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  • Jeremiah

On the emigration of Bosnian Mohammedans (1910)

Updated: Mar 26

By Jovan Cvijić

Published originally in

"Književni glasnik", 16. June 1910.

It is known that Mohammedans started emigrating from Bosnia and Herzegovina after the [Austro-Hungarian, translator's note] Occupation; before 1908. the emigration was down to a trickle; since the Annexation it has increased to its greatest scope. This is a special type of migration. In Europe today greater masses of people migrate for economic reasons. The emigration of the Bosnian Mohammedans is caused by economic reasons in only a small part, but more due to psychological reasons. Not only from a national, but from a scientific point of view as well the emigration of the muhajirs from Bosnia and Herzegovina is interesting and important. I therefore gladly answer the call of the Mohammedan youth to present my observations and conclusions on the matter.


1. Almost all of the Bosnian mohajirs are now passing through Belgrade. Before the departure of the express train, which leaves Belgrade for Thessaloniki around midnight, the Belgrade train station is covered with Bosnian muhajirs. Men run around finishing their work, while women and children, like herds, sit and lie on the floor of the station. They all cram themselves into III class wagons in this heat and humidity and even at midnight one can see the lively, healthy and beautiful children of our language, who are not sleeping; they have to endure a whole night and day before reaching Salonica. It is more than two months that the trains are constantly carrying them and no one here can stop them with any reasoning. Finally, they themselves answer: everyone will move out of Bosnia.

It seems that no studies and thinking can give such a deep and fresh impression about what faith means and how immeasurable its influence can be as talking with these Bosnian émigrés. All other feelings have been uprooted or muffled. It doesn't help in the least that they speak our language. There is almost no trace of feeling that they make a national whole with us. If you mention it, you can clearly see that this is very far from their consciousness; just as far away as it is close and clear to them that due to their faith they are the same as Turks. I could note only one other feeling besides that: hatred for the foreigners who came to Bosnia. Therefore they go to a far away and completely foreign land with the delusion that they are Turks, one of the greatest delusions a people ever had, and with a hatred, impotent and inactive hatred of the conqueror. It is impossible to leave one's country with more irrationality and desperation.

2. These Bosnian mohajirs will find their tribesmen, who emigrated earlier, not only in European, but also in Asian Turkey. The latter are those who moved away first after the Occupation. They are in Asia Minor (Anatolia) in greater masses from Smyrna to Eskişehir, especially around Bursa. They make up their own muhajir mahalas in towns large and small, and whole villages, with some being named Bosnaköy, Bosnian village. I was in Bursa and the surrounding area in the summer of 1905. and learned about the impact of the new land and circumstances on the Bosnian mohajirs.

Immediately after arrival many died, some families entirely. The reckoning is that in the first five years after immigrating around 1/3 of them died, especially the children. This is explainable. There is a great difference, especially a climatic one, between the green and forested Bosnia, which is almost entirely under fresh mountain air, overflowing with springs and running water and the seared Asia Minor, with its dry climate and few rivers and springs. When the Bosnian Mohammedans are transported and replanted en masse to Asia Minor, they have to die out. Only the strongest ones which can adapt to the new environment will survive. But their offspring will still die, because the organisms of the Bosnian mohajirs, their blood and their cells inherited traits fit for Bosnian climate, not that of Asia Minor.

Those who were left alive were deeply dissatisfied. The old men could not learn the Turkish language. Where there is a few of them, they talk together and wilt and yearn for their country. Here is where they truly feel like strangers, that they are not Turks and that with the Turks, apart from faith, they have nothing in common. I was told by Bosnian muhajirs, who as young men came to Asia Minor and learned Turkish there, like a commoner who would learn German by wandering Austria and Germany, that every Ottoman hears from the first word that they are foreigners and treats them as such. The children born there learn Turkish, but it is not rare that they do not learn Serbian well and have a hard time communicating with their parents. Through the generations they will become true Ottomans.

One evening I met up with some of the more important Bosnian mohajirs from Brusa for a conversation. It was hard seeing these fallen and decrepit men, mostly representatives of a few most well-known and powerful Bosnian families. They all complained and regretted leaving their land, but defended their decisions that it was unbearable under "the Swabians" [common name for Germans and Austrians in Serbian language, like "Krauts" in English, translator's note]. One can feel that the main reason for the beys [Ottoman nobelmen, translator's note] to emigrate was vanity: they find themselves offended, as the old circumstances in Bosnia are no longer. They did not remember that it was not bey-like and gentlemanly to love your country only when one can rule it.

3. There is almost not a town in Old Serbia and Macedonia in which there are not special mahalas settled with Bosnian mohajirs. They are in the villages as well and I was left with the most vivid of memories of the Mohammedan Korjenić family from Herzegovina, who settled in Maleš on the very border with Bulgaria, as they were happy, almost as if they had met one of their own, when they saw people who spoke their language and knew their lands. I saw them settled even in Elassona in Thessaly, towards the Greek border.

For these muhajirs it could not be said that they were transplanted into completely foreign and significantly different lands based on the nature, but their misery is still boundless. With very many the nostalgia has developed into a real disease; this is felt more with the beys and peasants, less so with the townsfolk, as they were when they emigrated from Bosnia. The peasant and the bey love the sinor of their land and after many years they describe what it looks like and how in the spring the bushes smell, which has sprung up all over it; they remember each piece of fruit, which they grafted and planted, every tree, copse and forest, furrow and blade of grass, which they ploughed and it is almost as if they still smell their ploughed land. The yearning and pain rise up to a level of madness, when they start evoking memories and speak of the life and customs of their land, which are incomparable and against which everything they do now is only poverty and misery.

They are doing very poorly. Every more traveled passer-by can spot in the towns of Old Serbia and Macedonia the mahalas of the Bosnian mohajirs: by their dilapidated and sagging houses, which look abandoned, by the tattered clothes of men and women and by the general unkemptness; the impression is as if everything you see says and shouts: we are left behind and abandoned and we want to be unkepmt and exterminated. Of men, who in Bosnian cities were quick merchants, not one of a hundred was able to stay afloat and it stands out that those who were able to stay afloat and advance were the suppliers for the Turkish military. I met a large number of Turkish clerks and among them I have not found a single Bosnian mohajir, who would stand on the so-called steps of the bureaucratic hierarchy. but there was very many of them among the suvaris and zaptis (Turkish police); if I were to judge based on those who followed me, they make up for over half of the police of European Turkey.

There is a lot of offspring of these Bosnian muhajirs among the officer corps. Based on my information there are over 300 officers in the Turkish military of our language, among whom there are several generals; truth is that a significant number of them are from the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. It is almost like the military is the only profession in which Bosnian mohajirs can advance as well. Those who finished Turkish military academies know Turkish, but between themselves speak Serbian and all know it flawlessly. They only struggle with the words of our language which are a product of higher culture and new needs.

4. One morning in April of this year I came from Pazar or Yenidze-Vardar in southern Macedonia to the train station Topčin to catch the train which went from Thessaloniki to Belgrade. I was surprised when I saw a middle-aged Bosnian with his bula [wife, translator's note]. This was not the direction they usually moved in these days; the go in the other direction from Belgrade to Salonika. As soon as I addressed him in Serbian, he attached himself to me. It was indeed an mohajir coming back to Bosnia. He moved out with his wife and four children twenty years ago and he was wealthy. His children died and so he changed settlements in southern Macedonia. Finally he was left without children and anything. He had to work as a servant and so reached Constantinople. He had still kept the wordiness of Bosnians and presented me lively and with tearful eyes not only the material troubles, but also that deep pain which foreign lands and delusions leave in a man. He knows that all Turks, real Turks, are something different than him and that he has nothing in common with them except their faith. It is now clear to him that we are closer than the Ottomans. This ruined man is coming back to Bosnia only to die there and even that at the insistence of his wife, who has been crying for her house for twenty years. He trusts in his family in Bosnia who stayed behind. If it was by his own will, he would not be going back, as he couldn't from the shame. When I mentioned that he should tell others not to move and to show them the misfortune on himself, he only struck his head and shouted: The hard Bosnian heads will not listen; I was told as well and still didn't trust them.


1. On the Balkan peninsula there is temporary and permanent emigration and the motives are usually economic or personal or property insecurity. It is especially known that the Greeks and Aromanians go all over the world for profit. For many Serbian and Bulgarian areas the labour movements are normal, where they spend a part of the year as labourers of various types in certain Balkan countries, in Romania or other countries. Except Serbia, there is a significant movement of the masses from all the Balkan countries to American for income purposes. With all this movement a part will stay in the areas of new income, therefore definitively emigrate.

Somewhat similar to these are the migration continuously happening from European Turkey to the free Balkan countries, Serbia and Bulgaria, with a lot fewer going to Greece. Slavs from Macedonia and Edirne vilayet go to Bulgaria, while Macedonians and Serbs from Old Serbia and the sanjak of Novi Pazar area go to Serbia. The last migration at the creation of Serbia reached a peak and the immigrants from Old Serbia, Senica and Novi Pazar areas together with the immigrated Bosnians, Herzegovinians and Montenegrins form over 2/3 of the population of western Serbia.

