Haris Silajdžić, the ex-president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is visiting Turkey this week. During his stay in Gaziantep he will deliver a lecture and meet with businessmen. His visit provides a great opportunity to take a closer look into the Bosnians community, which has been living in Turkey for centuries and has been playing a major role in the history of this country.
Today, the existence of Bosnians in the country are evident everywhere. In cities like İstanbul, Eskişehir, Ankara, İzmir or Adana, one can easily find districts, streets, shops or restaurants with names such as: Bosna, Yenibosna, Mostar or Novi Pazar. However, it is extremely difficult to estimate how many Bosnians live in this country. Some Bosnian researchers believe that the number of Bosnians in Turkey is about four million. Turkish politicians are aware of the large number of Bosnians living in Turkey, and referencing this in 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said: “There are more Bosnians living in Turkey than in Bosnia.”
Emigration to Anatolia
The emigration of Bosnian Muslims to Anatolia began quite early, right after the war in Vienna in 1683. The emigration reached its peak in the year soon after the Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878. The next wave took place during the Balkan Wars and after World War I from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Moreover, according to the agreement signed in 1938 between Turkey and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia about 200,000 Bosnian Muslims moved to Anatolia. Another wave of Bosnian Muslims emigration to Anatolia had taken place after World War II and in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The vast majority of the Bosnian emigrants known as Muhacir were settled near the borders of the empire and in the less developed areas (suburbs of Ankara, Eskisehir, Istanbul, Bursa, Adana or Izmir). However, they became a major asset for Turkey. Many of them assisted in the economic development of the pauperized areas of Anatolia and in strengthening the borders of the Turkish state.
Bosnians, who for years immigrated to Turkey, were not aware of their ethnic identity. Without contact with their homeland and mother tongue, they quickly integrated into Turkish society. An additional factor that made this process easier was the popularity of mixed marriages. Despite these difficulties, the Bosnians did not forsake their roots. The older generation still remembered the traditional Bosnian songs – among others traditional epic, lyric and lyric-epic ballads/sevdalinke or wedding and love songs. Only the Bosnian emigrants, who moved to Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s could speak in the Southern Slavic language.
Moreover, to this day many of them stand apart from the indigenous Turks in appearance -- their features are typically Slavic.
Awakening of the Bosnian community in Turkey
The awakening of the Bosnian community in Turkey took place only in the course of the tragic events in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-1995. The Turkish authorities did not deny them the necessary assistance and the new wave of Bosnian refugees began to flow into Turkey. The Turkish society did not stand idle. Moreover, the Turks themselves began to discover their Bosnian roots. More and more associations, whose function was to propagate Bosnian culture in Turkey, provided assistance to a brotherly nation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The strengthening of Bosnian identity was also assisted by the European Union; however their actions did not increase separatist sentiments among this group. Such an attitude was clearly visible during the 2004 reforms, which the Turkish government adapted to meet EU standards. The reforms allowed them to learn the Bosnian language through public television and radio. However, the vast majority of Bosnians adopted these changes with astonishment and dismay. They saw in these privileges above all attempts to divide Turkey. This is confirmed by the results of the survey conducted by Turkey's state television channel the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). It shows that up to 89 percent of Bosnians spoke out against the broadcasting of programs in Bosnian.
In the future, Bosnians will remain an inseparable part of the Turkish nation. They treat Turkey as their homeland and know that the existence of Turkey also means a guarantee of their survival. This sentiment is also confirmed by many Bosnian leaders. One of them, Mustafa Cerić, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1999 once said: "Turkey is our mother, so it was, so it will remain". However, the Bosnian identity in Turkey should be cultivated and supported. It makes Turkey more multicultural and helps it to better understand the Balkans.
*Karol Kujawa is an analyst specialising on Turkey and the Balkans. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at the Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep.