Pomaks in the early 20th century
Total population
c. 500,000
Regions with significant populations

 Turkey - 300,000
 Bulgaria - 67,350 Muslim Bulgarians[2]
 Macedonia - 40,0001 Muslim Macedonians
 Greece - 30-35,000
 Albania - 35,0001

 Kosovo - 10,0001
Bulgarian and different Bulgarian dialects as part of the wider Bulgarian dialect continuum as native language[3][4][5][6]
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Bulgarians, Slavic Muslims
1The Slavic Muslim peoples of Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo are usually not considered Pomaks today.

Pomaks (Bulgarian: Помаци Pomatsi, Greek: Πομάκοι Pomáki, Turkish: Pomaklar) is a term used for a Slavic Muslim population native to some parts of Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo.[7][8][9] The Pomaks speak Bulgarian as their native language,[3][4][5][6] also referred to in Greece and Turkey as Pomak language.[10] Some of them are fluent in Turkish, Albanian, and Greek as a second language.[11][12] The origin of the Pomaks has been debated,[13][14] but they are today usually considered descendants of native Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans.[15][16][17][18][19] Different members of the group today declare a variety of ethnic identities: Bulgarian,[20][21] Pomak,[22][23][24] Muslim,[25] Turkish, Albanian and others.



Main article: Bulgarian Muslims

The Pomaks in Bulgaria are referred to as Bulgarian Muslims (българи-мюсюлмани bălgari-myusyulmani), and under the locally used 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.[26] According to the 2011 census there are 67,350 Muslim Bulgarians in Bulgaria,[2] down from 131 531 at the 2001 census.[27] During the 20th century the Pomaks in Bulgaria were the subject of three state-supported assimilation campaigns - in 1912, the 1940s and the 1960s and 1970s which included the change of their Turkish-Arabic names to ethnic Bulgarian ones and in the first campaign conversions from Islam to Eastern Orthodoxy. The first two campaigns were abandoned after a few years, while the second was reversed in 1989. The campaigns were carried out under the pretext that the Pomaks as ancestral Christian Bulgarians who had been converted to Islam and who therefore needed to be repatriated back to the national domain. These attempts were met with stiff resistance by some Pomaks.[28]


Today the Pomaks are present in Turkey, mostly in Eastern Thrace and fewer in Anatolia, where they are called in Turkish Pomaklar and their speech is called Pomakça. According to Ethnologue, there are around 300.000 Pomaks in Turkey.[29]


Today the Pomaks (Greek: Πομάκοι) in Greece inhabit the regional units of Moglena ) as a big village with 300 houses and two panes, inhabited exclusively by Pomaks.

Republic of Macedonia

The Macedonian Muslims, or Torbeš, are occasionally also referred to as Pomaks, especially in historical context.[32][33][34][35] 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 language. Part of this people still self-identify as Bulgarians.[36]


The Gorani occasionally are also referred to as Pomaks in historical context.[37][38] 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.[39][40] Part of these people are already albanised.[41] By the last censuses at the end of 20th century in Yugoslavia they have declared themselves to be Muslims by nationality, like Bosniaks.[42]


There is no specific Pomak dialect of the Bulgarian language. The Pomaks speak almost the same dialects as those spoken by the Christian Bulgarians with which they live side by side and Pomaks living in different regions speak different dialects.[43] In Bulgaria there is a trend for dialects to give to the standard Bulgarian language and this is also affecting the dialects spoken by the Pomaks and their usage is now rare in urban areas and among younger people. As part of the wider Pomak community, the Torbeshi and Gorani in the Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo speak Macedonian or Torlakian dialects (incl. the Gora dialect),[44][45][46][47][48][49][50] which are sometimes also considered to be part of the wider Bulgarian dialect continuum.[51][52][53]

Most Pomaks speak some of the Eastern Bulgarian dialects, mainly the Rup dialects in Southern Bulgaria and the Balkan dialects in Northern Bulgaria. The Pomaks living in the Bulgarian part of the Rhodopes speak the Rhodope (especially the Smolyan, Chepino, Hvoyna and Zlatograd subdialects) and Western Rup (especially the Babyak and Gotse Delchev sub-dialects) dialects.[54] The Smolyan dialect is also spoken by the Pomaks living in the Western Thrace region of Greece.

