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Minorities make up about three percent of the population of Greece. The minorities are concentrated in the northern regions that were historically inhabited by mixed populations and were subjected to many foreign invasions. In 1923 large population exchanges with Turkey and Bulgaria brought in an additional 1,525,000 Greeks and removed large numbers of Turks and Slavs from the country. Pockets of Turks and Slavs were left in Thrace and Macedonia after these population exchanges. Other minorities include Vlachs, Armenians, Albanians, Jews, and Gypsies.
It’s important to learn the history of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups your ancestors belonged to. For example, you might study a history of the Jews in Greece, Armenians in Greece, or Vlachs in Epirus. This historical background can help you identify where your ancestors lived and when they lived there, where they migrated, the types of records they might be listed in, and other information to help you understand your family’s history.
For most minorities in Greece, some unique records and resources are available. These include histories, gazetteers, biographical sources, settlement patterns, and handbooks. The Family History Library collects records of these groups, especially published histories. These are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog Place search under:
GREECE - MINORITIES
GREECE, [COUNTY] - MINORITIES
GREECE - JEWISH HISTORY
Other sources are also in the “Subject” search of the FamilySearch Catalog under the name of the minority, such as Armenians, Albanians, or Jews. Some sources are listed under:
[MINORITY] - GREECE
Following is a short description of each of the main minority groups in Greece. For information about Jews in Greece, see the Jewish Records in the Church Records section.
Turks are the largest minority group in Greece. The Turkish population in Greece during the Ottoman rule was not large and comprised mostly of government officials, soldiers, and farm landowners. Greece obtained territory from Turkey in 1913 and 1919. In 1923 a half million Turks in Greece were exchanged for one and a half million Greeks from Turkey. There are about 250,000 Turks in Greece today. The Turkish population is about half Muslim and half Greek Orthodox. Most are tobacco farmers on the Thrace plains. A few thousand are residents of the Dodecanese Islands, acquired from Italy in 1947.
Slavic tribes began settling in Macedonia in the sixth century. When Greece obtained Macedonian territory from Turkey in 1913, a number of Slavic people came under Greek rule. There are Christian and Muslim Slavs in Macedonia, the latter being more closely affiliated with the Bulgarians. In the 1923 population exchange, 25,000 Greeks were exchanged for 50,000 Slavs. The few remaining Slavs in Greece are located almost entirely in Greek Macedonia, but are now classified as Greeks whose mother tongue is Slavic.
The Vlachs are a group of uncertain origin. They reside mainly in the Pindus Mountains in northern Epirus, western Macedonia, and northwestern Thessaly. Their language has many Latin roots. The term vlach is an ancient designation used since the fourth century A.D. to denote Roman provincials. The Vlachs call themselves the "Aromani." It is speculated that the Vlachs are descendants of ancient Romans or from Greeks who were closely tied to the Romans in ancient times. The Greek term vlachoi is almost synonymous to shepherd because the Vlachs are mostly shepherds. In the winter they descend from the mountains to seek pasture for their flocks and work for themselves. About 40 thousand Vlachs are in Greece today.
Albanians were brought to Greece as mercenaries by the Byzantine rulers, and as invited colonists of the duchy of Athens to colonize Attika and Voiotia.
Greeks descended from Albanians and belonging to the Greek Orthodox religion now reside mainly in rural areas near Athens, the northeastern Peloponnesus, and the nearby Aegean islands. These Albanians have mostly assimilated into the Greek population. Most are entirely Greek-speaking, but some 25,000 still speak Albanian in the home. In the northeast, near the Albanian border, there is a group of Muslim Albanians known as Chamurian Muslims.
Armenia lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Since the demise of their kingdom, the Armenians have spread into Turkey, Syria, Greece, and throughout the world. Armenians began settling in Greece before the eleventh century. After the War of Independence, the Armenians of Greece rapidly adopted the language and culture of the Greeks and intermarried with them. The Armenians in Greece today are refugees or descendants of those who fled Turkey into Greece in 1895–1896 and 1914–1918, as well as in the 1920s when the most Armenians settled in Greece.
Census records for Armenians in Greece are discussed in the “Census” section. Other records from the Armenian archives in Athens and Thessaloniki have also been filmed, including many Armenian church records.
Jews have been in Greece in small numbers since ancient times. Thessaloniki (Salonika) was the historic center of Jewish activity in Greece. In the thirteenth century, Ashkenazic Jews immigrated to Thessaloniki from Poland, France, and Italy. The main influx took place in the fifteenth century and later as Sephardic Jews, expelled from Spain in 1492, were attracted by the religious tolerance offered under Turkish rule. The language they brought—Ladino, a modified form of Spanish—is still spoken by modern Greek Jews.
Many Greek Jews moved to Palestine after World War I. The Jewish population was reduced from about 100,000 to a few thousand during World War II. By 1943 most Jews had been forcibly removed to concentration camps in Poland. Most of these perished in the Holocaust and survivors have mostly settled in Israel. The few remaining Jews in Greece are centered at Thessaloniki.
Because Jews were Greek citizens, civil registration records include Jewish people (see Greece Civil Registration- Vital Records. Although copies of Jewish synagogue records from Greece are not currently available at the Family History Library, some published books are available that might be helpful in gaining background information about these communities.
See the FamilySearch Catalog under “Jewish Records” and “Jewish History.”
The Gypsies are an independent, itinerant people who spread from the Balkans and the Middle East throughout Europe. They speak a language called Romany. Gypsies first appeared in Greece in the fourteenth century. They generally adopted the religion of the rulers: Islam under the Ottomans and Christianity under the Greeks. Greece has about 10,000 Gypsies. The majority lead a wandering life, earning their living in blacksmithing and other metal work, animal trading, fortune-telling, and public entertainment.