Normally, I would not have put pen to paper to critique critics of our work. This is reserved for other critics. Critics as such have the right to agree or disagree. They have the right to use or not use arguments to elate or denounce a collective work in the form of a book. They have to abide to a set of generally accepted principles in doing that – or they may choose to ignore it. They have the right to see the point – or miss it partially or in its entirety.
Normally. But as an increasing number of Bulgarians will agree, the times we all live in six years after Bulgaria acceded to the EU hardly qualify as "normal." The reasons are many and varied, and I will not even try to touch upon all of them in a brief magazine article. I will instead focus on a news story carried on an Internet site that indicated that a group of people in Bulgaria consider a book to "threaten" this country's national security. They want DANS, the State Agency for National Security, which is in charge of counterintelligence and counterterrorism, to get involved.
As the manager of the publishing house that produced the book I cannot but express my satisfaction that a major organ of the state may now be ordering some extra copies. But in addition to being the publisher, I am also one of the co-authors and the editor. As such, I feel I have the responsibility to speak out.
The book in question is The Turks of Bulgaria. It was published in 2012, in two versions: Bulgarian and English. It got quite a lot of critical acclaim at the time to the extent that Shalom, the organisation of Bulgarian Jews, commissioned a historian, Dr Rumyana Marinova-Hristidi, to write a review. That review turned out to be so long and so detailed that it was published as a separate book, Addressing the Past, Building the Future: Contested Issues in Bulgarian History. Dr Marinova-Hristidi's general view was that The Turks of Bulgaria is more or less a good example of balanced writing on "contentious" issues.
However, not all people with an interest in Bulgaria's history agree. Unlike Dr Marinova-Hristidi and others, they would rather use the police, not any sound argument, to pass judgment and administer "justice."
Here is a news story, dated 14 November 2013, that was carried on news.bg, an Internet site. The story is translated here verbatim in order to preserve its tone, its logic and the stance and inclinations of the individuals quoted.
Our Historians Alert DANS
About The Turks of Bulgaria Book
by Nikolay Draganov, published on news.bg, 14 November 2013
Instead of building bridges in Bulgarian-Turkish relations we are doing exactly the opposite. Bulgaria has been humiliated in front of the whole world as an English-language publication with a print run of 5,000 has been circulated. It makes suggestions and uses allegations that are not based on historical facts.
This is the position embraced by historians – scientists of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Historical Research – at a special news conference provoked by The Turks of Bulgaria, the book published by Vagabond (sic) in 2012.
The local historians took it upon themselves to check some of the facts promulgated in the book and have compiled a long critique in their endeavours to establish the truth in the claims by the author, Anthony Georgieff.
What the director of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Historical Research Professor Iliya Todev, its associates Dr Dimitar Hristov and Dr Krustyo Yordanov, Professor Evgeni Sachev and others found most shocking is an allegation in the book which states, against the background of the Pleven Panorama, that the corpses of Turkish soldiers who took part in the Pleven siege were dug out of a mass grave and sold to an English firm to be used as fertiliser.
This scandalous allegation prompted the local historians to send an official letter to President Plevneliev; to the then Speaker of Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, an MP for the Pleven region; to Academician Stefan Vodenicharov, the chairman of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; and to a number of others appealing to have this claim verified because it affected Bulgaria's relations with a number of countries.
Along the Route of the Corpses of Turkish Soldiers From Pleven to England will be the title of the book that has resulted from the historian's one-year research of this "anti-Bulgarian libel." Dimitar Dimitrov of TANGRA TanNakRa quoted some of the official responses.
Tsvetlin Yovchev responded in his capacity as Chief of the Office of the President that there was no evidence verifying the note by the authors of the book, and the allegation could in no way be related to the whole team of authors some of whom are also related to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The opinion of the MIlitary History Museum in Veliko Tarnovo, of the State Military Archives in Pleven and of the National History Museum in Pleven was also requested. All of those expressed the position that they had no such information and had not even heard such legends.
The publisher of The Turks of Bulgaria indicated that using corpses for fertiliser existed in other countries, quoting an islamic encyclopaedia (sic). That lead was taken on by Professor Iliya Todev who established, after many references to other articles, books and verbal tales, that an anecdote turned into an allegation represented as a "little known fact."
For his part Dr Dimitar Hristov insisted that the corpses by far and large were not the only problematic and controversial aspect of the book. The authors of The Turks of Bulgaria claim that the they are the only ones who understand the problems and try to build bridges between Bulgarians and Turks in Bulgaria. However, the authors – mainly in the face of Anthony Georgieff and Dimana Trankova – disseminate and suggest opinion.
Hristov pointed out a photograph depicting Bulgarians from Etropole who were being detained by the Russian Imperial Army because they plundered the property of fleeing Turks. "We are being shown how a good Turk is being robbed by a bad Bulgarian. Is this the way to build bridges for better understanding – by denigrating and humiliating ourselves?" Hristov asked.
He added that a major problem in the book was the general attempt to suggest that Pomaks were not Bulgarian Muslims but a Turkic people who adopted the Bulgarian language. To do that, the authors put forward various theories and by representing them as equally truthful seek to create the impression about something wrong and mixed-up.
Furthermore, the author Dimana Trankova "grotesquely speculates" with numbers speaking for instance about 200,000 killed (sic) Pomaks, which is a total lie. Also the tolerance of European societies is being wilfully denied as the examples provided concern only the tolerance of Islam even though there is a sufficient number of examples for the contrary.
