This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
(by Roumi Radenska), last updated: 31-Jul-1994
'Pomaks' is the name of pretty large group of people who live
mainly in Rhodopi mountains (southern Bulgaria, close to the
border with Greece). They have muslim names and speak very
ancient bulgarian language (bulgarian belongs to the group of
slavic languages). Their ancestors were slavic christian people
who accepted muslim religion. This fact took place in 16th and
17th centuries. There were several ways to become muslim that
time, when Bulgaria like all Balkan peninsula, was part of the
Ottoman empire. But most common paths to islamiztion were:
1. Through marriages. This way was valid for a number of
2. Voluntary islamization. Main reason for that was escaping a
lot of taxes.
3. Forced islamization. The largest amount of 'pomaks' became
muslims that way. There are well known several ottoman actions
for islamiztion of bulgarians living in Rhodopi mountain during
17th century. Here is coming the question: why ottomans forced
the people living in that region only to accept the muslim faith?
One of the explanations is: Rhodopi mountains were a huge hunting
field for the sultan, his family and large number of his people.
They needed to be served during their stay there (some times for
months). According to their believes they have to be served only
by muslims. That's why ottomans forced the large amount of
bulgarian population in Rhodops to accept the islam.
How we know about that fact? Ottoman empire had excellent
organized tax system. All taxpayers were registered in books,
their land or other property described in order to determine the
taxes. Naming the taxpayers ottomans used identification on first
name of the person and the name of his father. For example:
Khasan, son of Ivan. Khasan is muslim name, but Ivan is slavonic,
christian name. This is the way we know that 'pomaks' used to be
slavic christian people before they became muslims. A lot of
books from all 500 years of ottoman rule over Bulgaria containing
data about taxes and taxpayers are saved in archives in Sofia,
'Pomaks' were pretty isolated from the rest of the bulgarian
society for centuries. They saved that old bulgarian language and
some old customs which took place before 17th century. About 20
years ago, in the beginning of 1970s, the ethnography professor
Ivan Koev from Sofia University lead a student expedition to
pomak region called 'Chech'. They did research on language,
crafts and customs in that area. I visited the village of
Sarnitza entirely populated by pomaks in 1983. My impressions of
that visit are still fresh. All the houses were new two stories
brick buildings. Many families had cars. A lot of children were
playing in the yards dressed with snow white shirts. It was such
a peaceful picture and all the past seemed to be forgotten.