The Bulgarian community

The Bulgarian community

Bulgarian Church Community in Thessaloniki (1868-1913)

The first reference to a Bulgarian Church Community in Thessaloniki is found in a letter of Kiryak Durzhilovec to the Zograf monks’ brotherhood from February 1862. However, the official date of its establishment is considered to be 8 February 1868, when 850 residents of Thessaloniki from the mason’s, tailor’s, carpenter’s, cattle-breeding, furrier’s and merchant guild gave written power of attorney to their more distinguished fellow citizens, so that they could represent the people and take care of its ecclesiastical-public progress. In July 1880 the Bulgarian Exarchate officially affirmed the Bulgarian Church Community in the city, restored after the Russo-Turkish War, while in 1882 it confirmed its Statutes. The Bulgarian Church Community acquired its own building in 1896, located on the present 102-108 Olimpu Str. However, the Exarchate did not have a bishop in Thessaloniki, which put the Community in a disadvantageous position and impeded its contacts with the vilayet authorities. At the beginning of the 20th century the Bulgarian Church Community in the city had 4 parish priests, a representative in the vilayet governance and three mukhtars (mayors). It is deemed to be the main Bulgarian Community in the Macedonian vilayets of the Ottoman Empire, which is to represent the interests of the smaller Bulgarian Communities in front of the local authorities. The Bulgarian Church Community in Thessaloniki ceased to function with the murder of its chairman archimandrite Evlogii in the Second Balkan War.

The chairpersons of the Bulgarian Church Community in Thessaloniki included: Ivan Hadji-lazarov, Dimitar Paunchev, archimandrite Kozma Prechistanski, archimandrite Grigorii Pelagoniiski, father Ivan Madzharov, archimandrite Avksentii II Pelagoniiski, priest Neofit, archimandrite Nikodim, Georgi Badzharov, archimandrite Evlogii.

Churches

The first Bulgarian chapel in Thessaloniki ‘St. St. Cyril and Methodius’ was opened on 20 June 1873. It was located at about hundred metres south of the high street Egnatiya in the Panaguda mahala on Kapitan Patriki Str (Bayat). Initially it was a small building, bought by means of donations, which was repeatedly renovated and reconstructed over the years. Its place today is taken by privately-owned buildings.

The second Bulgarian Church in Thessaloniki ‘St. Demetrius’ was opened in the Vardar mahala on 8 May 1890. It was housed in a rickety building, owned by the Bulgarian exarch Joseph, which was initially declared to serve as a furrier’s warehouse. The church was located opposite to Burmali-dzhami on 11 Zelefhildon Str. (today Antigonidon Str.) and as of 1906 was listed on the Ottoman registers as the Bulgarian Church on Dikili Tas Str. (Μπηγμένης Πέτρας). The church ‘St. Demetrius’ burned to ashes in the great fire in Thessaloniki in 1917.

The third Bulgarian Church ‘St. Paul’ was built in 1900 in the central Bulgarian cemetery, located next to the Greek cemetery Evangelistriya. The small stone chapel was built on a land plot, bought by the Bulgarian municipality and with a royal decree issued in the name of exarch Joseph. It exists even today as a storehouse of the Greek cemetery Evangelistriya.

Already back in 1896 the Bulgarian Church Community obtained a sultan decree for a representative Bulgarian church in the city, while the donation campaign for its construction began in 1906. As a result of the created national organisation the solid building of the Church ‘St. George’ was built in the Pirgi district, which was not consecrated until the Balkan Wars. This is the present Greek church ‘St. John Chrysostom’ on 55 Perdika Str.

Cemeteries

Bulgarians began to bury their relatives in Thessaloniki, when they settled in the city. After the division in the Orthodox community and particularly after the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople declared the Bulgarian Exarchate schismatic (1872) the question about the cemeteries became very important. Many people made their choice whether to detach themselves from the Greek community and declare their Bulgarian origin, depending on whether they would be able to bury the departed in consecrated land.

The oldest officially recognised Bulgarian cemetery in Thessaloniki is the central one. It is located in the eastern part of the old town, directly next to the Greek cemetery Evangelistriya. As of 1888 this Bulgarian cemetery is officially recognised by the Ottoman rule.
For nearly four years the Bulgarians in the Kukushka mahala struggled to have their own cemetery in the district. In 1886 they received an official permit from the authorities to make the cemetery near the Byzantine chapel ‘St. Pantaleon’. In 1890, thanks to financial aid from Mount Athos, the land plot for the Bulgarian cemetery near ‘St. Petka’ was purchased in the western part of the city.

In 1914 the two Bulgarian cemeteries in Thessaloniki were seized, some of the graves were unearthed, the skeletons were thrown away and Greek refugees were buried there instead.

Bulgarians had also been buried in the Catholic cemetery of Thessaloniki, created between 1860 to 1867 in the Zeitinlak area. During World War I this cemetery was used for the burial of killed soldiers from the Entente. Since the space was not enough, in 1920 an allied military cemetery was made near the Catholic cemetery. In its English section some 45 Bulgarian soldiers were buried. Bulgarian soldiers were also buried in the German-Bulgarian military cemetery, west of the military cemetery of the Entente allies. The bones of 800 unknown Bulgarian soldiers, who died near Thessaloniki, were placed in a shared sepulchre-bone-vault, while the bodies of additional 26 military captives were layed in individual graves. After World War II this cemetery was destroyed.

Demography

Although the multilingualism of the residents of Thessaloniki, who speak “words in four languages” – Ottoman, Greek, Bulgarian and Ladino, was noted already by Evliya Çelebi (1668), the first to recognise a separate Bulgarian community in the city was the Russian traveller Vasily Barski in 1725-1726. Until the 19th century knowledge about Bulgarians in Thessaloniki remained sporadic and was limited to additional side texts in monastery chronicles. As of the first quarter of the 19th century Bulgarians became a prominent presence among the residents of the city, thanks to immigrants from the regions of Debar, Krushevo and Kichevo, who founded their own tailor’s guild in Thessaloniki. With the progress of urbanisation even larger groups of Bulgarians came to Thessaloniki in search of a better and more secured life.
Ottoman census from 1904 recorded 3,697 exarchates out of a total of 12,434 Christian residents. According to statistics of the Bulgarian Exarchate from 1905, 5,888 Bulgarians lived in Thessaloniki, of whom 3,840 exarchates, 1,600 patriarchates, 320 Serbian supporters, 48 supporters of the union with the Catholic Church and 80 Protestants. Greek sources also indicate the presence of about 6,000 Bulgarians in the city in this period. Data from the Bulgarian Consulate General in Thessaloniki indicates that prior to the Balkan Wars around 10,000 Bulgarians lived in the city, comprising 8% of its population. In the coming years their number dropped significantly and during World War I only 1,800 inhabitants confirmed their Bulgarian origin. It should be taken into account that this figure, as well as the figure of 11,000 inhabitants, registered as Bulgarians in the years of World War II, does not adequately reflect the real Bulgarian presence in the city. In the first case, part of the Bulgarians kept silent about their nationality to avoid being persecuted by the Greek authorities, while in the second case – persons who were not of Bulgarian nationality registered themselves as such to receive food and aid in the severe years of the war.

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