Heavy security for court case as Chief Mufti claims Kurdjali Historical Museum building

A strong police presence was deployed as Kurdjali District Court prepared to begin hearings in a court application by the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, for ownership of the building and land housing the Kurdjali Historical Museum.

Initially intended to have served as a Muslim religious school, the building was funded in part by donations from the Muslim community in 1920s and 1930s.

However, it was never used as a Madrassa but instead, after being nationalised during Bulgaria’s communist era, became a museum, housing a range of exhibits from archaeological discoveries dating from prehistoric times through to 20th century cultural artefacts.

As the court hearing was due to begin on February 25 2014, protesters against the application were reported to be on their way to the District Court.

Concerns about potential trouble were heightened by the violence that resulted when a large group of protesters held a demonstration in Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv on February 14 against property claims by the Chief Mufti’s office for buildings and land in Karlovo and Plovdiv. The landmark Dzhumbaya mosque in Plovdiv was vandalised and eight protesters were later convicted of hooliganism and other offences.

The court hearing on the Kurdjali Historical Museum property had been scheduled to begin in December 2013 but was postponed because reports on legal and technical investigations were not ready and an expert witness failed to appear because of pressing commitments, according to local media reports.

The protests against the court application were being led by the president of the Association of Football Fans, Elena Vatashka, also involved in earlier such protests.

She told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that the protesters were travelling to Kurdjali at their own expense to “exercise civilian control over this attempt to destroy Bulgarian historical memory”.

Lawyers for the Kurdjali district administration are arguing that the Chief Mufti’s office is not the heir of the local Muslim community because at the time there was no such registered legal entity.

After the violence in Plovdiv and against the background of other protests against Muslim property claims, both the Union of Judges in Bulgaria and the Supreme Judicial Council issued formal statements condemning attempts to exercise street pressure on the outcome of court cases.

Local media said that both the court building and the Historical Museum had been assigned police and gendarmerie guards.

(Photo of the Kurdjali Historical Museum: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)




The Sofia Globe staff

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