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Western Thrace

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Western Thrace (Greek: [Δυτική] Θράκη, [Dytikí] Thráki, [ˈθraci]; Turkish: Batı Trakya; Bulgarian: Западна Тракия, Zapadna Trakiya or Беломорска Тракия, Belomorska Trakiya) is a geographic and historical region of Greece, between the Nestos and Evros rivers in the northeast of the country; Eastern Thrace, which lies east of the river Evros, forms the European part of Turkey, and the area to the north, in Bulgaria, is known as Northern Thrace.

Traditional region of Greece
Unofficial emblem of Thrace
Thrace (blue) within Greece
Thrace (blue) within Greece
Annexation by Greece 1920
Replaced as administrative region by East Macedonia and Thrace 1987
Capital Xanthi
Regional units
 • Total 8,578 km2 (3,312 sq mi)
 • Total 371,208
(2011 census)[1]
 • Density 43/km2 (110/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Thracians
Largest City Alexandroupolis

Inhabited since paleolithic times, it has been under the political, cultural and linguistic influence of the Greek world since the classical era;[2][3] Greeks from the Aegean islands extensively colonized the region (especially the coastal part) and built prosperous cities such as Abdera (home of Democritus, the 5th-century B.C. philosopher who developed an atomic particle theory, and of Protagoras, a leading sophist) and Sale (near present-day Alexandroupoli).[2] Under the Byzantine Empire, Western Thrace benefited from its position close to the imperial heartland and became a center of medieval Greek commerce and culture; later, under the Ottoman Empire, a number of Muslims settled there, marking the birth of the Muslim minority of Greece.

Topographically, Thrace alternates between mountain-enclosed basins of varying size and deeply cut river valleys. It is divided into the three regional units (former prefectures): Xanthi, Rhodope and Evros, which together with the Macedonian regional units of Drama, Kavala and Thasos form the East Macedonia and Thrace region.

The Fourth Army Corps of the Hellenic Army has its headquarters in Xanthi; in recent years, the region has attracted international media attention after becoming a key entering point for illegal immigrants trying to enter European Union territory; Greek security forces, working together with Frontex, are also extensively deployed in the Greek-Turkish border.



Flag of revolutionaries of Western Thrace during the Greek War of Independence

The approximate area of Western Thrace is 8,578 km² with a population of 371,208 according to the 2011 census.[1] More than two-thirds of the population are Orthodox Christian Greeks, while the remainder (approx. 120,000) are Muslims who are an officially recognised minority of Greece. Of these, about half are of Turkish origin, while another third are Pomaks who mainly inhabit the mountainous parts of the region. The Romani of Thrace are also mainly Muslim, unlike their ethnic kin in other parts of the country who generally profess the Orthodox faith of the Greek majority. Thrace is bordered by Bulgaria to the north, Turkey to the east, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Greek region of Macedonia to the west. Alexandroupoli is the largest city, with a municipal population of 72,959 according to the 2011 census.[1] Below is a table of the five largest Thracian cities:[1]

City Greek Town population
Municipality population
Alexandroupoli Αλεξανδρούπολη 58,125 72,959
Komotini Κομοτηνή 54,272 66,919
Xanthi Ξάνθη 56,151 65,133
Orestiada Ορεστιάδα 20,211 37,695
Didymoteicho Διδυμότειχο 9,367 19,493


The Greek mission in Komotini after the incorporation of the area, 1920.
Komotini's clock tower.

After the Roman conquest, Western Thrace further belonged to the Roman province of Thrace founded in 46 AD. At the beginning of the 2nd AD century Roman emperor Trajan founded here, as a part of the provincial policy, two cities of Greek type (i.e. city-states), Traianoupolis and Plotinopolis. From this region passed the famous via Egnatia, which ensured the communication between East and West, while its ramifications were connecting the Aegean world with Thracian hinterland (i.e. upper and middle valley of Evros river). From the coast also passed the sea route Troad–Macedonia, which the Apostle Paul had used in his journeys in Greece. During the great crisis of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD, Western Thrace suffered from the frequent incursions of the barbarians until the reign of Diocletian, when it managed to prosper again thanks to its administrative reforms.[4]

The region had been under the rule of the Byzantine Empire from the time of the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western empires in the early fourth century AD. The Ottoman Empire conquered most of the region in the 14th century and ruled it till the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. During Ottoman rule, Thrace had a mixed population of Turks and Bulgarians, with a strong Greek element in the cities and the Aegean Sea littoral. A smaller number of Pomaks, Jews, Armenians and Romani also lived in the region. At 1821, several parts of Western Thrace, such as Lavara, Maroneia, and Samothraki rebelled, participated in the Greek War of Independence.