These migrations are caused not only by economic and national motives, but also by the desire for their own free lands.

However the emigrations of Ottomans and Greeks from Bulgaria, which happened over the last 30 years have been caused less by economic reasons and much more by a psychological state and they were often violent migrations. In Bulgaria there is still over half a million true Turks, even though they have been constantly moving to European Turkey and Anatolia.The last violent pogrom of Greeks from Bulgaria, carried out 3-4 years ago is well-known. At that time around 40 000 souls emigrated to Greece and settled primarily in Thessaly; the biggest mahala of the town of Larissa was founded by these Greeks and named it Philipopolis (Plovdiv) as they were from the old Eastern Rumeli region.

Following this gradation we come to the emigration of the Bosnian Mohammedans, which can be classified as a migration primarily caused by psychological reasons. Besides that, it differs from previous migrations by this as well. Slavs from Macedonia, Bulgarians from Edirne vilayet, Serbs from Old Serbia, Turks and Greeks from Bulgaria emigrate to their ethnographic region; Mohammedan Bosnians move most commonly to a foreign ethnographic region, where they have to lose their language and their ethnographic characteristics.

2. The emigration of Bosnian Mohammedans is then least caused by economic reasons. Even the most prosperous are migrating. Even if the poor move, it is not because they would find better income in Turkey; to the contrary, the chances to earn are better in Bosnia. They therefore move from the areas of better economic circumstances into the land of worse economic circumstances. Still now there is not only a tendency and aspiration with Bosnian Mohammedans, but an urge for emigration. That cry: "everyone will move out of Bosnia" marks that urge.

As it was mentioned, the main cause for that is psychological or to us an older expression, a special state of the people's soul, which developed under the influence of the circumstances which came into being after the occupation and especially after the annexation. The state of discontent with the circumstances as well as oneself, resentment, desperation. In truth, such a psychological state takes hold of all the Mohammedans of the Balkan peninsula when the fall under foreign, Christian rule, but it is much more intensive in Bosnia. And this is exactly what needs to be explained.

Bosnian Mohammedans lived under special circumstances and have different psychological traits than the other Slavic renegades of the Balkan peninsula. They are completely different from Pomaks or the Islamised Slavs of southern Old Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. As it is known, the Bosnian Mohammedans are Serbs, with a significant part Serbian nobility, which changed their faith (primarily Bogumils and Orthodox) and lost their national consciousness. The former gentry, they remained gentry under the Turkish rule as well. Bosnia was for centuries a peripheral Turkish land, the most distant one from Anatolia and Constantinople. The Ottomans could primarily keep it with them by indulging the Bosnian Mohammedans. These often had real autonomy. Having apostatised the faith and the Serbian national consciousness, these Mohammedans aspired to show themselves worthy of their new faith and new positions and were put in an increasing opposition towards their compatriots who kept the old faith. They did the latter out of shame, which is present with all renegades and causes an urge to supposedly remove themselves from their root and to exterminate the connections and feelings which tied them to it. Thus many developed the characteristics of arrogance, ostentation and false Turkism. Is it known how they treated the “Vlachs”. They made themselves to be ak-Turks and believed that they were better Turks than the Ottomans.

Sometimes they even doubted whether a sultan was as good of a Turk as they were. So much force and apocryphal Turkism could not have developed with any other Islamised Slavs of the Balkan peninsula. Besides that the oriental feelings and sentiments were grafted onto their Serbian nature and a lively and variously coloured domestic and intimate life developed for them. A certain harmony established itself and a special kind of comfort or rahatluk. Besides that, more than any other national group on the peninsula they kept a petrified, certifiably medieval way of thinking; en masse they are uncritical, prone to believe impossibilities, fantasists.

A lightning from a clear sky could not be more surprising and disturbing as the apocryphal Turks of Bosnia and Herzegovina were psychologically disturbed first the temporary occupation, then the annexation. They fell under not only a Christian state, but a Christian state of clerical tendencies and a strict bureaucratic regime. Their psychological state became no better due to the Bosnian government favouring them for a long time. Since the occupation they were insulted by everything and they were insulted from all sides.

This deep dissatisfaction could have weakened if the Mohammedans were given to internal struggles. And it truly started weakening. The emigration which started after the occupation, had stopped. However, a new dissatisfaction, which arose after the annexation, was turned into a new urge for emigration under the influence of two impulses. One of these impulses came from the Young Turks. The well-known doctor Nassim, a member of the Thessaloniki Young Turk committee, came to the thought that by settling Bosnian mohajirs the Slavic supremacy in Macedonia could be weakened. This plan was embraced by the Turkish government. The second impulse comes from the Austrian regime, whose aims lately aligned with that of Young Turks. Both are thinking that they can emigrate one national group and take others to fill their place, as a chemist changes reactions to make a new chemical compound.

