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Total population
600,000 est.[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations



Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek. other Slavic and Turkic languages


Sunni Islam, Alevism

Related ethnic groups

Gorani, Macedonian Muslims and Bulgarians

Flag of the Pomak People.

Pomaks (Bulgarian: Помаци), are a Muslim population group native to some parts of Bulgaria, specifically southern Bulgaria, Turkey, specifically European Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo, and Albania. Members of the group today declare a variety of ethnic identities, Bulgarian and Pomak[1][2][3] or Muslim.[4] They are usually considered descendants of native Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans,[5] although some alternative narratives of their historical identity have been proposed[6] and, according to some authors, their precise origins remain unknown.[7] Pomaks speak dialects of the Bulgarian language as their mother tongue[8][9][10][11], they are fluent in Turkish in Greece and Turkey and they also speak Greek in Greece.[12][13]





Ethnographic map of European Turkey from the late 19th. century, showing the regions largely populated by Pomaks in brown.
A mosque in Madan in the Rhodopes, a region largely populated by Pomaks

The Pomaks in Bulgaria are referred to as Bulgarian Muslims (българи-мюсюлмани bălgari-mjusjulmani), or under the ethnographic names Ahryani, Torbeshi, etc. They mainly inhabit the Rhodope Mountains in Smolyan Province, Kardzhali Province, Pazardzhik Province and Blagoevgrad Province. There are Pomaks in other parts of Bulgaria as well. There are a few Pomak villages in Burgas Province, Lovech Province, Veliko Tarnovo Province and Ruse Province.[14] According to the 2001 census there are 131 531 Muslim Bulgarians in Bulgaria.[15] Since the start of the 20th century the Pomaks in Bulgaria were the subject of state-supported assimilation which included the change of their Turkish-Arabic names to ethnic Bulgarian ones and conversions from Islam to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Bulgarian state redefined the Pomaks as ancestral Bulgarians who therefore needed to be repatriated back to the Bulgarian national domain. These attempts were met with stiff resistance by the Pomaks.[16]

Republic of Macedonia

The Macedonian Muslims, or Torbeš, are occasionally also referred to as Pomaks, especially in historical context[17][18][19][20]. They are a minority religious group in the Republic of Macedonia, although not all espouse a Macedonian national identity and are linguistically distinct from the larger Muslim ethnic groups in the Republic of Macedonia, Albanians and Turks.


Slavic-speaking Muslims, sometimes referred to as "Pomaks", live also in the Albanian region of Golo Brdo. However these people are also referred to as "Torbeš". They speak the Drimkol-Golo Brdo dialect of the Macedonian/Bulgarian language. Part of this people still self identify as Bulgarians.[21]


The Gorani occasionally are also referred to as Pomaks in historical context.[22][23] They are people who inhabit the Gora region, located between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. The general view is that they should be treated as a distinct minority group.[24][25] Part of these people are already albanised.[26] By the last censusses at the end of 20th century in Yugoslavia they have decleared themselves to be Muslims by nationality.[27]


Today the Pomaks (Greek: Πομάκοι) in Greece inhabit the prefectures of Xanthi, Rhodope and Evros.[14] Until Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and Population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923 Pomaks inhabited a part of the regions of Moglena[28] (Karajaova), Kostur[29] and some other parts of Macedonia, Greece. The Pomaks of Thrace were exempted from those exchanges and, together with Muslim Turks and Roma, were granted by the Lausanne Treaty (1923) the right to primary education in Turkish and Greek. Some Pomaks still transmit their dialect (called pomatsko in Greece) to their children and also speak Turkish and Greek, but a large part of them no longer transmit it, having adopted Turkish or Greek as a first language.[30]


Today the Pomaks are present in Turkey, in both Eastern Thrace and in Anatolia where they are referred to as Pomaklar and their language as Pomakça.There are 324.000 Pomaks in Turkey.


A Pomak bride from Ribnovo being made up for her ceremony

Pomaks started to become Muslim gradually, from the Ottoman occupation (early 15th century) to the end of the 18th century. It is remarkable that monk Pachomios Roussanos (1508–1553), who visited the mountain area of Xanthi, mentioned that around 1550, only 6 or 9 villages had turned to Islam.[31][32]. But according to Ottoman registers from the 15th and 16th century 3/4 of the population of Western Thrace has been of Muslim faith. Further more the documents show that not only Islam has been spread in the area at that time, but that the Pomaks have even participated in Ottoman military operation voluntarily as is the case with the village of Shahin (Echinos).[33]

