Pomaks

Pomaks
Помаци (българи мюсюлмани)
Total population
500,000 est. (2002)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Bulgaria:
   150–200,000[2]
Greece:
   30,000 (1981)[3]
Turkey:
   300,000 (2001)[4]
Languages
various closely related dialects of Bulgarian, Turkish
Religions
Muslim
Related ethnic groups
other Bulgarians, Torbesh, Gorani


The Pomaks (помаци pomaci) or Muslim Bulgarians (българи мюсюлмани bălgari mjusjulmani), also known locally as Ahryani, are an Islamized Slavic speaking people of the Rhodope region. Their origins are obscure,[5] but they are generally believed to be Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the period of Ottoman rule in the Balkans.[6] The term can also be occasionally used to refer to the Torbesh. They are settled mainly in Bulgaria, but relevant presences exist also in Greece, Turkey and the Republic of Macedonia.

Etymologies

The origin of the term "Pomak" is uncertain. For the Bulgarian scholars the term could derive either from the Bulgarian word pomagach (помагач), meaning "helper" (the most commonly accepted interpretation[7]), referring to their role as auxiliary units of the Ottoman army; or from pomohamedancheni (помохамеданчени), which means "Islamized". As for Ahryani, a name the Pomaks once used for themselves, this should come from the Old Church Slavonic Agarjani, meaning "infidels", but it might actually derive from the para-religious Muslim brethren of the Ahi, very diffuse in the Rhodopes in the Ottoman period, as supposed by the Bulgarian scholar A. Ishirkov. Other versions still derive it from po măka (по мъка), that is "by pain", referring to an alleged forced conversion to Islam; or poturnyak, literally "one made a Turk". None of these etymologies appear to be trustworthy.

The explanations made by Greek authors claim that Pomak comes from the Greek pomax, which means drinker. Whilst Ahryani would derive from the name of a supposedly Thracian tribe, the Agrianoi.[8]

Conversion

Little is known for certain of the conversion of the Pomaks to Islam; what appears certain is that it was gradual and took place in different periods. A first important wave of conversions took place when, in the second half of the 14th century, the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria; many landholders are reported to have converted as a means to keep the possession of their lands. Other conversions took place under the Sultan Selim II (151220), but most important was the 17th century, when the Rhodopes passed to the Muslim faith. Pomak presence further gained strength through the 18th century, while the last waves of conversions in the Balkans took place in the early 19th century.[9]

These conversions were often believed until the early 20th century to have been made under compulsion, a belief that modern historians have discredited observing that Ottoman authorities rarely took measures to promote Islamization, and believe the Pomaks' conversion to have been voluntary.[10] Official Bulgarian historiography instead has long claimed their conversion to have been forced against their fiercest resistance; this was seen as a mean to salvage the idea that all Bulgarians had been united in opposing the "Turkish yoke". This way the perfect "Bulgarianness" (bălgarshtina) of the Pomaks could be preserved, coining the official ethonym "Bulgarian Mohammedans" (bălgaromohamedani). An example of this sort of positions was expressed in 1989 by the nationalist historian Andrey Pechilkov: "After adopting Islam under the most terrible and harshest circumstances they (i.e. the Bulgarian Muslims) — people whose mind is full of tragedy, but who are hard as stones - did keep their beautiful Bulgarian language, their old Slavic traditions, their pure national character, despite brutal pressure and persecution throughout centuries."[11]

Up to the Balkan Wars

With the end of the process of conversion the Pomaks (and the Torbesh) found themselves concentrated in the Rhodopes, but with important settlements in eastern Macedonia and on the Danube districts, where they could be found centered around Lovech, Pleven and Oryahovo. The Pomaks in the Rhodopes appear then to have benefited from a large measure of autonomy, with an agha, a hereditary chieftain, governing from the mountain village of Tamrash. The agha in 1890 also had a permanent ambassador at Plovdiv that provided visitors with a special visa to the territory controlled by the Rhodope Pomaks.[12] The Czech historian Konstantin Jireček estimated at the turn of the 19th century that Torbesh and Pomaks were no less than half a million, even if Turkish sources reduce this number to 200,000.[13]

