History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


X. Conversions to Islam in Macedonia


1. The Vallahades of Western Macedonia


 __1_   —   __2_   —   __3_


1. The miserable conditions prevailing in Macedonia towards the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century were to deteriorate further during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774 and the ensuing period of Albanian domination. Not surprisingly, there was a marked increase in the number of converts to Islam during these dark years. Though factual information is scarce, popular tradition helps to fill in the picture.


The most extensive conversions were those of the so-called Vallahades inhabiting a large number of Greek villages in Western Macedonia (see map 7). Their native tongue provides irrefutable proof of their Greek ancestry. Right up to recent times these people retained the old names for the heights in the region (e.g. Ayios Athanasios, Prophitis Elias, Ayios Nikolaos), in contrast with the Turkish colonists of Anatolian origin who had settled to the east of the Vallahades and had given the surrounding mountains Turkish names [1]. Indeed, there were wayside chapels scattered among the hills which continued to be entrusted to the Vallahades womenfolk and kept in good repair against the ravages of time.


The Vallahades derived their name from the Moslem oath Vallahi (By Allah). They were also called Phoutsidhes from ϕούτσι μ' ( = ἀδελϕούτσι μου: ο my brother!). There were pockets of them scattered amongst the Greek population of south-west Macedonia, particularly the kazas of Anaselítsa, Grevená, and Elassón. During the 19th century they formed a



1. Margaret Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals among certain Moslem subjects of Greece, «Contemporary Review», 125 (January - June 1924) 226.





quarter of the population of the Aliákmon Valley, according to the Epirote warrior of 1821, Lampros Koutsonikas [1]. Zotos Molossos, a fellow Epirote, is more precise; he estimates them at 20 thousand and declares his bold opinion that within 24 hours of a successful revolution they would revert to Christianity [2].



Map 7. Villages of the Vallahades around Anaselitsa

Map 7. Villages of the Vallahades around Anaselitsa.   [[ large map ]]



The Vallahades villages in the province of Anaselítsa totalled eighteen. In a number of these there still dwelt a few Christian families [3]. Purely Moslem villages were the following: Pylorí, Lái (Peponiá), Yánkovi, Plazómista (Stavrodrómi), Váïpes (Dafnerón), Vínyani, Maxgáni,



1. Koutsonikas, Γενικὴ Ἱστορία τῆς ἑλληνικῆς ἐπαναστάσεως, Athens 1863, vol. 1, p. 124.


2. Β. D. Zotos Molossos, Ἠπειρωτικαὶ Μακεδονικαὶ Μελέται, τ. Δ', Δρομολόγιον τῆς Ἑλληνικῆς Χερσονήσου, τεῦχ. Γ'. Μακεδονία καὶ Σερβία, Athens 1887, p. 237.


3. Photopoulos, Ἱστορία τῆς Σελίτσης, pp. 67-68.





Voudourína, Tsavalér, Tserapianí, Sirótsiani, Vróndriza (Vrondí). Of mixed populations were the following: Vrongísta, Tsotyli, Silomísti, Tsaknochóri, Rézni (Anthoúsa), Plázoumi (Homalí) [1]. At Tsotyli, until the exchange of populations, there were about 150 Vallahades families and 40 Christian [2]. There is a record, too, of a village called Ginós (Molócha), which was not far distant from Leipsísta (Neápoli). From Ginós there survives an ordinance of excommunication signed by the metropolitan of Sisanion Agathangelos. Though it does not bear a date, the document was clearly drawn up at a time when the inhabitants of the village were Christians, and is undeniable proof that the Vallahades of Ginós were of Christian origin [3].


In the Grevená region there were 17 villages of Greek-speaking Vallahades, of which 10 were entirely Moslem: Kríftsi (Kivotós), Dovrátovo (Vatólakkos), Goublár (Mersína), Meliá, Kyrakalí, Vrástino (Anávryta), Kástron, Pegadítsa, Agaléï of Véntzia, Tórista. The remaining 7 were mixed, namely Dovroúnitsa (Klimatáki), Soúbino (Kokkiniá), Trivéni (Sydendron), Dóvrani (Élatos), Véntzia (Kéntron) [4]. Margaret Hardie (Mrs. Hasluck), who visited these villages earlier this century, writes: "In their houses also the Vallahades have retained their Christian taste, building as handsome a two-storeyed house as their means permit. The Asiatics build by preference an one-storeyed and let it straggle at will, apparently without any fixed plan... The general effect (of the Asiatics) is of secrecy and inhospitality so that, on going from the furtive Asiatics to the welcoming European Vallahades, I at least used to feel as if I had left a stuffy room and emerged into the fresh, wind-swept open" [5].



