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The Ottoman domination Print E-mail
When Bulgaria fell under the domination of the Ottoman Turks the Bulgarian political, religious and cultural elite was destroyed. Official and religious documents and many Orthodox Christian sanctuaries were demolished or turned into Muslim shrines.The policies of forced islamisation and discrimination of local populations pursued by the Ottoman Empire made its domination the most dreadful time of Bulgaria’s history.

During nearly five centuries of Ottoman domination the Bulgarian people never ceased to fight for their freedom and defended its etnicity, religion, language and traditions. The Bulgaria’s sacrifice and constant insurrections barred the further Ottoman expansion westward. An expression of the Bulgarian spirit for liberty and aspiration to independence were over 400 mutinies and uprisings. Later the appearance of the clandestine fighters, the “haydouts”, who protected the Orthdox Christian population, made the emergence of a well-organised national liberation movement possible. The eminent Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov - the father of the modern Bulgarian literature - described the struggle for national liberation in its famous novel “Under the Yoke”.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church played a major role in preserving cultural heritage and ethnic identity of the Bulgarian people and promoted the ideas of Bulgarian Revival and national liberation. The Bulgarian Renaissance period began in the middle of the 18-th century. The struggle for an independent autocephalous church, for open religious practices and for publishing books and periodicals in Bulgarian language characterized this initial demand for statehood (after the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans the Greec Patriarchy was recognized by the Turks as the only representative of the Christian population. Bulgarian priests were substituted by Greec ones, who preached in Greec). In 1762 a monk form the Chiliandary monastery (one of the Bulgarian monasteries at Mt. Athos), Father Paissiy Hilendarski, wrote a manuscript “A Slavic- Bulgarian History” designed to increase the awareness of the Bulgarians of their glorious past and of their potential to develop as a free nation in an independent state of their own. The ideas of national liberation led to the establishing of an autonomous Bulgarian national Church in 1870 and to the flourishing of education and culture. Many schools were created and sponsored by the Bulgarian Orthodox church. Some of the key figures during the Bulgarian National Revival were Zachary Zograph, Nikolay Pavlovich, Stanislav Dospevski, brothers Miladinov who compiled and published the antology “Bulgarian national songs” (1861) and many others. The Ecclesiastical and National Liberation Mouvements forced the Ottoman Empire to grant the Bulgarians the status of a self-determined nation. In the first half of 19th century the national liberation movement on the Balkans (Serbia and Greece gained independance) forced the Ottoman Empire to make some concessions. In 1839 and in 1856 the Sultan issued decrees proclaiming equal status for all its subjects, but to a large extent the declared rights and freedoms remained on paper only.

The struggle for national liberation

The start of the organised revolutionary movement for liberation from Ottoman domination is associated with the work of Georgi Sava Rakovski (1821-1867) - writer and journalist, founder and ideologist of the national liberation movement. In 1869 in Bucharest, Romania, the expatriate Bulgarian community created a Central revolutionary committee, wich was to organize an uprising in Bulgaria.

The main figures in the national liberation movement were Vassil Levski (1837-1873) - strategist and ideologist of the movement and national hero; Lyuben Karavelov (1834-1879) - writer and journalist, leader and ideologist of the movement; Hristo Botev (1848-1876) - poet and journalist, revolutionary, democrat, national hero, Petko Kaloyanov (Kapitan Petko Voyvoda) and many other Bulgarians. The revolutionary activity of Vassil Levski made him a national hero, called by the people “Apostle of Freedom”. Characteristic features of the Bulgarian National Liberation Mouvement were the fact that it was conceived as a part of the struggle of all the oppressed Balkan peoples against the Ottoman Empire (many Bulgarians participated in the uprisings in Serbia - 1804, in Greece - 1821, in Crete - 1866), and the belief that Russia is the staunchest ally of the Christian population in this struggle.

In 1876 the April Uprising broke out - the most significant attempt at liberation from Ottoman domination and a crucial point in the emerging national liberation movement. The uprising was brutally crushed and drowned in blood, but eventually it drew the attention of Russia, Western Europe and the United States and gave rise to the “Bulgarian issue”. Two Americans – the diplomat Eugene Schuyler and the journalist Januarius MacGahan were the first to report to the World in mid 1876 of the despicable atrocities, committed against the Bulgarian civilians. More than 30 000 of them were massacred, thousands of towns, villages and Christian shrines were looted and destroyed. In Batak alone 3000 women, men and children – practically the whole population - were slaughtered. The uprising further deepened the political crisis in the Ottoman Empire (called the “Ill man” of Europe) and generated large public support in Europe, especially in Russia, for the liberation of the Balkan Christian populations. An international commission was created to inquire into the exactions against the Bulgarian population. Russia and Great Britain initiated the convening of the Istambul Diplomatic Conference 1876-77 aimed at resolving the issue of the Bulgarian and other suffering Balkan peoples under the Ottoman Empire. The conference established specific geographical borders of the regions with a predominant ethnic Bulgarian population, based on the territory of the Bulgarian Ecsarchie under the Empire’s official legal act (ferman) of 1870. The failure of this diplomatic effort precipitated the outburst of the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-1878). After heavy and epic battles at the Shipka pass, at Pleven, Stara Zagora and other cities, in wich Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Roumanian and Finland soldiers fought together, the Turkish army was defeated. The Bulgarian volunteers under Russian commandement (more than 10,000) with their bravery and self-sacrifice contributed a lot to the final victory and after the war constituted the core of the Bulgarian Army.

On 3 March 1878 at San Stefano near Istanbul was signed the peace treaty recognizing the defeat of the Turkish army. The treaty put an end to the Ottoman Empire’s domination in the Balkans. It re-established the Bulgarian state along its ethnic boundaries, close to those defined by the 1876 Istambul Diplomatic Conference thus creating the prerequisites for the independent development of the Bulgarian nation-state. For that reason the 3 March was proclaimed a National Holiday of Bulgaria. Under the treaty provisions, Roumania, Serbia and Montenegro were granted full independence. Only several months later, however, the San Stefano Peace Treaty, which was a preliminary one, was revised by the then Great Powers - Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Russia. This took place at the Berlin Congress. The artificial division of the newly liberated territories decided upon by the Congress served temporary political interests.The revision created the “knot” of complications which made the Balkans the “powder-keg” of Europe and resulted in subsequent rivelry, disputes and eventually wars in the region. Exactly here lie the roots of the process which in later times became internationally known as “Balkanization”. Therefore, the notorious “Balkanization” was not produced by the specific mentality or characteristics of the Balkan peoples, it was rather a result of the Great Powers’ arbitrary acts.

According to the resolutions of the Berlin Congress, the newly liberated Bulgarian territories were divided into three: the Principality of Bulgaria was proclaimed (the lands between the Danube river and Stara planina mountain) - with Prince Alexander Battemberg at its head, Eastern Rumelia (Southern Bulgaria)- with a Christian Governor appointed by the Sultan, while Thrace and Macedonia were reverted to the Ottoman Empire. The decisions of the Berlin Congress provoked discontent and frustration among the Bulgarians, who expressed their protests and started to mobilize their efforts for the re-unification of the homeland. Only a few months after the Berlin Congress, in October 1878 the Bulgarian population in the region of Kresna and Razlog (South-Eastern Bulgaria) rised against the Empire.The Bulgarian people openly challenged the unjust decisions of the Berlin congress and in September 1885 the re-unification of Principality of Bulgaria with Eastern Roumelia was announced. This patriotic act unanimously supported by the Bulgarian people was so convincing and unequivocal that the Great Powers had to accept it. The re-unification of Bulgaria provoked Serbia to wage a war against Bulgaria. After a short military campaign the young Bulgarian army defeated the experienced army of Serbia.

Meanwhile, the situation of the population in Macedonia and Thrace under the Ottoman Empire worsened significantly. Applying the principle “divide and conquer”, it encouraged nationalist incitement and rivalry among the different ethnic groups favoring those, aimed at weakening the positions of the predominant Bulgarian population. In 1893 – 1895 the Internal Revolutiary Organisation of Macedonia and Odrin (Edirne) region was created and started to spread its influence rapidly. The proclaimed goal was the liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The Elinden-Preobrazhenie uprising erupted in August 1903 in which over 20 000 individuals participated. Once again people’s resistance was brutally put down by the Turks. Trying to escape from the repression, tens of thousands of Bulgarians from Macedonia immigrated to Bulgaria (nearly half of the 70 000 refugees), United States and other countries.