But the situation started changing rapidly with the rising discontent among the Christian Bulgarian population regards Ottoman rule; this eventually brought in 1876 to the April Uprising. and the Pomaks found themselves in a difficult position, for their being Bulgarians, and as such near the rebels, and Muslims, and as such close to the Turks. At the end, the absence of a clear distinction between faith and nationality and their being perceived by the local Christians like Turks, brought them to side with the Bashi-bazouks in ruthlessly suppressing the revolt.[14] Pomak auxiliaries played a leading role in the massacres of Batak and Perushtitsa, among the worst made during the quelling of the uprising.[15]

The quelling of the uprising and the reaction among the European public opinion against the Bashi-bazouks and "the free actions of the Pomaks";[16] reaction was especially strong in Russia, bringing to the Russo-Turkish War (18778), with the formation of an independent kingdom of Bulgaria. The 1876 massacres brought during the war to harsh retalions from the Christian peasants and the advancing Russian army, with many Muslims killed and a substantial part of the Pomaks emigrating to the confines of the Ottoman empire, partly forced, partly refusing to live under the rule of the "giaurs" (i.e. infidels). Most hit were the Danube districts, that since the siege of Pleven, almost all Pomaks fled.[17] Many returned in 1880, but most, finding it impossible to regain what they had lost during the war, began to emigrate to Anatolia. Migrations like this was in time to reduce by 1926 the number of Pomaks in Bulgaria to a third.[18]

After the treaty of San Stefano in 1878 ended the war, many Pomaks took part to the "Rhodope mutiny", an organized counterattack of the Ottoman armed forces and the Muslim population of the Rhodopes, led by the former British consul in Varna and Burgas and volunteer officer in the Ottoman army with the active support of the British embassy in Constantinople. Much of the Rhodope region was to be included in the autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, to be governed by a Christian Governor-General; to this prospective twenty Pomak villages rebelled, forming the so-called "Pomak republic". The republic ceased to exist in 1886, a year after the unification of Eastern Rumelia with the kingdom of Bulgaria; the Pomaks' main reason to revolt had ceased, since the demarcation of the southern borders of Bulgaria left these villages in Ottoman territory.[19]

The Unification of Bulgaria in 1885 brought to a new wave of migration among the Pomaks.[20] As to the early behaviour of the Bulgarian government, in general it can be said that there were no attempts to assimilate the Pomaks, who were treated as indistinguishable from the larger Muslim group. This is proven by the census kept in 1880, 1885 and 1888, all of which counted the Pomaks with Turks. It was only in the 1905 census that a separate heading for the Bulgarian Muslims was made, under the voice "Pomaks".[21]

One of the worst moments for the Pomaks came with the start of the Balkan Wars, when Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia united against the Ottoman Empire in 1912. In October, almost simultaneously with the start of the war, the Bulgarian government subjected the Rhodope Pomaks to a wave of forced conversions. The action, known as Pokrustvane (meaning both "Christianisation" and "baptism"), affected 150,000 Pomaks, in an operation directed by a special state committee; in theory voluntary baptism should have been carried out by the Bulgarian Church, but in truth a key role was played by the local administration supported by the army and the insurgent bands, a fact that brought to bloody pogroms against the Pomaks in many villages.[22]

Brutal force and intimidation were applied to convert the people. Active part in the violence took the members of extremist political formations, such as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO), whose regiments were sent in Drama region to forcefully Christianise the Pomaks. Muslims were also intimidated into conversion through promises to have their relatives released. But even worse was that the Pomak population was abandoned at the mercy of the army. Together with it, ordinary citizens participated to the Pokrustvane campaign as well. While the authorities were intent with Bulgarianising the Pomaks, they ignored their most essential needs—to feed, dress, and shelter them. As a result of the plundering and burning their homes during the Pokrustvane operation, the converts were left bare, starving and destitute.[23]