2. The Vallahades were farmers and stock-rearers. They differed in many ways from their other co-religionists. To begin with, their knowledge of Turkish was very limited, and what little they knew was for the most part in a corrupted form. Here are a few examples: Vallaha = by Allah; selamalekum (correct Turkish: Selamüaleyküm) = 'greetings!';



1. Zach. Drosos, Οἱ Βαλαάδες τῆς Ἁνασελίταης καὶ τῶν Γρεβενῶν, «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας» 7 (1938) 149.


2. Angelis, Τὸ Τσοτύλιον, «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας» 1 (1932) 141.


3. Β. D. Tsaknakis, Οἱ Βαλαάδες. Οἱ Χριστιανοὶ τοῦ Γκινὸς (Μολόχα), «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας» 5 (1936) 84-85.


4. Drosos, Οἱ Βαλαάδες..., «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας» 7 (1938) 149.


5. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 232.





merhaba = 'How do you do?'; [1] Allah bin berikyat versin (correct Turkish: Allah bin bereket versin) = 'May God bless you' (a form of thanks) [2]. Moreover, they were almost totally ignorant of the basic elements of the Moslem religion [3]. They had preserved not only their Greek tongue but, more important, their respect for their former churches and chapels [4], and revered the holy Mysteries, the feasts and the fasts of the Christian religion [5]. What is more, they kept the typically Greek custom on New Year's Day, namely the cutting of the New Year cake (βασιλόπιτα) with the coin hidden inside it. As with the Christian Greeks, the one who found the coin was held to be the luckiest of the year; he could either spend the coin immediately, or else sew it up in the first sack of corn kept for seed to ensure a rich harvest in theyear to come [6]. Nor did Easter-tide, the most important Orthodox feast of all, go by without some participation on the part of the Vallahades. The red eggs of Easter Sunday that were offered them by the Christians, were accepted with pleasure and kept with due respect. At Eastertime, too, in Vallahades houses the womenfolk carried out the customary 'spring cleaning', exactly as the Christians did [7]. And on St. George's day (23 April), while the Christians were celebrating the day in the open air, dancing, singing and roasting lamb on the spit, the Vallahades were celebrating in identical fashion. The stricter Moslems, who were averse to any Christian influence, asserted that the Turks were celebrating on that day the memory of their own saint, Khidr (who is in fact none other than Saint George). But such assertions are manifestly untrue, for the neighbouring Asiatic Turks did not celebrate this Moslem Feast with anything like the same fervour [8].


The Vallahades retained numerous other elements of the Christian religion, as for example their belief in the miraculous powers of the saints in the curing of sick people [9]. It is recorded that when Christians



1. B. Nicolaïdy, Les Turcs et la Turqie contemporaine, Paris 1859, vol. 2, pp. 216 -217.


2. Ph. D. Papanikolaou, Λαογραϕικὰ Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας, Thessalonica 1962, vol. 1, p. 134.


3. Nicolaïdy, ibid., vol. 2, p. 220.


4. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 226.


5. Zotos Molossos, Ἠπειρωτικαὶ Μακεδονικαὶ Μελέται, p. 252.


6. Hardie - Hasluck, ibid., p. 230.


7. Ibid., p. 226.


8. Ibid., pp. 226-227.


9. Zotos Molossos, ibid., p. 252.





came and held a service in a Vallahades village where a Christian church survived, the Moslem women would hurry with their children to stand outside the church; and when the service was over and the church empty, they would go inside in turn and ask the priest to annoint the sick people they brought with them with oil the Saint's lamp, and would invoke the Saint's help. They also made a vow to contribute oil and candles to the church, should the sick person recover [1]. But quite apart from this, every year they used to donate oil, candles or money to the churches, in the neighbouring Greek villages, because they believed that it was good for the health and prosperity of their family [2].


Another characteristic feature is the way by which they would attempt to rid themselves of the effects of the 'evil eye'. They had a kind of crucifix termed 'monókero' (unicorn), which they believed could cure a person who was under the evil eye. All that was necessary was to plunge it into clean water. In this instance they were clearly employing the most representative symbol of what was to them a foreign religion (namely the Christian) and thereby transgressing the express commandment of their own religion which forbade the use of graven images [3].