3. The broad masses move with great difficulty even in normal circumstances, especially when it is difficult for them to cross state borders. In my travels I have come across commoners and peasants, who left their area due to business or even further from their countries and I was assured that traveling is a series of misfortunes and even suffering for them; it is even more difficult for them when they have to earn under these new and unknown circumstances. Bosnian muhajirs are moving without an economic need, en masse, to new circumstances and in areas of mainly foreign languages; then to lands economically undeveloped, where no income is to be found. Besides that they are themselves torpid, uncultured, can’t help themselves, everything is foreign to them and they come with habits so deeply ingrained, which the new circumstances insult and disappoint. Not only in Europe, but perhaps even further afield, there is no greater suffering that popular masses are exposed to than these Bosnian mohajirs. And therefore the thought first occurs how the process of emigration should be stopped, which would primarily be the responsibility of the younger Mohammedan intelligentsia. It is a great task and requires the most energetic means. It is hardly worth it to use journalism and books, as few of the Bosnian Mohammedans is literate and sufficiently ready to read and comprehend. The national urge could perhaps be stopped with the living word and the apostolic work: if the Mohammedan intelligentsia goes from village to village, from house to house. *

How does the emigration of Bosnian Mohammedans affect our national balance and what is the damage of it to our nation?

1. It is beyond doubt that with their emigration there is a significant reduction of the number of people who speak the Serbian language. They disappear from Bosnia where they would preserve that language and they go to southern Macedonia, Thessaly and Anatolia, where their descendants will forget Serbian and learn the Turkish language. That they will temporarily spread the Serbian language in these areas has no meaning for the future.

Currently and ostensibly it seems that for the Serbian nationality there is less damage than for the Serbian language. The popular mass of Bosnian Mohammedans feel as Turks and all the troubles and finally the latest events, could not have overturned this with the Bosnian Mohammedans. In these masses there is not, even now, other feelings than religious ones and therefore pseudo-Turkish ones. There are young and educated people, gifted poets and individuals, who honour themselves by being able to emancipate themselves from the faith and that they were able to call back to their nationality. But those are few exceptions.

But religious fanaticism is constantly weakening with Bosnian Mohammedans. The more enlightened they become, it will weaken further. In their souls there will be an emptiness, later a true vacuum, and it seems that it can not be filled by anything but a national feeling, for which there is no space now.

It seems already now that Austria will aspire to create a middle party, neutrals out of the backward Bosnian Mohammedans, something similar to the nationally colourless Czech nobility of the past, in order to use them politically at will. It is not impossible for it to succeed at least partially. But Mohammedan neutrals could not last in the long run, just at the Czech nobility could not remain neutral. The most enlightened and most progressive natures will quickly come back to their nationality. The rest a bit later.

The emigrated Mohammedans are therefore forever lost for the Serbian nationality, while those who remain in Bosnia will return to their nationality with progress. Not only from humane reasons but for national ones Serbs must most actively strive for the Bosnian Mohammedans not to emigrate. They should intercede for it as much as the Mohammedan youth.

Historical misfortune caused for a significant number of Bosnian Serbs to change their faith and lost their national feeling. Now because of it a significant number of Bosnian Mohammedans have to disappear; their Serbian language will disappear and their Serbian physical constitution, as they will completely melt into an Asian people. This was once called suffering for your sins and is now called the social law. But according to that same law those Bosnian Mohammedans who remain in Bosnia have to come back to their nationality. For this process it does not matter what kind of a political position the Serbian people in Bosnia will currently take towards Bosnian Mohammedans. And therefore without the class economic interests of the Mohammedans we should raise up and strengthen our more narrow populace, that which could subject its faith to its nationality and to colour it with nationality, those who suffered for centuries and still suffer and in which our true national energy is compressed under the troubles and pressures.

2. But the greatest danger of the emigration of Bosnian Mohammedans both for the Serbian nationality and the other domestic elements in Bosnia is that behind the Bosnian mohajirs will be left empty lands, great areas and they could be settled with foreigners. It is known that in this manner our people in Slavonia, Syrmia, Bačka and Banat was weakened and pressured out; thus these regions became mixed by their ethnographic composition. For this it is not enough just to buy up land, left behind the Mohammedans in Bosnia, but it should be prevented that foreigners settle them. Serbs, Croats and Slovenes should be settled. If people of our language can not be settled there, let those remain as internal spaces, where the locals would spread and multiply.

Translated by Books of Jeremiah

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