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A Forgotten Greece: The Pomakochoria

Pomakochoria Pomaks GreecePomakochoria in Greece. Credit: istoria/John Kazaklis

The Pomakochoria in the Thrace region in Greece are villages where Pomaks, a Muslim minority, live in the Rhodope mountain range.

By John Kazaklis

After miles of mountainous backroads north of the city of Xanthi, Greece lies a region that is commonly unmentioned when discussing modern-day Greece. Far from the highly-photographed, whitewashed villages of the Greek islands frequently featured in tourist brochures are the villages of Thrace known as the “Pomakochoria,” home to indigenous Turko-Slavic speaking Muslims.

Their diverse and complex identity is a result of the many empires and governments that ruled over this hidden region. When the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) exempted Muslims of this region from population exchanges between Turkey and Greece as an effort to homogenize both nations, this created a natural isolation for decades to come.

After getting to know several locals from the village of Echinos, I was able to learn more about this community of Greece that many never hear about.

Grecian Delight supports GreeceEhinos Xanthi Thrace GreeceEhinos, Xanthi, in the Thrace region of Greece. Credit: Ggia/CC BY-SA 3.0

“The local women slaughter (metaphor) their husbands who are away in Germany. The men work in Germany, so the money here comes from Germany. Because the men are gone, you’ll see the women here spend their money on expensive clothes and shoes from Xanthi (nearby city) as a way to cope,” Ibrahim said.

Local traditions & culture

Like the rest of the villages in the Pomakochoria region, Echinos is overwhelmingly Muslim and quite conservative from the outside looking in. Traditional Islamic customs and traditions are observed by the village, such as: strict observance of Ramadan and fasting (locally called Ramazan), the halal diet, and conservative dress amongst the women.

Although Islam forbids drinking alcohol, Ibrahim mentioned that it is common for locals to privately drink in their homes. When we asked Ibrahim about the character and culture of the locals, we were surprised with his response. “When the villagers leave their village, they act completely different and more mafioso,” Ibrahim revealed.

What’s more is that as we drove around and walked through the village, we noticed that there was no plateia or main plaza. This is always found in a Greek village as the epicenter of community and social life where one can find cafés, restaurants, and businesses.

Instead, we found that the village had a couple of kaffeneions and bougatsa shops scattered throughout but no plaza or social epicenter. This showed us that the community was more reserved and quiet in comparison to villages populated by ethnic Greeks.

The Pomak language

Although Pomak, known in Greek as Pomakika, is not the language spoken at home in Echinos, we were able to have Ibrahim provide a small list of words in Greek and English translated into Pomak. Many of the words are Slavic in origin, but there also words from Greek or Turkish.

  1. Brother = Brat
  2. Sister = Séstra
  3. Mother = Maika
  4. Father = Ubaïka
  5. Goodbye = Mérhaba
  6. Thank you = Saöl
  7. Home = Kósha
  8. School = Mektép
  9. Store = Dükén
  10. Friend = Arkadásh
  11. Table = Masa
  12. Fruit = Yemish
  13. Meat = Miyoso
  14. Cheese = Sirinyé
  15. Church = Kiürsé
  16. Mosque = Joumayié
  17. Water = Vodá
  18. Watch (wristwatch) = Saat
  19. Food = Yemék
  20. Car = Kúrsa
  21. Stairs = Skála

This article was published originally at by Washington, DC-based author John Kazaklis, who gave permission for its republication to Greek Reporter.

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