In this chapter I have discussed the influence of religion on the strategies of adaptation and identification of the 1989 re-settlers from Bulgaria to Turkey. I have tried to outline the shifting and multi-faceted role of religion in both the sending and the receiving society, thus contextualising re-settlers’ experiences. Religion is a major factor in the process of socialisation and enculturation of Bulgaria’s Turks, especially of those of rural background. Due to the fact that the significance of religion was seriously undermined in the decades of communist rule, few Bulgarian citizens are religious in the strict sense of the word and even fewer are practising Christians or Muslims. The role of Islam has been even further suppressed, as dominant discourses proclaim it a major obstacle for development and progress, and for successful socialisation. Moreover, in the past Muslim minorities in Bulgaria were the target of numerous nationalist policies of a forceful and discriminative nature. The imposition of the idealised model of the socialist person offered a pattern of identification by which the culturally diverse minorities could avoid to some extent the discrimination policies. As a result, those members of the Muslim Turkish community who spent their formative years under state socialism were quite distant from religion and tried to build identities according to the modern, educated and secular ideal. They saw Islam mainly as signifying tradition and as an ethnic identifier. In the years after the demise of communism, religion has become a tool for ethnic emancipation and has been employed by many Turks to reclaim their equal position in society.
After the 1989 exodus to Turkey, the re-settlers entered a society where Islam was the religion of the majority and this was perceived as a premise for smoother adaptation. The proclaimed secular nature of Turkey was another reason for their expectation of cultural familiarity and easier integration. However, in Turkey the re-settlers had to deal with quite diverse discourses on religion, for which they were not prepared. While the dominant political discourse at the time of their arrival was that of secular nationalism, their immediate social setting was conditioned by the principles of traditional patriarchal culture in which Islam played a prominent role. That was so because after their arrival, the majority of migrants from Bulgaria experienced downward social mobility and were located among representatives of the lower strata of society who shared such traditional attitudes.
Thus, instead of the expected cultural proximity with the majority of the Turkish public, re-settlers had to live in an environment with quite different cultural values, norms and attitudes from their own. The resettlers’ intentions to restore their living standards from before the exodus motivated them to develop identification practices which diverge them from their immediate local neighbours. The incompatibility between local Turks and those from Bulgaria became most evident in the disagreement about working women—an issue which was and still is articulated in predominantly religious and moral terms. Therefore, religion has become a language for expressing cultural adherence and social position, from which the re-settlers have chosen to diverge. They have obtained instead strategies of identification which are more typical for the secular middle and upper-class Turkish nationals.
The position of the 1989 re-settlers from Bulgaria is rather ambiguous. They have been located among the lower classes but feel closer to and wish to identify with the middle class. Those of them who have higher education have managed to find good jobs and to develop professional contacts with representatives of the middle and the upper class. However, they have not fully socialised with them. Actually, they have not fully socialised with any of the local groups. Briefly, they distinguish themselves from the traditional lower classes (and the latter disapprove of them) and are not quite accepted by the secular middle- and upper-middle classes with which they wish to identify. Even bigger is their detachment from the Islamist culture, whose commitment to religion does not correspond with re-settlers’ worldviews.
As a result, a paradox has occurred. Even though Turks from Bulgaria are not considered a separate category by official discourses in Turkey, they remain practically different from the major layers of Turkish society, socialising at the local level mostly with relatives and fellow re-settlers. Religion is a major marker in the identification strategies they have developed. Most often than not, re-settlers tend to distinguish themselves from the religious groups in Turkey and to assert a self-image of secular, modern and emphatically European people. An interesting switching of identity codes takes place in their cross-border activities. Visiting Bulgaria, 1989 re-settlers acquire the language of religion in order to manifest their Turkishness—by going to the mosque, donating for the construction of new mosques, etc. Traveling to Europe, however, they again prefer to emphasise their secular and European identity.
It is important to stress that my observations refer mostly to the resettlers in Istanbul, Izmir and Edirne where there are a good deal of well-educated professionals. However, as re-settlers are not a uniform community, the identity strategies in other places where other social characteristics prevail may differ from the description above. The place and the immediate social setting are a significant factor in the identification processes. There are also differences between the people of different generations and educational background. A further analysis of the role of religion in migrants’ lives should look deeper into the in-group diversity among the 1989 re-settlers and should take into consideration the relation between religious attachment and social factors such as age, generation, gender, rural/urban background, education, political ideas and subjective dispositions. Limited as it is, the present discussion has sought to shed light on issues such as: the impact of different, often opposing religious regimes on the strategies of migrants’ social adaptation and identifications; the bonds between religiosity and social status; and the gendered experience of migrants shaped by nationally and locally dominant religious discourses and patterns of behaviour. These are issues that are important to a contemporary study of the Black Sea region, which is a crossroad of opposing political ideologies, various religions and subsequent religious and gender regimes, as well as an arena of endless migratory flaws.