Pomaks - History and Cultural Relations

The conversion to Islam that gave rise to the Pomaks may have begun as long ago as the early 1370s, and Pomak tradition holds that this conversion was accomplished forcibly, though there is little historical evidence that this was the case—it may be that here, as elsewhere, conversion was effected through economic, legal, and religious pressure. Still, the local perception of forced conversion is reinforced in indigenous song and legend. Adoption of Islam was not complete initially, and at first it may have consisted of minor changes in local practice and the adoption of a Muslim name, but as time went on the Pomaks took on other Muslim practices (e.g., the veiling of women). While Pomaks and Christians generally have interacted with little or no conflict, in those areas where Pomaks constituted a majority there was likely to be little or no reason for contact with Christian outsiders. In 1944, Bulgaria came under the control of a Communist regime, which instituted a policy of ethnic assimilation, profoundly suppressing the indigenous culture. (Since 1989, however, Pomaks have regained many cultural Freedoms.) In addition, a trend toward cash cropping and the mechanization of farm work have reduced the self-sufficiency and isolation of Pomak villages. In 1950, many Pomaks took advantage of a legal option to claim Turkish as their national identity and thus to emigrate to Turkey. Over the past several decades, the modernization of transportation and communications have drawn the Pomaks more and more into mainstream Bulgarian life, but they have maintained some degree of distinctiveness nonetheless.

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