Author Topic: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims  (Read 16867 times)

0 Members and 2 Guests are viewing this topic.

Offline Тоска

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2347
  • Gender: Male
  • % 100 + POMAK
Cahier d'études sur la Méditerranée
orientale et le monde turco-iranien
n°18, juillet-décembre 1994


Prof. dr. Baskin ORAN

Today  two  intermingled  concepts  haunt  the  Balkans:  religion and
nationalism. I will first attempt a theoretical approach to these two concepts.
In  the  context  of  the  history  of  western  Europe,  nationalism  is  a
cohesion  ideology  that  chronologically  came after  the  religion and  therefore
fought it to take its place. Unlike the ideology of religion with corresponded to
Feudalism  with  "God"  as  its  focus  of  societal  loyalty,  the  ideology  of
nationalism  corresponded  to  Capitalism  with  "nation"  at  this  focus.  The
antagonism was obvious indeed and the French Revolution of 1789 confiscated
the church property, Napoléon subdued the Church to the state and anticlerical
laws  in  France  followed  one  another  well  until  the  beginning  of  the  20th
Interestingly, the Kemalist nationalism that followed the Western and,
in particular, the French model reduced orthodox Islam (i.e., organized official
religion)  to  the  level of a  "general directorate" of  the government machinery
and  closed  and  banned  the  institutions  of  heterodox  Islam  (i.e.  religion  as
understood and practiced by the people) such as tekkes and zaviyes. Moreover,
Kemalist  nationalism  fought  this  war  against  religion  in  a  social  medium
incomparably  less convenient  than  the one  in 1789 both  in  terms of mode of
production and people's loyalty to religion.
However,  in contrast  to  this basic historical conflict between  religion
and  nationalism,  one  can  detect  a  number  of  cases  in  which  religion  and
nationalism marry,  religion  supporting nationalism or  the national  identity at
least. The main ones can be cited as follows :

1. When  there  is  a  third  cohesion  ideology  that  threatens  both  (e.g.,
2.  In case of  the existence of  the  "Chosen People" concept, as  in  the
case of Jews and even Arabs;                                                
This paper was presented  to  the conference  jointly organized by CERI of Paris and
Political  Science  Faculty  of  Ankara  on  "Turkish  Areas  in  the  New  Regional  and
International Configuration", Ankara, 2-3 November 1992.

3. When the elements making a nation (language, national market, etc.)
are weak,  in which case religion plays  the role of social paste  to make up for
4. Emergency situations like war;
5. When there is a "National Church";
6. In cases where  the religion of  the dominant nation  is different  than
that of the dominated one, the religion of the latter supports its nationalism or
its national identity at least.

This last case is the one I'll try to discuss here in the context of Balkans
I  said  "today" but one must begin by noting  that  this phenomenon  is
nothing new. On the contrary, it was very common in the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman "millet" system assigned legal personality to non-Muslim
minorities in a manner unknown even today. In this system, the heads of millets
had  the  authority  to  rule  their  communities,  to  represent  them  at  the Royal
Court, and to collect taxes.

In  the  beginning  of  19th  century,  the  Balkan  bourgeoisies  became
strong  enough  to  attempt  to draw  their own  territorial boundaries. When  the
ideas of  the French Revolution  reached  the area at  this period,  this class had
already  had  a  strong  trump-card  :  The Orthodox  Churches.  The  "national"
Orthodox  churches  had maintained  their  power  during  the Ottoman  period
thanks to the role assigned to them in the millet system and became number one
supporter  of  the  nationalist movements  that  began  under  foreign,  especially
Russian influence. This was how all the Balkan peoples won their autonomy or
independence from the Ottoman Empire between 1820 and 1878.
After this theoretical introduction, I should note some striking examples
of  the  interaction  between  religion  and  nationalism  in  the  era  of  Ottoman
Empire before I proceed to discuss contemporary developments :

1. Russia which   in  practice was  the most  influential country  in  this
independence process was Orthodox as most of the Balkan peoples.
2. Albanians, who won their independence as late as 1912 although they
were known for their nationalistic behavior, were Muslims like the Ottomans.
3. The Bosnians, who were "more Turkish  than  the Turks"   and who
wanted  to  take  up  the  arms  against  the  "infidels" when Greeks  revolted  in
18211, were also Muslims. There had never been a nationalist movement in
Bosnia against the Ottomans.
4.  To  cite  an  example  from  the  eastern  part  of  the  Empire:   The
Armenian  people was  called  by  the Ottomans  "Millet-i  Sadika"  (The  Loyal
Community)  since  they  caused  no  problem whatsoever  until  the  nationalist
groups  in  eastern Anatolia  took  up  the  arms  as  late  as  in  1894  and  under
Russian  influence.  These  nationalist  groups  were  solely  Gregorian,  i.e.,
Orthodox. Armenians who were Catholic  or  Protestant  did  not  develop  any
nationalism, nor did  they  fight  against  the Ottomans  in  the  ranks of Russian
army in the First World War. It is also interesting to remember that Catholic or
Protestant Armenians were not included in the 1915 deportation ordered by the
Young Turk government.
After this brief glance at this intermingled relationship between religion
(and  even,  sect)  and  nationalism  in  the  history  of  the Balkans, we  can  now
discuss the situation today.

