Kurdjali District Court has rejected a property claim lodged by the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, to be awarded ownership of the building housing the Regional Historical Museum.
This is the latest in a series of court actions by the Chief Mufti’s office, filed under the Religious Denominations Act which allows applications by recognised religious denominations to be awarded property historically theirs.
The applications have been a controversial issue, sparking protests among groups opposed to them and in February 2014 leading to an anti-Islamic mob attacking a landmark mosque in the centre of Plovdiv.
In its June 16 ruling, the Kurdjali District Court found that there was no basis for the claim, and ordered the representatives of the Muslim community to pay 91 062 leva in costs to the state.
The ruling is subject to appeal in the Plovdiv Appeal Court.
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.
Lawyers for the Kurdjali district administration argued 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.
(Regional Historical Museum, Kurdjali: Photo (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer