Author Topic: WHO ARE THE POMAKS?  (Read 28219 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Metka

  • Forum fan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1696
  • Gender: Male
« on: June 17, 2009, 11:06 »
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login


Centuries ago, some Balkan Christians swapped Jesus for Muhammad, a choice that still has repercussions on the peninsula

by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
The wind of change does not blow with equal force everywhere. When you replace your old Walkman with the latest iPod, you make a small change in your standard of living. When someone who is not Spanish or Greek begins using Mañana or σιγά σιγά when talking business, this is a change in their way of thinking. However, when you change your religion, this fundamentally alters your whole life – the new religion is a new way of viewing the world.

You can easily imagine what effect such a decision may have when made by whole communities of people in a certain area. Nearly every Balkan country, from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria to Greece and Turkey, has communities whose predecessors were baptised in the name of Jesus, but then accepted that "there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet."

They are usually called Pomaks, but the names vary. Since the 1990s, the Muslims of Slavic origin in Bosnia and Herzegovina have officially been termed Bosniaks. In different parts of the Balkans you will also find Ahtari, Apovtsi, Babechani, Dilsazi, Marvatsi, Torbeshi and Chèchentsi (not to be confused with the people of Chechnya).

All these names refer to people who speak the same language as their Christian neighbours. If they do not wear headscarves or characteristic costumes, as in the Western Rhodope, you can hardly tell them apart from the crowds in Sarajevo or Sofia, for example. The only thing that makes them different from the rest is their religion. However, Balkan history has often proved that religion can be a matter of life or death.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
Nobody knows the exact number of Pomaks on the peninsula. Bosniaks are the ones with the clearest idea of their identity: they call themselves Muslim Slavs. The rest of the Pomaks live in a state of uncertainty and theories about their origin abound. Some Pomaks in Bulgaria, for instance, consider themselves to be Turks who have forgotten their mother tongue.

Others believe they are descendants of the Avars, Pechenegs or Cumans, who invaded the Balkans in the 6th, 10th and 11th centuries, leaving there pockets of Turkic genes long before the Ottomans arrived.

A third group claims that they were ancient Balkan tribes who were converted to Islam by Arab missionaries as early as the 9th Century. Some Pomaks in Greece believe they are members of a separate nation with its own language that, possibly, is descended directly from the ancient Thracians. Christian Bulgarians are certain that the Pomaks, no matter whether they live in Bulgaria, Greece or Turkey, are also Bulgarians, albeit Muslim ones.

A closer look at these theories, and the meaning of the word Pomak, shows how this confusion arose. In Bulgaria there are two main theories. The first maintains that the root of the word is pomagach, or helper, because Bulgarian Christians regarded Bulgarian Muslims as apostates, the right-hand men of the Ottomans.

The second, very different one says the root was pomachen, or tortured, because Pomaks were victims of the official Ottoman policy of Islamisation and chose to live as Muslims rather than die as martyrs. Some Greek researchers claim that Pomak is a derivative of pomax, or a drinker, a term that the ancient Hellenes applied to the wine-loving Thracians.

The most extravagant theory states that Pomak comes from polyak, or Pole. The Slavic-speaking Muslims appeared in the 17th Century, when refugees from the area of Podolia settled in the Rhodope, after their native land was conquered by the Ottomans. There, for some reason, they adopted Islam.

The need for the Pomaks to explain who they are and where they come from, the attitudes of Christians to their Pomak neighbours and the national sentiment in countries with sizeable Pomak minorities have all led to a confused and complicated situation.

The ideological battle began in the 19th Century, when the young Balkan nations fought for their self-determination. The Bulgarians had a particular problem. In their lands, there were Muslims who spoke Bulgarian, sang Bulgarian songs, told Bulgarian tales and believed in the same hobgoblins and wood nymphs.

In an age when the Ottomans were a symbol of all things retrograde, the new Bulgarian historians and journalists decided that no one could have adopted their enslaver's faith of their own free will.

They had good reason for this. Throughout the period of Ottoman rule, there had been cases of Bulgarian girls abducted for the harems of pashas and viziers. There had also been martyrs and saints, such as Sveti Georgi Novi Sofiyski, or St George of Sofia the New, who won their halos because they refused to adopt Islam.

However, this could not explain the existence of whole areas with a Muslim population who spoke Bulgarian. Then, out of the blue, several chronicles, whose originals have not been found to this day, appeared in the press. They told of the forcible mass Islamisation in the Rhodope in the 17th Century.

An account written by a priest named Metodi Draginov, from the village of Korova, also came to light. It described the conversion of the Chepinsko area to Islam in 1668. Even as far back as the late 19th Century, historians Konstantin Ireček and Professor Marin Drinov noted that Father Metodi's Bulgarian was suspiciously contemporary.

Notwithstanding this tiny detail, the annal was accepted as genuine and writer Anton Donchev used it as the main theme of his novel Time of Parting in 1964. The novel, which develops a fictional story based on a complete fake, is still studied in secondary school and was voted one of the 12 favourite books of the Bulgarians in the Big Read campaign this March, is one of the foundations on which this "knowledge" of the forcible Islamisation is based.

The novel was made into a film, Time of Violence, in 1987, a year after the so-called Revival Process, when the Communists made all Muslims, no matter whether they were Turks, Pomaks or Gypsies, change their names for Slavic ones.

This was the regime's "compelling" argument: all Muslims in the country are descendants of forcibly Islamised Bulgarians and so they must "return to their roots"– even if they did not want to.

Fraught with graphic episodes of Turkish violence against Bulgarians and paid for by the Communist Party, the film was perhaps the most blatant example of the crude propaganda engineered in the late 1980s to justify the Communists' own atrocities against the Bulgarian Turks.

You would never guess from Time of Parting that the Ottoman Empire was, in fact, one of the most religiously tolerant regimes of its age. The sultans imposed an extra tax on their non-Muslim subjects and so it was not in their interest to reduce their takings from this haraç, the main source of income for their treasury.

Rather, it was the lower tax rates for Muslims that persuaded the people living in the poorer areas of the empire, such as the Rhodope, to give up Christianity, especially bearing in mind that the Patriarch in Constantinople also taxed them highly. At the beginning of the Ottoman invasion, mediaeval Balkan aristocrats had another reason to embrace Muhammad. The Ottoman Empire guaranteed social prosperity only to Muslims.

Until 1703, another constant inflow of fresh Slavic blood into the Ottoman lines was due to the devşirme. Every four or five years tax collectors went around the Christian lands and forcibly took away the most handsome and intelligent boys, ignoring the wails of grief of parents and siblings.