The Pomaks living in the region of Teteven in Northern Bulgaria speak the Balkan dialect, specifically the Transitional Balkan sub-dialect.[55]

The Rup dialects of the Bulgarian language spoken in Western Thrace are called in Greece Pomak language (Pomaktsou). The Pomak language is taught at primary school level (using the Greek alphabet) in the Pomak regions of Greece, which are primarily in the Rhodope Mountains. The Pomaks of Thrace were, together with Muslim Turks and Roma, exempted from the population exchanges provided by the Lausanne Treaty (1923). The treaty made no mention of their language, but declared that their languages of education should be Turkish and Greek. The main school manual used for the teaching the language is 'Pomaktsou' by Moimin Aidin and Omer Hamdi, Komotini 1997. There is also a Pomak-Greek dictionary by Ritvan Karahodja, 1996. The Pomak dialects are on the Eastern side of the Yat isogloss of Bulgarian, yet many pockets of western Bulgarian speakers remain. A large number of them no longer transmit it; they have adopted Turkish as a first language and Greek as a second language.[56] Recently the Community of the Pomaks of Xanthi, has announced its request to be treated equally and therefore to have the right of education in Greek schools without the obligation of learning the Turkish language.[57][58]


Pomaks are today usually considered descendants of native Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans. They started to become Muslim gradually, from the Ottoman occupation (early 15th century) to the end of the 18th century. Subsequently this people became part of the Muslim community of the millet system, which was closely linked to Islamic rules. At that time people were bound to their millets by their religious affiliations (or their confessional communities), rather than their ethnic origins, according to the millet concept.[59]

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.[60][61][unreliable source?]. 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).[62]

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, some Bulgarian provosts agreed to become Muslim en masse. 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. 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 Bulgarians, Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha (1656–1661) threatened the Bulgarians of Chepino Valley that he would execute them if they didn't turn to Islam[unreliable source?]. In 1656, Ottoman military troops entered the Chepino valley and arrested the local Bulgarian provosts, in order to transfer them in the local Ottoman administrator[unreliable source?]. There, they converted to Islam.  Grand Vizier Mehmed Köprülü, after the mass Islamization, destroyed 218 churches and 336 chapels in these areas.[unreliable source?]. A lot of Bulgarians preferred to die instead of becoming Muslim.[63][64][unreliable source?]. According to recent investigations the theory of forced conversion to Islam, supported by some scientists, has no solid grounds with all or most evidence being faked or misinterpreted.[65][66][67] Muslim communities prospered under the Ottoman Empire, as the Sultan was also the Caliph. Ottoman law did not recognize such notions as ethnicity or citizenship; thus, a Muslim of any ethnic background enjoyed precisely the same rights and privileges.

Feature of that era is the following traditional folk Pomak song of Glafki, Xanthi prefecture, Western Thrace, Greece referred to the islamization of the 17th century, in Pomak language:[68][unreliable source?][verification needed][dubious ]

Majcimko moje icimko,
majcimko moje ajcimko,
trimina Turci dojdaho,
momata da ti pajomat.
Ni moj ma pusta majlele,
Ni moj ma dava majlele,
Turci da ma pajomat,
on dokus mama kutena,
f' Yunancko chorna parsica,
f' Yunancko ceyir zelena,
kitki cervena f' ceyiren,
aoski zeleni i senki.
Kak se ma prebales majlele,
Turci da ma pajomat?
My mother, my mommy,
my mother, my mommy,
three Turks came,
your daughter to take.
Don't let me my mommy,
don't give me my mommy,
Turks to take me,
nineteen years old daughter you were raising,
in Greek black earth,
in Greek green lea,
red flowers in the lea,
green fruit trees and shadows.
How could you stand it my mommy,
Turks to take me?