During the First Balkan War, the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) fought against the Ottoman Empire and annexed most of its European territory, including Thrace. Western Thrace was occupied by Bulgarian troops who defeated the Ottoman army. On November 15, 1912 on the right bank of the river Maritza Macedonian-Adrianopolitan Volunteer Corps captured the Turkish corps of Yaver Paha, which defends the Eastern Rhodopes and Western Thrace from invading Bulgarians.

The victors quickly fell into dispute on how to divide the newly conquered lands, resulting in the Second Balkan War. In August 1913 Bulgaria was defeated, but gained Western Thrace under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest.

In the following years, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire), with which Bulgaria had sided, lost World War I and as a result Western Thrace was withdrawn from Bulgaria under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly.[5] Western Thrace was under temporary management of the Entente led by French General Charles Antoine Charpy. In the second half of April 1920 in San Remo conference of the prime ministers of the main allies of the Entente powers (except the US) Western Thrace was given to Greece.

Throughout the Balkan Wars and World War I, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey each forced respective minority populations in the Thrace region out of areas they controlled. A large population of Greeks in Eastern Thrace, and Black Sea coastal and southern Bulgaria, was expelled south and west into Greek-controlled Thrace. Concurrently, a large population of Bulgarians was forced from the region into Bulgaria by Greek and Turkish actions. Turkish populations in the area were also targeted by Bulgarian and Greek forces and pushed eastward. As part of the Treaty of Neuilly, and subsequent agreements, the status of the expelled populations was legitimized. This was followed by a further population exchange which radically changed the demographics of the region toward increased ethnic homogenization within the territories each respective country ultimately was awarded.

This was followed by the large-scale Greek-Turkish population exchanges of 1923 (Treaty of Lausanne), which finalized the reversal of Western and Eastern Thrace region's pre-Balkan War demography. The treaty granted the status of a minority to the Muslims in Western Thrace, in exchange for a similar status for the ethnic Greek minority in Istanbul and the Aegean islands of Imbros and Tenedos.

After the German invasion (April 1941), the area was occupied by Bulgarian troops, as part of the triple Axis occupation of Greece, during World War II. During this period (1941-1944) the demographic distribution was further changed, with the arrest of the region's approximately 4,500 Jews by the Bulgarian police and their deportation to death camps administered by Germany. None of them survived.[6]


The economy of Thrace in recent years has become less dependent on agriculture. A number of Greek-owned high-tech industries belonging to the telecommunications industry have settled in the area. The Via Egnatia motorway which passes through Thrace, has contributed to the further development of the region. Tourism is slowly becoming more and more important as the Aegean coast of Region of Thrace boasts quite a few beautiful beaches. Additionally, there is the potential for winter tourism activities in the Rhodopi mountains, the natural border with Bulgaria which are covered by dense forest.


Eski Mosque, Komotini.

The Muslim minority of Thrace has been a source of diplomatic tension between Greece and Turkey. Turkey considers the whole of the Muslim minority a strictly Turkish minority. Greece, on the other hand, considers the whole minority to be Greek citizens of diverse origins and a recognised religious minority under Greece's international obligations (Treaty of Lausanne). Athens affords no official recognition to a Turkish or any other ethnicity.

Such documents as the said paper of the Greek Consulate Berlin[citation needed] have no effect on the minority politics of Greece concerning the concession of any ethnic identity to the Muslim minority and they primarily serve as information publications about Greece to the world.

Within the larger definition of the Muslim minority, the Turks of Western Thrace were exempted from the 1922-1923 Exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey and were granted special rights within the framework of Lausanne Treaty, such as education in the Turkish language.

However, there are ethnic differences within the 'Turkish' minority. The estimated numbers of its constituent ethnic groups are given in a document of the Greek Consulate Berlin[citation needed] as follows:

  • total number of Muslim Minority is: ~120,000
  • Turkish: ~50%[7]
  • Pomaks: ~35%
  • Roma origin: ~15%

Historical demographicsEdit

Samothrace island.