Once converted to Islam, these boys became members of the elite Janissary corps. The most talented could climb the social ladder and a few even managed to become grand viziers.

The most famous of them was of Bosnian descent, Mehmet Pasha Sokolović (c. 1505–1579). He ordered the construction of the famous bridge over the Drina in Višegrad. In 1992 on that same bridge, the local Christian Serbs would butcher Bosniaks in one of the first large outbursts of violence of the Bosnian War.

A large number of the apostates, mainly in Bosnia, adopted Islam for a different reason. In the 11th Century, the Bogomil heresy entered their territory and won so many adherents that it became an official religion. Neither the Patriarch in Constantinople nor the Roman Pope could allow this. The persecutions that ensued substantially weakened the people's faith in the Christian institutions. So when the Ottomans arrived, the Bogomils decided that they'd be better off turning to Islam.

Whatever the reasons why Pomaks adopted Muhammad 's religion, the result was the appearance of a group of people whom the Christians could not, and sometimes did not want to, understand or tolerate. For centuries, the conflict has smouldered, occasionally bursting into flame, as in the Bosnian War, hopefully the last outbreak of this kind.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
Number around 150,000
Where the Rhodope Mountains; Ruen Municipality; northeastern Bulgaria

The Ottomans cut off Balkandzi Yovo's arms and legs and blinded him, but he did not give his sister, "beautiful Yana, to the Turkish faith." His torturers took her away only when he was unable to resist them any longer.

Bulgarian students study the folk song "Balkandzi Yovo" in school and, when writing essays, usually repeat what textbooks say, namely that it shows the "strength of the Bulgarian spirit under the enslaver's yoke." In fact, the song corroborates another stereotype – that the Bulgarians adopted Islam only under duress.

This is only one of the stereotypes that shape the lives of Bulgarian Pomaks. Most Christians, especially those who know Pomaks personally, consider them good and hardworking people. But this does not stop them from believing rumours about emissaries from Saudi Arabia spreading radical Islam among the Pomaks, for example.

In September 2008, a Eurobarometer survey showed that 70 percent of Bulgarians think that international terrorism is the greatest threat to their country. In March, an announcement made by MP Yane Yanev revealed how far this belief has gone. His statement that there were disseminators of fundamentalist ideas among the Pomaks in the village of Ribnovo (read more about them in Vagabond No.26) caused mass hysteria.

The State Agency for National Security, or DANS, investigated the report and discovered nothing suspicious, but the incident proved that Bulgaria has a closet full of dormant conflicts.

Patriotically-minded historians love to dwell on the killing of between 1,750 and 5,000 Bulgarians (estimates vary) in Batak during the suppression of the April Uprising of 1876. However, the massacre was not committed by the Ottoman army but by loosely organised paramilitary groups from the nearby Pomak villages. In other words, ethnic Bulgar killed ethnic Bulgar.

Two years later, the Bulgarians got their independence–and the conflict with the Pomaks intensified. Unwilling to recognise the authority of the governor of the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia and helped by S. G. B. St. Clair, a British officer of Polish descent, the Pomaks from the area of Kirdzhali rebelled. Their Republic of Tamrash survived until 1886, when it was ceded to the Ottoman Empire.

This act inspired others to follow. The Republic of Gumuljina was established in 1913 as a reaction to the annexation of Aegean Thrace by Bulgaria in the Balkan Wars. There were armed bands of Pomaks in the Rhodope Mountains from 1942 until 1945, fighting for independence from Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian authorities were not inactive either. Each uprising was followed by the forced resettlement of the rebels. One of the largest of these happened at the end of the 1940s. As a result of the activities of Pomak fighters in the Rhodope, several communities were deported to northeastern Bulgaria.

In 1881, 1912–1913 and 1942, three large scale campaigns were conducted to make Pomaks do the opposite of what their predecessors had done: they were forced to convert to Christianity. The Communists brought in a change of tactics. They began changing Pomak names for Bulgarian ones. Their policy reached its culmination with the so-called Revival Process, but it actually started in 1956, when it was decided that Pomaks "had to realise their Bulgarian nationality."

Pomaks responded with self-isolation and the creation of their own legends about the hardships they had suffered. In 2000, a man from a Pomak hamlet in the Rhodope recounted that during the Revival Process dozens of men who did not want to change their names were taken away and executed. No historian has documented such a case.

The description of the heroes, who walked in a single file, "wearing white shirts, their forelocks waving in the air," literally repeats the haydutin's final wish in the folk song before he is hanged by the Turks.

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
GREECE Πομάκοι
Number 140,000
Where Aegean Thrace

When in 1921 in Lausanne a group of diplomats agreed on an exchange of the Greeks in Turkey for the Turks in Greece, the treaty had some notable exemptions and curious consequences. The Greeks in Istanbul and several nearby towns and the Muslims in Aegean Thrace were allowed to stay in their native lands. Paradoxically, the Greek Muslims living in the Peloponnese, Epirus and Crete had to leave.

Greece ended up with a considerable Muslim minority, amounting to about 140,000 people at present, concentrated in a relatively small area.

However, the state turned a blind eye to the diversity existing within this group, which comprised both Pomaks, who spoke Bulgarian, and Turks.

Muslim schools taught only the Turkish language and, until the democratisation that started in 1974, after the Colonels were overthrown, Pomaks were regarded as Turks.

In addition, in the first years after the Second World War, the authorities suspected that the Pomaks in the Thrace Region were a fifth column of Communist Bulgaria. For this reason, educational institutions did their best to convince the Pomaks that they were really Turks.

The results are still visible. Go to Xanthi or any of the villages in the area and you will see women wearing headscarves who speak reasonable Bulgarian, as well as Turkish, Greek and a little Arabic. If you ask them about their ethnicity, they will say they are Turkish. The hotchpotch of Pomak identity received new ingredients in the mid-1990s.

One of them was the theory about the Thracian origin of Pomaks in Greece. It claims that they were an ancient tribe which had been consecutively Hellenised, Romanised, Christianised, Slavicised and Islamised over the past 2,500 years. Another theory defined Pomaks as a separate ethnic group with its own language.

Its followers even compiled their own grammars and dictionaries. Their publications provoked a furious reaction in Bulgaria and various public figures accused Greece of attempting to separate its ethnic Bulgarian population from their roots in a process of assimilation.