When visited by serious epidemics, the Vallahades used to send for the remains of St. Nikanor and dedicate stockings, cows and oxen to the famous monastery of Závorda [4]. In 1917, when 'Spanish 'flu' was raging throughout Macedonia and claiming thousands of victims, an icon from one of the monasteries (probably Závorda) was carried in procession through the villages. The Vallahades showed no hesitation in doing reverence to the famous icon side by side with the Christians who were suffering from the illness, in the hope that the sacred picture would counteract the infection. They even consented to be sprinkled with holy water and to be censed and blessed by the priest who was carrying the icon. Some of the Vallahades went so far as to paint the form of the cross in pitch above their doors, hoping thereby to avert the evil, since they believed that the Christian Hell was a lake of pitch; [5] and when their women making bread, they marked the sign of the cross on each loaf they made [6].



1. G.P.S.P., Οἱ Βαλαάδες, «Μακεδονικὸν Ἡμερολόγιον» 1911, p. 116.


2. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 226.


3. Hardie - Hasluck, ibid., p. 229.


4. Mich. Ath. Kalinderis, Σημειώματα Ἱστορικὰ (ἐκ τῆς Δντ. Μακεδονίας), Ptolemaïs 1939, pp. 6-7.


5. Hardie - Hasluck, ibid., p. 229.


6. Papanikolaou, Λαογραϕικά, p. 134.





Like the Greeks, the Vallahades had retained a number of pre-Christian conceptions. They believed, for example, that three days after a child was born, it was visited by three old women—the Fates—who determined the child's future. Their judgement was irreversible. The mothers had therefore to anticipate their visit and flatter them. Thus the mother would put the newly born child in its finest clothes, set out on its pillow all her own jewelry, and then set the table with bread and wine for the Fates. If the child was a girl, they would place a coin on the table, and pen, ink, and paper, if it was a boy. There is no reason for thinking that the Vallahades' belief in the Fates may have been taken over from their co-religionists, the Asiatic Turks, since the latter possess no trace of such a notion [1].


The Vallahades, therefore, were not far wrong in saying, "Μιὰ κρουμδότσιϕλα μᾶς χουρίζ" (there's no more than an onion-skin between us) [2], meaning that they were not all that different from the Christians.


Almost all the land in the region was in the hands of the Vallahades (a fact that leads one to conclude that it had been the richer people who had gone over to Islam in order to retain their property). The Greeks possessed only a few remote vineyards and fields, and this was one of the reasons that led them to emigrate [3]. The Vallahades are described as peaceful folk, extremely hospitable, and — like the Greeks — fond of anything beautiful. In their villages no mosques or minarets were to be seen. What distringuished the Vallahades' houses from the Christians' was the fact that the windows of the women's quarters were placed higher up in the walls than those of the men's [4]. This was a preventive measure to protect their families from the Turks, who molested the Vallahades in spite of the identity of religion [5]. Another feature that marked out the Vallahades from the Greeks was the head-band they wore on top of their fez [6].


Pouqueville gives a very colourful picture of the Vallahades: spendthrifts, always hunting and enjoying themselves, having no thought of saving up money, for their land provided them with an inexhaustible treasure from the vintage and harvest. He describes the celebration



1. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 231.


2. Papanikolaou, Λαογραϕικά, p. 134.


3. Zotos Molossos, Ἠπειρωτικαὶ Μακεδόνικαὶ Μελέται, p. 253.


4. Nicolaïdy, Les Turcs, p. 219. Zotos Molossos, ibid., p. 253.


5. Nicolaïdy, ibid., p. 219.


6. Zotos Molossos, ibid., p. 253.





that took place at the wedding of the ayân (chief notable) of Anaselítsa, to which more than 200 people were invited. The guests were seated round gilt-bronze tables (the well-known sinis), gorging themselves like primitive men and tearing the meat to pieces with their hands. Young boys, richly dressed, served them chilled wine, and musicians entertained them with 'barbarous strains' (the words are Pouqueville's) on their instruments. The whole seray and courtyards echoed with music and applause [1].


The marriage customs were little different from the corresponding Greek ones current in that region [2]. The joyous event was celebrated with the same display by Greeks and Vallahades alike. They had a special traditional song to mark each stage of the wedding day: one was sung while the bride was arranging her hair, another was concerned with the bride-groom shaving, another was sung as the bride was being conducted from her Father's house, another as she was greeted at the house of the bride-groom, etc. These songs were, of course, accompanied with dances performed by a troop of people in a long line [3]. On such festive occasions there were also songs which recorded unsuccessful attempts at prosyletizing girls or women to Islam, such as:


—Become a Turk, my girl, and change your faith;

Worship at the mosque and leave behing the church.

—Rather would I see my blood dye red the earth

Than see Turks kiss me on the eyes [4].


The centuries of co-existence between the Christian and renegade Greeks was bound to produce reciprocal influences. Thus, for example, when a Christian couple found that they could not have any children, they did not hesitate to seek the help of the abbot of the Vallahades monastery of Odra, who was renowned for his charms. For certain afflictions Christians would wash their faces in water which dripped from the roof of the monastery and present the foundation with money and can-



1. Pouqueville, Voyage, vol. 2, p. 511.


2. See Drosos, Οἱ Βαλαάδες, p. 148. Their funerary customs do not show Christian influences (Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 231).


3. Hardie - Hasluck, ibid., p. 231.


4. G.P.S.P., Οἱ Βαλαάδες, «Μακεδoνικὸν Ἡμερολόγιον» 1911, p. 117. See another song in «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας» 2 (1933) 89. For another version see Papanikolaou, Λαογραϕικά, p. 218. Various items of Vallahades folklore are to be found in K. Bentas, Ἀνέκδοτα Βαλαάδων᾽ Ἀνασελίτσης (νῦν Βοου) καὶ Γρεβενῶν - Κοζάνης, Thessalonica 1956.





dles in return. One particular instance of such reciprocal influence is the story told of the priest and the hodja of Trivéni, a village with a mixed population of Christians and Moslems. Both the priest and the hodja used to write down — independently of each other — efficacious healing spells. The strange part about this is that the Moslems applied mainly to the priest for their cures, and the Christians to the hodja. In instances such as these, religion and dogma clearly played a secondary, if not insignificant role [1].


In some villages the relations between Vallahades and Christians were even closer, and they used to exchange visits with one another, especially on feast days. Thus Christians would sometimes call upon the Vallahades of their village during Bairam, while Vallahades would return the visit on Easter Sunday [2].



3. We ought, at this point, to examine the question of the conversion of the Vallahades to Islam. Oral tradition, first collected by Nikolaïdes in the mid-nineteenth century, relates that about two centuries previously (i.e. the middle of the 17th century) two young children from the village of Loúfri were taken to Constantinople and locked up in a palace. This is no doubt a reference to the iç oglans, the pages placed for special training in one of the old imperial palaces. The boys were turned into Moslems and changed their names to Sinan Chaoush and Hussein Chaoush respectively [3]. Zotos Molossos, incidentally, is incorrect when he says that the two boys were converted in the time of Ali Pasha. According to Molossos, the one boy came from Palio-Sélitsa and the other from Loúfri (both these villages are now deserted), and their names were originally Konstantinos and Athanasios [4]. They eventually returned to their native villages and set about converting the inhabitants. Their preaching fell upon ready ears, for the peasants were worn out by continual molestation and oppression at the hands of the Turks; they hoped that conversion to Islam would put an end to all their troubles. The youths also made many converts from among the inhabitants of Leipsísta and the surrounding villages. In return for their good work Sinan and Hussein were each given the title of bey, which was retained by all their descendants [5].



1. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 230.


2. Ibid., p. 226.


3. Nicolaïdy, Les Turcs, vol. 2, p. 217.


4. Zotos Molossos, Ἠπειρωτικαὶ Μακεδόνικαὶ Μελέται, τ. Α', τεῦχ. Γ', p. 253.


5. Nicolaïdy, ibid., vol. 2, p. 217.





If, then, we accept the more plausible tradition, namely the one recorded by Nikolaïdes, according to which the youths were converted to Islam around the middle of the 17th century and subsequently returned to their villages to begin their Moslem preaching (not without a measure of coercion), our conclusion must be that the first instances of conversion to Islam in this region took place sometime between the middle and the end of the 17th century. This dating, moreover, proves acceptable to Sélitsa's amateur historian I. N. Photopoulos, who in his book on Sélitsa discusses the Vallahades of the neighbouring village of Vrongísta [1]. That these conversions began after the middle of the 17th century is confirmed by positive information from the official register of Závorda. In this document, drawn up in 1692, we find certain villages listed as Christian, which later on (and right up to the exchange of populations) were purely Moslem ones, e.g. Véntzi, Agaléï, Tórista, Pegadítsa, Nisiníkos, Goblár, etc. [2].


Nevertheless, the conversion of Greeks in Western Macedonia, appears to have begun much earlier than this; and taking into account the evidence of a number of gravestones [3], it can be traced to the 16th century. The first sporadic instances may in fact have occurred in the 15th century. Be that as it may, the story of the two youths who converted their fellow-villagers and who were subsequently promoted to high office in the Turkish state marks a significant stage in the conversion to Islam of the inhabitants of this region. From that point ownards the Moslem religion seems to have spread more rapidly.


