Avato is a village in Northern Greece that is home to the Greek descendants of the African slaves that were once brought to the region of Xanthi.
Behind the African looks of these Greeks, there is a painful story that goes hundreds of years back. Their roots date back to Ottoman times when their ancestors were brought to Avato as slaves from Sudan.
“Even the locals in Thrace just started visiting us and realizing there are black people from Africa living here,” a local man says.
Avato, meaning impassable and sacrosanct, has a population of around a thousand people. The number of residents of African-Greek descent residing in the village is now a few dozen.
“White people were brought here as slaves from Sudan hundreds of years ago,” a local man says with a smile on his face. “If I tell people that I am a descendant of Democritus, they freak out.”
However, he adds that his predecessors were Greeks even before the modern Greek state was formed.
African Greeks of Avato came as slaves from Sudan
The ancestors of Avato’s African Greeks were brought by an Ottoman pasha from Egypt—likely by Ibrahim’s son, Mohammed Ali—since the area was an Egyptian estate during the years of Ottoman occupation.
As slavery was widespread in North Africa at the time, Turkish Sudan, according to scholars, was a major source of slaves. The Ottoman Empire was one of the main customers.
“An African person used to be worth a bag of flour at that time,” an African Greek says.
There were up to sixty African Greek families in Avato, but most migrated to Germany and the Netherlands throughout the last decades. “Now, all of us who are left behind are close relatives,” he adds. “We are therefore forced to marry white women.”
The African Greeks of Avato are bilingual. They speak Greek and Turkish. Until the 1950s, they were still working under conditions of slavery at the farms of white farmers in Northern Greece, they say.
“The Greek state has forgotten us,” a local says. “We received no help in terms of education. We did not go to schools and universities. We try to survive on our own.”
The African Greeks of Avato take racism in stride. “Racism is everywhere, not just in Avato,” he says and adds that police officers wouldn’t believe he was Greek even after he gave them his ID. “Racism can only be defeated through love, respect, and education.”
Another local says, “We are Greeks. Our fathers and our grandparents were Greeks. Greece is the country where we were born.”
He adds, however, that he would like to visit Sudan some day to see the country from which his predecessors came.