1 Georges Castellan,  Histoire des Balkans , XIV-XXe siècle, Paris, Fayard, 1991, p.

The only sizable minority of Greece lives  in Western Thrace, close  to
the Turkish border. I will not discuss the conflicts between Greece and Turkey
about this minority. However, I would like to underline that while Greece calls
it "Muslim minority", Turkey identifies it as "Turkish minority". Before going
into any sociological considerations,  I must point out  that   both countries are
legally right :

1. Greece  is right, because Article 45 of the Lausanne Peace Treaty of
24  July  1923  protecting  the  rights  of  this minority  identifies  it  as  "Muslim
Minority".  (In  this  treaty,  "Non-Muslim"  is  the  term  used  to  identify  those
minorities  to be protected  in Turkey.) It  is also a  fact  that  the minority  is not
solely made up of Turks only.

2.  Turkey  is  right,   because  the Convention  and  Protocol  on  the
Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations of 30 January 1923 that regulated
the  compulsory  exchange  of  the  said minorities  in  these  two  countries  and
allowed  the existence of respective minorities  in Istanbul and Western Thrace
(établis), makes mention  of  "Turks"  and  not  of  "Muslims". Moreover,  the
official établi documents in French delivered at the period identify the Istanbul
minority as  "Greek" and  the Western Thrace minority as  "Turk", a  term also
used by all Greek governments until the coup d'Etat of 1967 in this country.
The most difficult cases are those where everybody is right. Therefore,
we better leave discussing the legal situation and proceed to study this identity
problem sociologically. I will first  throw an eye on  the ethnic composition of
the Western Thrace minority and then study how the non-Turkish members of
this minority identify themselves.
The  ethnic  composition of  the minority  seems  to  support  the official
claims of Greece. Among   approximately 120,000 Muslims some 30.000   are
Pomak, some 5000 are Gypsy, the rest being Turkish.
Pomaks are considered to be of Bulgarian descent by Bulgaria, of Greek
descent by Greece, and of Turkish descent by Turkey. Dutch scientist Fred de
Jong, well known  for his works on Western Thrace,  identifies  the Pomaks as
"...a people whose ethnic origins are not known precisely; they usually speak a
dialect of Bulgarian  language,  and Turkish  as  a  second  language;  they  are  a
Turkified Muslim people"2.
Pomaks are devout Muslims; they live in mountainous regions and learn
Turkish as they go to school and establish contacts with the Turks. Gypsies are
also Muslim.
2 Fred de Jong, "The Muslim Minority in Western Thrace", in Georgina Ashworth
(ed.), Muslim Minorities in the Eighties, Sunbury, Quartermaine House Ltd., 1980, p.95

As for the question of self-identification among the minority, the Turks
have  always  aimed  at  living  as  "Greek  citizens  of  Turkish  descent  and  of
Muslim  religion" on  their   lands and did not develop  so  far any nationalistic
claims so far, such as annexation of Western Thrace to Turkey. One reason for
this  is  that Greece  is  economically  a  better  place  than  the  other  side  of  the
frontier. On the other hand, they very strongly emphasize their Turkish identity
as shown in their dresses, various associations, clubs, and political parties, and
in many other ways. To make any concession whatsoever in this matter seems
to be out of question for them.
This situation  is very natural  for a number of  reasons. The Turks had
outnumbered  the  total  of  all  other  nationalities  in  the  region when Western
Thrace was left to Greece in 1920; the region is at the Turkish border; it has not
been long since it was separated from Turkey; this community is Muslim, i.e.,
the  "millet-i  hakime"  (sovereign  nationality)  in  the  Ottoman  system  while
Greeks are Christians,  i.e.,  the "millet-i muhakkime"  (dominated nationality);
ever  since  the beginning of  this  identity  argument between  the minority  and
Greek officials in early 70s the müftis (who have always had temporal powers
also  in  the  semi-theocratic Greece)  are  no more  religious  leaders  only  but
national symbols as well.
It  is  normal  that  Turks  identify  themselves  as  Turks,  but  what  is
interesting  is  the  fact  that  the non-Turkish members of  the minority, Pomaks
and Gypsies, identify themselves even more strongly as Turks, as shown by my
research in the region3 :

