"Balkan Summer School Religion & Public Life", Plovdiv University - Bulgaria July.2017
I did not think that the summer school of Plovdiv University "Paisii Hilendarski", which I attended in 2017, would be one of the best memories of my life. I had been to other parts of Bulgaria before for my Rome photo project. It was my first trip to Plovdiv. I did not have any summer school experience when I was a student. Being a student was already difficult in the volatile political environment of the 1970s. At the age of 63, such an experience was exciting for me. When we gathered with other friends from different countries, I was the oldest among them.
The bulk of the 10 days program took place in the village of Zagrazhden, over Rhodope mountains about 100 km from Plovdiv. The village, where mining was used in the past, is a place where mostly the elderly population live today. We stayed on a university campus. The main subject of the training was "Neighbors and Foreigners". We divided into groups and did fieldwork with Pomak villagers. During an interview with a villager about foreigners, pointing to myself, I asked Elena "Am I a foreigner for you?" When she replied "No, you are not a stranger," I asked why. "Because we are all human," she replied. This universal answer both pleased and surprised me. It was a second surprise to me that Prof Maria said this was a typical Bogomil thought at the meeting where we evaluated the interviews. Because I knew that the philosophy of my ancestors, who rebelled in the region where I lived 600 years ago, established a state on full equality and resisted for 3 years despite the Ottoman Empire, was influenced by Bogomil thought. The Ottoman mystic Sheikh Bedreddin, who organized the rebellion, lived in the Balkans and had contacts with these thinkers. Those times he was a military judge dealing with sharia cases in the Ottoman Empire. It was an extraordinary experience for me to meet again in a mountain-top village with the villagers who still continue that philosophy after centuries.
Another trip was meeting again with Yazidi refugees in the Harmanli
refugee camp. Although I was not allowed to take pictures, I had a short
meeting with the help of the Red Cross officer Hristina.
Conversations with friends from different countries; visiting new places were other gains for me.