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Muslims Suffer Violent Attacks in Bulgaria June 20, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Islam, Muslim, Turkey.
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Chief Mufti urges Muslims to defend themselves
Muslims Suffer Violent Attacks in Bulgaria

For the past century, Muslims in the Balkans are the victims of many episodes of ethnic cleansing by the crusaders and later by the Communists in Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece. As Communism collapsed, the Muslims in Eastern Europe are still facing suppression, discrimination, harassment and intolerance.
Recently, members of the far-right Bulgarian Ataka party have attacked several Muslims who gathered for their usual Friday prayers at a main mosque in downtown Sofia. The supporters of Volen Siderov, the leader of the Bulgarian ultra-nationalist party Ataka, burned carpets used during Friday prayers at Sofia Grand Mosquea and attacked the Muslims with stones and eggs, a Press TV correspondent reported.
Police say several people were injured as nationalists clashed with Muslims during Friday prayers. The Ataka party’s followers had gathered in downtown Sofia to protest against the Muslim community in the country.
The violence erupted after one of the rightist members grabbed a prayer rug and set it on fire, leading to a fight between the two groups. The tension also escalated after an Ataka activist tried to play patriotic music on the loudspeakers of the mosque. Siderov, who is running in the October 11 presidential election, said during the Friday protest that he wants demonstrations against Muslims to continue in Bulgaria.
Around one million Muslims currently live in the country amid grave concerns that the Muslim community could be deprived of their constitutional rights of religious expression if the extremist Ataka party’s leader takes power in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boyko Borisiv expressed concerns over the incident, saying the ethnic cohesion of the Bulgarian society should be preserved.  But many people say mere words are not enough.
The Bulgarian government has recently forbidden passport pictures with women’s headscarves and banned religious literature from focusing on Islam in a move that has been widely viewed as part of a smear campaign against Muslims in the country.
Muslims Reactions
Part of the Bulgarian society is plagued with islamophobia, the Bulgarian Chief Mufti’s Office has declared in a statement urging the Bulgarian Muslims to take measures to defend themselves against attacks.
The Chief Mufti’s Office, however, complains that numerous similar incidents have followed ever since, and that the Bulgarian state institutions have failed to protect the Muslims in Bulgaria and their worship places. “After this next case of violence against a Muslim and the desecration of a mosque, the Bulgarian Muslims community has received a clear message that the state is either unable to protect us, or doesn’t want to do that, which leaves us in a very hard situation as citizens of the EU who were still hoping that there are sufficiently good democratic mechanisms for preventing repressions against us,” reads the statement of the religious leadership of the Bulgarian Muslims.
“Unfortunately, our hope turned out to be illusionary, our expectations were not met, and we are now aware that we have to provide for our own security and rights. Numerous cases, some of them rather shocking, in the recent years lead us to assume that Muslims are unwanted in this country, and that pressure against us will continue… [They] show that part of the Bulgarian society is hostile and aggressive against Islam, Islamic values, and the Muslim community,” the Chief Mufti’s Office says stressing that the above-described incidents should not be treated as hooliganism or criminal acts “but as a common strategy and intolerance against the Muslims, which could probably lead to more large-scale operations.”
It further calls upon the Muslims in the country to organize day and night guards as volunteers “in order to protect what the state fails to protect – the honor and dignity of Islam and Muslims.”
“These steps are the beginning of a self-protection campaign. We are going to inform you of your next steps depending on the development of the problems and the desires of the community. In conclusion, we turn to our state leaders, institutions, and authorities, to all evil-minded people, to all Islamophobes, to all attackers – do you think that we love Bulgaria less than you, concludes the Chief Mufti’s Office.
Who Are the Bulgarian Muslims?
Muslims in Bulgaria belong to various ethnic groups, such as the Turks, Pomaks, Gypsies and Tatars. The Pomaks are the main Muslim ethnic group in Bulgaria. There are many contradicting views, regarding the origin of Pomaks. According to some historians, they are the descendants of the ancient Slavic or Slavized inhabitants of the Balkans. Some of them converted to Islam at the time of the conquest and during the years that followed. Other groups converted to Islam during the period of the Ottoman Caliphate.
The number of Pomak population changed several times due to the suppression policy by the Christian and communist governments. During and after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the biggest waves of Pomak migrated to Turkey.  Bulgaria’s population is approximately 7.9 million according to a 2001 census. Approximately 13 percent of the Bulgarians are Muslims.
Bulgarization of the Muslims
Since the Bulgarian independence in 1908, the nationalist regimes marginalized the Muslims and traditionally considered them as foreigners, even if they were ethnically Bulgarian. The Orthodox Church is very influential and with the help of the Bulgarian nationalists they forced the Muslims to convert to Christianity. All the resisting Muslims were wounded, imprisoned, killed or deported. Thousands of them fled to Turkey and Greece. In the summer of 1989 more than 300,000 Muslims were deported from Bulgaria.
Mosques were converted into churches. Out of the 44 mosques in Sofia only one remained as a historical monument. The largest mosque in Bulgaria was the Tumbul Mosque in Shumen, built in 1744. Muslims were coerced to go to church every Sunday. Circumcision was prohibited, and the people who circumcised their sons were severely punished.
There are pressures on Muslims to change their names, vestment and language. Since 1942 a new law was passed which commanded Muslims to change their names to Bulgarian ones. About 2000 Turkish and Pomak village names were also changed to Bulgarian. Pomaks were banned from attending Turkish schools or use the Turkish language and they were forbidden to open private schools. Then Muslim school boards were abolished and unified with Bulgarian school boards. Thus all their non-Bulgarian daily life was subjected to censure.