was likely built during or shortly after thernreign of Justinian (Early Byzantine), thernChurch of St. John the Baptist aroundrn1000 (Middle), and St. John Aleiturgitosrnaround 1525 (Late). All of these arernwithin a few blocks of each other.rnOne of the highlights of Bulgaria isrnBackova monastery, a few miles outsidernof Plovdiv, which is in the middle of therncountry. The foundations of some of thernbuildings were laid in the 11th century,rnand as is so often the case, situated inrnbeautiful mountainous surroundings.rnThe founder was a naturalized Armenianrnfrom Georgia and either QuarterrnMaster General or else Commander-in-rnChief in the Byzantine army. His namernis rendered variously as Gregori Pakourianos,rnBoukiani, or Bakuriani. Althoughrnbusiness in the empire was transacted inrnGreek, Bakuriani insisted that Georgianrnbe the language of the liturgy and evenrnof everydav use. Furthermore, no Greekrnperson was to be admitted to the eommunitv.rnInside the enceinte, or surroundingrnfortress-like walls, sits the small cathedralrnwhich was built in the 16th century. Itsrnpattern is cross-in-square, unusual inrnBulgaria I am told, with a dome over therncrossing supported by four pillars. Comingrnout of the church I saw a monk andrnasked, through the two students of Englishrnfrom Plovdiv who accompaniedrnme, if I could take a picture of him, tornwhich he assented. They explained tornhim that I could not speak Bulgarian andrnhe asked if I spoke German. We chattedrna bit in ni}’ limited German, and he toldrnme there were about ten monks livingrnthere at the time.rnA bit later I met another of them whornturned out to be cjuite a card. He said herncame to Backova when he was 37 andrnvery ill. He took no pills, but was madernwell by Christ’s Mother. He said he hadrnhad numerous visions of her, so manyrnthat the other monks scolded him for alwaysrnpraying to her and not to Christ.rnHe also said he was the most photographedrnmonk, although not the bestrnknown. Both monks had long black andrngray beards, but the second one was thernmore exotic-looking. Once he beganrntalking, the second monk told us manyrnthings. One of their monks, he said, hadrnbeen seeing women, but God punishedrnhim—he was killed in a car wreck. Wernhad also noticed a very slender womanrndressed all in black sitting with the abbotrnon a bench. The second monk told usrnthat she was a poet and artist who stayedrnhere, but was so sensitive that she wouldrnnot shov’ anone her work.rnWhat makes the 16th-century date forrnthe building of the cathedral especiallyrnnoteworthy is that it occurred after thern”messengers of God,” the Muslim OttomanrnTurks, invaded the country in thern14th century and ruled Bulgarians untilrn1878. In general the Turks were not enthusiasticrnabout encouraging Christiansrnor church-building, but during a respite,rnthev permitted this one at Backova. SeveralrnBulgarians told me that Christianrnchurches during the period had to bernbuilt so that the cross on top was not noticeable,rnand that was why some churchrnfloors were below ground level.rnPrior to the Turkish invasion, duringrnwhat is known as the Second BulgarianrnEmpire (1185-1393), Bulgaria had beenrnweakened by almost constant warfare.rnThe Tartars invaded and briefly ruled;rnlater, the Bulgarians had to face simultaneouslyrnthe Serbs and the Turks. All thernwar-making led to the increased power ofrnlocal barons, which in turn led to weakrncentral authority incapable of defensernagainst the ultimate Turkish threat. Inrn1564 Plovdiv (Philippopolis) fell, andrnSofia in 1585. And Bulgarian identitvrnfaded into deep shadows.rnMy two student friends drove mcrnnorth of Plovdiv to Sopot, the formerrnhome of Bulgaria’s most famous writer,rnIvan Vazov. Besides being a poet, hernwrote the classic Bulgarian novel Underrnthe Yoke, which is set in prcliberationrntimes and dramatizes life under thernTurks. Not far from Sopot is Kariovo, thernhometown of the country’s nationalrnhero, Vasil Levski. Levski, who helpedrnorganize the national uprising whichrntried to remove the Turkish yoke, wasrncaptured by the Ottoman police andrnhanged in Sofia.rnSoon after the Turks were in full control,rnsome Bulgarians were forcibly convertedrnto the Muslim religion, and therernwere others who collaborated with thernnew masters (just as had happened inrnSerbia during this time). These were rewardedrnwith posts in the administration.rnMany of these people, called Pomaks,rnlived in the Rhodope mountains. It wasrnin these beautiful mountains that I wasrnto have some of my most interesting experiences.rnI had mentioned to my friend IvornHadjimishev, the Sega magazine photographer,rnthat I would like to read somethingrnby a living writer and then interviewrnhim. Because I had heard fromrnMr. and Mrs. Haitov.rnother Bulgarians about their anxiety regardingrnthe current Pomak “problem,”rnh o suggested I read a book of storiesrncalled Wild Tales bv Nikolai Haitov.rnThus, as I moved about the country, inrnthe evenings in my hotel rooms I read thernstories, all set in the Rhodope mountains,rnsome of them alluding to Pomaks.rnHaitov, whom I subsequently interviewed,rnhad been a forester in thernRhodopes and early on (the book wasrnoriginally published in 1967) had witnessedrnthe environmental damagerncaused by the government’s clearcuttingrnpolicies. His stories are full ofrnmountain humor and partlv reflect thernshepherd’s world that had existed forrnhundreds of years south of the Rhodopesrnand into what is now Greece. It isrnI laitov’s sense of mutability and fate thatrndeepens the narratives, and for me is reflectedrnin the Bulgarian consciousness asrnI know it, a consciousness mirroring thernhistorical troubles of these people—in-rn’asions, occupations, an existence at thernmercy of the neighboring empires,rnwhether Roman, Ottoman, German, orrnRussian. Typical characters’ observations:rn”Something’s bound to happen ifrnthere’s too much laughter”; “Just an hourrnrunning away, and a lifetime trying to getrnback. And no matter hov vou try, it’srnnever any good. You never get back tornwhere you first started”; “When yourrnsorrows are too many to bear, it’s only thernmalice that keeps you going.” HowrnBalkan, how Bulgarian!rnIvo picked me up in Plovdi’ onernmorning and we drove to Kurdzhalirnabout 50 kilometers from the border ofrnGreek Thrace, an area also populatedrnby many Greek Muslims. We went tornKurdzhali to meet an Orthodox priest,rnbut a very special one. He had once beenrna Pomak, but after being at the university,rnhad converted to Christianity. Hernthen returned to the heart of Pomakrncountry and was essentially a missionaryrnto the Muslims. When Ivo had first contactedrnIvan Saruev, he said he was notrnAPRIL 1997/41rnrnrn