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What Happened to the Camels of Greece?

Camels in Amfissa. Credit: Public Domain

Once upon a time, many decades ago, when burning wood was the only means of keeping one’s home warm, load-carrying camels were not an uncommon sight in rural Greece.

Most of the camels in Greece were found in Thrace, and their numbers increased after the 1923 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. In the Rhodope mountains in particular, camels were very common in agricultural communities.

The best known were the ones belonging to camel driver Velitin Deveci who lived in Komotini. Deveci’s camels were able to go to the most inaccessible areas of the Rhodope Mountains to carry wood back to the city.

Α camel can travel 22-25 kilometers (14-16 miles) carrying heavy loads. Deveci had 10 camels with which he transported mainly firewood from the mountains and sold it in the Komotini area. He sold it door to door to houses of both Christians and Muslims.

From the years of the Ottoman Empire, the family of Velitin Deveci was the most famous and wealthy family in Komotini due to the camels they owned. The Deveci family was one of the oldest in Komotini and driving camels was their profession. After all, Deveci actually means “camel driver” in the Turkish language.

Back in the 1930’s when there were camels in Greece. Credit: Public Domain

The profession passed from generation to generation and continued until 1968, when Velitin Deveci passed away and the last camel the family owned was sold and eventually slaughtered for its meat.

Mehmed Devetzioglou, the son of Velitin Deveci, grew up among camels and became a veterinarian. It was the profession of his ancestors that inspired him to do so. He said that camels can live everywhere and they are very easy to feed since they can eat dry bushes, wild greens, even thorns, while they need little water.

Camels in Greece replaced by mules, then cars

Camels in Greece. Credit: Public Domain

As time went by, roads were built in Rhodope and the mountainous areas were no longer inaccessible and in the 1960s trucks replaced camels in transporting wood to the city.

It was no longer convenient to maintain camels in Rhodope, yet the law did not allow for them to be slaughtered. Eventually, Devetzioglou pulled some strings and a permit was issued for them to be sold to a slaughterhouse. Thus, the last camels of Komotini were made into sausages.

Other than Komotini, Amfissa in Central Greece was a place were camels had been bred since the times of the Ottoman rule. They were used for the transportation of agricultural products.

However, again, they were replaced by mules in the first decades of the 20th century and later by trucks as the road network was built and the camel caravans disappeared from the Greek landscape.

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