Like any other ethnic community, we tend to hear only one side of our story from within our own group. Yet, over the centuries, many people have become acquainted with the Aromanians and have had things to say about them, and even many of our own people have a view of who we are quite different from ours.
In this column, therefore, we will try every so often to make known some of these alternate points of view about our people, in the hope that exposure to these views will expand our grasp of our situation in the world today. Of course, the fact that a certain point of view is published here does not mean that we agree with it; sometimes it is quite the opposite.
“A peculiar linguistic idiom is spoken in Metsovo, which is called the Koutsovlach dialect. This dialect is also spoken in other villages of Epirus, of Thessaly, and of Macedonia. There are two most dominant views regarding the predominance of this linguistic idiom… Whether we accept one view or the other, the same conclusion emerges: that the Kutsovlach language of the mountain communities was imposed [on a Greek population] either by the Roman guards who had settled in the mountain passes, or by the conscription of Greek populations. And in both cases, those who accepted the Latin language were not Romans, but Greeks.”
—from Michali G. Tritou, To Metsovo (Athens, 1984).
“It was a characteristic of the Roman Empire that in the east generally where Latin met Greek, Greek invariably prevailed. It was this that led first to the division of the empire and later to that of Christendom, so that it seems legitimate if we find a Romance language surviving in the east to infer that it arose in an environment which linguistically was not Greek… We may therefore conclude that the Balkan Vlachs are for the most part the Romanised tribes of the Balkan Peninsula, reinforced perhaps at times by tribes from over the Danube. Thus the Vlachs in the west would be for the most part Romano-Illyrians, in the south they might be Athamanians or other hill tribes mentioned by Strabo, but in the east and along the central mountain range there would be a large Thracian and Bessian element.”
—from Wace & Thompson, Nomads of the Balkans (New York, 1913).
“Ethnic identity also enabled the upper class Aroumani to monopolize two very lucrative occupations, long-distance muleteering and trading… Their Roumanian dialect and quasi-Roumanian identity enabled them to establish commercial ties with Roumanians some distance away in the Balkans. They were also able to make connections with other wealthy Aroumanian merchants and muleteers dwelling in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania.”
—from Muriel D. Schein, “When Is an Ethnic Group?” in Ethnology (Jan.1975).
“Many etymologies exist for the name Vlach and Koutsovlach. Many names represent the inhabitants who are engaged in stock-breeding and reside from the region of the Ambracian Gulf to Krushevo in the north …The mountain ranges of Pindus and of Varnounda (Peristeri) provide hospitality for this most Hellenic people, which is known by the above name in all Europe.”
—from Antone M.Koltsida, Oi Koutsovlachoi: Ethnologike kai Laografike Melete (Thessalonike, 1976)
“Thus, there is no doubt that the Balkan languages, in our particular case Aromanian and Macedonian [a Slavic language], show a set of common structural features in their grammars, which leads…to the following question:…what was that Balkan language which has exerted the decisive structural influence upon Macedonian (and to a lesser degree upon Bulgarian and…Serbian). My contention is that this was continental Balkan Romance, or more specifically in the case of Macedonian, the primary Aromanian.”
—from Zbigniew Golab, The Aromanian Dialect of Krushevo (Skopje, 1984).
“During the centuries of Turkish rule, it had not been possible for the Vlachs to take any direct political action or to achieve any direct social control. They were not found as political leaders, as with their intelligence, industry and wealth they might have been expected to be. But after the Turks left Serbia, the Vlachs, the rich and well-educated commercial stratum between the Turkish overlords and the poor peasants…became the ruling class. After the Turks were gone, the Vlachs were at the top. The new ruling class did not experience any competition from any side in striving for political power and social control, because they represented the highest social and economic stratum. One should remember that the Vlachs were not only well-educated, but were also the best-educated stratum in the Balkan society. Their excellent connections all over the world made them indispensable in diplomatic and foreign service of each individual country striving for independence and recognition. The Vlachs were perfectly willing to identify themselves with these national movements. As any marginal personality or people, the Vlachs were `200% nationalistic’ in every community.”
—from Vatro Murvar, The Balkan Vlachs: A Typo-logical Study (Univ. of Wisconsin, 1956).
“[The Vlachs] remind one of those ingenious pictures in which an animal or a human face is concealed so as not to be obvious on first inspection, though when once seen it appears to be the principal feature of the drawing. In the same way, one may live and travel in the Balkan lands without seeing or hearing anything of the Vlachs,until one’s eyes are opened. Then one runs the risk of going to the opposite extreme and thinking, like Roumanian patriots, that most of the inhabitants of Macedonia are Vlachs in disguise.”
—from Sir Charles Eliot, Turkey in Europe (London, 1900)
“[The village of] Djoumaya presents a phenomenon, by no means unique, of a Wallachian-or a Bulgarian-speaking population considering itself Greek. With regard to the Wallachs this is the general rule throughout Macedonia, Epirus, and Albania. The instances of Wallachs espousing the Roumanian interest are extremely rare exceptions.”
—from George F. Abbott, Tale of a Tour in Macedonia (London, 1903).
“We started off by trying to identify different groupings among the nomads. Christos Berates was himself of the Karagouni (Arvanito-Vlachs), and even he found it difficult to draw the distinctions in dress between his people and the Sarakatsani and the Koutso-Vlachs…He recognized, of course, the linguistic differences and pointed out that the Koutso-Vlachs do not know Albanian the way his people do. When Berates spoke Greek, he did so with a liquid or French r , a fact which the Greeks present attributed to his Albanian linguistic background. OtherKaragouni spoke Greek with the same peculiarity.”
—from Irwin T. Sanders, Rainbow in the Rock: The People of Rural Greece (Cambridge, Mass., 1962).
“There may be another explanation for the survival of the Vlachs. We live in an age where universal brotherhood is preached but strident nationalism prevails. The Welsh burn cottages, the Basques plant bombs, and all over the world the ready sympathies of humanitarian liberals are enlisted to support minorities which are threatened with extinction or oppression. There is no movement among the Vlachs to arouse interest or sympathy, and I have rarely been able to find the Vlachs listed among the world’s minority groups. Perhaps the Vlachs’ readiness to merge with othernationalities and their reluctance to draw attention to their plight is a sign not of weakness, but of strength. In the Middle Ages the Vlachs are often hard to distinguish from the Bulgars, and in the modern period they are frequently confused with the Greeks; but they have managed to keep theirlanguage and some vague consciousness of being different, whereas more powerful and more aggressive nations like the Avars in the Dark Ages and the Armenians recently have been lessfortunate.”
—from Tom Winnifrith, The Vlachs: The History of a Balkan People (New York, 1987).
“It is true that the Koutsovlachs sing many songs in Greek, and the Koutsovlach community of Metsovo is bilingual. On the other hand, there are also many songs in the Koutsovlach language. These are often excluded from the published folklore [in Greece], since few non-Koutsovlachs would be able to read them; in effect, then, they are excluded from “Hellenic laography” at large. The Greek-language songs, by contrast, are given primary significance.”
—from Michael Herzfeld, Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the making of Modern Greece (New York, 1986).