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Bulgaria Allows Turks To Retake Moslem Names

December 29, 1989

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Bulgaria’s Turkish minority will be allowed to adopt the Moslem names they were forced to change in an often violent campaign starting in the early 1980s, a senior official announced today.

National Assembly Chairman Stanko Todorov, stepping out of Parliament to meet demonstrating Turks, told the crowd that in future ″everybody in Bulgaria will be able to choose his name, religion and language freely.″

There was consensus among the demonstrators and observers that the crucial decision was made at a meeting of the Central Committee of Bulgaria’s ruling Communist Party. The Communists convened earlier in the day to consider growing opposition demands for speeding up democratic reforms in the country.

The name change campaign, which gathered momentum in 1984, affected hundreds of thousands of people, including Pomaks, or Moslem Slavs, living in southern Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 journalists gathered in front of the party headquarters demanding freedom of the press.

At that rally, a Moslem speaker told them that the first birth certificate with a Moslem name in the past 10 years, that of 1-month-old Osman Bajram Husseinov, had just been issued by the municipal registrar’s office.

The forced name change and increasing curbs on ethnic and religious rights of the 1.5-million-strong Turkish minority earlier this year prompted more than 300,000 to emigrate to Turkey after Bulgarian authorities gave them passports.

The hastily convened plenary meeting of the Central Committee also planned to discuss further ″high level cadre changes″ in the party and state hierarchy, as well as demands by Bulgarian Moslems for an end to official persecution, sources close to the Communist leadership said.

On Thursday, about 10,000 people rallied in a city park to hear leaders of an independent trade union demand a faster pace for reform that was promised after hard-line Communist leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted last month.

″Political pluralism, access to the media and ... ethnic problems are among some of the topics we will raise with the authorities″ at the talks, Podkrepa head Konstantin Trenchev told the cheering crowd.

At a second rally in Sofia, thousands of ethnic Turks and other Moslems demonstrated against government persecution and also demanded more democracy.

The gatherings came one day after the ruling Communist Party Politburo agreed to talks with the opposition beginning Wednesday.

Podkrepa is one of several opposition groups that has been allowed to function publicly since Zhivkov was forced from power Nov. 10. The new Communist leadership has agreed to pursue reform, but dissidents say the changes have been slow.

The reform movement gained impetus after police violently broke up an Oct. 26 demonstration called by the environmental group Eco-Glasnost. Two weeks later, hard-liner Zhivkov was driven from power by more reform-oriented Communists.

Eco-Glasnost spokesman Deyan Kyuranov said at the rally that he was convinced that pressure from opposition groups was instrumental in Wednesday’s ouster of Interior Minister Georgi Tanev.

Tanev was fired for ordering the police attack on demonstrators.

Kyuranov said the Union of Democratic Forces, an umbrella organization of opposition groups, also would press for the removal of Sofia Mayor Stefan Ninov, whom they also held accountable for the crackdown.

Kyuranov described the scheduling of talks as ″a significant victory.″ ″Despite the fact that the government was inclined to eventually stage such a discussion, the threat of a general strike by the Podkrepa independent trade union forced their hand,″ he said.

The unofficial trade union had plans for a general strike Thursday but called it off ″to respect the government’s goodwill″ after authorities said they would hold talks.

″We would like to produce a binding document whose topics would include free elections and human rights,″ Kyuranov said.

Earlier, a crowd of more than 5,000 Turks and Pomaks, ethnic Bulgarian Moslems, marched through the capital chanting ″Democracy 3/8″ and ″We want our names back 3/8″

Bulgarian Communist authorities forced hundreds of thousands of Pomaks to change their Moslem names into Bulgarian-sounding names in a campaign that began in 1984.

″We also want to know who was responsible for the atrocities committed in that campaign,″ according to a demonstrator who identified himself only as Mehmed.

The mere existence of the demonstrations is evidence of the changes in Bulgaria, where any form of dissent was often brutally suppressed. All other nations in the Soviet alliance have embraced reform to varying degrees this year.

-29-89 1148EST

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