The gravest problem of the book is that it aspires to be a scientific work, but it breaks the rules of scientific decorum as it does not indicate the sources for its claims.
At the end Professor Evgeni Sachev said that the book definitely promotes hatred . It not only misrepresents history but is also a threat to national security.
"This is ravishing Bulgarian culture and I appeal to the DANS, or State Agency for National Security, to start a case because this publication obviously serves the interests of foreign circles that conceive theories and prepare the conditions for establishing a Pomak republic," Sachev asserted.
My commentary to the above does not concern any opinion expressed, nor even the half-truths about our work that the participants in the news conference reportedly voiced with resolution and determination. They are supposed to address the obvious inaccuracies made inadvertently or on purpose, and to help English language readers understand better the subtleties of what the group of historians had to say for (or against) The Turks of Bulgaria.
1. The individuals quoted in this article repeatedly speak of "Turks" during the Ottoman era. The historical truth is that Turks were but a constituent ethnicity in the Ottoman Empire. They may have been dominant, but they were but one of the constituent nations, just like the English were the dominant nation in the British Empire. Strictly speaking, "Ottoman" is a more accurate term just like "British" in reference to the Indian subcontinent before the Partition is more relevant as opposed to "English." Referring repeatedly to "Turks" rather than Ottomans is a sleigh-of-hand obviously supposed to vilify rather than reflect historical truth.
2. The Pleven corpses issue. The use of human bones in agriculture is a well-documented practice across the world stretching from Antiquity to the years just after the Second World War. There are numerous books, articles and studies detailing it. Whether it was a moral practice or not, judging from the standpoint of today's standards, is an entirely different issue. But then it is an entirely different issue whether anyone should apply modern moral standards to events that took place over a hundred years ago. For further information about the "bones" issues please read here, where Dr Machiel Kiel, a world authority on Islam, provides more details in a Letter to the Editor.
3. Dimana Trankova, one of the authors of The Turks of Bulgaria does not "grotesquely speculate" about 200,000 Pomaks "killed." The fact is she never even implied anything of the sort. As is evident from the book, Dimana Trankova reported that an estimated number of about 200,000 Pomaks were affected by a forced Christianisation campaign conducted by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the Pomak regions Bulgaria gained by during 1912-1913 Balkan Wars.
4. The Turks of Bulgaria has a five-page index listing sources and literature for further reading.
5. What the individuals quoted in this article refer to as an "islamic encyclopaedia" (with all the connotations the phrase has in both Bulgarian and English) is in fact the Encyclopaedia of Islam; London, Paris, Leiden, 1993. My bones quote is from p. 319, Vol. VIII.
CIVIL SOCIETY RESPONSES
The issue that a group of individuals want the National Agency for State Security to investigate a book prompted a response by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the human rights watchdog. The Helsinki Committee has asked several individuals in academic, publishing and media circles to comment. The Helsinki Committee will be publishing its position in its own newsletter, Objective, at the end of November. Here are some excerpts, kindly rendered to us courtesy of the BHK.
It is inadmissible in a country claiming to be a member of the democratic community of Europe to call for interference by a law enforcement agency in the instance of a book dealing with historical issues. The posture of prosecutors assumed by a group of individuals who usurp the right to bill people "pro-" or "anti-Bulgarian" may be comfortable, but it is entirely corrupt as it incites hatred and intolerance to alternative opinion. Academic disagreements must be debated in tolerant dialogue and exchange of opinion in peer discussions rather than settled by law enforcement agencies.
I would like to use the occasion to inquire whether Professor Plamen Tsvetkov is anti-Bulgarian as he has documented cases of violence against Pomaks in the Balkan War when they were forced to adopt Christianity under brutal pressure and enduring, let's name it, atrocities?
Is Zahari Stoyanov also anti-Bulgarian in that he wrote in his Notes About Bulgarian Uprisings that there was not an instance of a Bulgarian revolutionary after the 1876 April Uprising being turned in by a Turk? All betrayals, including that of Georgi Benkovski, were the deed of fellow Bulgarians.
Slams, threats and incitement have no place in an academic discussion.
Borislav Dichev, historian
It is a travesty to alert the State Agency for National Security. On what grounds? Has a crime been committed? This books does not incite violence of the sort that we are witnessing today. These are just pathetic, false "concerns."
Svetlozar Zhelev, Collibri publishers
I do not know the book.
Ivan Kozarev, East-West publishers
I know the book just vaguely. Some people from Tangra told me it contained nonsense about the Pomaks. I am a patriot, but first and foremost I respect the Constitution. Everyone has the right to their own opinion as long as it does not provoke violence.
Ivan Petrov, Abagar publishers
An opinion seeking to legitimise itself through the intervention of a security agency becomes in itself dangerous and illegitimate! It is dangerous because it forsakes the territory of science and the media and seeks physical revenge. It is illegitimate because it lacks its own arguments and therefore seeks the authority of power. I firmly defend the position that in a democratic country any opinion can be voiced as long a it does not incite or justify violence... If you do not agree with an opinion you must seek to argue with it, not try to repress it.
Georgi Lozanov, media expert
Since when does the Office of the President act as an umpire in historical debates?
It is obvious that the "protesting historians" want to make some show, to create a public scandal, to contribute in their own way to the hysteria surrounding the influx of refugees, the "radical Islam danger," and the other vapid topics belonging to the repertory of mediocre pseudo-patriotism... This is a direct and unequivocal attempt to resurrect censorship.
Emil Robert Cohen, sociologist