The last censuses which asked about ethnicity were held in the transitional period before the region became part of Greece.[citation needed] A number of estimates and censuses during the 1912-1920 period gave the following results about the ethnic distribution of the area that would become known as Western Thrace:[8]

General Distribution of Population in Western Thrace (1912-1920)
Census/Estimate Muslims Pomaks Bulgarians Greeks Others Total
1912 estimate 120,000 - 40,000 60,000 4,000 224,000
1919 Bulgarian 79,539 17,369 87,941 28,647 10,922 224,418
1919 Bulgarian 77,726 20,309 81,457 32,553 8,435 220,480
1920 French 74,730 11,848 54,092 56,114 7,906 204,690
1920 Greek 93,273 - 25,677 74,416 6,038 201,404

The Pomak population depending on the source was sometimes counted together with the Turks (Muslims) following the Ottoman system of classifying people according to religion, while in other occasions was specified separately. According to the Bulgarian view, they are considered "Bulgarian Muslims" and an integral part of the Bulgarian nation.[8]

By the Bulgarian census in 1919, held on the request of the Entente,[9] of the population of Western Thrace[10] was 219 723 of whom: Turks 35.4% (77 726 Muslims), Bulgarians 46.3% (101 766 - 81 457 Christians and 20 309 Muslims), Greeks 14.8% (32 553 Christians), Jews 1.4% (3066) Armenians 1.5% (2369), others 0,9% (1243). The area ceded to the Entente also included Karaagach and its environs, which became part of Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne.

1919 Bulgarian Census of Western Thrace [9]
Districts Total Turks Bulgarian Christians Bulgarian Muslims (Pomaks) Greeks Jews Armenians Others
Karaagach 25,669 - 12,874 - 11,133 284 835 443
Dimotika 25,081 581 6,070 - 16,856 1,152 298 47
Soflu 16,748 339 12,280 - 4,097 9 21 50
Dedeagach 18,380 625 17,036 - 18 164 465 72
Gumurdjina 92,235 55,754 21,879 10,802 364 1,200 650 1,579
Xanthi 41,619 20,350 10,575 9,500 85 250 100 -
Total 219,723 77,726 (35.4%) 81,457 (37.1%) 20,309 (9.2%) 32,553 (14.8%) 3,066 (1.4%) 2,369 (1.5%) 2,243 (0.6%)

Western Thrace was ceded to the Entente in December 1919, after which many Bulgarians left the region, while many Greeks moved in. The Government of the Entente (led by French general Sharpe) held its own census in 1920,[11][full citation needed] according to which Western Thrace had a population of 204,700, of whom: Turks 36.5% (74,720 Muslims), Bulgarians 32.2% (65,927 = 54,079 Christians and 11,848 Muslims), Greeks 27.4% (56,114 Christians), Jews 1.5% (2985) Armenians 0.9% (1880), others 3066. At the time this census was conducted, a part of the Greek population of Ksanthi, who left massively the Ksanthi district after the Balkan wars (1913), returned.[8]

Census in 1920 conducted by the Entente Powers in Western Thrace.[8]
Districts Total Turks Bulgarians Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims) Greeks Jews Armenians Others
Karaagach 27,193 5 10,200 - 15,045 370 450 1,123
Dimotika 26,313 1,247 4,956 - 18,856 878 157 192
Soflu 21,250 2,770 10,995 - 7,435 - - 50
Dedeagach 16,317 640 11,543 - 3,355 165 512 102
Gumurdjina 64,961 39,601 14,794 2,341 4,773 1,292 651 1,559
Xanthi 48,666 30,538 1,591 9,507 6,650 280 200 -
Total 204,700 74,720 (36.5%) 54,079 (26.4%) 11,848 (5,8%) 56,114 (27.4%) 2,985 (1.5%) 1,880 (0.9%) 3,066 (1.5%)

According to the Turkish researches[12] the population of Western Thrace in 1923 was 191,699, of whom 129,120 (67%) were Turks/Muslims (also includes the Pomaks) and 33,910 (18%) were Greeks; the remaining 28,669 (15%) were mostly (Christian) Bulgarians, along with small numbers of Jews and Armenians (before the population exchange).

General Distribution of Population in Western Thrace in 1923, prior to the Greek-Turkish population exchange, according to Turkish claims (based on of 1913)[13]
Districts Total Turks Greeks Bulgarians Jews Armenians
Soufli 31,768 14,736 11,542 5,490 - -
Alexandroupolis 27,473 11,744 4,800 10,227 253 449
Komotini 80,165 59,967 8,834 9,997 1,007 360
Xanthi 52, 255 42,671 8,728 522 220 114
Total 191,699 129,120 (67,4%) 33,910 (17,7%) 26,266 (13,7%) 1,480 (0,8%) 923 (0,5%)
General Distribution of Population in Western Thrace in 1923, according to Greek delegation in Laussane[14]
Districts Total Greeks Turks Bulgarians Jews Armenians
Didymoteicho 34,621 31,408 3,213 - - -
Soufli 32,299 25,758 5,454 1,117 - -
Orestiada 39,386 33,764 6,072 - - -
Alexandroupolis 38,553 26,856 2,705 9,102 - -
Komotini 104,108 45,516 50,081 6,609 1,112 1,183
Xanthi 64,744 36,859 27,882 - - -
Total 314,235 199,704 (63,6%) 95,407 (30,4%) 16,828 (5,4%) 1,112 (0,4%) 1,183 (0,4%)

The population of the region, according to the official census of 1928 and 1951 conducted by the local authorities, per mother tongue, was as follows:[15]

Population in Western Thrace per mother tongue, 1928 (official census)
Prefectures Total Greek Turkish Slavic Aromanian Albanian Pomak Jewish Other
Evros 122,730 102,688 16,626 520 5 9 2 1,010 1,870
Xanthi 89,266 44,343 27,562 294 37 175 14,257 694 1,904
Rodopi 91,175 36,216 49,521 245 26 21 2,481 1,178 1,487
Total 303,171 183,247 (60,4%) 93,709 (30,9%) 1,059 (0,3%) 68 (<0,1%) 205 (<0,1%) 16,740 (5,5%) 2,882 (1%) 5,261 (1,7%)
Population in Western Thrace per mother tongue, 1951 (official census)
Prefectures Total Greek Turkish Slavic Aromanian Albanian Pomak Jewish Other
Evros 141,340 126,229 10,061 0 18 4,121 112 18 781
Xanthi 89,891 46,147 26,010 8 5 354 16,926 2 439
Rodopi 105,723 45,505 57,785 0 2 5 1,628 8 790
Total 336,954 217,881 (64,7%) 93,856 (27,9%) 8 (<0,1%) 25 (<0,1%) 4,480 (1,3%) 18,666 (5,5%) 28 (<0,1%) 2,010 (1,7%)


Ruins of the ancient city of Abdera.
  • Abdera, an ancient Greek coastal town in the regional unit of Xanthi is the birthplace of the Greek philosophers Democritus, considered by some the father of the atomic theory, and Protagoras, who is credited with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of "virtue".
  • Thrace and in particular the Rhodope mountains, its northern mountainous part, is home to one of the two surviving brown bear (species Ursus arctos) populations in Greece (the other is in the Pindus mountains, in central Greece).
  • The Greek-Turkish border is a major entering point of illegal immigrants from Asia (Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis) trying to enter Europe.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Announcement of the results of the 2011 Population Census for the Resident Population" (PDF). Piraeus: Hellenic Statistical Authority. 28 December 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ [1] D. C. Samsaris, The Hellenization of Thrace during the Greek and Roman Antiquity (Doctoral thesis in Greek), Thessaloniki 1980
  4. ^ D. C. Samsaris, Historical Geography of Western Thrace during the Roman Antiquity (in Greek), Thessaloniki 2005
  5. ^ Treaty of Neuilly, article 27 (3), 48
  6. ^ (eds.), Bruno De Wever ... (2006). Local government in occupied Europe : (1939 - 1945). Gent: Academia Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-90-382-0892-3. 
  7. ^ Θεοφάνης Μαλκίδης. "Οι Πομάκοι στη Θράκη"
  8. ^ a b c d Vemund Aarbakke (2000). The muslim minority of Greek Thrace. Phd thesis / University of Bergen. 
  9. ^ a b Ст. Трифонов, Антантата в Тракия 1919-1920 г.
  10. ^ Иван Алтънов, Междусъюзнишка Тракия, София 1921г. pg 35
  11. ^ L’Echo de Bulgarie, N 1963, 4 mai 1920.
  12. ^ Whitman 1990, 1
  13. ^ Öksüz 2004, 255.
  14. ^ Huseyinoglu, Ali (2012). "The Development of Minority Education at the South-easternmost Corner of the EU: The Case of Muslim Turks in Western Thrace, Greece" (PDF). University of Sussex. p. 123. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Kotzamanis, Byron. "Θράκη: εκατονταετία πληθυσμιακών ανακατατάξεων" (PDF). University of Thessaly. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 


External linksEdit