Pomak Men

The mass turn to Islam in the Central Rhodope Mountains happened between the 16th and the 17th century. According to the Codes of Bishopy of Philippoupolis and the Czech historian and slavist Konstantin Josef Jireček in the middle of 17th century, the Pomak provosts agreed to become Muslim massly, in order to survive. They visited the Ottoman local administrator to announce their decision, but he sent them to the Greek bishop of Philippoupolis Gabriel (1636–1672). The bishop couldn't change their mind, because they were determined to cooperate with the Ottomans against the Bulgarians, which had caused them many troubles during the Bulgarian pricipality. According to the verbal tradition of the Greeks of Philippoupolis, a large ceremony of mass circumcision took place in front of the old mosque of the city, near the Government House. After that, the villagers became Muslim, too. According to the verbal tradition of the Bulgrians, Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha (1656–1661) threatened the Pomaks of Chepino Valley (in northwestern Rodopi) that he would execute them if they didn't turn to islam. In 1656, Ottoman military troops entered the Chepino valley and arrested the provosts of Pomaks, in order to transfer them in the local Ottoman administrator. There, they were forced to succumb. Grand Visier Mehmed Köprülü, after the mass islamization, destroyed 218 churches and 336 chapels in the areas of Pomaks. The ruins of that destruction remain until today, in many places. That fact is still in the memories of the Pomak communities. A lot of Pomaks preferred to die instead of becoming Muslim and they used to jump in a precipice. Precipices of Pomak sacrifice are mentioned in many Pomak towns and villages, such as Gulem Kamen in Glafki, Momtsi Kamen in Oraio, Tserven Kamen in Mandaena Xanthi, Marina peak in Aeora Xanthi, Neviasta rock in Smoljan, Momin Kamen in Zlatograd, in Pachni, in Kotani and in Shiroka Laka[34][35]. But according to recent investigations the theory of forced conversion to Islam, supported mainly by some Bulgarian scientists from the era of communism, has no solid grounds with all or most evidence being faked or misinterpreted.[36][37]

During Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) Pomaks rebelled against Bulgaria and established a autonomous state, called Republic of Tamrash. In 1886 the Ottoman government accepted the Bulgarian rule over Eastern Rumelia and that was the end of the free Pomak state. During the Greek Struggle for Macedonia, many Pomaks participated on the Greek and Turkish side, against Bulgaria. Ali Zeir Chavouz from Drama, was one of the main Pomak fighters and took place in many battles against Bulgarians and Ottoman army[38]. After the Second Balkan War, Pomaks rebelled against Bulgaria (which occupied Western Thrace). At 16 August 1913, the revolution begun in Kosukavak (Krumovgrad nowadays), Mastanli (Momchilgrad nowadays) and Kardzhali. The rebels also occupied Komotini, Xanthi and Dedeagats (Alexandroupoli nowadays). At 1 September 1913, the "Provisional Government of Western Thrace" (Garbi Trakya Hukumet i Muvakkatesi) was established in Komotini. The Ottoman administration didn't support the rebels and finally under the neutrality of Greek and Ottoman governments, Bulgaria took over the lands in 30 October 1913. The rebels (even though, they were Muslim) requested support by the Greek state. It is remarkable that they put Greek major in Alexandroupoli[39][40][41][42]. In 1918, 8 Pomak, Bulgarian parliament deputies appeal to the leaders of Greece and France to protect of their ethnic and religious minority from the Bulgarian policies[43].

After the World War II, with their representatives in the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947, the Pomaks of Bulgaria, brought back the request for union with Greece. The director of a radio station in Wasington, DC Albert Verner, introduced the issue like this, "One more minority issue came up today in Wasington in the face of Pomaks, which they are an ancient Greek tribe, mentioned before the era of Alexander the Great [...] Pomaks request to the United Nations Security Council and to the United States Department of State a referendum to liberate from Bulgaria and to enjoy the freedom of Pomaks in Greece". The press wrote, "Passed Saturday in the Pensilvania Hotel, a press conference took place, to the representatives of the American and Greek press, by Mr. Chamdi Choussein, former Rodopi deputy and Chaki Souleiman, representatives of Thrace Pomaks. They asked union with Greece". The efforts of Pomaks didn't have result because there had been already the Yalta Conference, where the three great powers of that era, shared the nations in Europe[44].

Alternative origin theories

Young Pomak women in traditional costume

A specific DNA mutation which emerged about 2,000 years ago on a rare haplotype is characteristic of the Pomaks. Its frequency increased as a consequence of high genetic drift within this population. This indicates that the Pomaks are an isolated population with limited contacts with their neighbours. The DNA tree line of Pomaks suggests the hypothesis that Pomaks are descendants of ancient Thracian tribes.[45][46][47][48]

According some historians some of the Pomaks in the Rhodope Mountains are successors of the Cumans that converted to Islam in the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century after establishing contact with missionaries from North Africa and the Middle East.[49] This theory is further backed by the fact that in the 9th century many Muslims moved from Bulgaria to Hungary and were ordered expelled by Pope Nicholas I in 866, yet enjoyed many freedoms and were even allowed to serve in the military and in border guard units during the 11th and 12th century. Many researchers are of the opinion that these were Cumans or Pechenegs.[50].