Ironically, the only Greek Muslims still living in Greece are to be found on the Dodecanese – in Rhodes and Kos. They avoided the population exchange because, when the Lausanne treaty was signed, the islands belonged to Italy.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
TURKEY Pomaklar
Number between 120,000 and 300,000
Where the area of Edirne and Lüleburgaz; Istanbul; Çanakkale; Izmir; Bursa

Meeting 74-year-old Aişe Karapınar, who has been squatting in a poor, though clean shack in the yard of the abandoned synagogue in Edirne for eight years, is a disturbing experience. The shock does not come from the pure Bulgarian in which the old woman greets us with Dobre doshli!

This town is close to the border and home to a number of Turkish immigrants, who chose to leave Communist Bulgaria to avoid being forced to change their names for Slavic ones. Aişe is shocking because she says: "I am a Pomak. I was born in Drama. We moved to Turkey when I was little."

The flow of Pomaks from Drama, Komotini and the region of Nevrokopi began long before Aişe was born. The reason was the ill-treatment and violence against Pomaks by the Bulgarian army, which conquered these areas in the Great War.

The statement made by MP Mehmed Dzelal Abedin in the Bulgarian Parliament on 12 December 1917 painted a rather unpleasant picture of rapes and villagers forced to labour unpaid on government projects.

This was not the first Pomak migration from Bulgarian lands. Unhappy with Bulgaria's independence and fearing repression, Pomaks began moving to the Ottoman Empire as early as 1878–1912.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
Number 2,185,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina; between 2.4 and 4.4 million worldwide
Where Bosnia and Herzegovina; Sanjak Region of Serbia and Montenegro; Croatia; Kosovo; the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia

When, at the end of the 16th Century, the Ottoman invaders flooded into their country, they made the Bosnians an offer they could hardly refuse. In exchange for their independence, the Ottomans promised that the Bosnians would retain their property, social status and the freedom to practise their religion.

The last promise was very important. Three hundred years earlier, the Bosnians had turned to Bogomilism and even made this heresy their official religion. This act elicited the wrath of both the Pope and the Patriarch in Constantinople and culminated in brutal Catholic persecutions. The Ottoman offer came as a godsend and, according to Dame Rebecca West, was a turning point in the consolidation of the sultan's power in the Balkans.

This event gave rise to something else too: the Bosniaks. Bogomil's followers gradually converted to Islam, thus becoming a unique form of Pomaks. Isolated in their out-of-the-way lands, the Muslim Slavs were almost autonomous and had their own authorities.

In the 19th Century, Istanbul's tentative reforms aimed at granting equal rights to all the sultan's subjects, and the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, gave the Bosniaks good reason to fear they would lose their privileged status. This fear crystallised their self-awareness as a people who speak the language of the Serbs (Orthodox Slavs) and the Croats (Catholic Slavs), but are different from them.

The tension among the three groups had existed since the first years of Ottoman rule, when Bosniaks were at the top of the social pyramid, and continued during the Austro-Hungarian occupation. A Yugoslav citizen told Dame Rebecca West in 1937: "The Austro-Hungarians raised up the Muslims, who were a third of the population, to be their allies against the Christians and the Jews."

In the very first years after they became part of Yugoslavia, Bosniaks realised that times had changed irrevocably. Bosnia was divided administratively among several other regions. The fact that there had been Bosniaks fighting in Tito's guerrilla bands during the Second World War – although others collaborated with the SS – was not much help to their group in Socialist Yugoslavia.

It was only in the 1960s that Bosniaks were given the right to use the adjective "Muslim" to define their national identity.

They were already the largest ethnic group in the area when they declared their intention of splitting from Yugoslavia and forming an independent and multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, giving rise to a bloody war.

It took the lives of nearly 100,000 people and the killings and expulsions perpetrated by Serbs and Croats in ethnically mixed areas led to the appearance of a new term: "ethnic cleansing."

Bosniaks paid a high price for their exclusivity among the other Muslim Slavs in the Balkans. Those in Bosnia and Herzegovina live on the edge of the delicate balance between the two federal entities comprising the country: the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

пп. искам специално да балгодаря на Иса Мерсим за предоставения линк!

Offline Тоска

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2347
  • Gender: Male
  • % 100 + POMAK
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2009, 19:37 »
Metka, Thanks for sharing about us. As i seen above contents of this article's english because of i moved it to english section.  


  • Guest
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2009, 20:22 »
The main part of Pomaks are the closest descendants of the Thracians!  :o  ;)

Offline Nazmi

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3895
  • Gender: Male
  • Да почива в мир!
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2009, 21:13 »
Metka,thanks for that,too many people today call me here  the Pomaks in USA! Thanks again!

Offline Metka

  • Forum fan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1696
  • Gender: Male
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2009, 22:23 »
Thank you too.
I think i make balance of that i wrote.But this is really good here.
I always comment bulgarians writers-journalists. it is not right , someone to sadist me like bad man.This that i do , i do it for my people with who i lived and i will live forever.In this text here you can see , that this journalists are visitors in
This make me feel happy

Offline imersim

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 38
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2009, 18:03 »
Toska, thank you for moving the material in the English section. Sometimes it is difficult to find material  in English about  pomaks. This material is really interesting.
 Metka thank you for the work. becomes a repository for information about and from Pomaks. ;)


  • Adviser
  • ****
  • Posts: 1480
  • Gender: Male
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2010, 14:14 »
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login
Kera and Aishe, two traditional Pomak (Bulgarian Moslem) singers from the village of Draginovo, near Velingrad (Bulgaria), will be visiting the U.S.for the first time during the month of June, 2006


  • Adviser
  • ****
  • Posts: 1480
  • Gender: Male
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2012, 12:24 »
HbO-Arab mutation originated in the Pomak
population of Greek Thrace
HbO-Arab emerged about 2,000 years on a rare
haplotype, characteristic of the Greek Pomaks. Its
frequency increased as a consequence of high
genetic drift within this population, and it was dispersed throughout the Mediterranean basin and
Middle East with minor variations of its haplotypic

Summing up, we found that 42% of the normal Pomak
chromosomes display two unusual  HBB cluster haplotypes, one of which is also strongly associated with the
HbO-Arab mutation, and that 33% of normal Pomak
chromosomes carry the CCTCT  HBB framework, with
which all HbO-Arab chromosomes are linked. These
results suggest that Pomaks constitute a population
group characterized by a high genetic drift that can be
attributed to historically confirmed physical isolation and
intense inbreeding. This environment might have given
rise to novel haplotypes, as products of intra-HBB cluster
recombination events, in one of which the HbO-Arab
mutation emerged and increased in frequency. As the
HbO-Arab related haplotype and framework is widely
dispersed among normal Pomak chromosomes and not in
any other known population,
the HbO-Arab mutation
might have emerged among Pomaks. Heterozygosity for
HbO-Arab may be beneficial, which would further
ensure the survival of the mutation. Pomaks might have
spread HbO-Arab throughout the Mediterranean basin.
Minor HbO-Arab related haplotype variations reported
could be attributed to local recombination events. Finally,
the uniformity of the presence of the CCTCT framework
and the close association with the Greek VIa haplotype in
all our HbO-Arab cases as well as all others already
reported in the literature – with only min
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

HBO-арабския мутация, възникнали в помашките
населението на гръцка Тракия


  • Adviser
  • ****
  • Posts: 1480
  • Gender: Male
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2012, 12:51 »
Pomaks , their past and present
Turan, Omer. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs19. 1 (Apr 1999): 69-83.

