Dozens of people defined their roots as Turkish for the first time in a population census in Montenegro, saying Turkey’s rising international prestige has given them the courage to expose their ethnic background, the Anatolia news agency reported on Wednesday.
The population census, which took place between April 1 and 15, officially recorded the existence of Turks in Montenegro. According to data provided by the Statistical Office of Montenegro (MONSTAT) in the country where 625,226 people live, 44.9 percent of the people defined themselves as Montenegrin, 28.77 as Serbian, 8.65 as Bosnian, 4.91 as Albanian, 3.31percent as Muslim and 1.01 as Roma. The percentage of the Turks living in Montenegro was 0.02, according to the census.
A total of 104 individuals recorded themselves as Turkish in the coastal town of Bar. Having been living in the town for centuries, the Turks have not forgotten their language. They say the prestige of Turkey in the Balkans and in the world inspired them to take action in being recognized as Turkish by the state.
Montenegro was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for a long time. However, after the Ottomans were defeated in the Balkan Wars in the early 1900s, the Turks along with Muslims living in the region left their homes and migrated to Anatolia, in Turkey. As the Ottomans withdrew from the Balkans, some could not leave the region.
Bar is one of the places where people with Turkish backgrounds have been residing for centuries. Conquered by the Ottomans in 1595, Bar was left to the Kingdom of Montenegro in the 1878 Congress of Berlin. The town still resembles those in Anatolia. The old city contains partly demolished mosques and mosques in good condition as well as old Muslim-style tombs. Although it is known that Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece have populations of Turks, Montenegro was not known to have had residents of Turkish origin. Former Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) Montenegro coordinator Gökçen Kalkan was the one to present this information to the public. Currently the TİKA Serbia coordinator, Kalkan said he encountered Turks in Bar in 2008 and explained that he was startled to hear an old man greeting him in Turkish.
Kalkan told Anatolia this man was named Bajazit Karadjuzovic and that he was one of the old Turkish settlers in Bar. “It was already known that the town used to be widely populated by Turks, but they left the city over time. I was surprised to hear that there is still a Turkish population who speaks Turkish,” he said.
While noting that he was moved when the old man hugged him, saying that Kalkan was the first Turk to visit the town in years, Kalkan continued: “I was in Urumqi shortly before my visit to Bar. Remembering the unique experiences in Urumqi, I was happy to see people speaking Turkic [languages] from the Adriatic to the Great Wall in China.”
Kalkan said they found 18 Turkish families in the town of Bar, adding only the elderly in these families know Turkish. He said TİKA had introduced Turkish language classes in Bar and 100 people applied to the course for 25 students. He explained his experiences on the day when people started applying. “Old people, holding the hands of their grandchildren, came running to the course. I cannot forget the answer of a 75-year-old man named Abdullah, when I asked him about why he came. He told me with an accent that he had brought his children and grandchildren to be taught Turkish.”
In an interview with Anatolia, 63-year-old Karadjuzovic said his ancestors moved to Bar from the western province of Manisa 300 years ago. Karadjuzovic said his grandparents did not leave Bar like others did and he did not forget Turkish since his family speaks the language all the time. While noting that Turkish had been one of the most common languages in Bar until 40 years ago, Karadjuzovic said as the older generation passed away, the language started to fade away. “But thanks to the Turkish language course, our grandchildren began to learn Turkish again,” he added.
Suljo Mustafic, a Bosnian member of the Montenegrin parliament, who is taking Turkish classes in Bar, told the Anatolia news agency that nearly 15,000 Muslims reside in Bar, which has a population of 40,000. He added that the Turkish and Muslim population migrated to Turkey following the end of Ottoman rule and that a significant proportion of these people have the surname, “Barlı” (meaning from Bar in Turkish).