ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY IN BULGARIA
Taking into consideration that according to some viewpoints the Protestantism is the successor of Pavlikian and Tondrakian movements which were wide spread in Armenia in the Middle Ages and the followers of those movements were forcibly deported to Bulgaria in 8-9th centuries, one may say that Protestant Armenians settled in Bulgaria back in the Middle Ages. The teaching of Pavlikians had a great influence on the Bogomilian sect in Bulgaria which later on influenced Protestantism.
The Pavlikians and Tondrakians which migrated to Bulgaria established prosperous communities most of which – Pavlikeni, Gorno Pavlikeni, Dolno Pavlikeni, Kalinik, Armenokhor, Armenitsa, Ermenli, Ermenska and others – had existed for a long time and even till our days.
In the 19th century in the Ottoman Empire which included Bulgaria as well, the activity of the Protestant missionaries was spread on a large-scale and that process brought to the formation of the Protestant communities. The Protestant community was formed in Bulgaria in 1857. As for the Armenians, in 1846 the first Armenian Evangelical community was formed in Istanbul which gradually extended its influence on Armenians living in the other regions of the Ottoman Empire, including Bulgaria. The expansion of the Armenian Evangelical community in Bulgaria was boosted by the continual migration of the Armenians from other regions of the Ottoman Empire to Bulgaria (including Evangelicals).
The liberation of Bulgaria after the Russian-Turkish war in 1877-1878 created favourable conditions for the migration of the Armenians to that country. Large groups of the Armenian emigrants appeared in Bulgaria after the 1904-1906 Armenian massacres, Armenian Genocide perpetrated during the World War I and the 1919-1922 Armenian-Turkish war. As a result the number of the Protestant Armenians grew alongside with the overall number of the Armenians in Bulgaria.
The establishment of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1944 had a serious impact on the Armenian Evangelical community as well. The policy of atheism carried out on the state level, immigration, the assimilation policy of the Bulgarian authorities had seriously affected the Armenian Evangelical church as a spiritual structure. The collapse of the Soviet system put an end to the policy of pressure carried out by the state but some problems which come from the past still preserve.
Today there are 8 organizational structures in the Armenian Evangelical community of Bulgaria which is rather good indicator, taking into consideration the small specific weight of the Armenian Evangelicals in both Bulgarian society and Armenian community in Bulgaria.
The organizational structures of the Armenian Evangelical community are spread over the regions of the country populated by the Armenians. According to the data of the National Statistic Institute of that country (2001) – the first 6 places mostly populated by the Armenians are Plovdiv (3140 Armenians), Varna (2240), capital Sofia (1672), Burgas (904), Ruse (886) and Shumen (357). The organizational structures of the Armenian Evangelical community are situated just in those centers – in Varna and Sofia (2), as well as in Plovdiv, Burgas, Ruse and Shumen (1). Based on such a picture one may assume that Armenian Evangelicals are concentrated in Varna, Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Ruse and Shumen.
Unlike the Evangelical Armenian communities in the Near East the organizational structures of the Evangelical Armenian community in Bulgaria do not vary in their type. They fell into two groups:
- Churches, the number of which is five. They are situated in Varna, Plovdiv, Sofia, Burgas and Ruse (one in each city).
- Evangelical fellowships, the number of which is three. They are situated in Varna, Sofia and Shumen (one in each city).
Thus, 5 of 8 organizational structures of the Armenian Evangelical community in Bulgaria are churches and three are the Evangelical fellowships. Varna and Sofia are distinguished among the Armenian Evangelical communities by the fact that they have both church and Evangelical fellowship. In other communities in Plovdiv, Burgas and Ruse only churches work, and in Shumen there is only Evangelical fellowship. Armenian Evangelical church and fellowship in Varna are headed by the same person – Brother Nerses Ketikian.
From the point of view of the type variety the scarcity of the organizational structures of the Evangelical Armenian community in Bulgaria, the absence of educational, social and other organizations can be explained by the following reasons:
1. The clear differentiation between spiritual and secular spheres in Europe. Unlike Evangelical Armenian communities in the Near East where educational, social and other spheres are also under the jurisdiction of religious communities, in Europe they are in the secular sphere and are directed by the authorities or communal structures.
2. The heritage of the communist past. Under the atheist policy of the communist period the spheres of activity of religious authorities were restricted, the church was persecuted. It is possible that Armenian Evangelical Church has not fully recovered from persecutions and restrictions of the communist past.
3. The privileged position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as compared to other churches. As a result of the state policy carried out in the sphere of the religion other churches in Bulgaria do not have the privileges the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has.
The Armenian Evangelical community in Bulgaria is a part of the local Armeniancy. This is proved by:
- The residence of the Evangelical Armenians in the places in Bulgaria populated by the Armenians. Apostolic Armenians and Evangelical Armenians live and work together in the places of residence of the Armenians in Bulgaria – Plovdiv, Varna, Sofia and etc. Armenian Evangelical church works by the Armenian Apostolic churches.
- Involvement of the representatives of different confessional communities in nationwide and communal structures. Due to the fact that the Bulgarian branches of the nationwide organizations (Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian General Athletic Union, Armenian Relief Society and etc), as well as local communal organizations – schools, cultural and youth unions – are of secular character, one may state that Armenians are involved in their activity despite their confessional belonging. One may also state, at least theoretically, that confessional differences should not be of great importance for them.
Today there is no such a reason for conflict which may cause a confrontation between Apostolic Armenians and Evangelical Armenians. The atheist atmosphere of the communist era as well as secularism dominating in Europe, which annihilated the barriers between confessional strata of the Armeniancy, promoted easing of the differentiation between them.
And the following factors underlie the national consolidation of the Armenians in Bulgaria (despite their confessional differences):
- National identity or the sense of being Armenian. In spite of their confessional peculiarities Evangelical Armenians always and everywhere had high national consciousness and considered themselves an inseparable part of the Armeniancy.
- Necessity to consolidate the scares resources of the Armenian community in order to resist existing challenges (assimilation, immigration and etc). According to the representatives of the Armenian community in Bulgaria, the Armenian community is so small that it cannot afford the luxury of breaking up. Just the opposite, it is necessary to unite the existing scares resources.
Another materials of author
- ON POLITICAL VIEW OF THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY IN SYRIA [06.05.2013]
- ISSUE OF RETURNING CHURCH PROPERTIES IN TURKEY[07.02.2013]
- THE ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST[24.10.2012]
- THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY IN GREECE AT THIS STAGE[04.06.2012]
- ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY IN URUGUAY [06.02.2012]
- CURRENT CONDITION OF THE ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY IN RUSSIA[09.01.2012]