The Pomaks are generally defined as a Muslim ethnic group in the Balkans, speaking mostly Pomak
language, a Slavic dialect very close to Bulgarian. Turan discusses research on Pomaks.
Full text
Through history, the Balkans continued to be at the cross roads of various races, religions and
cultures. From time to time peoples of different origins either mixed and lived together in harmony
or fell into conflict and fought on this peninsula. As a result of this, after each intense encounter
new forms originated from the intermingling of different cultures influencing language, music, arts,
literature, etc. Tribes passing across or settling in the Balkans were effected by the local culture and
also influenced the local culture and even formed original entities, as in the case of the Bogomils,
which is unique to this region. In the area of traditional beliefs, the shared use of the same shrines by
Christians and Muslims by ascribing their sacred feelings to the common symbols is typical.1 Thus,
in the Balkans, as a result of encounters between various religious, cultural and national groups new
groups emerged, such as the Christian Orthodox Turks (Gagauzes), Bulgarian speaking Pomaks,
and Serb-Croat speaking Bosnians.
An optimistic view of this situation would describe it as one of variety and richness of culture. But the
same situation also causes much difficulty in explanation and interpretation. Another weakness of
research in this field is the reality and complexity of the problems. The states in this region interpret
the subjects according to their own political interests. Therefore, as the quality of scholarly reports
diminishes, subjective speculations increase.
Pomaks are one of the difficult subjects to be studied. Most of the knowledge on Pomaks is
derived from other general sources about ethnicity in southeastern Balkans. There are only a few
independent serious studies on them. Yet, there are deep differences between the scholars. Many
political speculations obscure the research field. An attempt will be made here to provide a clearer
Who Are the Pomaks?
The Pomaks are generally defined as a Muslim ethnic group in the Balkans, speaking mostly Pomak
language, which is a Slavic dialect very close to Bulgarian, except Serbian Pomaks, who speak
Serbo-Croatian. Pomaks have a close affinity to Turks; at least half of them, if not more, refuse to be
called Pomak and call themselves Turks. They live in the south and north of Bulgaria, in Macedonia,
in the Kosova region of Serbia, northern Greece, and limited numbers in Albania and Turkey. In
general they are called Pomaks, but in some parts of the Rhodope region they are called either
'Ahriyanis' or 'Agaryanis'; but in Macedonia they are called 'Torbeshes', and sometimes 'Poturs' or
'Kurkis'; in Kosova and Albania they are called 'Gorans'.
Pomak, as a term, was first used by A. Bone in 1839.2 He came across some Pomak groups living
in Selvi and Lofca regions during his trip and he first described them as Pomaks. Before this date,
neither the Western sources nor the Ottomans used this term. In the Ottoman administration all of
the citizens derived their identity either as Muslim or as non-Muslim. There was no other subdivision
based on specific nationalities.3
Pomak as a word appears in the Slavic language meaning 'helper', derived from 'pomocz' as
'pomaci'. According to Kanitz, who for the first time tried to explain this name, during the Ottoman
invasion of the Balkans and/or afterwards Pomaks helped and guided the army, and thus they were
called 'pomak' (he]per) by their Christian fellow countrymen. Although there are other opinions,4 this
is the most generally accepted explanation. However, some Greeks claim that this word comes fromthe Greek language.5 In the Rhodope region locally they are also called 'Ahriyani'. Some Greeks say
that this word came from 'Grek-Ahriyani' who lived in Greece during the third and fourth centuries
BC. But they do not have any evidence that those people lived in the Rhodopes as well. This word
might also come from the Turkish word 'ahi' (brother).6
It is interesting to note that almost all different explanations of the name Pomak were related to
Bulgarian language and all different explanations of the name Torbes were related to Turkish
language. Cilev, Hacivasilevic and Palikuruseva give different interpretations on the origin of the
word 'torbes' which they relate to the Turkish word 'Torba' meaning 'bag'.7 Some of the Pomaks
living in Vardar Macedonia region explain their torbes name as reference to their changing religion
and/or places where they live four to five times. In Turkish `dort-bes' became 'torbes'. However,
'torbes' in Turkish refers to people with deference, who are loyal and do not cause problems. This
view is also supported by the historical attitude of Torbes people who never caused any conflict with
Ottoman administration and accepted to remain secondary and supportive under all circumstances.
However, there is no conflict about the origin of the word 'Goran'. Pomaks from Kosova and Albania
derive this name from the Gora mountains in the region and Gora is a Serbian name.
Ethnicity and Identity
These discussions over the word Pomak and its other local variations also involve reference to race
and ethnic origins. As a matter of fact all the states where Pomaks are scattered and settled claim
that Pomaks are originally from their nation. Bulgarians say that they are Islamized Bulgarians or
`Bulgarian Muhammedans'. Macedonians claim the same that Pomaks are Islamized Macedonians.
According to Milivoy Pavlovic,8 these people are a Slavic Macedonian tribe living in the Balkans. D.
Obolenski9 and Dimitri Angelov10 say that Torbes people are the last descendents of Macedonian
Bogomils. Turks define them as Pomak or Bulgarian speaking Muslim Turks. Serbians refer to
Gorans as Islamized Serbians and Greeks claim them to be of Greek origin.11 Even Albanians claim
them to be of Albanian descent. All these very different explanations take one of the Pomak, Torbes,
Goran or Agaryani definitions, whichever supports their view.
According to non-Turkish sources the Pomaks were the ancient Slavic or Slavized inhabitants of
the Balkans, and were forcibly converted to Islam during the period of the Ottoman dominations
which lasted until the nineteenth century. This claim ignores historical evidence that the Ottomans
never tried to convert non-Muslims to Islam. If they really had wanted to do so, first they would have
attempted to convert their brothers, the Gagavuz Turks, living in northern Bulgaria. The Christian
Gagavuz are Turkish, they speak the Turkish language and they remained Christian Orthodox.
Even today they speak Turkish and they are Orthodox. Without any suppression, they lived almost
600 years under the Ottoman rule. As S. Shaw pointed out, if the Ottoman state had carried out an
Islamization policy, all the non-Muslim peoples of the Balkans could have been converted to Islam
during the 600 years of Ottoman rule.12
According to the Turkish view, Pomaks' origin can be traced to the 'Kuman' or 'Kipcak' Turks,13 who
came from Northern China in 916. They arrived and settled at first in Ukrania and then descended
across Romania to Northern Bulgaria, along the Danube river and in Dobruca during the eleventh
and twelfth centuries. Meanwhile southward migration continued to the Rhodopes and Eastern
Macedonia. They gave their name to the geographic locations where they had settled such as in
Macedonia, Kumanova; in Sophia, Kumantski; in Goce Delcev (Nevrokop), Kumanca; in Kesriya,
Kumanicevo; in Vidin, Kumani Island; in Varna, Kumanova; in Nigbolu, Kumana; and in Lofca,
Historical Roots
Beginning in 1034 AD, Kumans and another Turkish tribe in the Balkans, the Pecheneks, became
very powerful and threatened the Byzantinium Empire. In 1050 Byzantinium made a counter attack
but failed. As a result, Byzantinium had to pay taxes to Kuman Turks in 1054. Thus, during the
following 30 years the Rhodopes, Western Thrace and Macedonia were left to Kuman occupation.
Pecheneks moved out to Kosova, Yeni Pazar and Bosnia. However, by the end of the eleventh
century, in 1091, Kumans and Pecheneks lost their powerful position in the Southeastern Balkans.
Dominant Pecheneks moved into Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sophia. Kumans migrated into Romania,
Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. During the course of history these Turkish tribes assimilated
with local Christian natives and lost their identity. But some Kuman groups who had settled andremained in Western Thrace, the Rodopes and Pirin Macedonia, continued to live in these regions
and to keep their original identity. 15
During the tenth and twelfth centuries the Byzantinium Empire was threatened by Slavs from the
North, and by Latins from the West. In order to protect Byzantinium from their enemies in the
Balkans, Byzantinium rulers had transported about 60,000 Muslim Turks with promises of exemption
from taxation and religious and cultural freedom, and settled them round Ohri and Thessalonika from
the middle Anatolia, in Konya. That's why they are called Konyar Turks. Byzantinium sources call
them `Vardar Turks'.16 This historical fact that Muslim Turks came and settled to the Rhodopes and
Southern Balkans during Byzantinium Empire is accepted by Bulgarian historians, P. Delidarev, Ivan
Batakliev, Anna Kaomnena, and K. Jirecek.17
It is also known that in the fourteenth century, before the Ottomans, some Muslim Turkish tribes,
Aydin Ogullari and Saruhan Ogullari who had settled in Western Anatolia, attacked the Balkans by
sea with their navy. One of their leaders, Gazi Umur Bey, settled some nomadic Turkish groups in
the Rodopes and Western Thrace in 1345. This area was called by his name 'Umur Eli' for a while.
(aka Bey, another Turkish commander, brought about 50,000 Turkish people from Western Anatolia
to the Rhodopes via Kavala and Dedeagac. Thus, between 1065 and 1365 about 200,000 Muslim
Turkish nomads immigrated and settled in this region. Jirecek also mentions these Muslim Turkish
settlements of the thirteenth century, and emphasizes the role of the Turkish dervishes, tekkes, as
Muslim missionaries to Islamize the region during the reign of Byzantinium.18 Therefore, Pomaks
are Islamized Kuman Turks in the Rhodopes and Macedonia region who were influenced by the
Muslim missionaries during the time of Byzantinium Empire.19
As a consequence of living in Ukrania and Romania, Pomaks were influenced by Ukranian Slavic
language. It is said that Pomak language is etymologically based on Cagatay Turkish dialect, and
strongly influenced by Ukranian Slavic, Kumanic, Oguz Turkish, Nogayic and Arabic words. We need
comparative studies on Pomak language and its relations with other languages. Naturally, Pomak
language is also influenced by other neighbouring languages in different regions, and has developed
several dialects such as Rhodope-Pomak dialect, Katranci-Pomak dialect, Danubian region Pomak
dialect and Macedonian Pomak dialect, etc.20 These different dialects also need to be investigated.
Estimates of Pomak Population
The first British consul in Bulgaria, Colonel Edward Neale, in his confidential report21 in 1858, gives
some information about Pomaks, referring to them as `Bulgarian Muhammedans'. According to him
they ' ... chiefly compose the population of the mountain range between Sofia and Alexanitza, on
the frontiers of Servia, and including the town of Nissa'. However, Colonel Neale does not provide
any further information about how many they were. Furthermore, another British Consul in Bulgaria,
Sir R. Dalyell, in his confidential report22 in 1876, uses the term 'Pomak' and while giving the
size of the population, counts the Pomaks in Turkish population as `Turks (Asiatic and Slavonic)
1,200,000'. Prince Tcherkasski's `Scheme for Bulgaria', in 1877, though giving a lot of information
about ethnicity, nationalities and their numbers in Bulgaria, does not mention Pomaks.23 In June
1878, Bulgarians gave British Ambassador A. H. Layard a statistical report on the population of
Manastir and Thessalonika districts to show that there were more Bulgarians than Greeks there. In
this report, while giving the size of the population of Goce Delcev (Nevrokop), Debre, and Koprulu
(Velesse), they mentioned Pomaks and gave their number in the villages.24 However, while giving
the results of 1905 census, the British Consul at Sofia does not mention Pomaks in his 1907 report
on Bulgaria.25
In 1876, Jirecek estimated 500,000 total Pomak population including 100,000 in Loves and
Pleven.26 In 1877 V. Teplov gave the total number of Pomaks in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Western
Thrace as 300,000.27 Gavrilovii's estimation at the beginning of this century was 400,000,28 and
Ischirkoff's was about the same.29 Other sources such as the Russian consul at Monastir, N.
Skiryabin;30 Timotiyev;31 I. D. R. Karl Poyker;32 Atanos Benderev;33 and Spiridon Gobcevic34
gave various figures on Pomak population in different regions in the Balkans during the second half
of the nineteenth century. In Bulgaria, during the Principality in 1891, according to Jirecek, their
number was 28,000. However, in 1900 according to the Bulgarian official statistics, there were 279
in the cities and 20,358 in the villages making a total of 20,637 Pomaks.35 In 1905, there were 147
Pomaks in the cities and 19,226 in the villages. Thus a total of 19,373 Pomak population lived inBulgaria.36 In 1910, according to the same sources, there were 21,146 Pomaks, 122 of them in the
cities and 21,024 in the villages.37
After the Balkan Wars the Bulgarian border extended southward. In 1917, Pomak population in
Bulgaria, according to Ischirkoff, was 121,000.38 However, according to Bulgarian official sources,
in the 1920 census, the number of Pomaks was 88,399; in the 1926 census, 102,351 and in 1934,
134,125. Of these only 5% lived in the towns and the rest, 95%, lived in the villages.39 Vucinich's
estimate of Pomak population in Bulgaria in the 1960s is 180,000.40 However, for the same years
Schopflin gives a figure of 300,000 Pomaks.41 Kettani's estimation is around 370,000 Pomaks
in 1982.42 The latest number which has been quoted by the local authorities and the Ministry of
