Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Petar Stoyanovich said on August 12 that the Government had no intention of transferring ownership of Ottoman-era architectural monuments to Turkey.
A request in that sense was made last week by Turkish deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag during a visit to Bulgaria. Bozdag said that these monuments were being allowed to fall into disrepair and that Turkey was prepared to take ownership and restore them.
Among the buildings targeted by Bozdag, according to reports in Bulgarian media, were a mosque (which now houses a restaurant) and a public bathhouse (home to a modern art museum) in Bulgaria’s second-largest city of Plovdiv.
Speaking to Nova Televizia channel, Stoyanovich said that the status of such buildings had been settled by international agreement between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire in 1909. “I want to look [at the issue] in a pragmatic, transparent and clear way. If we start looking backwards at history, instead of forward, we will inevitably stumble sooner or later,” Stoyanovich said.
The architectural monuments in question have the status of vakif (also known as waqf) properties – historically, these are properties or assets set up under Islamic law as a religious endowment for charitable or religious purposes. Most such assets became property of the Bulgarian state under the terms of the settlement with Turkey.
Stoyanovich said that while Bulgaria would not transfer ownership of such properties back to Turkey, the Government was open to the prospect of Turkish financial aid to maintain and restore “certain monuments of Islamic architecture.”
Meanwhile, in Plovdiv the mosque board of trustees had put in a court request asking to be given ownership of the mosque and public bathhouse in Plovdiv, as well as a graveyard, all of them currently owned the city hall.
Speaking to Focus news agency, the board’s representative Ahmed Pehlivan said that if the board was given ownership of the properties, it would collect donations to restore the monuments to their former glory and turn them into tourist attractions.
(Mosque and Roman Stadium, Plovdiv. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)