Bulgaria Remembers Tragic Death of Renowned Archaeologist Rasho Rashev, 8 Others in Sofia – Kardam Train Fire

Archaeologist Prof. Rasho Rashev passed away at the age of 64 in the 2008 Sofia – Kardam Train Fire. Photo: National Institute and Museum of Archaeology

Bulgaria honors on February 28, 2018, the memory of 9 casualties of the Sofia – Kardam Train Fire which happened 10 years ago, including renowned archaeologist Prof. Rasho Rashev, then the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The night train from Bulgaria’s capital Sofia to the town of Kardam in Northeast Bulgaria, on the border with Romania, caught fire in the late evening of February 28, 2008, before it reached the town of Cherven Bryag.

A total of nine people traveling in the sleeping cars of the train did not manage to evacuate as the train stopped, and perished in the fire.

According to the highly controversial investigation, the Sofia – Kardam Train fire was caused by overheating of the train heating system and the inflammation of flammable substances such as a deodorant or a perfume. A large number of other maintenance irregularities were also established.

The three officials of the dilapidated state-owned Bulgarian railways BDZ who were sentenced over negligence for the train fire incident all got away with suspended sentences.

A memorial service to honor the memory of the Sofia – Kardam Train Fire casualties was held on Wednesday in the St. George Church in the northeastern city of Dobrich (five of the total of nine casualties came from the Dobrich District).

One of the nine casualties was the 64-year-old archaeologist Rasho Rashev, who was traveling to his hometown of Shumn.

Rashev had become the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia the year before.

He was a leading expert specializing in the archaeology of the Ancient Bulgars and the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018), and especially of its pagan period, prior to the adoption of Christianity as the official state religion in 864-865.

Rashev was born in the town of Ticha in Eastern Bulgaria in 1943. He was a graduate of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius University in Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Builgaria, graduating with a degree in history in 1969.

After that he worked as a curator at the Archaeology Museum in Veliki Preslav (capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-970) and in the Regional Museum of History in the Danube city of Silistra (the successor of the Roman city of Durostorum and the medieval Bulgarian city of Drastar).

In 1975, Rashev was appointed to the newly established branch office of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in the northeastern city of Shumen, where he worked for the next 32 years. He served as its Director in 1992-1993.

His Ph.D. thesis in 1977 was on the early medieval fortifications of the Ancient Bulgars.

Rashev was a lecturer at three Bulgarian Universities – Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”, Shumen University “Bishop Konstantin Preslavski”, and Varna Free University.

He authored five books and over 150 research papers on the history and archaeology of the early First Bulgarian Empire. He was elected Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia in 2007.

Rashev’s archaeological excavations overwhelmingly focused on the research of Pliska, the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680 – 893, believed to have been the largest city in Europe in its time in terms of territory (23 square kilometers).

He also worked on the excavations of a number of other Ancient Buglar fortresses, fortifications, and necropolises in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, namely around the cities of Shumen, Silistra, Razgrad, and Varna. Rashev also initiated a large-scale archaeological research project entitled “Materials for the Map of the Medieval Bulgarian State”.

The results from Rashev’s research served to confirm the theory about the Iranian (Persian) origin of the Ancient Bulgars, with some Turkic influences.

In a 1993, research paper, for example, Rashev points out that over 90% of the Ancient Bulgar funerals discovered in today’s Northeast Bulgaria (the heartland of the First Bulgarian Empire) were “of the Sarmatian type”, a conclusion reaffirmed a book the archaeologist published in 2004.

To honor Rashev’s contribution to Bulgarian and international archaeology, in 2012, Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture named after him the Museum at the National Historical and Archaeological Preserve in Pliska.

The Pliska Museum of Archaeology was named after Prof. Rasho Rashev in 2008. Photos: Pliska Museum of Archaeology

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Bulgars: Webster’s Timeline History, 354 – 2007

Avars, Bulgars and Magyars on the Middle and Lower Danube: Proceedings of the Bulgarian-Hungarian Meeting, Sofia, May 27-28, 2009 (German and English Edition)

The Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans (East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450)

A history of the first Bulgarian empire,

The Ceramic Icon in Medieval Bulgaria

2: Byzantium, Pliska, and the Balkans (Millennium Studies)

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

The Sarmatians 600 BC–AD 450 (Men-at-Arms)

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Background Infonotes:

(The following is a very brief account of the main (groups of) theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars).

The question about the precise origin of the Ancient Bulgars, a powerful steppe people with a strong social and military organization and a highly sophisticated calendar, remains resolved and a matter of discussion among Bulgarian and international historians. Unfortunately, in the past it has been marred and even perverted by political and ideological motives stemming from the fact that in the 20th century Bulgaria was under foreign (mostly Soviet) domination. There are numerous theories about the Ancient Bulgarsorigin, the main ones stipulating either a Turkic (Mongol), or an Iranian (Aryan) origin, or a combination of the two.

The theory about the Turkic origin of the Bulgarians was overwhelmingly promoted during the communist period by historians in the Soviet Union and its satellite, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Scientific arguments aside, its political motivation was to denigrate the role of the Bulgars and to promote the role of the Slavs in Bulgaria’s formation in order to prove the stronger ties of 20th century Bulgaria with Russia (the Soviet Union). This is contrasted with the trends in the 1930s when some Bulgarian historians and scholars sympathetic to Nazi Germany sought to deny altogether the role of the Slavs in the formation of the Bulgarian nation.

While still defended by a number of older generation historians, the theory about the Turkic (Mongol) origin of the Ancient Bulgars has been largely discredited since the fall of the communist regime. Taking advantage of the newly established academic freedom, a number of Bulgarian historians and archaeologists have formulated and explored the theory about the Iranian (Sarmatian, Scythian), i.e. Aryan origin of the Bulgars. This theory actually originated with a group of Russian historians in the mid 20th century but was not part of the “official history” during the communist period, and was only given greater publicity and developed further in the 25 years since the fall of communism in 1989.

There is also a third major theory uniting the first two which stipulates that the Ancient Bulgars originated from Iranian tribes in Central Asia in the 1st-4th century AD which were later involved in the tribal union of the Huns and exposed to Turkic influence as they moved into the steppes of Eastern Europe. This hypothesis explains the Turkic elements discovered in Ancient Bulgar archaeological remains which also exhibit features typical of the Iranian tribes (Sarmatian, Scythian).

There are also a number of other theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars such as the one stipulating that they were in fact Ancient Thracians; however, those theories appear to be largely pseudo-scientific.

Today’s Bulgarian society has adopted a more balanced approach to the issue, with the theories stipulating the Iranian (Aryan) origin of the Ancient Bulgars (with or without Turkic influences) appearing to dominate the public discourse.

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