The Aromanians

The Aromanians (Macedo-Romanians or Macedo-Rumans; in Aromanian they call themselves Armãnji, Armin, Rrãmãnji, Arumâni, Armâni, or Vlaçi; Romanian: Aromâni) are a people living throughout the southern Balkans, especially in northern Greece, Albania, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, and as an emigrant community in Romania (Dobruja). They are the second most populous group of Vlachs, behind modern-day Romanians (Vlachs was a term used in the Medieval Balkans, as an exonym for all the Romanic people of the region, but nowadays, it is commonly used only for the Aromanians and Meglenites, the Romanians being named Vlachs only in historical context). They speak the Aromanian language, a Romance language typically classed as distinct from Romanian proper, or Daco-Romanian, which has many slightly varying dialects of its own. Due to the common language foundations, dating from the times of Latin language, historians believe that the language link with Romanian was interrupted between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Nominated according to the geographic area, Aromanians are grouped into several "branches": "Pindians" (Aromanian "Pindenji" concentrated in and around the Pindus Mountains of Northern and Central Greece, Western region of Macedonia, and Southern Albania) "Gramustians" (Aromanian "Yrãmushcianji" from Gramos Mountains, an isolated area in the westernmost region of the Greek province of Macedonia near the borders with Epirus), "Muzachiars" (Aromanian "Muzachirenji" from Muzachia) "Farsherots" (Aromanian "Fãrsherotii" from Pharsala, concentrated in Epirus), "Moscopolitans" (Aromanian "Moscopoleanji" from the City of Moscopole; once an important urban center of the Balkans).

In Greece, Aromanians are not regarded as an ethnic minority, since they do not proclaim a non-Hellenic national identity, instead being considered Latin-speaking Greeks. Their origins are disputed. The Romanian hypothesis contends that Aromanians came to northern Greece from the Danube region; the opposing Greco-Aromanian theory is that they descend from the Romanised, local Greek population. Other theories on the possible origins of Greco-Aromanians describe them as:
* The descendants of Roman colonizers and soldiers, who would receive agricultural lands as payments for their services,
* A branch of Daco-Romanian,
* Descendants of ancient Thracians or Illyrians,
* Latinised Greeks as mercenary soldiers of the Roman legions.

It is however clear that until the 7th - 9th century, Romanians and Aromanians spoke the same eastern variant of Vulgar Latin, often known as Proto-Romanian.

In the Middle Ages, Aromanians created semi-autonomous states on the territory of modern Greece, such as Great Wallachia, Small Wallachia and Upper Wallachia. Benjamin of Tudela, a Spanish Jew who travelled through south-eastern Europe and the Middle East between 1159 and 1173, alludes to the Vlachs in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. He claimed that they enjoyed some measure of independence on their Valachian mountain tops. Aromanians played an important role in the independence wars of various Balkan countries: Bulgaria, Albania and Greece, against the Ottoman Empire. But also in 1905 the Aromanians were acknowledged as a separate nation (millet) of the Ottoman Empire, allowing them to have their own schools and liturgy in their own Aromanian language. This happened during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid the Second, when the Aromanians even got their own representatives in the Great Porte. The day of the signing of the so-called Aromanian Iradeo or Turkish Irade, 23 of May is celebrated as the National Day of the Aromanians from the whole world and is celebrated as an official holiday in Macedonia. In 1941, after the Nazi occupation of Greece, some Aromanian nationalists created an autonomous Vlach state under Fascist Italian control: the Principality of Pindus and Voivodship of Macedonia. After the fall of Communism, the Aromanian nation formed its own cultural and political societies in the Balkans and started its new national re-awakening.

Aromanian Flag

In Greece, Aromanians are not regarded as an ethnic but as a linguistic -albeit unrecognized officially- minority, since most of them express an ethnic Greek identity. Generally, the use of the minority languages has been discouraged, although recently, there have been efforts from the Greek presidency to preserve endangered languages (including Aromanian). It is difficult to estimate the exact number of Aromanians, as no Greek census has recorded mother tongue statistics since 1951. Estimates on the number of Aromanians in Greece range between 40,000 to 200,000.

The second largest Aromanian community lives in Albania, counting between 100,000 and 200,000 people. There are currently timid attempts to establish education in their native language in the town of Divjaka. The Aromanians, under the name "Vlachs", are a recognised national minority in the Albanian constitution.

Spread of Aromanians in Albania:
* (Red) Aromanians are the exclusive population in the settelement
* (Yellow) Aromanians form a majority or a substantial minority in the settlement

According to official government figures, there are 8,467 Aromanians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even though other sources estimate their numbers as high as 20,000 or even more than 100.000 according to their associations' and other estimates. The Aromanians are recognized as an ethnic minority, and are hence represented in parliament and enjoy ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious rights and the right to education in their language.

Spread of Aromanians in the Republic of Macedonia:
* (Green) Localities where Aromanians are an officially recognized minority group
* (Blue) Other localities with an Aromanian population
* (Yellow) Areas where Megleno-Romanians are concentrated

Since the Middle Ages, due to the Turkish occupation and the destruction of their cities, such as Moscopole, many Aromanians fled their homeland in the Balkans to settle the Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, which had a similar language and a certain degree of autonomy from the Turks. These immigrant Aromanians were assimilated into the Romanian population. In 1860, the Romanian government opened almost 100 schools in Greece and the Ottoman territories of Macedonia and Albania in an attempt to inculcate a sense of modern Romanian national identity in a population which historically identified with the Byzantine tradition. In 1925, 47 years after Dobruja was incorporated into Romania, the Romanian King gave the Aromanians land to settle in this region, which resulted in a significant migration of Aromanians into Romania. There are currently between 25,000 and 50,000 Aromanians in Romania, most of which are concentrated in Dobruja. Due to their cultural closeness to ethnic Romanians, most of them do not consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic minority but rather a "cultural minority".