1. Education  : Pomaks are very sensitive on the issue of education in
Turkish. Although they speak Pomak language at home, it is very important for
them  that  their  children  attend Turkish minority  schools. Since  early 1970's,
Greek authorities have given scholarships to Pomak youngsters who cannot find
jobs in their hometowns to go and study at the Saloniki Academy of Pedagogy
(founded  in  1966). The Pomak  teachers  educated  there  are  appointed  to  the
minority schools  in  their hometowns and  they are  required  to  teach  in Greek.
The parents do not allow their children to attend such schools that close down
because of the boycotts. The Pomak minority has severely reacted against this
policy.  For  instance,  in  1972,  the  Pomak  women  of  the  village  of  Galini
(Yalanca) attacked  the gendarmes who put down  the signboard of  the village
school reading "Turkish Minority School"  and who  replaced  it with  the  one
reading  "Muslim Minority  School". These  boycotts  continued  intermittently
throughout the 1980s and 90s, and even at the time of my translating this article
into English (April 1994).
3 For further information on the Muslim minority in Greece, see Baskin Oran,  Türk-
Yunan Iliskilerinde Bati Trakya Sorunu (The Western Thrace Question in Turco-Greek
Relations), 2nd ed., Ankara, Bilgi Yayinevi, 1991.

2. Minority organization : After a long struggle since 1972, the three
main organizations of  the minority were banned by  the court  in 1987, on  the
grounds  that  they maintained  the word "Turkish"  in  their names, while "they
were not Turkish". At the following mass demonstrations on 29 January 1988
largest participation came from the Pomaks living in the northern mountainous
region. It might be instructive to note that Mustafa Hilmi Effendi (1901-1990),
the mufti of Xanthy  (Turkish name:  Iskeçe) who became  the  symbol of  this
minority's  struggle  for  identity, was  a  Pomak who  could  not  speak Turkish
Gypsies, on the other hand, are even more radical than Pomaks in this
matter. Indeed, when a false news broadcast by a Greek local radio resulted in
an attack of fanatic Greek groups against the minority on 29 January 1990, the
worst  fights  took place  in Kalkanca,  the Gypsy quarter of Komotini  (Turkish
name: Gümülcüne).
3. Self-Identification : To call a Gypsy "Gypsy" is taken as an insult in
Western Thrace. What is more interesting is that Pomaks also take it as an insult
when  they  are  called  "Pomak".  Since  the  Ottoman  times  this  people  have
always considered Muslim consciousness and Turkish consciousness identical,
they identified themselves as "Turkish," and wanted to be called as such.
There is more than one reason for this interesting situation :
1. In cases where a rigid and repressive ideology is unable to satisfy the
basic  needs  of  people,  the  continual  ideological  bombardment may  result  in
strong  reaction.  This  reaction  may  vary  from  ideological  apathy  to  active
rejection of the ideas that the ideology intends to inject. It may also hasten the
drive  for opposite  ideologies. This  is  the  situation  experienced  in Turkey by
Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin.
This mechanism of "the negative function of ideology" is also the case
for  Pomaks  (and  also  Gypsies)  in  Western  Thrace.  These  people  live  in
conditions of poverty in mountainous regions and the Greek State discriminates
against them4.
4 To illustrate some aspects of this discrimination, two Greek laws may be brought to
attention. Firstly, as a result of  the application of  the Greek  law numbered 1366/1938
(this  law was  condemned  by  the European Community Court  of  Justice  on  30 May
1989,  case  no.309/87), members  of  the Muslim minority  in Greece  cannot  acquire
immovable property in Western Thrace. A surprisingly low number of Greeks, except
those  living  in Western Thrace, are aware of  this  situation. Secondly, Art. 19 of  the
Greek Citizenship Law  (no.3370/1938)  stipulates  that  "When a person of non-Greek
ethnic  origin"  goes  abroad  "without  the  intention  of  returning,  this  person may  be
removed  from  Greek  citizenship"  by  administrative  decree,  as  a  result  of  which
thousands of Western Thracians have lost their citizenship. The US State Department,
on its 1990 Human Rights Report-Greece has had this to say about Art.19!: "(In Greece)

In  such  conditions,  the Greek  State  propagandizes  that  Pomaks  are
"forcefully converted grandsons of Alexander the Great"5, Greek academicians
interpret the Pomak traditions of cutting the round bread into four pieces and of
putting  cross-shaped  iron  bars  to windows  as  reminiscent  of  their Christian
times.  Furthermore,  some  scientists make  tests  to  prove  that  Pomaks  carry
Greek and not Turkish blood6.
As  a  result  of  all  this,  Turkish  consciousness  among  the  Pomaks
becomes stronger. Indeed, during my  interviews with them in Western Thrace
in  1985,  Pomaks  had  this  to  say  about  being  former Christians  :"If  it's  the
Ottomans who forcefully converted us to Islam, may them rest in holy peace (in
Turkish  :  Nur  içinde  yatsinlar);  but  otherwise  if  we  became  Muslims
voluntarily, we are proud of ourselves! (in Turkish : Aferin bize)".

