When the Anatolian Greeks came to Macedonia, they couldn’t speak Greek

Modern historyWhen the Anatolian Greeks came to Macedonia, they couldn't speak Greek

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After the Greco-Turkish War and the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece and Turkey agreed on a population exchange. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed and new borders had been drawn in the Balkans. This were the times when the Anatolian Greeks arrived in Macedonia.

Most affected by this population exchange was Aegean Macedonia. The southern part of Macedonia, which was occupied and annexed by the Greeks in autumn 1912 and was finally awarded to the Greek kingdom by the Western powers through the Bucharest Peace Treaty in 1913.

The majority of the Anatolian Greeks were settled in Aegean Macedonia, today’s northern Greece. This was the beginning of the distortion and drastic change in the ethnic composition of Macedonia, and it was the beginning of the (forced) Hellenization of Macedonia.

Population exchange between Greece and Turkey

The population exchange between Greece and Turkey was a forced relocation that took place after the First World War and the subsequent Greco-Turkish War.

At the suggestion of the Greek government, it led the previous expulsion into regulated channels and affected the Christian Orthodox citizens of Turkey and Muslim residents of Greece.

In the 1920s, Greece and Turkey had agreed (Treaty of Lausanne, July 24, 1923) that a large-scale exchange campaign would be carried out. Over 1.25 million “Greeks” who had lived in Turkey were brought to the recently conquered Macedonian territory to make the Greek population a majority. About 500,000 people of the Muslim faith (especially Turks) were sent from Macedonia to Turkey.

Until then, the ethnic Macedonians were the largest group of the population, followed by the Turks and Bulgarians. After the “invasion” of the Anatolian Greeks, the Greek minority turned into a majority who, however, did not speak the Greek language.

… the last arriving Greek boys stared at the last departing Muslim boys, a conversation between them was not possible as the Greeks only spoke Turkish and the Turks only Greek …

As National Geographic describes, special schools were set up to teach the Anatolian Greeks the Greek language. So far they only spoke Turkish.


The Anatolian Greeks, abroad for several centuries, spoke a language different from that in Greece. Therefore, the first duty of the Greek state was to teach Greek to the Anatolian Greeks.

This population exchange was the beginning of a great Hellenization campaign in Greece, which was not only intended to teach the Greek language to the Turkish Greeks.

Furthermore, the entire population was Hellenized. Macedonians, Bulgarians, remaining Turks and other minorities became Greeks from one day to the next. They had to learn Greek. Macedonian was banned. Macedonians were renamed and the new Greek church members only baptized children with Greek names.

Macedonian names could not be used. The city and village names have also been changed. Lerin became Florina, Voden became Edessa and Kostur became Kastoria. The Macedonian language was banned and if someone used this “forbidden” language, unseen reprisals followed in 500 years of Turkish rule.

The highest number of Anatolian Greeks were settled in Aegean Macedonia

If you analyze the population exchange between Greece and Turkey more closely, you will inevitably find that the highest number of Greek refugees from Anatolia were settled in the “new territories” of Aegean Macedonia, which has been part of the Greek kingdom since August 1913.

So we see in the following map representation, areas in Greece marked according to the number of settled Anatolian Greeks.

Map taken from “A Concise History of Greece” by Richard Clogg

Clogg’s map shows that there were over 400 refugees for every 1,000 residents in Aegean Macedonia. By far the highest concentration of settlements from Anatolia in modern Greece.

When the Anatolian Greeks came in 1923, Macedonia became Greek …

Sources used in the article:

  • National Geographic November 1925, article: “History’s Greatest Trek: Tragedy Stalks Through the Near East as Greece and Turkey Exchange Two Million of Their People” by Melville Chater.
  • “A Concise History of Greece” by Richard Clogg, 1992, p. 105

You may read also: Greek language was only spoken in Chalkidiki

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