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The Pomaks , in Bulgaria officially Bulgaro-Muhammadans ( Bulgarian българи-мохамедани or помак pomak , Pl. Помаци Pomázi ; Greek πομάκος, πομάκοι pomákos, pomákoi ) are a predominantly Muslim ethnicity controversial origin, their relatives scattered mainly in Bulgaria, Serbia , Northern Macedonia , Greece and Turkey live. Most of the Pomaks speak southeast Bulgarian dialects from the Rhodope subgroup, which hardly differ from the dialects of the Christian inhabitants; The extent to which the Pomak dialects are to be assessed as an independent language is controversial. The Pomaks resident in Serbia speak a Serbian dialect.

Pomaks in the narrower sense denotes the Bulgarian- speaking Muslim minority in southwestern Bulgaria (between Smolyan in the Rhodope Mountains and Raslog in the Pirin Mountains ) and in the Greek region of Western Thrace .

The etymology of the name pomak is controversial. A folk etymological interpretation, especially popular in Bulgaria, traces it back to the word помагачи / pɔmagatʃi /, which means something like "helper" and refers to the time of Ottoman rule. The current name has only been in use since the 19th century.

"Bulgarian Pomaks from the Rhodope Mountains " ( National Geographic Magazine , 1932)


The ethnogenesis of the Pomaks is controversial. However, an Indo-European ethnic group is largely certain as the origin of the Pomaks, Thracian according to Greek researchers and Slavic according to Bulgarian scientists . The former cannot be proven, as no Thracian sources have survived since the 9th century (introduction of Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet ). Further research from Turkey assumes an ancestry from the Cumans and Cypchaks and sees the Pomaks as Slavic Turkic peoples, while other scholars consider them to be Islamized Slavs during the rule of the Ottoman Empire .

Even if the topos of an organized, forcibly promoted, forced Islamization of the Rhodope population holds up to the present day, the main reasons for the conversion are primarily social and economic factors. Forced Islamizations were, with the exception of the boy reading , rather exceptional cases during the Ottoman rule . It can be speculated whether a part of the population resident in the Rhodope Mountains confessed to the "heresies" of Bogomilism or Paulikianism and therefore had relatively little fear of contact with Islam, but it has not been conclusively proven.

As Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire , Pomake Müezzinzade Filibeli Hafız Ahmed Pascha (1625/26 and 1631/32) from Plovdiv and the Muslim Bulgarian Kalafat Mehmed Pascha (1778/79) from Sofia made the highest careers in the state of the Ottoman sultan.


Until a few decades ago almost all Pomaks lived in rural mountain villages; however, there is now a trend towards urbanization .

Folk music is very important to the Pomaks . The songs were passed on from generation to generation, mostly orally. It is also reported that many older Pomak women can master up to 500 song lyrics. The fact that the Pomaks in Greece were able to preserve a relatively large amount of their own identity and culture is probably due to the isolation of the inaccessible mountain areas that they mostly inhabit. The isolation was facilitated by the fact that the Pomak villages are located in an area which, due to its proximity to Bulgaria, became a restricted military area during the Cold War and which, until 1995, could only be visited or left with special permits. Since the restrictions were lifted, there has been a strong emigration, especially of the younger generation, to the cities and, as a result, an ever-decreasing cultivation. The fact that no written Pomak language has been created so far favors the loss of Pomak culture.

Today the Pomaks are mostly Muslims of the Sunni denomination. Archaic customs such as blood revenge , forced marriage and marriage between relatives are rather frowned upon by the Pomaks. Usually pomakische boys aged up to three years are circumcised . Islam is now firmly anchored in the life of the Pomaks. Decades of disapproval from the Bulgarian government did little to harm him. In many villages there are mosques and Koran schools, called medrese .

Situation in individual states

Pomaks live particularly in Bulgaria , Greece , Serbia , Turkey and North Macedonia . Your situation is different in different states.



In Bulgaria, according to censuses, the number of Pomaks fell from 500,000 to 134,000 between 1878 and 1934; In 1990, only 80,000 people gave their ethnicity as "Pomakisch". However, due to the nationality policy of the Bulgarian state, it is assumed that the actual number was higher.

The development of the Pomak population is difficult to assess. Their birth rate is higher than the Bulgarian average. Particularly since the Second World War, however, a non-quantifiable migration of Pomaks to Turkey has been observed.

According to the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, there were around 260,000 Bulgarian-speaking Muslims in 1989. In the 1992 census, 176,800 people gave Bulgarian as their mother tongue and Islam as their religion.