2. Unlike  the Turks  in Western Thrace, Pomaks  and Gypsies do not
have  a  kin-state  who  defends  the  internationally  guaranteed  rights  of  the
Muslim minority and Turkey does it for all of them.

3. Numerically, Turks make up  the main element of  the minority and
are much better off economically. They also have, as the ruling ethnic group in
the Ottoman Empire,  a more brilliant past  in  terms of  language,  culture  and
history.  Therefore,  the  Turkish  identity  definitely  represents  an  element  of
prestige, and even of upward mobility among the minority.

4.  In  such  a  setting,  the Greek  policy  of  identifying  the minority  as
"Muslim", instead of "Turkish," results in abolishing any possible trace identity
differences between Turks, Pomaks and Gypsies. From this point that appears
to  be  the  basic  problem  of Greek  authorities, we  can  go  back  to  our main
subject matter :
The fundamental reason why Pomaks identify themselves as Turkish is
the fact that this oppressed minority is Muslim while the oppressing majority is
exile  is unconstitutional and does not occur, except  in  the  form of an administrative
decree on the loss of citizenship by non-ethnic Greeks" (pp.18-20). For numerous other
cases of Greek discriminatory policy, see ibid., pp. 113-276.

5 It seems that this theme of "Alexander the Great" has been abandoned by Greek
official ideology since Macedonia became an independent state in 1991.

6 See Dr. N.I. Xirotiri, Findings on the Classification of the Frequency of Blood Groups
Among  Pomaks,  Ph.D.  Thesis  in Greek,  Thessaloniki,  1971,  in  Pavlos Hidiroglou,
Hellenic Pomaks and their Relations with Turkey (in Greek), 2nd ed., Athens, Hrodotos
Publications, 1989, p. 15-16 (I am grateful to my ex-student Mr. Halim Çavusoglu for
bringing those publications to my attention and translating the relevant sections for me).

Orthodox Christian. The other reasons are only secondary. As suggested at the
beginning  of  this  paper,  the  religion  of  the  oppressed minority  supports  its
"national"  identity,  and  even  becomes  identified  with  the  latter  when  the
oppressing majority is of a different religion. Of course, this situation here is all
the more accentuated by :

a)  The  historical  hostility  between  the  Turks  and  the  Greeks.  As
Hercules Millas,  a member  of  Istanbul Greek  (Rum) minority now  living  in
Athens and an important specialist on human problems in Turco-Greek relations
reminds us in his book on the subject7, one must not forget that the Greeks won
their national consciousness by fighting against the Turks in the 1820s and the
Turks won theirs by fighting against the Greeks exactly a century after;

b)  The  fact  that  there  is  a  class  problem  in  Western  Thrace.
Economically,  the  minority  members  are  incomparably  weaker  than  the
majority (Greeks).
In  conclusion,  because  of  the  mentioned  reasons  the  Turkish
consciousness among the ethnically non-Turkish minority members in Western
Thrace  is perhaps much  stronger  than  the  same  consciousness  among  ethnic


In Bulgaria (population: about 10 million), there is a significant Muslim
minority. The Turks are about 800-900.000, the Pomaks about 300-400.000 and
the Gypsies about the same figure.
Until  recently,  Turkish  identity  among  this  minority  was  not  very
strong. Perhaps the main reason behind this was the extreme difficulty to resist
assimilation policies  in a  rigid communist regime. The Bulgarian regime first
gradually  decreased  the Turkish  courses,  and  then  finally  abolished  them  in
1971. This policy may have been welcome by some in the face of the fact that
in Bulgarian schools the minority students have had  to wrestle with Bulgarian
and Russian in Cyrillic and with English, French and Turkish in Latin alphabet,
also  the Arabic  if  the student attended private religious classes as well. These
students  soon  began  answering  their  parents  in  Bulgarian.  Some  mixed
marriages  occurred.  In  the  meanwhile,  the  regime  identified  the  Turkish
minority  first  as  "Bulgarian  citizens  of  Turkish  origin",  then  as  "Bulgarian
Turks," and finally as "Bulgarian Muslims" in the period 1982-84.
However, a policy that President Jivkov declared late 1984 ended  this
slow assimilation process. Jivkov, probably frightened by the high birth rate of
the Turkish population, had started the unbelievable "name changing campaign"
during which both  the  first  and  the  last names of  the minority were  forcible
7  Tencere Dibin Kara  (Nobody is sinless), Istanbul, Amaç Publishing House, 1989, p.