Conditions in Western Macedonia were little better in the 18th century. The peasantry of the rural areas were continually being exploited by the Moslem beys, and the renegades amongst them were often the worst offenders. To this was added the insecurity created by the frequent incursions of marauding bands of Albanian brigands, with various beys at their head. These incursions became particularly serious after the Orlov operations, when large numbers of Albanian troops marched south to quell insurrection throughout the Peloponnese. The Albanians perpetrated daily every kind of outrage. They had become in every sense of the word masters of the Greek lands, and in Greek history this period is commonly termed ἀρβανιτοκρατία.



1. See details about them in Photopoulos, Ἱστορία τῆς Σελίτσης, pp. 67 ff. See also pp. 144-145.


2. Kalinderis, Σημειώματα Ἱστορικά, pp. 6-7.


3. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 225.





It is not, therefore, surprising that in the midst of such endless sufferrings, the inhabitants of many Western Macedonian villages went over in despair to Islam [1].


This period of anarchy saw the rise of Ali Pasha of Yannina, who was to prove himself the scourge of Epirus, Western Macedonia and



Fig. 109. Ali Pasha of Iannina

Fig. 109. Ali Pasha of Iannina.

(The Life of Ali Pasha, London 1823)



Thessaly (see fig. 109). Duriag the 34 years that Ali was supreme master in those parts, it was the Christians who bore the brunt of his tyrannical behaviour. Not surprisingly, fresh conversions took place, both of individuals and of whole communities. Indeed, conversions continued to occur in this area until well into the 19th century. One of the most recent



1. For information about the conversions to Islam after the Orlov operations see Zotos Molossos, Ἀκολουθία τῆς ἁγιας μεγαλομάρτυρος καὶ πανσόϕου Αἰκατερίνης κ.λ.π., Athens 1900. Ἀκολουθία 4η, p. 59, which is quoted by Ch. Μ. Enisleidis, Σπήλαιον – Γρεβενὰ - Σαμαρίνα, p. 122, n. 2.





instances is that of the village of Goublár (Mersína), situated some two hours north-east of Grevená. From the village church of St. Nicholas comes a copy of the Gospels which bears the inscription: "This Gospel belongs to the church of St. Nicholas of Koublári, April 5. 1816". This proves that up to this date, at least, the village was christian [1]. Those villagers of Goublár who were averse to changing their faith, migrated to other parts of the Ottoman empire, or to Austro-Hungary and Rumania [2], as we shall see in chapter XII.


Once a village had turned Moslem, Ali Pasha would confer the title of bey upon a number of the new converts. Various individuals who had rendered Ali service during his campaigns were similarly rewarded; and this indiscriminate bestowal of what was a title of nobility upon all and sundry — common soldiers, ignorant rustics, not to mention the more poverty-stricken Vallahades — robbed the rank of all dignity and worth. The situation is typified in the following satyrical dialogue:


— Let's go, Bey, to gather sticks and fire-wood.

— No, by Heaven; I haven't any shoes to wear [3].


It can be seen, therefore, that the conversion of the Vallahades was a gradual process which began perhaps in the 15th century, became more wide-spread during the second half of the 17th century [4] and throughout the time of Ali Pasha (the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century), and continued up till the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Glearly, Christianity and Hellenism was fighting a losing battle prior to 1821. The Greek surnames which some of the Vallahades bore may well be evidence of their recent conversion to Islam (e.g. Hasan Bibradis, Mehmet Demou, etc.) [5]. As a matter of fact, a good number of Vallahades, so tradition has it, bore the same family names as other Greeks up to the middle of the 19th century. Not a few held fields which pertained to a shared inheritance (ἀδελϕομοίρια), and



1. Enisleidis, Σπήλαιον – Γρεβενὰ - Σαμαρίνα, pp. 105-106. Concerning conversions to Islam during the period of Albanian supremacy and of Ali Pasha, see Photopoulos, Ἱστορία τῆς Σελίτσης, pp. 67-68. Other information about conversions in the time of Ali Pasha is given by Zotos Molossos, Ήπειρωτικαὶ Μακεδόνικαὶ Μελέται, τ. Δ', τεῦχ. Γ', pp. 252-253.


2. Photopoulos, Ἱστορία τῆς Σελίτσης, pp. 110-117.


3. Zotos Molossos, ibid., p. 251.


4. See Kyriakidis' opinion upon the beginning of conversions to Islam in K. Tsourkas - St. P. Kyriakidis, Τραγούδια Βαλαχάδων, «Μακεδονικὰ» 2 (1941-1952) 469-471.


5. Hardie - Hasluck, Christian Survivals, p. 225.





amongst their Christian neighbours they could claim relatives up to the third, fourth of fifth degree or kinship [1].



1. Tsourkas - Kyriakidis, Τραγούδια Βαλαχάδων, p. 461.


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