Treatment by the state

Baptism of the village of Banite; 1912

After Bulgaria was separated from the Ottoman Empire and the Bulgarian nation state was founded in 1878, all Muslims remaining in Bulgaria, including Pomaks, Tatars and Roma, were referred to as "Turks" and enjoyed official minority status as such, which guaranteed the right to freedom of religion. From 1905, the term pomak also caught on. With the Balkan Wars , Bulgaria conquered most of the Pomakian settlement area including Western Thrace, the number of Pomaks on Bulgarian territory increased from a few tens of thousands to just under 110,000 people. In addition to the targeted settlement of Orthodox Bulgarians in the conquered areas, the Pomaks were forcibly Christianized as part of the so-called "baptism" in 1912 and 1913 , which was reversed after the Second Balkan War and the Peace of Bucharest . During a second wave of Bulgarization between 1938 and 1944, the Pomaks were forced to adopt Bulgarian names, which was then also reversed.

The communist government of the country, which gradually stabilized after 1944, initially gave the Pomaks their old names and the right to freedom of worship. However, their settlement area remained a relatively poor, backward area. The wave of Turkish-speaking Bulgarians who emigrated in 1949-50 also hit the Pomaks, many of whom fled to Greece, from where entry into Turkey was possible without any problems. This resettlement was supported by Pomak militants and also found sympathy with political authorities in Greece and Turkey against the background of the emerging East-West conflict . The Bulgarian state reacted with a travel ban for Bulgarian-speaking Muslims and the forced resettlement of Pomak families into the interior of Bulgaria, many of whom, however, were able to move to Turkey because they registered as Turks.

In the mid-1950s a policy of establishing a “unified socialist Bulgarian nation” began in Bulgaria, the term “Pomaks” gave way to that of the “Muslim Bulgarians”. The main opponent was the Muslim religion and its traditional forms such as the veiling of women or fights circumcision; Every effort was made to transform the Pomaks into a “modern socialist nation”. Like the Bulgarian Turks later, the Pomaks were again subjected to forced renaming by the Bulgarian state in the early 1970s, with the names mostly of Islamic origin being Bulgarianized. At the same time, Pomak folklore traditions were redefined as authentic Bulgarian. Afterwards, they were simply listed as Bulgarians in the statistics, i.e. no longer statistically recorded separately. In addition to Bulgaro Turks, Pomaks also tried to travel to Turkey during the wave of refugees in 1989, but were prevented from entering Turkey as “Muslims of non-Turkish origin”.

After the collapse of communism and the end of the communist policy of assimilation, Turkish-speaking and Pomak residents also asked for their old names back. In the 1992 census, around 35,000 people in the Rhodope Mountains reported Turkish as their mother tongue, but this could not be confirmed by a subsequent investigation - no Turkish native speakers were found in the area. The people were registered as Bulgarians of Muslim faith in the evaluation. In addition to a majority of Pomaks who classify themselves as Muslim Bulgarians, a considerable number of them identify themselves as Turks without speaking Turkish; some also consider themselves descendants of Arab missionaries from the time of Muhammad.

In the party DPS ( "Movement for Rights and Freedoms"), which is dominated by the Turkish minority, also engage Pomaks.

In 2009 the party Progres i blagodenstwie (Bulgarian Прогрес и благодентствие, "progress and prosperity") was founded with Adrian Palow as chairman. She is considered to be the representative of the Bulgarian Muslims and Pomaks and wants to break the monopoly of the DPS.

North Macedonia

According to the Yugoslav census of 1981, around 40,000 Pomaks lived in what was then SR Macedonia .


According to the 1928 census, around 17,000 Pomaks lived in Greece, mainly in the north of the country. According to the agreements of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) , the Greek state is the only minority to recognize Muslims who were excluded from the agreed population exchange in the territory of Western Thrace and who are guaranteed certain rights. The Muslims of Western Thrace are made up of Turks, Pomaks and Muslim Roma, with the Pomaks mainly living in the Rodopi and Xanthi regional districts and an estimated 39,000 people. According to Greek law, they enjoy religious freedom and have the right to some schooling in their own language, although this is only given in Turkish, the official language of the Muslim minority. This has led to a voluntary rapprochement between the Greek Pomaks and Turkish culture. The rapprochement of the Pomaks in Greece to Turkish culture is frowned upon by the Greek authorities. Many Pomaks in Greece now feel like Turks, which in turn is not welcomed by the Greek government and often makes the Pomaks a political plaything. In the 1990s, attempts were made to record the Pomak dialects as a separate literary language, which was reflected in three grammars. The Greek alphabet used here for the reproduction of the language is unsuitable for the reproduction of the phonetic level of the Ostrupzian dialects of the Bulgarian language and is also not well received by the Pomaks who speak Greek.

For some years now, a newspaper in the Bulgarian language in Greek has been published regularly in Xanthi . This newspaper is more of a political issue on the part of the Greek government and is not well received by the Pomaks in Greece.


A large group and entire villages with Bulgarian-speaking Muslims live in Eastern Thrace , where these are most numerous in the regions of Lüleburgaz and Edirne . Mostly they are resettlers or displaced persons from the time of the lost Balkan possessions of the Ottoman Empire. They are not recognized as a minority by the Turkish state and are subject to strong Turkization by the Turkish state.

In addition, the Pomaks live mainly in the region of Istanbul , Bursa and Izmir . In the 1950s, a small group of Pomaks were expelled from the Turkish state to Aleppo , Syria , because of their strong religious beliefs .

During the Balkan Wars , a number of Pomaks emigrated from Rhodopia to what is now Turkey, where around 10,000 Pomaks lived in 1935, who at that time were denied Turkish citizenship.


  • Ulrich Büchsenschütz: Minority Policy in Bulgaria. The policy of the Bulgarian Communist Party (Bkp) towards the Jews, Roma, Pomaks and Turks 1944-1989 . Berlin 2004, uni-muenchen.de (PDF; 1.7 MB)
  • Ali Eminov: Turkish and other Muslim Minorities of Bulgaria. Hurst & Company, London.
  • Evangelos Karagiannis: On the ethnicity of the Pomaks of Bulgaria . Lit, Münster 1997.
  • Evangelos Karagiannis: External Attribution and Minority: Comments on the Pomaks of Bulgaria. In: Zeitschrift für Balkanologie, 39, 2003, pp. 37–51
  • Pomaks . In: Encyclopaedia of Islam . New Edition , Volume 8, pp. 320-324.
  • Mary Neuberger: The Orient within - Muslim minorities and the negotiation of nationhood in modern Bulgaria . Cornell University Press, 2004.
  • Klaus Steinke, Christian Voss (Ed.): The Pomaks in Greece and Bulgaria. A model case for borderland minorities in the Balkans . Southeastern European Studies 73rd Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-87690-963-9 .
  • Klaus Steinke: Pomakisch . (PDF; 142 kB) In: Miloš Okuka (Hrsg.): Lexicon of the Languages ​​of the European East . Klagenfurt 2002
  • Alexander Velinov: Religious Identity in the Age of Nationalism. The Pomak question in Bulgaria. Cologne 2001 (Diss.) DNB 964992671
  • Γιάννης Μαγκριώτης: Πομάκοι η Ροδοπαίοι - οι Έλληνες Μουσουλμάνοι . Risos Publishing House, Athens 1990 (Jannis Magriotis: Pomaks and Rhodopians - the Muslim Greeks )
  • Πόλυς Α. Μυλωνάς: Οι Πομάκοι της Θράκης . Publisher Nea Syora, Athens 1990 (Polys A. Milonas: The Pomaks of Thrace )
  • Παύλος Χιδίρογλου: Οι Έλληνες Πομάκοι και η Σχέση τους με την Τουρκία . 3. Edition. Herodotos Athens (Pavlos Hidiroglou: The Greek Pomaks and their Relation with Turkey )
  • Φότης Καζάζης: Πομάκοι - φωτογραφικές αφήγησεις . Press Photo, Athens 1995, ISBN 960-85120-6-9 (Fotis Kazazis: Pomaks - Photographic Narrations )

Web links

Commons : Pomaken  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Edouard Selian: The Pomaks: an Islamized people of Europe . ( Memento of July 5, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) 2009
  2. Ömer Turan: Pomaks, Their Past and Present . In: Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs , 1999, 19 (1), pp. 69-85, p. 69.
  3. ^ Ulrich Büchsenschütz: Minority Policy in Bulgaria . (PDF; 1.8 MB) Master's thesis. Free University of Berlin, 2004.
  4. Olga Demtriou: Prioritizing 'ethnicities': The uncertainty of Pomak-ness in the urban Greek Rhodoppe . In: Ethnic and Racial Studies , 2004, 27 (1), pp. 95–119, here p. 100.
  5. a b Youssef Courbage: Les transitions demographiques des Musulmans en Europe orientale . In: Population , 1991, 46 (3), pp. 651-677, here p. 664.
  6. a b Youssef Courbage: Les transitions demographiques des Musulmans en Europe orientale . In: Population , 1991, 46 (3), pp. 651-677, here p. 659.
  7. ^ Daniel N. Nelson: Europe's Unstable East . In: Foreign Policy , 1991, 82 (1), pp. 137–158, here p. 145.
  8. ^ Carol Silverman: The Politics of Folklore in Bulgaria . In: Anthropological Quarterly , 1983, 56 (2), pp. 55-61, here p. 56.
  9. mediapool.bg
  10. James Pettifer: The New Macedonian Question . In: International Affairs , (1992) 68 (3), pp. 475-485, p. 477.
  11. ^ Bickham Sweet-Escott: Greece: A Political and Economic Survey . In: International Affairs , 1956, 32 (4), p. 542.
  12. a b Klaus Steinke: Pomakisch . (PDF; 142 kB) In: Miloš Okuka (Hrsg.): Lexicon of the Languages ​​of the European East . Klagenfurt 2002
  13. ^ Report on the Pomaks from the Greek Helsinki Committee
  14. Mario Apostolov: The Pomaks: A Religious Minority in The Balkans . Institute on East Central Europe, Columbia University, 1996
  15. ^ AA Pallis: The Population of Turkey in 1935 . In: The Geographical Journal , 1938, 91 (5), pp. 439-445, pp. 442-444.