Meanwhile, the perception of the millet concept was altered during the 19th century and rise of nationalism within the Ottoman Empire begun. After the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), Pomaks in the Vacha valley, apprehensive of retribution for their role in the bloody suppression of the April Uprising two years ago, rebelled against Eastern Rumelia and established an 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 Balkan Wars, at August 16, 1913, an Islamic revolt begun in the Eastern Rhodopes and Western Thrace. At September 1, 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 requested support by the Greek state and put Greek major in Alexandroupoli.[69][70][71][72] Bulgaria, after a brief period of control over the area, passed the sovereignty of Western Thrace at the end of World War I. The Provisional Government was revived between 1919-1920 under French protectorate (France had annexed the region from Bulgaria in 1918) before Greece took over in June, 1920.

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, the religious millet system disappeared and the members of the Pomak groups today declare a variety of ethnic identities, depending predominantly on the country, they live in.

Other theories for the origin of the Pomaks

Genetic origin

A specific DNA mutation, HbO-Arab, which emerged about 2,000 years ago on a rare haplotype is characteristic of the Greek Pomaks. Its frequency increased as a consequence of high genetic drift within this population. This indicates that the Greek Pomaks are an isolated population with limited contacts with their neighbours.[73] According to some Greek researchers, the DNA tree line of Greek Pomaks suggests that they descend from ancient Thracian tribes.[74]

Paulician and Bogomil origin

According to Bulgarian historian Yordan Ivanov, part of the Paulicians converted to Orthodoxy and Islam, the rest - to the Catholic faith during the 16th or 17th century.[75]

Also, the famous Bulgarian public figure and writer Ljuben Karavelov (1834 – 1879) based on the facts proved the Paulician origin of the Pomaks. [76]

According to the researcher prof. Edouard Selian, the convertion of the Paulicians to Orthodoxy began before the tenth century and another part of the Paulicians was converted to Islam and Catholic fath at the time of the Turkish rule.[77]

The British historian Edwin Pears wrote in 1912 that the Pomaks might have been Bogomils or Paulicians.[78]

The conversion of the Paulicians to Catholic faith was examined in detail in a doctoral thesis, which was published partly in a book of the Bulgarian historian Milcho Yovkov. Also, some cases of the conversion of the Paulicians to Orthodoxy and Muslim faith are described in this book: "Part of the population of the largest Paulician village Bastsevo[79] migrated into Thrace, and another converted to Islam."[80]

More information about the conversion of the Paulicians to Islam gives us the well known Bulgarian historian, linguist, and ethnographer Lyubomir Miletich.[81]Also, he referred to the report of the Catholic Bishop Filip Stanislavov for the islamisation of the Paulicians.[82]

Unknown origin

According to some authors, their precise origins remain unknown.[83]

Notable Pomaks

This is a list of notable Pomaks.

Name Birth Notability Pomak link
Arif Sami Agush 1953 Member of the Bulgarian Parliament. Parliamentary Group of Movement for Rights and Freedoms. His ancestor was an Ottoman feudal called Agush Aga. The Agush castle (konak) is situated in the village of Mogilitsa. Born in Sandrovo, Bulgaria
Shefket Chapadjiev 1939 Businessman in Chicago, thought to be the most prosperous person in the US coming from Bulgaria. Escaped from Bulgaria in 1963 and arrived in the US in 1964. Born in Madan, Smolyan Province
Hamid Rusev 1939 Businessman in Chicago. Escaped from Bulgaria in 1963 and arrived in the US in 1964. Born in Arda, Bulgaria
Rita Wilson 1956 Actress, producer. Married to actor Tom Hanks. Born in Los Angeles, California as Margarita Ibrahimoff from a Pomak father and a Greek-Albanian mother

See also


Further reading

  • Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. "The Human Rights of Muslims in Bulgaria in Law and Politics since 1878", Sofia, November 2003

External links

  • http://www.pomak.eu/
  • http://www.pomaknews.com/
  • http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/reports/pomaks.html (related to Greek Pomaks)
  • Pomak Leaks

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