Saturday, October 04, 2008

Who Are the Bosniaks?

Picture of a Bosnian Muslim or "Bosniak" boy standing near coffins during a mass funeral for Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats killed in 1992 in the Bosnian city of Brcko

I came to Istanbul and people asked me: “Who are you?” “I said, Turčin” (Turk) but they shook their heads: “Eh, you are not. You are Arnaut” (Albanian). So I came to Skadar as Arnautin, however, I was told that I was Bosniak. So, I went to Sarajevo as Bosniak and people around me asked where I am from. I answered: ” Bosniak”. They thought I was mad and I was told to be Crnogorac (Montenegrin), but with Islamic religion. Then, in Podgorica one guy told me
that I am nothing more then Turčin (Turk). Well, one cannot understand this. Who am I and what am I? Nobody. Zuvdija Hodžić, Gusinjska godinai---[Bohdana Dimitrovova. "Bosniak or Muslim? Dilemma of one Nation with two Names." Southeast European Politics, Vol. II, No. 2. p. 94-108. October 2001.]

Some pundits are mocking Senator Joe Biden for supposedly misusing the term "Bosniaks" in the Vice-Presidential debate with Governor Palin:

Look what we did in Bosnia. We took Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, being told by everyone, I was told by everyone that this would mean that they had been killing each other for a thousand years, it would never work.

In fact, Senator Biden got it right. "Bosniak" is what most Bosnian Muslims like to be called these days. The communists didn't recognize Bosniak as a nationality; Bosniaks had to identify their nationality as Muslim even if they weren't religious.

Bohdana Dimitrovova explains:

The Montenegrin writer, close ally of Tito and later dissident, Milovan Djilas admitted “the absurdity of the name Musliman,” which was used by the nationalists to deny the nationality of Muslims. According to him, the communists believed that the Muslims were only religious group without national consciousness and the term Muslims was introduced with expectations that majority of Muslims would
become Serbs or Croats.v The fact that the term Muslim was introduced by the communist regime hence is perceived as innovation of the Communists has become one of the main arguments of the current Bosniak intellectuals in Montenegro.

Wikipedia explains:

The Bosniaks or Bosniacs[25]...are a South Slavic people, living mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina ("Bosnia") and the Sandžak region of Serbia and Montenegro, with a smaller autochthonous population also present in Croatia, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia. Bosniaks are typically characterized by their tie to the Bosnian historical region, traditional adherence to Islam, and common culture and language.

These days, the term "Bosnian" increasingly refers to all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina ("Bosnia"), regardless of their nationality/ethnicity or religion. The country contains Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, Bosniaks (South Slavs who were Islamicized by the Turks), and others.

People who call themselves "Bosniaks" are identifying themselves by their nationality/ethnicity rather than by their historically Muslim faith. Bosniaks are a South Slavic people who were Islamicized by the Turks. Although most Bosniaks are Muslims, they prefer to identify by their national/ethic identity rather than by their religion. Probably they are not too interested in the pan-Islamic movements of the Middle East. It was a good thing that President Clinton tried to protect the Bosniaks from Serbs, and Bosnia and Bosniaks have become an ally of the U.S.

Wikipedia explains:

The earliest Bosnian "name" was the historical term "Bošnjanin" (Latin: Bosniensis), which signified any inhabitant of the medieval Bosnian kingdom. By the early days of Ottoman rule, the word had been replaced by "Bosniak" (Bošnjak). No consensus exists as to whether the word Bosniak emerged as a Turkified variation of the old Slavic Bošnjanin or as a local linguistic progression where the suffix "-iak" replaced the traditional "-anin". The Bosniaks derive their ethnic name from Bosona (Bosnia), which has been proposed to have an Illyrian origin.[31] [32]

For the duration of Ottoman rule, the word Bosniak came to refer to all inhabitants of Bosnia; Turkish terms such as "Bosniak-milleti", "Bosniak-kavmi", and "Bosniak-taifesi", were used in the Empire to describe Bosnians in an ethnic or "tribal" sense. However, the concept of nationhood was foreign to the Ottomans at that time - not to mention the idea that Muslims and Christians of some military province could foster any common sur-confessional sense of identity. The inhabitants of Bosnia called themselves various names: from Bosniak, in the full spectrum of the word's meaning with a foundation as a territorial designation, through a series of regional and confessional names, all the way to modern-day national ones.

The generally accepted definition (and the one used in this article) holds that Bosniaks are the Slavic Muslims on the territory of the former Yugoslavia who identify themselves with Bosnia and Herzegovina as their ethnic state and are part of such a common nation. However, individuals may hold their own personal interpretations as well. For instance, some, such as prominent Bosniak intellectuals Muhamed Filipović and Adil Zulfikarpašić, hold the view that all Bosnians, including Catholics and Orthodox Christians, were Bosniaks regardless of religion, but assimilated into Croats and Serbs influenced by national movements in Croatia and Serbia in the second half of the 19th century.[33] Some others, such as Montenegrin Abdul Kurpejović, recognize an Islamic component in the Bosniak identity but see it as referring exclusively to Slavic Muslims in Bosnia.[33] Still others consider all Slavic Muslims in the former Yugoslavia (i.e. including the Gorani) to be Bosniaks. [34]

In Serb-dominated Yugoslavia unlike the preceding Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosniaks were not allowed to declare themselves as Bosniaks. As a compromise, the Constitution of Yugoslavia was amended in 1968 to list Muslims by nationality recognizing a nation, but not the Bosniak name. The Yugoslav "Muslim by nationality" policy was considered by Bosniaks to be neglecting and opposing their Bosnian identity because the term tried to describe Bosniaks as a religious group not an ethnic one. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, most people who used to declare as Muslims began to declare themselves as Bosniaks. In September 1993, the Second Bosniak Congress (Bosnian: Drugi bošnjački sabor) officially re-introduced the historical ethnic name Bosniaks instead of the previously used Muslim in former Yugoslavia. [32] Today, the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizes the results from 1991 population census as results referring to Bosniaks.

Communist Yugoslavia did not recognize the Bosniak ethnic identity. Bosniaks were not permitted to identify as Bosniaks; they had to call themselves Muslims, even if they were not religious. The communists considered Bosniaks to be Muslims who would gradually be assimilated into the Serb or Croat nationalities as religion died out.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina entry in the CIA Factbook explains:

Bosniak has replaced Muslim as an ethnic term in part to avoid confusion with the religious term Muslim - an adherent of Islam.

Wikipedia has an entry on Bosniaks that explains their origins and history.

A scholar named Bohdana Dimitrovova has published an interesting article about the Bosniaks titled "Bosniak or Muslim? Dilemma of one Nation with two Names."


Blogger Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor said...

Thank you for writing about the Bosniaks. One of the world's greatest military leaders - Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic (Sokollu Mehmet Paşa) - was Bosniak, see here.

11:30 PM  

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