Another view, especially popular among the Pomaks themselves,[51] is that they are descendants of Thraco-Slavs or pre-Islamic Arab migrants to the Balkans who were converted to Islam by Arab missionaries. This theory is supported by comments of 9th century Christian missionaries in the area about occasional distribution of religious literature by some Islamic missionaries.[citation needed]

Further reading


  1. ^ Interview With Mr. Damjan Iskrenov* and Mr. Shikir Bujukov* from the Village of Kochan – Pomaks from Chech, Western Rodop Mountains (Pirin Part of Macedonia), R. Of Bulgaria
  2. ^ READING ROOM 3: Raw deal for the Pomaks
  3. ^ Помаците искат да бъдат признати като етнос
  4. ^ Histories and Identities: Nation-state and Minority Discourses. The Case of the Bulgarian Pomaks. Ulf Brunnbauer, University of Graz
  5. ^ The Balkans, Minorities and States in Conflict (1993), Minority Rights Publication, by Hugh Poulton, p. 111.
  6. ^ KEMAL GÖZLER, Les Villages Pomaks de Lofça aux XVe et XVIe Siècles d’Après les Tahrir Defters Ottomans (Ankara: Imprimerie de la Société Turque d’Historie, 2001)[1]
  7. ^ Fred de Jong, "The Muslim Minority in Western Thrace", in Georgina Ashworth (ed.), Muslim Minorities in the Eighties, Sunbury, Quartermaine House Ltd., 1980, p.95
  8. ^ Ethnologue, Languages of Greece.Bulgarian.
  9. ^ Ethnologue: Languages of the World Fourteenth Edition.Bulgarian.
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pomak People.
  11. ^ Social Construction of Identities: Pomaks in Bulgaria, Ali Eminov, JEMIE 6 (2007) 2 © 2007 by European Centre for Minority Issues
  12. ^ [2] THE POMAKS, Report - Greek Helsinki Monitor
  13. ^ [3] The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
  14. ^ a b Raichevsky, Stoyan. "Geographical Boundaries". Pencheva, Maya (translator). Sofia: Natl Museum of Bulgaria. ISBN 978-954-930-841-9. 
  15. ^ "Structure of the population by religion" (in Bulgarian). Census 2001. National Statistical Institute. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  16. ^ DIMITROV, VESSELIN: In Search of a Homogeneous Nation: The Assimilation of Bulgaria’s Turkish Minority, 1984-1985, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK December 23, 2000 [4]
  17. ^ Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, published by the Endowment Washington, D.C. 1914, p.28, 155, 288, 317, Лабаури, Дмитрий Олегович. Болгарское национальное движение в Македонии и Фракии в 1894-1908 гг: Идеология, программа, практика политической борьбы, София 2008, с. 184-186, Поп Антов, Христо. Спомени, Скопje 2006, с. 22-23, 28-29, Дедиjeр, Jевто, Нова Србиjа, Београд 1913, с. 229, Петров Гьорче, Материали по изучаванието на Македония, София 1896, с. 475 (Petrov, Giorche. Materials on the Study of Macedonia, Sofia, 1896, p. 475)
  18. ^ Center for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE). Muslims of Macedonia. p. 2, 11
  19. ^ Лабаури, Дмитрий Олегович. Болгарское национальное движение в Македонии и Фракии в 1894-1908 гг: Идеология, программа, практика политической борьбы, София 2008, с. 184, Кънчов, Васил. Македония. Етнография и статистика, с. 39-53 (Kanchov, Vasil. Macedonia — ethnography and statistics Sofia, 1900, p. 39-53),Leonhard Schultze Jena. «Makedonien, Landschafts- und Kulturbilder», Jena, G. Fischer, 1927
  20. ^ Fikret Adanir, Die Makedonische Frage: ihre entestehung und etwicklung bis 1908., Wiessbaden 1979 (in Bulgarian: Аданър, Фикрет. Македонският въпрос, София2002, с. 20)
  21. ^ Urgent anthropology Vol. 3 Problems of Multiethnicity in the Western Balkans. Fieldwork Edited by Antonina Zhelyazkova, ISBN 954-8872-53-6.
  22. ^ „Българите в Македония. Издирвания и документи за тяхното потекло, език и народност с етнографска карта и статистика“, Българска Академия на Науките С.,1917; стр. 21.
  23. ^ Nova Evropa,Published by Tipografija, 1927, Item notes: v. 16, p. 449-450
  24. ^ Kosovo: the Bradt travel guide, Gail Warrander, Verena Knaus, Published by Bradt Travel Guides, 2007, ISBN 1841621994, p. 211.
