Bulgarian Printing in Istanbul
As Istanbul was then a prime nexus of Slavic cultural exchange, the publishing of works in the Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian, etc., languages in the Ottoman capital was not merely of parochial interest but was of profound international import with regards to Slavic national identity, religious expression and proselytization, emigration to the Americas, global trade, as well as the undercurrents of the Russian Revolutionary and Civil War period (1917-23). Indeed, the specialist Bulgarian, Russian and Serbian presses in both Istanbul and various provincial cities issued a surprisingly diverse and sophisticated repertoire of works. Even the seemingly ‘pedestrian titles’ are often, upon closer investigation, revealed to be far more intriguing and controversial than they are at first glance.
The collection is divided into four categories: Bulgarian; Russian; Serbian; and Russian and Bulgarian language books.
Regarding the Bulgarian section, Istanbul was traditionally by far and away the primary intellectual and publishing center of the Bulgarian people. Even long after Bulgaria gained its de facto independence in 1878, many members of the country’s the elite continued to live, study and work in the capital city of their former imperial overlords. Generally speaking, the Ottomans exerted relatively little censorship over Bulgarian publishing, resulting in a vibrant print culture.
Importantly, however; it also includes titles that show the surprisingly strong influence of the Unites States of America upon the Bulgarian intelligentsia in Istanbul during the era. Notably, there is an 1874 Bulgarian edition of the biography of Benjamin Franklin, who is often the most esteemed of the American founding fathers in eyes of Europeans.
Moreover, many of the Bulgarian works on religious themes are actually far more interesting and controversial when considered in their true historical context. This is especially the case with the Christian works commissioned by American Protestant missionaries in Istanbul, many of which were published by Agop Boyaciyan (1837 – 1914), an ethnic Armenian who was one of the leading commercial publishers in the Ottoman Empire, and who learned printing in United States in the 1860s while under the sponsorship of said missionaries.
These works were the lifeblood of a subtle and very clever propaganda campaign that sought to convert Orthodox Christians in the Balkans and Anatolia to Protestantism. It is important to remember that Christian proselytizing to Muslims was specifically illegal in the Ottoman Empire (an while this still occurred on a very limited basis, it was risky and seldom effective), thus the main objective of the American Protestant missionaries in the lands of the Sublime Porte, as well as in the newly independent as Bulgaria, was to show ‘wayward’ Christians the ‘right way’ to worship.
Books such as those present here were often accompanied by offering access to high quality education and social services support as part of integrated campaign to welcome locals ‘into the fold’. Robert College, founded by American missionaries in 1863 in Istanbul was their crowning achievement, as it was responsible for educating an amazing number of future elites of the southeastern Balkans and Turkey. While the missionaries never succeeded in mass conversion, they did ensure that small but highly influential Protestant communities developed in Turkey and Bulgaria. Moreover, even those whom they educated but who did not convert to Protestantism still became ‘friends’ of the faith, while still practicing their traditional rites. Indeed, the influence of American missionaries upon Bulgarian religious and intellectual culture was profound and enduring.
References: OCLC 749041719, 39146884.