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Pomaks ( , , ) are a Bulgarian speaking, Muslim population group native to some parts of Bulgariamarker, specifically southern Bulgaria, and the adjacent parts of Greecemarker and Turkeymarker. Members of the group today declare a variety of ethnic identities, Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Pomak or Muslim. Historically they are usually considered descendants of native Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans, although some alternative narratives of their historical identity have been proposed and, according to some authors, their precise origins remain unknown. Pomaks speak dialects of the Bulgarian language as their mother tongue, they are fluent in Turkish in Greece and Turkey and they also speak Greek in Greece.



Ethnographic map of European Turkey from the late 19th. century, showing the regions largely populated by Pomaks in brown.
The Pomaks in Bulgaria are referred to as Bulgarian Muslims (българи-мюсюлмани bălgari-mjusjulmani), or under the ethnographic names Ahryani, Torbeshi, etc. They mainly inhabit the Rhodope Mountains in Smolyan Provincemarker, Kardzhali Provincemarker, Pazardzhik Provincemarker and Blagoevgrad Provincemarker. There are Pomaks in other parts of Bulgaria as well. There are a few Pomak villages in Burgas Provincemarker, Lovech Provincemarker, Veliko Tarnovo Provincemarker and Ruse Provincemarker. According to the 2001 census there are 131 531 Muslim Bulgarians in Bulgaria.Since the start of the 20th century the Pomaks in Bulgaria were the subject of state-supported assimilation which included the change of their Turkish-Arabic names to ethnic Bulgarian ones and conversions from Islam to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Bulgarian state redefined the Pomaks as ancestral Bulgarians who therefore needed to be repatriated back to the Bulgarian national domain. These attempts were met with stiff resistance by the Pomaks.

Republic of Macedonia

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


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


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


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


Today the Pomaks are present in Turkeymarker, in both Eastern Thrace and in Anatoliamarker where they are referred to as Pomaklar and their language as Pomakça.There are 300.000 Pomaks in Turkey.

Alternative origin theories

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

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

Another view, especially popular among the Pomaks themselves, is that they are descendants of Thraco-Slavs or pre-Islamic Arab migrants to the Balkans who were converted to Islam by Arab missionaries. This theory is supported by comments of 9th century Christian missionaries in the area about occasional distribution of religious literature by some Islamic missionaries. There are also reports of Muslims migrating from medieval Bulgaria to Hungarymarker, and there is evidence of Arab raids into the peninsula from the 7th century on.

Further reading


  2. READING ROOM 3: Raw deal for the Pomaks[1]
  3. Помаците искат да бъдат признати като етнос[2]
  4. Histories and Identities: Nation-state and Minority Discourses. The Case of the Bulgarian Pomaks. Ulf Brunnbauer, University of Graz
  5. The Balkans, Minorities and States in Conflict (1993), Minority Rights Publication, by Hugh Poulton, p. 111.
  6. KEMAL GÖZLER, Les Villages Pomaks de Lofça aux XVe et XVIe Siècles d’Après les Tahrir Defters Ottomans (Ankara: Imprimerie de la Société Turque d’Historie, 2001)[3]
  7. Fred de Jong, "The Muslim Minority in Western Thrace", in Georgina Ashworth (ed.), Muslim Minorities in the Eighties, Sunbury, Quartermaine House Ltd., 1980, p.95
  8. Ethnologue, Languages of Greece.Bulgarian.
  9. Ethnologue: Languages of the World Fourteenth Edition.Bulgarian.
  10. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pomak People.
  11. Social Construction of Identities: Pomaks in Bulgaria, Ali Eminov, JEMIE 6 (2007) 2 © 2007 by European Centre for Minority Issues
  12. [4]THE POMAKS, Report - Greek Helsinki Monitor
  13. [5]The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
  14. DIMITROV, VESSELIN: In Search of a Homogeneous Nation: The Assimilation of Bulgaria’s Turkish Minority, 1984-1985, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK December 23, 2000 [6]
  15. Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, published by the Endowment Washington, D.C. 1914, p.28, 155, 288, 317, Лабаури, Дмитрий Олегович. Болгарское национальное движение в Македонии и Фракии в 1894-1908 гг: Идеология, программа, практика политической борьбы, София 2008, с. 184-186, Поп Антов, Христо. Спомени, Скопje 2006, с. 22-23, 28-29, Дедиjeр, Jевто, Нова Србиjа, Београд 1913, с. 229, Петров Гьорче, Материали по изучаванието на Македония, София 1896, с. 475 (Petrov, Giorche. Materials on the Study of Macedonia, Sofia, 1896, p. 475)
  16. Center for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE). Muslims of Macedonia. p. 2, 11
  17. Лабаури, Дмитрий Олегович. Болгарское национальное движение в Македонии и Фракии в 1894-1908 гг: Идеология, программа, практика политической борьбы, София 2008, с. 184, Кънчов, Васил. Македония. Етнография и статистика, с. 39-53 (Kanchov, Vasil. Macedonia — ethnography and statistics Sofia, 1900, p. 39-53), Leonhard Schultze Jena. «Makedonien, Landschafts- und Kulturbilder», Jena, G. Fischer, 1927
  18. Fikret Adanir, Die Makedonische Frage: ihre entestehung und etwicklung bis 1908., Wiessbaden 1979 (in Bulgarian: Аданър, Фикрет. Македонският въпрос, София2002, с. 20)
  19. Urgent anthropology Vol. 3 Problems of Multiethnicity in the Western Balkans. Fieldwork Edited by Antonina Zhelyazkova, ISBN 954-8872-53-6.
  20. „Българите в Македония. Издирвания и документи за тяхното потекло, език и народност с етнографска карта и статистика“, Българска Академия на Науките С.,1917; стр. 21.
  21. Nova Evropa,Published by Tipografija, 1927, Item notes: v. 16, p. 449-450
  22. Kosovo: the Bradt travel guide, Gail Warrander, Verena Knaus, Published by Bradt Travel Guides, 2007, ISBN 1841621994, p. 211.
  23. Historical dictionary of Kosova, Robert Elsie, Scarecrow Press, 2004, ISBN 0810853094, p. 70.
  24. Bulgarians in the region of Korcha and Mala Prespa (Albania) nowadays, Balkanistic Forum (1-3/2005), South-West University "Neofit Rilski", Blagoevgrad, Pashova, Anastasija Nikolaeva; Issue: 1-3/2005, Page Range: 113-130.
  25. Religion and the politics of identity in Kosovo by Gerlachlus Duijzings, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000, ISBN 185065431, p. 27.
  26. Capidan, Theodor. Meglenoromânii, istoria şi graiul lor, vol. I, Bucureşti, 1925, p.5, 19, 21-22 (Capidan, Theodor. Megleno-Romanians - their history and dialect, Bucurest 1925, vol 1, p.5, 19, 21-22)
  27. Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, published by the Endowment Washington, D.C. 1914, p. 199.
  28. Adamou E. & Drettas G. 2008, Slave, Le patrimoine plurilingue de la Grèce - Le nom des langues II, E. Adamou (éd.), BCILL 121, Leuven, Peeters, p. 107-132.
  29. HbO-Arab mutation originated in the Pomak population of Greek Thrace, Haematologica, Vol 90, Issue 2, 255-257, 2005 by Ferrata Storti Foundation
  30. The origin of Greek Pomaks is based on HbO-Arab mutation history[7]

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