  25. ^ Historical dictionary of Kosova, Robert Elsie, Scarecrow Press, 2004, ISBN 0810853094, p. 70.
  26. ^ Bulgarians in the region of Korcha and Mala Prespa (Albania) nowadays, Balkanistic Forum (1-3/2005), South-West University "Neofit Rilski", Blagoevgrad, Pashova, Anastasija Nikolaeva; Issue: 1-3/2005, Page Range: 113-130.
  27. ^ Religion and the politics of identity in Kosovo by Gerlachlus Duijzings, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000, ISBN 185065431, p. 27.
  28. ^ Capidan, Theodor. Meglenoromânii, istoria şi graiul lor, vol. I, Bucureşti, 1925, p.5, 19, 21-22 (Capidan, Theodor. Megleno-Romanians - their history and dialect, Bucurest 1925, vol 1, p.5, 19, 21-22)
  29. ^ Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, published by the Endowment Washington, D.C. 1914, p. 199.
  30. ^ Adamou E. & Drettas G. 2008, Slave, Le patrimoine plurilingue de la Grèce - Le nom des langues II, E. Adamou (éd.), BCILL 121, Leuven, Peeters, p. 107-132.
  31. ^ Greek newspaper "Kathimerini", Column "Exploring the Pomak villages", Athens 12th December 2009
  32. ^ Pomak newspaper "Nat Press", Article "The verbal tradition of Pomaks in Rodope", Komotini 6th September 2009
  33. ^ Цветкова, Бистра (1972) (in Bulgarian). Турски извори за българската история. Том 3:2. София: Българска академия на науките. pp. 416. OCLC 405458491. 
  34. ^ Pomak newspaper "Nat Press", Article "People's traditions, proverbs and enigmas of Pomaks", Komotini 6th September 2009
  35. ^ M. G. Varvounis "Folk tales of Pomaks in Thrace", Athens 1996
  36. ^ Горчева, Даниела (2009-02-01). "Балканите: съжителство на вековете" (in Bulgarian). Либерален преглед (21). Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  37. ^ Тодорова, Мария (2009-02-04). "Ислямизацията като мотив в българската историография, литература и кино" (in Bulgarian). Либерален преглед (21). Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  38. ^ "Obscure, Native Macedonian Fighters" Company of Macedonian Studies (CMS), University Studio Press, Thessaloniki, 2008]
  39. ^ in turkish: Biyiklioglou Tevfik, "Trakya' da millî mücadele" Ankara 1956
  40. ^ in deutch: Peter Soustal, "Thrakien (Thrake, Rodope und Haimimontos)" Wienn 1991
  41. ^ in greek: General Administration of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, "Thrace" Komotini 1994
  42. ^ in turkish: Aydinli Ahmet, "Bati Trakya faciasinin icyuzu" Istambul 1972
  43. ^ European Union Pomak Forum
  44. ^ Article in the website of varied issues "Pare Dosse", Saturday, 15th of March 2008
  45. ^ HbO-Arab mutation originated in the Pomak population of Greek Thrace, Haematologica, Vol 90, Issue 2, 255-257, 2005 by Ferrata Storti Foundation
  46. ^ The origin of Greek Pomaks is based on HbO-Arab mutation history
  47. ^ Selian, Edouard (2009). The Pomaks: an Islamized People of Europe. In:
  48. ^ Pears, Edwin. Turkey and its People. New York, George H. Doran Comp., 1912, p. 149.
  49. ^ Eminov, Ali (1997). Turkish and other Muslim Minorities in Bulgaria. London: Hurst. p. 25. ISBN 185-0653-19-4. 
  50. ^ Norris, Harry (1993). Islam in the Balkans. London: Hurst. pp. 26–30. ISBN 185-0651-67-1. 
  51. ^ Eminov, Ali (2007). "Social Construction of Identities: Pomaks in Bulgaria" (PDF). Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe (Flensburg, Germany: European Centre for Minority Issues) 6 (2): 17. ISSN 1617-5247. OCLC 52051004. Retrieved 2009-05-17. "...another version of Pomak origins has gained increasing acceptance among some segments of the Pomak population. According to this version “the Pomaks are not Slavs and converted to Islam during the century immediately following the death of Prophet Mohammed” or they are the descendants of Syrian Arabs who were relocated to southeastern Europe and settled in the Rhodopes during the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Caliphate during the eighth century. These scenarios contain some grains of truth...". 


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