Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Greece : Turks and Pomaks

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Greece : Turks and Pomaks, 2008, available at: [accessed 17 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Around 1.3 per cent of the population is classed as Muslim in Greece today. Most of them live in Western Thrace, the province bordering Turkey.[1] Many identify themselves as Turks, although they are of different origins, including Muslim Roma/Gypsies and Pomaks or Muslim Slavs. The Pomaks reside mainly in villages in the Rhodope Mountains in Thrace. Their dialects are usually classified as dialects of Bulgarian, although most Pomaks themselves self-identify as Turks, whose welfare is actively promoted by the Turkish government. Under Greek law, the Muslim minority (including the Pomaks) has a right to education in its own language. In practice, however, only Turkish is used. This is due to the Turkish self- identification of the Pomaks, and the fact that this trend was promoted until recently by the Greek authorities (who from 1968 until the 1980s even officially recognized the Pomaks as Turks) in order to distance them from the Bulgarians. Minority languages can be used by local authorities and in courts, and under Greek law, interpreters will be provided. Nevertheless, most Pomaks will speak Turkish on such occasions. Most Pomaks are fluent in their Pomak dialects (spoken amongst themselves), Turkish (their language of education, and the main language of the Muslim minority), Greek (the official language of the Greek state), and may know some Arabic (the language of the Koran). The latest official estimate on the number of Pomaks in Greece was given by the Coordinating Office of Minority Schools in 1994, and was 35,000.

Historical context

When the Greek Government recognized 'Muslims' in the Treaty of Lausanne, the population of Western Thrace was predominantly Muslim. In the 1920 population exchanges, however - and in contravention of the Treaty of Lausanne - some 60,000 Greek-speaking refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Western Thrace; and under the 1967-74 dictatorship Greeks were given financial incentives to move there to land reallocated from Muslims, who were given inferior land in exchange. At the same time, subjected to economic, social and political pressures, Turks and Pomaks emigrated, mainly to Turkey, but also to other areas of Greece and to Germany.

The Treaty of Lausanne gave the 'Muslim minority' the right to religious freedom and to education in their own language which in practice meant Turkish. The militarization of much of Western Thrace due to the Cold War boundary with Bulgaria and the hostility between Turkey and Greece meant that movement was severely restricted for inhabitants.

Turks and Pomaks have not been adequately compensated for land expropriated from them for public use. Elected Turkish minority community boards, established by government decree in 1920, were abolished under the dictatorship and have never been reinstituted. 'Muslim-origin Greek citizens' were deprived of citizenship under Article 19 of the Greek Nationality Law.

Community polarization in Western Thrace increased in the late twentieth century. In 1989 Dr Sadik Ahmet won a seat in parliament as an independent Turkish candidate. In 1990 he was found guilty of provoking discord by claiming the existence of a Turkish minority in Greece. In the 1993 elections the Greek Parliament introduced a 3 per cent nationwide threshold to eliminate the possibility of such candidates winning seats; Ahmet was consequently not re-elected. (He died in a car accident in July 1995.)

Since then the situation has ameliorated. The Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government, ousted in the March 2004 elections, affirmed an individual right of self-identification, but some individuals who defined themselves as members of a 'minority' found it difficult to express their identity freely and maintain their culture. The prohibition of the adjective 'Turkish' in association names continues to be enforced, although individuals legally may call themselves Turks. To most Greeks the terms connote Turkish identity or loyalties, and many objected to their use by Greek citizens of Turkish origin.

Current issues

Turks and Pomaks are represented in the Greek Parliament by New Democracy member Ahmet S. Ilhan. According to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the latest local elections (2002), approximately 250 Muslim municipal and prefectural councillors and mayors were elected, and the Vice-Prefect of Rhodope is also a Muslim

The nomination of lawyer Gulbeyaz Karahasan, a member of Western Thrace Turkish minority, by PASOK as a candidate for the chairmanship of Xanthi-Kavala-Drama Extended Prefecture at the elections in October 2006, caused hostility from conservatives and the Orthodox Church.

In July 2006 the European Court ruled that Greece had violated Article 9 of the ECHR in the case of Mehmet Agga. On 17 August 1990 he was chosen to be the Mufti of Xanthi by Muslims who attended prayers at the district's mosques. When the Greek state, however, appointed another mufti, the applicant refused to step down and criminal proceedings were instituted against him under Article 175 of the Criminal Code. He was found guilty of having usurped the functions of a minister of a known religion on the grounds that he had issued and signed messages in the capacity of the Mufti of Xanthi. He was sentenced to terms of imprisonment which were converted into fines.


[1] Turkish Muslim sources from Western Thrace claim a total of 100,000 to 120,000 Turkish-speaking Muslims in Western Thrace and most observers estimate between 100,000 and 120,000 Muslims out of a total population for Western Thrace of some 360,000 recorded in the census of 1971 (Poulton, H., The Balkans, Minorities and Governments in Conflict, London, MRG, 1993).

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld