A unique Afro-Turk community in Greece

41-year-old Ogun Sabri complained that he was once arrested by the Greek police after being suspected of being an illegal immigrant just because of his skin color.

A unique Afro-Turk community in Greece

World Bulletin / News Desk

Located 26 kilometers from the city of Iskece (Xanthi) in the Western Thrace region of Greece lies a unique community of 'Afro-Turks' - or Turks of African origin. Having lived in the region since the Ottoman times, the residents of the village of Avato are native speakers of both Greek and Turkish.

Believed to have settled as slaves brought over from Sudan by the local Ottoman governors, the people of Avato over time became completely integrated with the local society. Through inter-marriage with the wider community, the number of these Afro-Turks have gradually decreased, but a few still maintain dominant African features.

One particular resident, Hakic Mehmetoglu, who bears a typical Turkish name, told Eleftherotypia that his grandparents were brought over as slaves from Arabia during the Ottoman era.

"No where else in Thrace will you find us; only in Avato. In the past, there were some in the surrounding villages. Now there are four families left. The village was was the seat of the governor, so that's why the blacks are here. I heard from the old people, from my late father, that our village was once a marsh. So that's why it's called Avato (meaning "untrodden"). My dad was black. Very black!" said local blue-eyed cafe owner Rasim Raim.

"My mother was from the Caucasus, my grandfather from Sudan. That's all I know," he explained. "We're Greek Muslims of African origin," Raim says. "We've never agreed on our origins. You can hear lots of versions," he continued.

"My grandmother was from Sudan. She spoke Arabic. I remember her sitting by the fireplace and looking for a lighter. And she said to me, 'Give me nar.' She asked me for a light, in Arabic," he said.

41-year-old Ogun Sabri, who also has a Turkish first name, said, "If we could go back 300 years, then we'd find out how my ancestors came here. And if you go back to the first world war, you'll find out how they decided to settle here. My grandfather told my father that our ancestors were brought in through the port in Avdira (20km to the east) and from there they came here."

Complaining that he was once arrested by the Greek police after being suspected of being an illegal immigrant just because of his skin color, Sabri said, "When I say that I'm Greek, people are amazed. Go and learn the history of your country, they tell me. Go to where you're from."

Researcher Prince Peter (1908–1980) was the first to actually conduct a anthropological study on this unique community. A similar community is also known to be living in Turkey's Izmir district, while many Turkish Cypriots also trace their heritage back to Nubian slaves from the Egypt-Sudan border region.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Haziran 2014, 11:08