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Pomaks of Thrace Say Turkish FM Cavusoglou is Persona Non Grata

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (left) and his Turkish counterpart in Ankara, recently. Credit: Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Cultural Association of the Pomaks in Greece’s northern city of Xanthi issued a damning statement recently, ahead of Sunday’s private visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Western Thrace.

The Association said that Cavusoglu is not welcome in their region and declared him a ”persona non grata.”

The reason for this hostile reaction on behalf of the Pomaks is the fact that Cavusoglu and the Turkish government insist on calling the Greek Muslim minority of Western Thrace ”Turkish.”

”When we died for these lands, we did not know [speak] Turkish,” their statement says.

”Over the recent decades, the Pomaks and Roma of Thrace have been subjected to a cultural and linguistic genocide by Turkish settlers,” the damning statement continues, only to add that ”the minority is one and it is defined by the Treaty of Lausanne; it is Muslim and it consists of communities that have only one thing in common: Their religion!”

Who are the Pomaks

The Pomaks are Bulgarian-speaking Muslims inhabiting Bulgaria, northeastern Greece, and mainly northwestern Turkey.

Approximately 220,000 Pomaks live in Bulgaria and are known there as ”Bulgarian Muslims.”

In Greece, their number is approximately 50,000 people, who live primarily in villages across Western Thrace known as ”Pomakohoria,” meaning the villages of the Pomaks.

The term ”Pomak” has also been used as a wider designation, including also the Slavic Muslim populations of North Macedonia and Albania, apart from these of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

The Pomaks speak various Bulgarian dialects and those spoken in Greece and Turkey are referred to as the Pomak language, which the Greek authorities now try to preserve with minority schools in Western Thrace teaching it.

The community in Greece is commonly fluent in the Greek language, and a large number of them have a strong ethnic Greek identity despite their religious difference compared to Greece’s prevalent religion, Orthodox Christianity.

However, there is also an increasing number of individuals who adopt Turkish as their first language as a result of education and family links with the Turkish people.

Cavusoglu to Visit Greece Despite Tensions

The visit of Cavusoglu to Greece on May 31 has been scheduled to hold talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, and has sparked negative reactions, mainly due to his intention to go privately to Western Thrace the day before.

The Turkish Minister confirmed his visit with the state broadcaster TRT on May 26.

Cavusoglu had said earlier this week that his talks with the Greek Foreign Minister also aim to prepare for a possible meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The visit comes more than a month after Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias held talks in Ankara where Cavusoglu and his counterpart had a war of words at a joint press conference.

The two Ministers argued in front of cameras during the press conference in a rare heated public exchange. They remained at odds over a number of issues, despite hopes that their meeting could have opened an opportunity to lessen tensions over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The visit of Dendias to Turkey was the first between the two nations after tensions rose to a fever pitch in 2020 over maritime boundaries and energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, leading to a military buildup that featured warships from the two countries facing off.


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