replaced by Bulgarian ones. This policy that only ended with the fall of Jivkov
(and of the regime) in late 1989 forced the Turks to initiate organized resistance
within the framework of "National Liberation Movement of Turks of Bulgaria"
during  the  summer  of  19858. This organization started violent resistance,
exploding bombs here  and  there. During mass demonstrations  in May 1989,
some Turks were shot dead by security forces (2  in Varna, 2  in Rasgrad, 5  in
Sumnu). After  2500 minority  intellectuals were  expelled  in  June  1989,  the
government began sending convoys of people to Turkey.
How did  this passive minority oppose such an unexpected resistance?
First,  the  role of dialectics strikes one's attention. The minority, who had not
reacted when  he  had  to  pay  20  levas  (a  very  heavy  fine)  per Turkish word
because  he  feared  the  regime  before  1985,  exploded  when  this  policy  of
assimilation went so far as to change the names of people.
However, this explanation is insufficient. The underlining reason might
be  the  fact  that  their names  (Ali, Osman, Ömer,  etc.) were  at  the  same  time
Islamic names while  the new names given  to  them were Orthodox Christian
names. The fact that this crazy campaign went so far as to change the names on
the tomb stones  no doubt intensified the religious reaction. That is to say, when
we speak of ethnic conflict in Bulgaria, what we witness is a religious conflict
deep inside. This is also illustrated by the fact that, after the fall of Jivkov on 10
November 1989, everybody began sending their children to the Coranic courses
and started ordering religious books from Turkey. The first publication to arrive
from  this country was the "Calendar of Prayer Times Abroad" published by the
Turkish Directory of Religious Affairs.
Now  let  us  consider  the  Pomaks  in  Bulgaria.  The  Turkish  identity
among them is much weaker when compared with the Pomaks in Greece. It is
significant that being called "Pomak" is not an insult here. Some of the Pomaks
in Bulgaria do not identify themselves as Turks. A great number of them can't
tell who they are and some identify themselves  as "Bulgarian Muslims".
One reason for this difference is probably the fact that Pomak language
is a dialect of the Bulgarian. However, since Pomaks are devout Muslims, the
fact that the Muslim religious institution in Bulgaria (Basmüftülük) lost most of
8 The Rights and Liberties Party that holds a key position in the Bulgarian Parliament
because of  the precarious numeric balance,  is an extension of  this organization. This
party,  far  from  being  nationalistic,  pursues  a  policy  of  large  front  and  claims  to
represent not only Turks but all the minorities and even Bulgarians as well. Indeed, the
party  is  represented by 24 deputies  in  the parliament, of which 3  are Pomaks  and 4
Bulgarians. The  leaders  of  the  party  that was  founded  on March  1990  gathered  an
extraordinary congress whereby  they "eliminated nationalist elements who wanted  to
deploy Turkish flag".

its  power over  the Muslim  community  during  the  communist  regime  is  also
very important indeed.
The name changing campaign affected Pomaks also. It is even reported
that  the  first  reaction  to  the  campaign  came  from  the  Pomak  youth.  In  an
interview, Mr. Kazim Memis, consultant to the Bulgarian Ministry of Education
for Turkish courses,  told me  that  the Pomaks struggled very much during  the
last  two years  for  learning Turkish. They  thought  that  two hours per week of
Turkish was insufficient and protested against it. They asked for private Turkish
courses  and  threatened  the  authorities  of  the Rights  and Liberties Party,  the
"Party of the Turks" that holds to-date a key position in Parliament, saying:  "If
you  don't  solve  this  question, we will  not  vote  for  you!" A  common  saying
among  the Pomaks  is: "Bulgarians  took our  language, but we didn't give our
religion". I think this saying sums up the situation.
The Basmüftülük will probably get stronger under the new regime and
gain more power over   the minority. Furthermore, there are more than 300 real
estates  that will  return  to  the Muslim  religious  foundations  as  a  result of  re-
privatizations  and  this  should make  the  Basmüftülük stronger. At  the end of
1992,  this  religious  institution didn't  even have  a vehicle of  its own  and  the
deputy Basmüftü told me : "If even we had one, we could not pay for the fuel".
In this process, not only official Islam, but also heterodox Islam might
get stronger in the short run for the following reasons :

1. Communism as an ideology cohesion is dead, and the masses will go
back  to  their  previous  ideology  of  cohesion  that  they  had  never  forgotten
anyway.  This  process  of  the  "Revenge  of  the God"  is  already what  all  the
Balkans experience today.

2. An upsurge of Orthodox religion among Bulgarians will hasten  the
same process among Bulgarian Muslims.

3. The development of  capitalism will  inevitably disturb  the  income
distribution and will hit the lower middle class. The rising inflation will worsen
the situation and push the impoverished masses towards the religion.


