Emin Emin

 

Emin Emin was 16 years old when, in the winter of 1985, he accidentally photographed the renaming process in his home village of Brestovne. The photographs were found by his daughter only a few years ago. They are being published here for the first time.

Here is their detailed history.

 

My father’s photos

The photos I am sending you were taken in the winter of 1985 in the village of Brestovne, in Razgrad province.

The existence of these photographs today is the result of the then ignorance of their author and his later desire to preserve them. I will take the liberty of telling you the story on behalf of my father who is the main actor in the events as well as the author of the photographs.

 

A little background

In 1985 my father was 16 years old and a second year student in Ruse. He came from a respected family with a good position. His father, my grandfather – Hasan Eminov – by profession a teacher, was mayor of the village for several terms and had held other important public positions. His wife was the midwife of the village and a respected person in the local community. Their daughter was at the same time a student of mathematics at Plovdiv University.

In the 1980s, rumours came from southern Bulgaria that there was pressure on the country’s Muslim communities, changing their names and other practices to assimilate them, but in my father’s words, everyone in the region then lived in the hope that “these things cannot happen here”. Unfortunately, however, at some point these practices caught up with the Turkish community in the Northeast.

The history of the cadres

In the winter of ’85, my father returned to his native village of Brestovne during the winter holidays. On one of the first days of January (between the 3rd and 5th of January – we are not sure of the exact date) of 1985, in the dark hours of the day, my grandfather was called by Ministry of Interior officials to the local town hall together with several other prominent persons of Turkish origin.

Rumours began to permeate the village that they had been summoned to have their names changed. Fear that the same fate would soon follow them caused the locals to gather in the village centre. They begin to form crowds outside the town hall, the gastronome and the cinema in the hope of finding out exactly what is going on behind closed doors.

At this point, my father also goes to the village center with his friends, taking with him his new acquisition, a Russian Fed 5v camera. By this time he was actively involved in photography and had even already managed to set up his own lab in the garage of the house.

My father’s motivation for taking pictures with the camera at this point was not at all related to preserving the memory of the “Revival Process”. It was purely and simply due to his youthful curiosity and his desire to try out the revolutionary night shooting mode of his new camera for the first time. He was excited to be able to capture impressive night shots lit only by the light of street lamps. After all, it’s not often that so many people gather in a village centre during the dark hours of the day.
While photographing, my father stands a little away from the crowds and is hidden from their view. People wait in bewilderment as he takes shot after shot.

After a while he goes back home while my grandfather continues to be at the town hall. Still perplexed by the events that are actually taking place, my father begins to develop the photos in his lab. A little later, my grandfather, Hasan Eminov, comes home and finds my father in action. Actually, that’s not his name anymore – his new name, given by the socialist government, is Assen Emilov.

The first sight he encounters in his home after this traumatic incident is his son developing photographs of the crowds who waited outside City Hall while the authorities tried to take away his identity.

Predictably, his reaction is angry. In his rage, he starts yelling at my father, “Do you realize what you’re doing! Do you want to send me to Belene? Tear up these photos immediately and don’t let me see them again!” (Indeed, people who refuse to change their name are arrested by the law enforcement authorities and sent to the Belene camp in the following days, their fellow villagers returning from there after 2 years).

In that moment of rage, most of the photos my grandfather tore up himself – most of them – taken in front of the town hall, where there were the most people, are lost. My father promised he would destroy the rest of them, but he kept them and hid them from my father for the next few decades. This is the footage I am sending you today.
Within a week of the events of that January evening, the Turkish names of all the inhabitants in the village had been changed. Without Bulgarian names, it is forbidden to travel and leave the village, forcing my aunt and father to change their names so they could return to the towns where they studied. At the end of the vacation, my father, Emin, returns to his classmates with a new identity, that of Emil. Thus ends the story of a few blurry but evocative images taken by 16-year-old Emin in Sr. Brestovne back in 1985.

I learned of the existence of these photos from my aunt only a few years ago. She told me the story, which touched me deeply. At that time I thought that the pictures were already lost or thrown away in some corner of the old house where nobody lives anymore. Fortunately for me, when I asked my father about them, he knew exactly where they were – he had kept them despite my grandfather’s instructions, with the idea that one day, perhaps, there would be a point to them.

For me, the images are very evocative – they capture the desperation and bewilderment of a whole group of people who refuse to realise and accept what fate actually has in store for them.

Zekie Emin

Pictures from Emin Emin

The center of the village. Brestovene, Razgrad. January 1985.
Change of names. Concerned villagers in the centre of the village.

Assimilation Archive