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An exclusive and modest Balkan community: Pomaks17 October 2018

The origin of Pomaks whose identity and ethnic roots have been scientifically and politically discussed for the last century is the subject of this study. Have the Pomaks who are considered to be Aren/Achiryan, Torbesh/Türkbaş and Gorali etc. and have the same language, culture and belief a local Islamized or are they a Turkish community, who live in the Balkans?

It should be admitted that communities with a background of different races and cultures have been mixed and merged so much in the Balkans where language, religion, culture, and nationalities blend together that it has become very difficult to distinguish them with sharp marks. Therefore, it is never true to take into account only one element such as race, language, and religion in the Balkans which was characterized as “a geography not producing history, but consuming it” by Winston Churchill, the English politician. Besides, how true and scientific it is to define “nationality” as solely based on “language” or “religion”?

As mentioned above, some detections have been made with regards to the context of nation and nationality in the Balkans where races, languages, religions, and cultures were mixed together and affected each other through the history; and history and science branches such as ethnography, social science, linguistics, literature, art history, archaeology etc. should be seen as the laboratory of languages, religions, and cultures referred as “the other” and their data should be used.

If these languages, religions and cultural differences of the community considered as “the other” are not respected and these differences become a battle of hostility and power, dark clouds cover that geography and neverending battles and struggles take the place of peace and comfort. This is the kind of tough and heavy atmosphere that the Balkans spent their last hundred years. Unfortunately, today, as we are in the 100th anniversary of Balkan Wars, the Balkans have still seen as a geography where forced migration, ethnic cleansing, despotism, repression, the pressure of religion and nationality exchange by force, and genocide took place for Turks and their relative communities.

Many nations have been affected by this negative process, but not as much as Pomaks... Because in the geography of the Balkans, there is not any community other than Pomaks that grows by maturing in fierce conditions for the sake of protecting their identity. Pomaks, who were accepted as Islamised Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, Serbian etc. in their countries without looking at how they perceived themselves and were under severe pressure, cruelty and policies of assimilation, are unfortunately still grappling over these primitive practices today.

This community, called as Pomak, Torbesh, Gorani etc. in the countries where they live, is Muslim in essence and it considers itself Turkish. Therefore, it is a humanistic and scientific necessity to search for elements of Turkishness in the cultural codes and history of this community which has never given up and been deterred from its Muslim-Turkish identity by resisting all kinds of pressure, torment and policies towards their identity in a period of centuries and to put them forward with scientific criteria. Since perception is about the cultural identity, consciousness of relativity and accumulation of an individual or a community above all things, it is necessary to go over Pomak communities from these aspects. If the elements of Turkishness in the Pomaks’ perception of identity can be put forward with concrete examples, it can be easily understood why they persistently put emphasis on “Turkishness”.

In this study, the analogy between customs such as birth, death, marriage, food culture etc., and the social and collective memory, of the community which has been discussed in ethnical aspects such as Pomak, Gorani, Torbesh etc. and that of Turkey & Central Asian Turkishness will be pointed out. Thus, it will be seen that claims attributed to them as “Islamised Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian and Serbian” remain in the air, and on the contrary, the view that they belong to Turkish history and culture, and their Turkishness will grow stronger.

Pomaks live in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Turkey under the names of Pomak, Torbesh, Gorali, Agaryan/Achryan etc. They live mostly in Rodophes, Pirin and Vardar Macedonia in the Balkans mostly. Lofça (Lovech), Plevne (Pleven), Teteve, Rahova in North Bulgaria; Plovdiv in Middle Bulgaria; Thessaloniki in Greece; Manastır (Bitola) in Macedonia; İşkodra (Shkodra) in Albania; and Kosovo are some of the territories where Pomaks have lived with different names.

After the Ottoman-Russian War in 1877-1878, a major part of the population migrated to Turkey as did other Turkish and Muslim communities. Today, these Balkan immigrants live in cities such as Edirne, Kırklareli, Tekirdağ, Çanakkale, Balıkesir, Bursa, Sakarya, Manisa, Eskişehir etc.

I do not want to explain the origins of the names Pomak, Torbesh, Aren/Achiryan which have torn the Balkans into pieces with hostile nationalism policies and dreams of “Great Bulgaria, Great Greece, Great Serbia, Great Macedonia…” These attitudes towards Balkans region are results of ideas and attitude that make this area uninhabitable for all nations without discriminating religion, language, and nationality for over a century. It is clear that the claims of origin for most of these local names, if not all of them, are forced, cannot solve the identity problem of the communities mentioned above and cause no benefits in regards to identity perception. The bibliography at the end of this study shows the claims and studies on this topic.

Ironically, the countries who regard Pomaks as their own adopt the idea that they are not Turkish, but each one of them rejects the claim of the others. For instance, like the Greek, Macedonian and Serbian, the Bulgarians claim that “Pomaks are not of Turkish origin”; but separate themselves from the “Islamized Greek”, “Islamized Macedonian”, “Islamized Serbian”, even “Islamized Russian” and even struggle against them because they consider them as “Islamized Bulgarians”. In this case, regarding the fact that there is not any common conviction accepted by scientific authorities to the various ideas reflecting national policies of each claimant country until now.

Source: Günşen, A (2013), “Pomaks as a Balkan Community And Evidence Of Turkishness in Their Perceptions Of Identity”.  Balkan Araştırma Enstitüsü Dergisi, V. 2, N. 1, pp. 35-54.

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