The  situation  in Macedonia  is  completely  different  concerning  the
relationship between Turkish and Muslim identities.
The population of Macedonia is 2.240.000. According to 1991 official
figures, 1.315.000 are Orthodox Macedonians, and the Muslims are composed
of 430.000 Albanians, 98.000 Turks and 35.000 Gypsies five to ten thousand of
which can speak Turkish and identify themselves as Turkish. However, the third
largest  Muslim  minority  is  not  the  Gypsy  community  but  the  Torbesh
population,  a  devout Muslim  community  registered  as Macedonian  because
their mother tongue is the Macedonian.
The estimated figure of the Torbesh population is between 35.000 and
100.000. According to one opinion, "Torbesh" is the name given to Macedonian
Pomaks, according to another opinion it's the name given to the Slavic Muslims
in Macedonia, and according to a third thesis the Torbesh are the descendants of
Turks who came to the region before the Ottoman period. Before studying this
little known people,  I want  first  to discuss  the  relationship between national
identities and Islam in Macedonia.
As will  be  seen  from  the  population  figures  given  above,  the most
important minority  in  this Balkan country are not  the Turks as  is  the case  in
Greece  and  Bulgaria,  but  the  Albanians.  This  people  who  boycotted  the
population  census  in  1991  and  who  claim  to  be  about  700.000   held  in
Macedonia a position similar to the Turks in Bulgaria and especially in Greece :
They  are  identified  with  Islam.  Indeed,  Turks  live  under  the  shadow  of
Albanians who proclaimed  in  the  last election campaign  that Turks were  the
common  enemy  of  both  Albanians  and Macedonians.  Turks  are  subject  to
assimilation by the Albanians and this threat is particularly valid  for those who
intermarry with the Albanians.
"I can kill  ten Turks  for one Macedonian, because  it  is  the Ottomans
who  left  us  underdeveloped!" What  is  the  idea  behind  this Albanian  saying
quoted by the Macedonian Turks from the high school memories  of  the 1960s?
According  to Macedonian  Turks,  this  saying  reveals  the  desire  to
completely  eliminate  the Ottoman  identity  in  order  to  develop  the Albanian
identity  among  the Albanians. This explanation  seems  to be  the  correct one,
because in this country  Muslim and Ottoman identities are identical among the
middle  aged Albanians,  at  least.  For  instance, many Albanians  still  use  the
following  phrase  to  take  an  oath  :  "I  swear  by  the  faith  of  my  Turkish
Macedonian  Turks, who  have  always  experienced  a  lively  national
culture  and  always maintained  a  close  cultural  relationship with Turkey,  are
highly aware of  this situation, as witnessed   in an article by Mr. Sabit Yusuf
published  immediately before  the  census of 1991  :  "We  are Turkish, we  are
Muslim. All is well. However, in official occasions like this, one should not mix
religious matters  to   our  national  identity. Because,  our  national  identity  is
above everything. Individuals from other peoples say : 'Well, I am a Muslim but
first  of  all my  identity  is  this  or  that'.  I  think we  should  defend  the  same
position. (...) One thing is obvious. Every man determines his own fate. Nothing
can change this, neither the religious relations, nor the marriage relations"9.
Albanians also dominate  the Macedonian Islamic Union,  the religious
organization  of  Macedonian  Muslims.  The  Assembly  of  the  organization
9  Birlik (newspaper in Turkish published three times a week in Skopie), 23 March

comprises 26 Albanians, 4 Turks, 3 Torbesh and 1 Gypsy. The Meshihat, the
executive body of  the organization  is composed of 12 Albanians, 2 Torbesh,
and 1 Turk.
Before  I  conclude   the discussion  regarding  the  relationship between
Albanian  consciousness  and   Islam  and  go  onto  the  case  of  the  Torbesh,  I
should also note that Orthodox Albanians in former Yugoslavia are assimilated
by  the Macedonians, Catholic Albanians by  the Croats and  that only Muslim
Albanians are nationalists.
The  Torbesh  are  devout Muslims  distinguished  by  their  remarkable
adaptation capability,  just  like  the Pomaks  in Greece and Bulgaria. However,
this  is not a "capability of being assimilated" by anyone. At present time,  the
Macedonian state does  its best  to prevent  them  from  joining  the  ranks of  the
Albanians  or  the  Turks.  For  instance,  in  the  post-communist  era  where
thousands of workers are being dismissed because of  the economic crisis,  the
Macedonian authorities require from the Torbesh who re-apply for employment
a  signed   document  stating  that  their  identity  is Muslim  and  nothing  else.
Moreover,  the  state has  established  an organization under  the name of  "The
Culture and Science Center of Macedonian Muslims". The motto of the Center
is reminiscent of  the Greek policy concerning  the Pomaks: "Torbesh are  local
people,  i.e., Macedonians; but  the Ottomans converted  them  forcefully". The
Center has only 50 members. Its chairman, Mr. Niyazi Limanovski cannot go
out without  police  protection  since  the  Torbesh  beat  him  once  for  being  a
Therefore, one should interpret this "capability of  being assimilated" as
a propensity to be assimilated by the largest Muslim community. It is claimed
that  the Torbesh  identified  themselves without exception as Turkish until  the
time  the Ottomans  left  the region as a result of  the First Balkan War  in 1912.
Some  of  this  people  now  identify  themselves  as Muslims  only, while  some
describe themselves more and more as Albanians, and some say they are Turks.
I  interviewed some  important members of  this  last group  in Kitchevo
(Turkish name  : Kircaova).  It  is noteworthy  that  although  they  cannot  speak
Turkish, they claim that their ancestors came from Konya before the Ottoman
period. Their mother  tongue  is Macedonian.  I  asked  them why  they  cannot
speak Turkish if they are Turks. They replied : "Our schools were closed down
after the Ottomans withdrew, and 600 of us who resisted this policy were killed.
Therefore, we  began  to  speak Macedonian  to  avoid  oppression  and  to  find
However, this people are struggling hard to learn Turkish. Through the
Kitchevo  branch  of  the  Turkish  Democratic  Party  (TDP),  the  political
organization of  the Turks  in Macedonia10, they demanded that the education
10 TDP was formed in 1990 and found ready support among the Torbesh. At the first
gathering  in Kitchevo  it  is reported  that  the congress hall  that seats 600 was full.