Internal Affairs of Bulgaria, on 1 January 1989, is 268,971.43 Their actual number for Bulgaria is
thought to be about 600,000. Thus, estimates of the Pomak population of Bulgaria through most of
twentieth century vary according to sources, as shown in Table 1 above.
Estimates of Pomak population in Macedonia varies only somewhat, as indicated in Table 2 below,
by source and year of estimate.
In Aegean Macedonia (today's Greece), in 1912 just before the Balkan Wars, the Pomak population
was estimated to be 40,921.44 In Western Thrace their number was given as 11,739, in 1927; and
in Thrace 75,337.45 Kettani's estimation is 40,000, in 1982.46 However, official Greek sources
in the 1980s estimate 30,000 Pomaks in Greece.47 In Albania, it is impossible to give even their
approximate number, as there are contradictory estimations ranging from as little as 3000 to
It should not be forgotten that between 1877 and 1912 in the Balkans, like all other Muslim
populations, the number of Pomak population changed several times. During the Ottoman-Russian
War of 1877-1878, almost all Pomak people fled from the Danube region to Macedonia. Though
most of them returned in 1880, but due to the suppression policy of the Bulgarian government, they
migrated to Turkey soon after. The union of Eastern Roumeli with Bulgaria in 1885 also caused
many Pomaks to migrate to Turkey. Furthermore, during and after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913,
many Pomaks migrated to Turkey. These are the biggest waves of Pomak migrations. During
these years and afterwards Pomak migration from Bulgaria continued, but demonstration and even
estimation of their exact numbers are almost impossible.
Apart from migrations, another important reason for the varying estimates of the Pomak population
is diverse interpretations of Pomak identity. As mentioned earlier, all the Balkan nations claim that
Pomaks belong to their nationality. During the censuses of 1919 and 1921 in Macedonia, Pomaks
were recorded either as Turkish or Albanian. During the census of 1992 in Bulgaria, census results
of the Smolyen region were cancelled, because 100,000 Pomaks of this region declared to be
registered as Turks. Thus it is possible that in some areas they might not be considered and officially
registered as Pomak. During a field study in Bulgaria in August 1992, we observed that some
Bulgarians still were uneasy at accepting Pomaks as a different group. These people were with the
government in Bulgaria until 1989. In this sense Pomak attitude is also very obscure. They do not
like to be called 'Pomak' and when they are asked they might give different answers, as we shall see
later. Therefore, all these numbers given above about Pomak population are only estimations. I am
also a bit sceptical especially about the numbers which the Bulgarian official census presents. In my
opinion they must be higher than the official estimates.
View Image - TAL 1.
During the Bulgarian Principality in 1881, Bulgarian authorities attempted to teach Bulgarian to
Pomak children in the schools in the region of Qepni. In spite of working hard to achieve their aim
for a long time, they couldn't succeed. During Stambulovski's government Pomaks were allowed to
teach Turkish49 language to their children. Through the 1907-1908 academic year there were 23
Pomak primary schools with 31 teachers and 1206 students.50 And during the 1909-1910 academic
year they had 23 teachers and 859 students in 15 schools.51 Later, students at these Pomak
schools were transferred to Bulgarian schools.As we have seen, the historical origin of Pomaks is still very puzzling. Therefore, I believe it is much
better to deal with who they are rather than making speculations on who they were. The best way
to learn who they are is, of course, simply to ask them. As far as I know, until now they have never
been asked who they are. Yet, without asking them or listening to them, correct interpretation cannot
be made.
The Basis of Pomak Identity
There is no doubt that the main component of Pomak identity is religion, which means being Muslim.
They are the most religious ethnic group in the Balkans. National obscurity pushed them to identify
themselves closely with Islam. This belief and principles encircle their life and protect them from all
different aspects. Their national identity was constructed on religion and it is a sort of religion based
View Image - TABLE 2.
When their origin or identity is asked they answer: 'I am a Muslim'. But when you ask their religion,
their standard answer is: `We are Pomaks'. Pomak and Muslim are equivalent terms in their
consciousness. Islam is a nationality as well as a religion in their mind. Sometimes they answer as
`Muslim Turk', and in Macedonia exceptionally few would say `Muslim Albanian'. The interesting
point is, they search for an identity from the Muslim nations and stay away from non-Muslims.
However, since the return of Ottomans to Anatolia, for almost the last 100 years there has been a
lot of political pressure on Pomaks, concerning their nationality by the new Bulgarian, Greek, and
Macedonian governments. So it should not be surprising to hear them saying that they are Bulgarian
or Macedonian or Greek.52
Bulgarian historian Yordan Ivanof in 1915 said that Pomaks know their national origin but they do not
want to speak about it. According to Ivanof, `Pomaks give more value to religion than nationality and
they like to be called Turk'. Ivanof counted 100 Pomak villages in the Rhodopes, saying this is the
region where Pomaks are the most concentrated. He also observed that in these villages Pomaks
speak two languages, Bulgarian and Turkish.53
Spiridan Gobcevic, on his trip to Ohri in 1880, says that most of the Pomak people identified
themselves as Turkish even though they could not speak Turkish. He said that religion formed
their national identity. However, he still claimed that they were `Islamized Serbians'.54 In 1890,
Gobceviq in his book Macedonia and Old Serbia says that Pomaks living in Macedonia describe
themselves as of Turkish origin. Another Bulgarian historian, St. N. Siskov, describes Pomaks as
`Bulgarian Muhammedans' who always held religion before nationality.55 Gligor Todorovski says
that `we should admit, even-though we define these people as Serbians and Bulgarian Muslims,
because they are Muslim, their neighbours call them Turks. Consequently, Muslim Macedons
living in Depreste, Lajani, Tirnova, Pestalevo, Pirlepe describe themselves as Turk and their
Macedonian neighbours call them Turks as well'.56 An American Protestant Missionary report from
Thessaloniki to their headquarters in Boston, in 1909, mentions that around Daridere they met
Bulgarian Muhammedans who were called Ahiyani and `of course they wish to be classed as Turks
and not as Bulgars'57
During my trip to Macedonia in July 1992, I visited Tirebiste and the surrounding Torbes villages.
I observed that they were uneasy at being called Torbes and considered this as degrading.
Particularly the older generation identified themselves as Turk, and referred to Gorans living in
Kosova region as Torbes. In addition, people of these villages were complaining at not being able
to speak Turkish. They want to learn Turkish. They also want to have public or private school
instruction in Turkish language. The Democratic Party of Turks supported them in their efforts to
establish Turkish private schools. However, the Macedonian government refused and declared that
they were Muslim Macedonians and had nothing to do with Turkish.
The attitude of Pomaks was clear during the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-1878 and the following
years. They had fought against the Bulgarian and Russian forces during the war. After the war
Pomaks objected to the San Stefano agreement of 1878 which required them to live under theBulgarian rule. In the years that followed they resisted against the new situation. As a result of this,
an international commission was formed to investigate their situation and to find solutions.58
The Bulgarian Crackdown
Bulgarian nationalist administrators were uneasy with this Pomak attitude of defining themselves as
Muslim and especially as Turkish. They were forced to convert to Christianity and to accept being
Bulgar. Since receiving Bulgarian independence in 1908, four main eras of pressures have passed.
Between October 1912 and July 1914 it was mainly concerning name, religion and vestment. From
1937 to 1945 it was vestment and name; from 1962 to 1964 vestment and name; and from 1971 to
1990 name, religion, language and vestment were the main areas in which Pomaks were coerced.
During the Balkan wars the head of the General Staff, General Savof, ordered the Bulgarian
occupation forces in Pirin Macedonia and Rhodopes, to forcibly convert Pomak Muslims into
Christianity and the Bulgar nation. All the resisting Pomaks were to be eliminated.59 On 5 November
1912, the Mayor of Istrumica ordered Orthodox Greek Metropolitan to convert all the migrants to
Christianity.60 Many mosques were converted into churches, and Muslims were coerced to go
to church every Sunday. Anybody who resisted was punished or killed.61 Those from the Pomak
villages such as Bouynove, who didn't accept the Bulgarian names or Christianity, fled to Greece
and stayed there hoping for the situation to improve. Their names were forcibly and systematically
changed. During this period 200,000 Muslim Pomaks were forced to change their names to SlavicBulgarian names and were forced to accept Orthodoxy. During World War I, when Bulgaria and the
Ottoman Empire were allies, the situation calmed down somewhat. Pomak Muslims reconstructed
their mosques and reinstated their Muslim names.
In 1920 the Bulgarian administration entered into a new attempt at Bulgarization of Pomak Muslims.
Pomaks were restricted from attending Turkish schools and were forbidden to open private schools.
Then Muslim school boards were abolished and unified with Bulgarian school boards.62 In July
1942 the Bulgarian Parliament passed a new law which commanded Pomak names to be changed
to Bulgarian ones. During this period about 60,000 Pomak names were changed. Between 1942
and 1944 about 2000 Turkish and Pomak village names were changed from Turkish to Bulgarian.63
In most cases those names were just translated into Bulgarian. In 1944, the Communist regime
came into power. In order to achieve the support of the minorities, the Communists delivered Pomak
names back to them in 1947. However, as part of the assimilation policy, we also notice that some
Pomak villages from the Rhodopes region, and around Mousevo, were forced to resettle in Northern
Bulgaria during 1948-1952, alongside the traditionally settled group around Lovetch, such as the
In April 1956, the Bulgarian Communist Party Central Committee Plenum decided to create a unified
socialist Bulgarian public as their achievement goal. Therefore, while curtailing Muslim minorities'
religious life, they started to change their Muslim names to Bulgarian. Before World War II, Turkish
and Pomak villages in Bulgaria averaged between four and eight hodjas (Muslim priests) in each
village. Between the end of World War II and 1956, the total number of hodjas in these villages was
2,715. Of these, 2,393 of them were working among the Turkish population, and 322 hodjas were
among the Pomaks, yielding a ratio of one hodja for 430 Pomaks. But in 1961 this ratio decreased
five times with only one hodja for 1,459 Pomaks.64
As a first step, in the 1960s Muslim Gypsies were forced to change their names. After completing
this process, the Bulgarian Communist Party Central Committee and Polit Bureau announced on
17 July 1970, their decision to Bulgarize the Muslim Pomaks in the Rhodope region by terror. It was
openly discussed at the Bulgarian Communist Party Regional Congress of Pasmakli on 3 August
1973.65 During 1971-1974 all Pomaks were subjected to change their Turkish Muslim names to
Bulgarian under the so-called `Process of Rebirth'. But it did not work as easily as with the Gypsies.
The Pomaks resisted strongly as they did not want to take Bulgarian names. Many of them were
wounded, and a large numbers of Pomaks were sentenced to 3-15 years' imprisonment. Many more
were deported to other areas of Bulgaria, and even killed.66 It was clear that the suppression by
the Bulgarian government was not only for their Turkish Muslim names but also for their religion,
vestment, tradition, feasts, etc. Thus all their non-Bulgarian daily life was subjected to censure. Their
mosques were destroyed, circumcision was prohibited, and even the people who circumcised their
sons were sentenced.After their 'success' with the Pomaks, the Bulgarian government started to work in the same way on
the Turks in the 1980s. However, soon it proved to be a more difficult task as compared to Gypsies
and Pomaks. Again the use of Turkish language was prohibited. Many people were wounded,
deported, sentenced, even killed. In the summer of 1989 more than 300,000 people were deported
to Turkey. The exiles included at least 5,400 Communist Party members as well. In August 1989 to
stem the tide the Turkish government closed the border.
Freedom to Name
In Bulgaria, on 10 November 1989 a new era started with the fall of the regime of racist dictator
Jivkov. At that time 400,000 Turkish people were waiting to receive permission to go to Turkey.
As a result of this democratization process which had started in Bulgaria, on 6 March 1990 a new
law was passed allowing people who were forced to change their Turkish names to Bulgarian to
change their names back to Turkish. Another law was passed on 15 November 1990 to revert their
Turkish names while dropping the Slavonic (-ov/-ova) suffix from the surnames. However, since
1912, very dramatically, four times the Pomaks were forced to give up their Turkish names and
accept Bulgarian ones. Five times they changed their forced Bulgarian names back to Turkish ones
as soon as they could and for the last and latest change they could even drop the Salvonic -ov or -
ova suffix from their surnames. An example of sequence of name change follows:
Ali Osmanov Bairamov (pre-1912) - Iliya Ognyanov Bogdanov (1912-1913) -9 Ali Osmanov
Bairamov (1913-1937) -9 Iliya Ognyanov Bogdanov (1937-1945) -4 Ai Osmanov Bairamov
