The Four Largest Ethnic Minorities of Bulgaria

Turks, Roma, Russians and Armenians. We take a look at the four largest ethnic minorities of Bulgaria.

Turks make up the largest ethnic minority in Bulgaria.

  • According to the census completed in 2011, there are 588,318 Turkish Bulgarians - making up roughly 8.8% of the population.
  • They are the descendants of Turkish settlers who entered Bulgaria after the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.
  • In Kardzhali, Bulgarian Turks form the majority with 66% of the citizens being Turks compared to 30% being Bulgarians.

As well as being the descendants of the settlers from the Ottoman conquest of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, it has been suggested that the Bulgarian Turks could be descendants of earlier medieval Turkic tribes.

The ethnic composition of Bulgaria by municipality 2011 - Image Source

As you can see in the image above, Bulgarian Turks tend to live in the rural areas of Ludogorie which is in the Northeast, and the Eastern Rhodopes in the Southeast. In the province of Razgrad, which is in the Northeast, the population consists of 50% Turks and 43% Bulgarians. This constitutes a plurality. The Kardzhali Province, which is in the Southeast, has a Turk majority population (66% Turk to 30% Bulgarian) and because of this, you may expect to see some shop signs written in Turkish. 

In Turkish, Ludogorie is called Deliorman, Razgrad is called Hezargrad and Kardzhali is Kircaali.

According to the 2011 census in Bulgaria, 564,858 Turks (96% of the Bulgarian Turk population) considered Turkish as their mother tongue. Of the Bulgarian Turks, 88% identified themselves as Sunni Muslims and 4.5% identified as Shia Muslims.

The assimilation campaign of the communist leader Todor Zhivkov in 1989 caused the largest wave of Turkish emigration, which consisted of 360,000 Turks. The emigration occurred because the campaign forced all Turks and other Muslims living in Bulgaria to renounce all Muslim customs and to adopt Christian names. This policy was reversed after the fall of communism.

After Turks, the next largest ethnic minority in Bulgaria are the Romani people.

  • Bulgaria has the highest percentage of Romani in Europe.
  • As of 2011, there are 325,343 Roma living in Bulgaria - making up roughly 4.9% of the population.
  • The Romani people originate from Northern India and reached Europe in the 14th century.

There are no large concentrations of Romani in Bulgaria, instead, they are spread throughout the whole country. There are many villages in which Romani people make up the majority, but no cities. The most notable villages are, Gradets (southeast), which is said to be the largest Roma village in the world, with a population of 79% Roma. Bukovlak (north), with a Roma population of 57%, and Dolni Cibar (northwest) which has a population of 77% Roma.

"Roma rhythms" Group
Roma Dancers from the "Roma Rhythms Group - Image Source

Over 50% of the Romani Bulgarians did not state a religious affiliation in the 2011 census. 26% identified as Bulgarian Orthodox and 13% Muslim. The Romani people in Bulgaria speak either Bulgarian, Turkish or Romani depending on the region and religion they follow.

Data from 2002 recorded that the poverty rate among Bulgarians was 5.6%, while unfortunately among the Bulgarian Romani the rate was 61.8%. Only 6.9% of Roma in Bulgaria had secondary education compared to the 47.6% for Bulgarians.

Bulgaria participates in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, which is an international initiative that seeks to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma, eight other governments are part of this initiative. Back in 1997, 84% of Bulgarian Romani lived below the poverty line, compared to the 61.8% of 2002. These numbers show that the situation of the Romani people in Bulgaria improved.

Russians are the 3rd largest ethnic group.

  • As of 2011, there were 9,978 Bulgarian Russians living in Bulgaria, which is only 0.1% of the population.
  • Anatolii Medvedev, a Russian, led the first course in biochemistry in Bulgaria, at the Sofia Faculty of Medicine
  • The first large groups of Russian immigrants arrived in Bulgaria in the 17th century.

The early Russian immigrants fled to Bulgaria to avoid the church reforms of the 17th century, some of which founded the village of Tataritsa in 1674 and built a church there in 1750.

Russian Church, Sofia, Bulgaria
Russian Church, Sofia, Bulgaria - Image Source

Now, Bulgarian Russians usually live in the urban areas, in cities such as Plovdiv, Sofia, and Varna, however, there is a village, Kazashko, which has a significant ethnic Russian population. The population of the village consists of descendants of the old-faith Russians of the 17th century.

Although there are only 9,978 ethnic Russian Bulgarians, Bulgaria has become a popular place for owning a second home and thus there are an estimated 400,000 Russians owning properties in Bulgaria. In 2016, Russians took second place for the largest group of tourists visiting Bulgaria with 538,348 people.

Armenians are the final large ethnic minority that we will be taking a look at.

  • As of 2011, there are 6,552 Armenian Bulgarians, making up 0.1% of the population.
  • The population of Armenian Bulgarians has almost halved since 2001 according to the census.
  • Armenians have lived in the territory of Bulgaria since at least the 5th century.

The Armenians moved to the Balkans (which includes Bulgaria) with the Byzantine cavalry during the 5th century.

After the Russo-Turkish War, many Armenians emigrated to Bulgaria, fleeing the Ottoman Empire as Bulgaria gained autonomy. They fled because of Hamidian massacres which had estimated casualties ranging from 80,000 to 300,000 Armenians. The Armenians settled in the major cities of Plovdiv and Varna. Today, the main cities with large Armenian populations are Plovdiv, Varna, and Sofia.

The main religions of the Armenian Bulgarians are Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) and Armenian Catholic. Armenians traditionally speak Western Armenian, however, almost all Armenian Bulgarians speak Bulgarian fluently.

St. George Armenian church, Plovdiv, Bulgaria - Image Source

The census of 2011 records 6,552 Armenian Bulgarians which is a 40% drop from the 10,832 Armenian Bulgarians recorded in the 2001 census.

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