The language of  their children be Turkish  instead of Macedonian. The authorities
suggested  three hours a week of elective Turkish course and reportedly asked
them why they want the courses to be  in Turkish since they cannot speak that
language.  The  Torbesh  replied  :  "The  children  of  the  Macedonians  who
emigrated  to Australia cannot speak Macedonian either, but nevertheless  they
go to a Macedonian school!"
The Torbesh that I interviewed told me that if the authorities don't open
Turkish classes they will start a hunger strike. After my return to Turkey, they
actually did start one. I saw a petition form signed by 262 parents:
"I,  undersigned, who  live  at  (the  address),  voluntarily  declare  that  I
demand  my  child  (the  name)  to  learn  Turkish  together  with  classes  in
I  asked  them  the  following question  :  "If you had  the  choice, which
would  you  prefer  to  get  from  Turkey,  an  imam who would  teach  you  the
religion or a teacher to teach you Turkish?". They said they would want both.
Upon my  insistence,  they said  their first preference would be a  teacher  : "Our
children should be educated. There are lots of religious books, we can learn it
by ourselves but we cannot learn Turkish by ourselves."


There are only 12.000 Turks in Kosovo while 90% of the population are
Albanian. The reciprocal position of the Turks and the Albanians vis-à-vis the
Islam in Macedonia is even more accentuated here :

1. The Albanian manipulation of Islam to assimilate the Turks naturally
has a much bigger dimension in Kosovo.
The Family Name Law of 1946 is a turning point in this regard. At this
period, annexation of Albania to Yugoslavia was still on the agenda, so the state
authorities  considered  Turks  as Albanians. National  identity was  not much
developed among Turks yet.  Albanians were in control of the situation in the
area.  In  such  an  atmosphere,  the Turkish  family  names  that  took  a  Serbian
suffix  before  (-ievitch),  begun  to  take  an  Albanian  suffix  (-i)  after  the
promulgation of the law.
In  ex-Yugoslavia,  the  Turkish  identity  was  recognized  after  the
possibility of  annexation of Albania vanished. However,  as  the  autonomy of
Kosovo increased after 1974, the position of the Albanians became stronger and
opening speech by Mr. Avni Engüllü,  then chairman of  the party, was  translated  into
Macedonian so that the Torbesh could understand. This translation was explained as "a
sign of respect for any Macedonians who might happen to be present at the congress",
as if the Torbesh could understand Turkish.

"soft"  assimilation  of  the  Turks  by  the  Albanians  gained momentum.  The
Albanians used the present situation   to suggest that the Turks should side with
the Albanians : "You should send your child to an Albanian school; there is no
university  in Turkish but  in Albanian  there  is. He can  find employment more
easily." An Islamic discourse was profusely used to create a "We" image : "We
are all Muslim brothers, there is no need for separatism, for Turkish language",
"When we are dead, the imam will bury us, and the infidel will be buried by the
priest", or "The  infidel will cut up you and me with  the  same knife". On  the
other hand,  the Albanians were careful to   identify the "They" image not with
the "Serb" but with the "Infidel". Yet, at the time they said all this, i.e., before
1989, Albanians were anything but devout Muslims.