(1945-1962)<Iliya Ognyanoy Bogdanov (1962-1964) -o Ali Osmanov Bairamov (1964-1971) - Iliya
Ognyanov Bogdanov (1971-March 1990) Ali Osmanov Bairamov (March-November 1990) - Ali
Osman Bairam (November 1990-).67
Thus, for a Pomak who was born before 1912, and lived until after 1990, the name was changed
nine times, making a total of 10 times that a person was given a name starting at birth.
After all these harsh experiences the Pomak have become very cautious and prudent. They do not
trust outsiders anymore. While making interviews and collecting information during the field study
in August 1992, many respondents did not want us to note their names as a source of information.
They said `we trust you but you will go back to Belgium, USA, England and these papers will stay in
Sofia, and you never know'. We were a group, including Bulgarians and other foreigners. However,
many respondents recognizing my Turkish identity preferred to speak to me about what they faced
and how they were suppressed by Bulgarian authorities during the rebirth process.
As a result of all these hardships that the Pomaks faced during the last 80 years, they have
learned to cope with their difficulties. Since the beginning of 1960s, Pomaks have developed a
new anthroponymic strategy which is called `compromise name and naming behaviour'. After the
1971-1974 renaming process, new-born children were given an official Bulgarian name like Anatoli
Gerasimov Balabanov and a domestic name like Sukru. Outside home they are addressed with
their official names but at home with their domestic ones. All Pomak children learn very well how to
keep and even deny their domestic names. Although they are now free to use their Turkish names,
generally, when Pomaks meet strangers they give their Bulgarian names. Moreover, they rely on
a clipped version of the name, which is not recognizably Turkish (Veli, Osi, etc.), or a name which
belongs to the Bulgarian name list but is Turkish or looks Turkish at the same time (Aldin, Demir,
However, according to the results of a field study in Hadjiyska, III LIe summer of 1990, Konstantinov
reports that 70.9% of Pomaks show Turkish radical behaviour with varying degrees of consistency
(taking the Turkish names back); 16.1 % indicate compromise behaviour with varying degrees of
consistency; and in the same manner, 13.0% show Bulgarian oriented radical behaviour (keeping
the Bulgarian names). However, if only consistent behaviour is isolated, the figures would be as
follows: Turkish radicalism, 45.1%; compromise, 9.6%; Bulgarian radicalism, 6.5%; inconsistent
anthroponymic behaviour, 38.8%.
In another field study of Pomaks villages in the Rhodope region older people showed more radical
attitude than the younger generation, who are still working or studying, and thus more inclined
to compromise. Moreover, as we noted in the example of Ali Osman Bayram above, starting in
November 1990, Pomak people have been allowed to drop their Slavonic (-ov/-ova) suffixes, and
they rapidly did so as a reaction to forced Bulgarization process. It should be added that AhmetDogan, the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedom, DPS, made a statement saying that
`The DPS has committed itself before Parliament not to accept the (-oglu, -kuzu) suffixes, which
are typical of Turkey, but to preserve them (surnames) in their pure form'.69 In one way it can also
be said that the movement also makes compromise. They don't want to go so far as to become all
In each village there are some former Communist Party members, or representatives. Pomaks are
still afraid to speak about their harsh experiences under the Bulgarian regime when these people
are present. I was told that they still feel threatened by the Socialist Party (former Communist Party)
members, fearing that one day Communists will be in power again and then they will force them to
take back their Bulgarian names. In Bulgaria, to become Communist and be a part of the system
does not only mean to appropriate an ideology, but also to deny their non-Bulgar Muslim identity and
to accept and actively take part in forceful assimilation policy of the Bulgarian authorities. Therefore,
in practice Communism is the name of an ideology of Bulgarian extreme nationalism which aims to
Bulgarize non-Bulgars, especially the significant Muslim minorities including the Pomaks, Turks and
There appears to be an interesting correlation between their electoral behaviour and their ethnic or
ideological orientation. If in a Pomak village most of the people voted for DPS (Movement for Right
and Freedom), it would show that in that village most of the inhabitants have taken back their Turkish
names, even without Slavonic suffixes and their general behaviour is Turkish oriented. On the
other hand, if in another village most of the people voted for BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party-former
Communist), it means majority of them would retain their Bulgarian names and their behaviour is
Bulgarian oriented, etc.70 We observed this in many Pomak villages in the Rhodope region.
Although the government has changed in Bulgaria, for Pomaks the harsh reminders of the former
regime still remain. Local policemen and local security forces who had forced them to take on
Bulgarian names have not been changed. Like other Muslim minorities in Bulgaria, the Pomaks
still have to do their military service in construction camps. It is still impossible to find a single Turk
or Pomak or Muslim Gypsy in the Bulgarian army as a regular soldier. Since 1990 there have
also been Christian missionary activities led by Ivan Sariyev, directed at the Pomaks.71 While
the Pomaks want their children to learn Turkish in their primary school, which is now theoretically
possible, in practice local education directors don't allow them to do so-as experienced in Satofca, a
large Pomak village near Goce Delcev. It is the same situation in the case of Macedonian Pomaks
(Torbes) as well. Here Nijazi Limanovski, supported by the Macedonian government, is working to
persuade them to accept that they are Macedonian Muslims and have nothing to do with the Turks.
In spite of all these systematic pressures, Pomaks of Bulgaria or Torbes of Macedonia keep their
distance and try to avoid involvement in any sort of governmental business or meet any officials
in the government. They prefer to live within their own community. They set up large antennas to
watch Turkish television in all their villages. Almost all of them do not like to be called 'Pomak'. In
Bulgaria, some of them prefer to be addressed as `Bulgarian Muhammedan' because it is safe.
However, it seems that one day if they still feel really secure, they will want to be called 'Turk'. This
is what I was able to observe and what I was told. Many of the Pomaks already believe that they are
Turkish, though a few of them also say that they are Bulgar, and they are the living reminders of the
Bulgarization policy which for a century dominated them and dictated their identity and sense of self.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login


Sitemap 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42