Documentation of the pre-industrial elements in Bulgarian minorities' culture during the 20th century - phase II (EAP675)

Aims and objectives

This project is focused on the analysis, digitisation and archiving of 20th century photographs, providing information on pre-industrial elements in Bulgarian minorities’ culture. The study is targeted at different ethnic and religious communities, such as Turks, Tatars, Pomaks, Jews, Armenians, Old Believers, Aromanians, Karakachans, and Vlachs. The project carries on the work completed during the earlier pilot project EAP500, which only focused on a few Pomaks, Turkish, Karakachan and Tatar collections. This project will increase the scope of the work to include other minorities. The research with people in other regions show many differences in traditional culture, such as differences between Shi`à and Sunni traditional marriages and circumcisions; regional differences between Shià communities in Southern and Northern Bulgaria; decorated bridal faces in Pomak villages in Goce Delchev and Teteven regions. This major project will be mainly focused on less studied and closed ethnic and religious communities living in small villages outside research focus until now (such as Aliyan group in Targovishte and Haskovo regions, Russian Old Believers in Silistra and Varna regions).

Observations on the currently available documents in different Bulgarian archives reveal that this kind of information is scantily represented or missing. The reason for this is rooted mostly in the mono-centred state policy, focused for a long period solely on the Bulgarian ethnic tradition and culture, as well as in the policy of the Bulgarian state before 1989 aimed at forced assimilation of minorities. This is the reason for the gradual disappearance or even purposeful destruction of pictures and photographic collections of the different minorities in the country, particularly of the Muslim minority during the so called “Revival process” in Bulgaria in the 1960s-1980s, when the policy of the Bulgarian state for a forced assimilation of the Muslims was accompanied with the destruction of all documents – official, personal and family – that are testament to their minority identity. The research undertaken so far shows that despite the repressive policy and purposeful destruction of archival documents, such documents had often been hidden and saved, although in inappropriate circumstances and often in bad condition.

The project team will undertake survey trips to different parts of the country inhabited with compact minority populations with the aim of collecting and digitising approximately 5,000 photographs. A special effort will be made to collect photographs from different ethnic and religious communities. These documents will provide information on the communities’ culture and traditions that are otherwise hardly known outside the boundaries of the region in which they live. These photographs are gradually being destroyed and with them important information for the communities themselves is disappearing. Thus, the project will create digital copies of pictures, with the permission of their owners.

The geographic and cultural isolation of the groups, which are still hardly influenced by modern life, means they are often excluded from Bulgarian society. These communities preserve many old elements of their own culture, which even nowadays continue to be transmitted from one generation to another.

The digital copies of the photographs will be deposited in the archive of the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, and the British Library.


Initially the project conducted research field trips to pre-selected villages in the areas around Svishtov, Varna, Sliven, and Smolyan. During this time the team met people from different ethnic minorities (Turks, Karakachan, Vlachs, Armenians and Old believers) and religious groups (Catholics, Protestants and Alevi), and collected their stories and photographs to digitise. Unfortunately many of the photographs were already in poor condition and weren’t able to be digitised; however the project was still able to digitise over 4700 images. The project succeeded in discovering and safeguarding these images, and helped create an understanding amongst these groups as to the importance of the project and the need for preservation of these endangered archival documents. Since completion of the project the team has continued to be notified of newly discovered material with families opening up their own collections for study and digitisation. These photographs of different Bulgarian minorities are now archived in the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (IEFSEM-BAS).

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: