı siyasiye”, Muvazene 11 (Nov. 1897), p. 1.

12 For example of such arguments see “Bulgaristan maarif-i islamiyesi ve çare-i ıslahı”, by Bir Muhacir, Sebat 10, April 7, 1895, p. 2; “Müteassub mu, serbestmiyiz?”, Muvazene 2 (Sept. 9, 1897), p. 2-3; “Ulûm ve maarif”, by Ahmed Aliev, Balkan (Plovdiv) 328 (Dec. 27, 1907), p. 1-2.

13 See for example “Ulûm ve maarif”, by Ahmed Aliev, Balkan (Plovdiv) 328 (Dec. 27, 1907), p. 1-2; Fehmi Ali 1901.

14 “Makale-i mahsusa”, Muvazene 307 (Dec. 2, 1903), p. 1-2.

15 “Mekteplerimiz”, Muvazene 1 (Sept. 2, 1897), p. 2; “Yehudi milletinin...”, Muvazene 42 (June 23, 1898), p. 2; “Provadililerin maarife hidmeti” by Bir Dede, Muvazene 309 (Dec. 17, 1903), p. 3.

16 “Bulgaristan ve Rumelî-i Şarki...”, Muvazene 34 (April 28, 1898), p. 2; “Karınabad’dan”, Muvazene 303 (Nov. 6, 1903), p. 2; “Eski Cuma’ya tabi’ Karakaşlı kariyesinden” by “Hamiyetli bir köylü”, Muvazene 325 (April 19, 1904), p. 2.

17 Very often Bulgarian responses to Ottoman protests of Muslim mistreatment included a denunciation of the condition of lawlessness in the Ottoman Empire contrasting it with the constitutional government and justice in Bulgaria, see for example Tsentralen Dǔrzhaven Arhiv (henceforth TsDA), f. 176k, op. 1, a. e. 1738, Russe governor to MFRA, October 10, 1902, 13-14; TsDA, f. 176k, op. 1, a. e. 2043, MFRA gen. Racho Petrov to Agent Nachovich, March 3, 1905, 4.

18 “Ulûm ve maarif”, by “Bir Dede”, Muvazene 306 (Nov. 25, 1903), p. 1.

19 See for example “Geçen hafta Şadravan’ın...”, Muvazene 4 (Sept. 23, 1897), p. 2; “Beş seneden beru…”, Muvazene 7 (Oct. 14, 1897), p. 2; “Çeltük harman memuru...”, “Buhara-yı Şerif...”, “Filibe kahvelerinde...”, Muvazene 11 (Nov. 18, 1897), p. 2-3.

20 “Şehrimizde münteşir...”, Muvazene 89 (July 30, 1903), p. 2; “Evkaf-ı islamiye”, Muvazene 315 (Feb. 4, 1904), p. 2; “İkinci defter”, Muvazene 316 (Feb. 11, 1904), p. 2-3.

21 About Haskovo, see “Hasköy’den aldığımız...”, Muvazene 19 (Jan. 13, 1898), p. 1; “Hasköy’den aldığımız malumata...”, Muvazene 20 (Jan. 20, 1898), p. 2; on Russe, see “Muvazene gazetesine”, Muvazene 30 (March 31, 1898), p. 2; “Silistra evkafında...”, Muvazene 32 (April 14, 1898), p. 2-3.

22 One of the petitions against the mufti had 900-1000 signatures, “Balkan gazetesi idaresine” (Turkish section), X. Z. “Pismo do redaktsiata” (Bulgarian section), Balkan (Russe) 7 (June 20, 1898), p. 1-2, 3-4. “Bitaraflığımız hasebile aynen derc olunmuştur - Filibe’de Muvazene gazetesine”, from Mehmed Hakki, Muvazene 47 (July 27, 1898), p. 2. Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (henceforth BOA), A.MTZ.04 57/28, Russe trade representative Hami Bey to Hariciye, June 23, 1898, p. 13, petition of Muslims from Russe, 15. A.PRK. AZJ 37/55, From Hami Bey, Russe trade representative, Aug. 19, 1898, p. 8.

23 BOA, A.PRK. AZJ 16/37, Jan. 23, 1889.

24 “Şumnu’dan aldığımız bir mektup...”, Muvazene 316 (Feb. 11, 1904), p. 2.

25 BOA, Y.MTV 285/99, Court decision, Nov. 19, 1905, p. 2.

26 See the memoirs of Edhem Ruhi, one of the high profile leaders of the Young Turk organization in Geneva who ended up in Bulgaria issuing the daily Balkan, Ruhi Edhem 1947, p. 31.

27 Meçik Hafiz Abdullah 1977, p. 15.

28 “Provadililerin maarife hidmeti” by “Bir Dede”, Muvazene 309 (Dec. 17, 1903), p. 2; “Balçık’a tabi’ Karagöz kuyusundan”, Muvazene 320 (March 17, 1904), p. 2.

29 “Tatar Pazarcık’tan”, Muvazene 323 (April 6, 1904), p. 2.

30 “Varna’ya tabi’ Sarı Hızır kariyesinden” by “Köy çobanı”, Muvazene 321 (March 23, 1904), p. 2.

31 “Varna’dan: konsolos patırdısı”, Muvazene 297 (Sept. 24, 1903), p. 2.

32 BOA, A.MTZ.04 117/89 Kesimzâde to OC, May 22, 1904, incidentally Kesimzâde refers to his adversaries as Young Ottomans (Yeni Osmanlılar). TsDA, f. 176k, op. 1, a. e. 2044 Kesimzâde (to OC), June 1, 1904, 38a-40a.

33 BOA, Y.MTV 285/99 Shumen Muslims to Meşihat, April 3, 1906, 3.

34 See for example “Ramazan”, Muvazene 21 (Jan. 27, 1898), p. 2; “Filibe’de Muvazene gazetesi müdüriyetine”, Muvazene 33 (April 21, 1898), p. 2; “Silistre’den mektup”, Muvazene 48 (Aug. 3, 1898), p. 2-3.

35 See for example “İlân”, Muvazene 290 (Aug. 6, 1903), p. 4; 293 (Aug. 27, 1903), p. 4; “İlân”, from Hafız Abdullah Fehmi, Tuna 263 (Aug. 2, 1906), p. 4; “İlân”, Balkan 213 (July 11, 1907), p. 4.

36 “Şumnu muallimin-i islamiye kongresi”, Tuna 265 (Aug. 4, 1906), p. 2-3; “Şumnu muallimin-i islamiye kongresi”, Tuna 266 (Aug. 5, 1906), p. 3; “İkinci muallimin-i islamiye kongresi”, Balkan 217 (July 18, 1907), p. 2-3.

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University of Toronto.

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