Armenians in Bulgaria

Armenians are the fourth largest minority in Bulgaria, numbering 10,832 according to the 2001 census, while Armenian organizations estimate up to 22,000. They have been inhabiting the Balkans since the 5th century, when they moved there as part of the Byzantine cavalry. Since then, they have had a continuous presence in the lands and have played an often considerable part in the history of Bulgaria from early Medieval times until the present day.

The main centres of the Armenian community in the country are the major cities Plovdiv (3,140 Armenians), Varna (2,240), Sofia (1,672) and Burgas (904).

The traditional language of the community is Western Armenian, though due to education during the Communist period in Bulgaria being in Eastern Armenian, many are also fluent in the latter dialect. Bulgarian, being the official language, is spoken by almost all Armenians in the country.

The Armenians that settled between the 6th and the 11th century in the Rhodopes, Thrace and Macedonia were several thousand in number and were mostly Paulicians and Tondrakians. They had very strong ties and influenced the Bulgarian sect of the Bogomils, were later assimilated into it, Bulgarianized and converted to Roman Catholicism or Islam. The mother of 11th-century Bulgarian tsar Samuil was the daughter of the Armenian king, Ashot II and 10th-century Tsar Peter I’s wife was the granddaughter of Byzantine emperor of Armenian origin Romanos I Lekapenos, Maria. Another Byzantine emperor—Basil I, the founder of the Macedonian dynasty and an Armenian from Thrace.

After both Bulgaria and Armenia were conquered by the Ottoman Empire, many Armenian settlers moved around and came to the latter country. With Bulgaria gaining autonomy in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, many Armenians fled the Ottoman Empire sue to the Hamidian massacres in the 1890s and settled in the country, particularly in the major cities of Plovdiv and Varna. In 1878, there were 5,300 Armenians in the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, with the number increasing by almost 20,000 within the next 2 decades.

During the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) Armenians in Bulgaria numbered about 35,000. Antranik Ozanian and Karekin Njteh were among the leaders of the Armenian auxiliery in the quest for freedom. Bulgarian authorities honored Antranik with the “Cross of Bravery”. After the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire (1915–1917) 22,000 sought refuge in the country. Once communism arrived to the region, many Armenians returned to their homeland or left for the United States. However, upon the fall of the Soviet Union, many from Armenia made their way back over to Bulgaria, seeking a better life or as a transit route to the Americas. Immigration and Assimilation has steadily declined the number of Armenians living in Bulgaria.

Three Armenian newspapers are published in Bulgaria, Armentsi, issued in Burgas every fortnight with a circulation of 3,500, the weekly Vahanissued in Plovdiv with a circulation of 1,000, and the weekly Erevan issued in Sofia. The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) also publishes its monthly bulletin Parekordzagani Tsayn.

There are a total of ten Armenian Apostolic churches and two chapels in twelve cities, mostly in the urban centres with a significant Armenian population, with boards of trustees in Aytos, Burgas, Pazardzhik, Rousse, Shumen, Sliven, Stara Zagora, Varna and Yambol. All churches are organized in an eparchy based in Sofia. The Armenian Evangelical Church in Bulgaria is located in Plovdiv.

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