2. Not  only  the  dimension  of  the  assimilation  increased  but  its  very
nature  also  tended  to  change.  Together  with  the  rise  of  the  Albanian
consciousness, violent actions replaced the soft assimilation.
Firstly,  the  use  of  violence  began  in  the  field  of  education. When
Albanians boycotted the schools and that the Turkish Democratic Union (TDU),
the  political  organization  of  the Turks  in Kosovo,  refused  to  cooperate,  the
Turkish  students  were  beaten  by  their  Albanian  friends,  as  witnessed  on
Seventeen November  and Ortakol  schools  in  Prizren  on  9  September  1991.
When  these  students  began  to  carry  their  books  in  plastic  bags  so  that  they
could  pretend  not  going  to  school,  Albanian  students  started  calling  them
"Milosh", a nickname for Milosevitch, the Serbian leader. A leader of the Turks
in Kosovo, Mr. Cemal Krüezi11, told me that when he was a TDU candidate for
the parliament, the parents of his daughter's school friends said to their children:
"Don't play with Bahriye, her father became an infidel!" Again, the same theme
: Islam.
Secondly, Albanians boycotted the 1991 census and used force against
those who didn't. Some  twenty Turkish census officials were  intimidated   and
quit their jobs. TDU tried hard to find new ones.
The Albanianized Turks are generally people who "have something  to
lose" like doctors, lawyers and civil servants. It is reported that they don't send
their children to Turkish classes, that they speak Albanian at home and prefer to
lose their Turkish identity in order not to loose their jobs. Particularly, those are
the Turks having marriage relationship with the Albanians.
As  for  the Torbesh  in Kosovo,  they  are  clearly  far  from  considering
themselves as Turks. They register "Muslim" in population census and they feel
11 This family name which doesn't sound a bit Turkish is given by the Albanians. This
person  introduces himself as Krüezi-Tunaligil;  this  last name being a  typical Turkish
last name.

close  to  the Bosnians. One could well expect  that  in  the near  future  they will
increasingly identify themselves as Albanians.


1. As  I  already pointed out,  the national  identity  among  the Turkish
minorities in the Balkans finds its greatest support in Islam, as illustrated by this
Macedonian  proverb  :  "The  last  one  to  emigrate  is  the  Imam."  This  is  so
because the religion of the majority is different. Of course, in this peninsula that
underwent the influence of the Ottoman Millet system the national identities of
the majorities are supported by their religious identity; however, because of the
presence of oppression,  the  main  factor  in  the  definition  of  the  concept
"minority", this situation is especially true for the Balkan minorities.
In Greece and Bulgaria where the Turks are the main ethnic element of
the Muslim minority,  they  use  Islam  to  naturally  assimilate  and Turkify  the
other Muslims.

2.  In Macedonia  and  especially Kosovo where  the Turks  are not  the
largest Muslim minority, Islam works for the dominant minority, Albanians this
time. In these two cases, Albanians manipulate Islam and sometimes use force
to assimilate the Turks and the Torbesh.

Offline Rekanec

  • Candidate member
  • *
  • Posts: 2
Ynt: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2008, 23:07 »
Selam Alejkum/Hello,
I'm a Torbesh from Macedonia, born in Rostuse. The current situation of us Macedonian Muslims (Torbeshi) is a different story. It's true that a few Torbeshi identified themselves as Turks or Albanians a few years ago. That's only because the damn orthodox Macedonians didn't and still don't accept Muslims as their fellow countrymen and because of the common religion with most Albanians and Turks. If you asked a Torbesh a few years ago what nationality he is, he just answered "I'm a Muslim/Turk/Albanian." And nothing else. But today most (still not all, it depends on the region) of us answer "I'm a Torbesh/Goranec." And this is only by reason of Fijat Canoski, a Torbesh Businessman, who launched the Party PEI (Party for European Future). It's a party for us Torbeshi. So far we were a repressed minority in Macedonia. The Turks and Albanians didn't accept us because of our slavic language, the Macedonians didn't accept us because of our religion, but I don't care a fig for them. But now we have a voice! We are a case sui generis, we are Torbeshi!
Torbeshi, Goranci and Pomaci = Eden Soj!

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

Selam Alejkum,

Adem I.

Offline teo

  • Advanced member
  • *****
  • Posts: 481
Ynt: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2008, 23:29 »
Добре дошъл Реканек,
Ще е добре  да ни разкажеш ваши си истории и да ни запознаеш по отблизи за вашите обичаи!Със здраве!

Offline Тоска

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2347
  • Gender: Male
  • % 100 + POMAK
Ynt: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2008, 23:59 »
Would you please use english in this forum/section!  If all of us start talking our native languages it will end up in pure chaos ;)


Offline Aguren

  • Candidate member
  • *
  • Posts: 4
Ynt: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2008, 01:54 »
Hi everybody, as this article points out, there were fines, and taxes, against the turkish and pomak people of bulgaria during the communist regime for the use of Turkish words, this article says 20 levs per word, and I have read in other places that there existed fines up to 50 levs per word.  Does anyone have any actual proof of this? a bill? a ticket? anything that proves that this existed and isn't just a story?

Offline Тоска

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2347
  • Gender: Male
  • % 100 + POMAK
Ynt: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2008, 10:41 »

Here are the documents that you requested. Even they contain letters which were not delivered to the bulgarian/turkish recipients!

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login

Offline Nazmi

  • Charter member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3895
  • Gender: Male
  • Да почива в мир!
Re: Religious and national identity among balkan muslims
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2009, 23:36 »
   Hi.I am proud of my ethnic background,religions affiliation,and nationality! These are all of my identity. But I know that I am also part of a large and complex world where, to some degree,every person is a part of my "Tribe" !


Sitemap 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42