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Western Thrace or simply Thrace (Greek: [Δυτική] Θράκη, [Dytikí] Thráki, [ˈθraci]; Turkish: Batı Trakya, Bulgarian: Западна Тракия, Zapadna Trakiya) is a geographic and historical region of Greece, located between the Nestos and Evros rivers in the northeast of the country. Together with the regions of Macedonia, Epirus and sometimes Thessaly, it is often referred to informally as northern Greece. It is also called Greek Thrace to distinguish it from Eastern Thrace, which lies east of the river Evros and forms the European part of Turkey, and the area to the north, in Bulgaria, known as Northern Thrace.

Thrace 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.

Area - Demographics

The approximate area of Thrace is 8,578 km² with a population of 368,993 (2006 est.). 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, the majority (67%) are of Turkish origin, while another third are Pomaks who mainly inhabit the mountainous parts of the region. The Roma 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 population of around 52,720 (2001 census). Below is a table of the largest Thracian towns and cities.

City Greek Town population
(2001) Municipality population
Alexandroupoli Αλεξανδρούπολη 48.885 52.720
Komotini Κομοτηνή 43.326 52.659
Xanthi Ξάνθη 45.111 52.270
Orestiada Ορεστιάδα 15.246 21.730
Didymoteicho Διδυμότειχο 8.799 18.998

Komotini's Clock Tower

The region had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since 14th century and till the 19th century. Before the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, 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 Roma also lived in the region.

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, 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.[1] Western Thrace was under temporary management of the Entente led by French General Sharpe. In the second half of April 1920 in San Remo conference of the prime ministers of the main allies of the Entente powers (except USA) 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. The Treaty of Lausanne was gradually violated from the Turkish side, and was crowned by the Istanbul Pogrom in mid 50's.

When Bulgaria occupied Western Thrace as one of the Axis Powers during World War II, it further changed the demographics by arresting the region's Jews and deporting them to death camps administered by Germany.

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[CN] 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[CN] as follows:

total number: 120,000
Turkish: 50%
Pomak origin: 35%
Roma origin: 15%

In 1923, the population of Western Thrace was 191,699, of whom 129,120 (67%) were Turks and 33,910 (18%) were Greeks; the remaining 28,669 were mostly Bulgarians, along with small numbers of Jews and Armenians.[2]
General Distribution of Population in Western Thrace in 1923, prior to the Greek-Turkish population exchange[3]
Cities Turks Greeks Bulgarians Jews Armenians
Komotini 59,967 8,834 9,997 1,007 360
Alexandroupolis 11,744 4,800 10,227 253 449
Soufli 14,736 11,542 5,490 - -
Xanthi 42,671 8,728 522 220 114
Total 129,120 33,910 26,266 1,480 923

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.
Ruins of the ancient city of Abdera.

Abdera, an ancient Greek coastal town in the prefecture of Xanthi is the birth place 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 also

Turks of Western Thrace
East Macedonia and Thrace
Xanthi Prefecture
Rhodope Prefecture
Evros Prefecture
Democritus University of Thrace
Muslim minority of Greece
Provisional Government of Western Thrace
Bulgaria during World War I


A Companion to Ancient Thrace (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)

^ Treaty of Neuilly, article 27 (3), 48
^ Whitman 1990, 1.
^ Öksüz 2004, 255.


External links

Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Combined Prefectural Authority of Drama, Kavala and Xanthi
Combined Prefectural Authority of Rhodope and Evros
Prefecture of Xanthi
Prefecture of Rhodope
Prefecture of Evros
Democritus University of Thrace
Municipality of Feres

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