Following the Bulgarian defeat in the war, for both external (the peace negotiations with the Ottoman Empire on the status of Western Thrace) and internal (the upcoming parliamentary elections) reasons the government decided in autumn 1913 to reverse the policy of forced conversion and permitted the Pomaks to resume their former names, a thing they promptly did.[24] The unsuccess of the policy of forced conversion had already been glimpsed a few months before, when the short-lived Republic of Gumuljina was created in Western Thrace with the retreat of both Bulgarian and Ottoman forces; the Pomaks in the area had taken advantage of the situation to reconvert to Islam.[25]

Greece

Enlarge picture
Pomak village in Xanthi, Western Thrace.
In World War I, Bulgaria sided with the Central Powers, while Greece allied itself with the Triple Entente. The latter's victory brought in 1919 to the treaty of Neuilly, under which Bulgaria ceded Western Thrace to Greece. Pomaks there have received status as part of the wider Muslim minority.

Turkey

Today the Pomaks are present in Turkey in both Eastern Thrace, where they have long been present, and in Anatolia, where they have started migrating since the independence of Bulgaria in 1878, but were not previously present. Major waves of Pomaks arrived from the Rhodopes in 1912, 195051 and 1989. Since their settlement in Anatolia they have mostly lost their language, and, together with the local Pomaks in Eastern Thrace, were assimilated to the Turks.[26]

This does not mean that the Pomaks have become completely indistinct from the rest of the Turks; and it appears they are politically well-organized. This is has partly expressed itself through associations of emigrants, like the Culture and Solidarity Association of the Rhodope Turks, a relatively well known if small organization founded by Pomaks before the 1980s; it later merged itself with a similar association of Danubian Turks to form the Culture and Solidarity Association of Rodope-Denube Turks.[27] It is also claimed that Kurdish immigrants settling in Eastern Thrace have brought the Pomaks and Bulgarian Turks living there to become more conscious of their identities.[28]

More important still are the links that connect the Pomak villages in the Rhodopes with their twin villages in Anatolia; the Pomaks who leave Bulgaria often direct themselves to villages inhabited by his kin and friends, that can offer him security. These twin villages are often united by direct lines run by private bus companies.[29]

Differently from Bulgaria, where the Pomaks are reluctant to leave their mountain villages, in Turkey the Pomaks have largely settled in urban areas, notwithstanding past attempts by the authorities to settle them in Anatolian villages. In Yulian Konstantinov's view, this different behaviour should be seen in the light of shifting perceptions of security and insecurity: while Bulgaria is perceived as "insecure", Turkey is instead felt "secure" by the Pomaks.[30]

Coming to the number of Bulgarian-speaking Muslims in Turkey, it is claimed by Ethnologue that they are 300,000 at present.[31] The last linguistic census held in Turkey since 1965 recorded 27,226 people whose mother language was Bulgarian; but this number is almost certainly an undercount.[32]

Regards the Pomaks, its history and identity has been subjected to reinterpretation by the Turks, following the models of appropriation and reinterpretation created among Bulgarians and Greeks. In this view, the Pomaks are really "mountain Turks", descendant of the Turkic peoples that entered the Balkans in the Middle Ages, such as the Avars, Bulgars, and, especially, the Cumans. As for the language, it is claimed that it is a Turkish dialect, very close to Anotolian vernacular dialects, in which 65% of the words are Turkish and only 25% Slavic. Regarding their conversion, it is held that the Cumans living in the Rhodopes came into contact with Muslim missionaries from North Africa and the Middle East and converted to Islam before the arrival of the Ottomans. Works supporting these arguments, while clearly on the outside margins of scholarship, are widely used as political propaganda.[33]

See also

Notes

1. ^ K. Gözler, "Les villages Pomaks de Lofça", (2002)
2. ^ A. Popovic, "Pomaks", in Encyclopaedia of Islam
3. ^ H. Poulton, The Balkans, Minorities and Governments in Conflict, (1993)
4. ^ Ethnologue, "Languages of Turkey (Europe)"
5. ^ F. De Jong, "The Muslim Minority in Western Thrace", (1980), p. 95
6. ^ A Country Study: Bulgaria, "Pomaks", (1992)
7. ^ Ibid.
8. ^ A. Popović, ibid.; T. Seyppel, "Pomaks in Northeastern Greece: An Endangered Balkan Population", (1989), p. 47-8; A Country Study: Bulgaria, "Pomaks"; M. Apostolov, "The Pomaks: A Religious Minority in The Balkans", (1996)
9. ^ A. Popovic, ibid.
10. ^ Ibid.
11. ^ U. Brunnbauer, Histories and Identities: Nation-state and Minority Discourses — The Case of the Bulgarian Pomaks
12. ^ S. Bonsal, "Bulgaria, 1890" in Balkan Reader
13. ^ M. Apostolov, "The Pomaks: A Religious Minority in The Balkans", (1996)
14. ^ A. Popovic. ibid.
15. ^ U. Brunnbauer, Ibid.
16. ^ W. E. Gladstone, Lessons in Massacre, (1877), p. 55
17. ^ A. Popovic, ibid; M. Todorova, "Identity (trans)formation among Bulgarian Muslims"
18. ^ S. Ansari, "Muhajir" in Encyclopaedia of Islam
19. ^ M. Todorova, ibid.
20. ^ A. Popovic, ibid.
21. ^ M. Todorova, ibid.
22. ^ E. Marushiakova & V. Popov, "Muslim Minorities in Bulgaria"; Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, (1914), ch. 2
23. ^ Bulgarian Helsinki Committee — Alternative Report (2003)
24. ^ E. Marushiakova & V. Popov, ibid.
25. ^ Greek Helsinki Monitor — Pomaks
26. ^ M. Apostolov, ibid.
27. ^ M. Apostolov, ibid.; N. Ekici, "The Diaspora of the Turks of Bulgaria"
28. ^ G.M. Winrow & K. Kirisci, The Kurdish Question and Turkey, (1997), p. 133
29. ^ Y. Konstantinov, "Strategies for Sustaining a Vulnerable Identity" in H. Poulton (ed.), Muslim Identity and the Balkan State, (1997), p. 51
30. ^ Y. Konstantinov & Andrei Simić, "Bulgaria: The Quest for Security" in The Anthropology of East Europe Review, (2003)
31. ^ Ethnologue, "Languages of Turkey (Europe)"
32. ^ S. Ansari, "Muhajir"
33. ^ M. Todorova, ibid.; M. Apostolov, ibid.; M. Koinova, "Muslims of Bulgaria"

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Motto
Съединението прави силата   (Bulgarian)
"Suedinenieto pravi silata"
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Ελευθερία ή θάνατος
Eleftheria i thanatos  
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Yurtta Sulh, Cihanda Sulh
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The Anthem of Independence
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Turkish (Türkçe, ]
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Muslim (Arabic: مسلم) is an adherent of the religion of Islam. The feminine form of 'Muslim' is Muslimah (Arabic: مسلمة).
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over 8 million1 (2007)

Regions with significant populations Bulgaria: 6,655,2102 (2001)
Turkey: 300,0004
Ukraine: 204,0002 (2002)
Spain: 119,799 (2007)3
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Macedonian Muslims (Macedonian: Македонци-муслимани, Makedonci-muslimani), also known as Muslim Macedonians[3] or Torbeš
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Gorani (also Горанци/Goranci) are a South Slavic ethnic group, living in the mountainous Gora-Dragaš region, just south of Prizren in the territory of Kosovo (Serbia), north-western Macedonia in the Šar Planina
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Bulgarian Muslims (Bulgarian: българи-мохамедани; locally called pomak, ahryan, poganets, marvak, poturnak
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Motto
Съединението прави силата   (Bulgarian)
"Suedinenieto pravi silata"
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Ελευθερία ή θάνατος
Eleftheria i thanatos  
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Peace at Home, Peace in the World
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The Anthem of Independence
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Old Church Slavonic (also called Old Bulgarian or Old Slavic[1]) is the first literary Slavic language, developed from the Slavic dialect of Thessalonica (modern Thessaloniki) by the 9th century Byzantine Greek missionaries, Saints Cyril and
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A forced conversion occurs when someone adopts a religion or philosophy under the threat that a refusal would result in negative non-spiritual consequences. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death.
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