Despite their undisputed historical value and uniqueness, Ottoman Turkish language periodicals, published in post-Ottoman Bulgaria (1878-1943) are currently almost impossible to access by both researchers and the general public. Years of neglect, chronic financial difficulties, and insufficient library staff training have already resulted in the loss of a great number of titles and issues. This project aims at relocating existing periodicals which are endangered due to being kept in inadequate repository conditions and efforts will be made to recover periodicals that are represented in catalogues but are otherwise unavailable.
The Ottoman Turkish press in Bulgaria in the 1878-1943 period was a unique phenomenon within the post Ottoman Balkans. Not only for the significant number of newspapers and magazines published, but also because some of them continued to be printed in Arabic script years after 1928 when Turkey went with the Harf Inkılabı and adopted its variant of the Latin alphabet. There was a literal publishing explosion in the ten years following 1878 in which there were more Ottoman Turkish newspapers in circulation than during all the previous years of the 19th century combined. The newly founded Bulgarian state was in fact a multi-ethnic country with a significant minority population – a predominantly Turkish speaking one. The official Bulgarian authorities recognised this as evidenced by the Bulgarian State Gazette which was printed in both Ottoman Turkish and Bulgarian for the first two years of its run. Yet surprisingly these issues are extremely hard to come by and are not digitised. These newspapers are an invaluable source for understanding the transitions and obstacles for modernisation for the minority populations in the Balkans.
The majority of these periodicals were a private enterprise with their owners and columnists predominantly of Turkish origin. Yet some ethnic Bulgarian publishers sought wider readership by including pages written in Ottoman Turkish (e.g. “Arda”). Opponents of Kemalist policies in Turkey often went into voluntary or forced exile and some began to print their own newspapers in Bulgaria. A number of publications had a serious impact within Turkey and were even banned there (e.g. “Koca Balkan”). Over time, the language of the periodicals evolved significantly as new and modern words were entering directly from Bulgarian, making it especially unique. In the 1930s a new phenomenon took place – certain periodicals started using Latin script. At first they were quite cautious so the new script articles coexisted on the same page as those in Arabic script.
The exact number of periodicals published in the Ottoman Turkish language in Bulgaria is undetermined. It is unknown how many have survived to this day, nor is there a designated catalogue. Newspapers are an intrinsically perishable medium, but because of further neglect many issues have already been irretrievably lost. In addition to this, periodicals in Ottoman Turkish are often described and catalogued incorrectly and often only based on circumstantial data.
According to the general catalogue of the Bulgarian National Library, which has the highest number of this type of preserved periodical, there are 51 separate titles. Not established as a stand-alone collection, many were sent to remote repositories where archival storage conditions are far from being up to modern standards. An important part of both Bulgarian and Turkish minority heritage, as well as an extremely unique media, is on the verge of being lost. Most of the periodicals were printed not in the capital, but in areas with a significant Turkish speaking population. We can ascertain that in the repositories of the regional libraries, newspapers such as these exist.
The primary goal of the pilot project is making the first step in identification of all the available titles and their issues in the larger libraries in Bulgaria. Periodicals in the holdings of the Bulgarian National Library that are currently in remote repositories in unsuitable storage conditions will be relocated to the central building. Periodicals in the poorest physical condition, especially these from regional libraries, will be copied and originals will be made inaccessible for researchers to prevent their loss. A separate preliminary catalogue will be prepared. The capacity for digitisation both in equipment and training of the staff in the smaller local libraries will be determined with the aim of executing a future full scale project for digitisation, preservation, and formation of a uniform digital collection with access to researchers worldwide.