Davut Nuriler Web Sitesi

Sandzak’s Century-long Fight For Justice

Sandzak’s Century-long Fight For Justice


Just like the Middle East and the Caucasus, the Balkans is also one of the areas that is remembered with war and crises. It is necessary to remember that the multi-cultural and multi-religious structure implemented during the Ottoman era, which ruled the region for centuries, is still preserved today. During Ottoman rule, the wars that occurred between the European-Christian world and the Ottoman-Muslim world took place in the Balkans, and the region has not yet been able to reach peace and stability. After the dismantling of the multi-national Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires after World War II, many nation states emerged. However, these nation states did not bring peace and serenity to the diverse ethnic and religious peoples of the Balkans. The allies of Christian Europe, which fought against the Ottoman Empire for centuries, turned their feelings of hostility to the natives of the region, the Muslims. The states established before and after the Balkan wars treated the locals of the Balkans – the Muslims – as unwanted and the enemy. These treatments later led to denials of identity, forced migration, and genocide. The Muslim Turks, Bosnians, and Albanians, who could not find themselves the right to live in the region, sought remedy by migrating to Turkey. It can be observed that the Muslim locals, which constituted the majority in many cities and towns of the Balkans before the wars, fell into minorities after the mass migrations and genocides. The 20th century Balkans became a complete disaster for the Muslim world. In fact, the bloody events that took place between 1992-1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina illustrated that the oppression and atrocities were not over.

With the support of Serbia, Britain, and France – who were members of the Allied Powers that left WW1 with a victory – they were united under a single state with the Slavic Croats and Slovenes. At the beginning of this parliamentary monarchical state, which would take the name of Yugoslavia over time, there was a King that belonged to the Serbian Karađorđević dynasty. The newly established state, which was first called Yugoslavia, the Bosnians constituted the third largest population after the Serbs and Croats. However, their human and political rights were dismissed and it is even possible to state that Serbian and Croatian identities were forcefully imposed upon them. Unlike the other nation states that were formed in the region, the Bosnians that were in Yugoslavia, which was established as a new and different Kingdom, had to fight in order to stay alive and to obtain their rights. While they were successful in retaining their existence, it is not possible to say the same thing about achieving their political and economic rights. During these years when the Ottoman heritage was preserved, the Belgrade regime introduced assimilative measures in order to remove Bosnians from their Ottoman Islamic identity. The Ottoman period was put in textbooks as containing oppressive and reactionary administrations. This period in which Europe was rapidly dragged into the catastrophe of World War II, also amounted to the years in which human rights were set aside and aggressive fascism was on the rise. The victims of this aggressive nationalism that rose in the Balkans were the Muslims. In this work, which we have called the ‘Sandžak’s century-long fight for justice,’we try to explain how the struggle against aggressive nationalism and state-sponsored assimilationist policies was given.


We try to present the reader with the struggles of the people of Bosnia and Sandžak and the stages that this struggle went through. Although the eternal hostility between the Serbs and Croats benefited the Bosnians, it is possible to state that they were treated as second-class citizens and suffered serious losses, especially due to land reform. It should be underlined that the SandžakBosnians, who were scattered and dislocated from Bosnia, were under more pressure. The Šahovići massacre, which took place in South Sandžakin 1924, can be interpreted as the indicator of even greater disasters that were to follow. The Bosnian people, who did not have any diplomatic or political support in the international arena after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, had to face endless disasters. From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, each of the four generations have been exposed to two or even three genocides.



The Second World War, which the German war machine launched with an attack on Poland, reached the Balkans in 1941. The Belgrade regime, which followed an unstable policy between Britain and Germany, was occupied by Germany and its allies in April 1941. The army was dismantled and the stateless Serbian King sought refuge in Britain. With minimal losses and resistance, Hitler and his allies easily took control of Yugoslavia within 10 days. However, although they were small in number, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and some other groups, supported by England, were in the pursuit of organizing a resistance against the occupiers. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia, an illegal organization after Hitler attacked the Soviets, called on the people to fight against the invaders. The anti-fascist movement, which started to strengthen against the Nazi invasion in 1943, got stronger in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yugoslavian partisans, led by Tito, who was educated at Stalin’s spy and revolution exportation school, gained their most important victory in Bosnia. It is important to point out that the Bosnians, which constitute a majority of Bosnia’s population, provided very important support to this movement. In order to resist the attacks, the Bosnians and Albanians found remedy by joining the partisans. Tito made promises to the Muslims. His promises, which had their foundations in unity and brotherhood, were convincing. The Bosnians that saw that they guaranteed their lives joined the partisans in masses.

After the unconditional surrender of Germany, Britain, the U.S., and Russia, who were the allied powers that were the victors of the Second World War, divided the world into their spheres of influence at Yalta. The Muslim Bosnians, who fought for their lives and shed blood, were left with nothing but disappointment when peace came to Socialist Yugoslavia. They realized that they were deceived, but there was nothing they could do about it. They were excluded from all levels of government and it is possible to say that the Belgrade and Serbian lobby dominated all spheres. While their identities were not a problem during the war against the occupiers, when it came to power-sharing, their Muslim identity, which was an Ottoman heritage, was shown as the reason for their marginalization and they were under immense pressure. Turks, Albanians, and Bosnians living in Macedonia, Kosovo, and Sandžak were especially under immense pressure from the regime. It was even forbidden to mention these pressures and oppressions that occurred. The closed regime continued this human hunt until the 1970s. Bosnians, Albanians, and Turks that lived in the three mentioned regions and who could not bear the oppression – whose numbers were close to around a quarter million – were exiled to Turkey. The United Nations and the Western world remained completely silent to these issues and only watched. Likewise, while Turkey accepted the migrants, it did not react to the situation. Similar exiles continued to Greece and Bulgaria. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was just an empty promise when it came to the Muslims in the Balkans. Yugoslavia did not become a satellite for neither NATO or the Warsaw Pact, who were the ones continuing the Cold War. It was successful in remaining neutral. Even though he designed the state structure according to socialism, Tito cut all communication with Stalin in 1947. He also refused to allow the military to become a party of the Soviet military Warsaw Pact. Tito and Yugoslavia were not able to integrate with the Western world due to the Soviet regime. Due to this, alongside Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Egypt’s Prime Minister G. Abdul Nasser, they began an internationally recognized Non-Aligned Movement. The number of countries that joined this movement during that era reached about 100. By this, Tito was able to prove that he was not only a political wizard in Yugoslavia but globally. In summary, we can say the following about the Bosnians and other Muslim people living in Yugoslavia. The Bosnians, who contributed immensely to the anti-fascist armed struggle on the road to a socialist regime, become a group that were denied their very existence and identity and who were not given any political power. Bosnians, who were able to reach an identity under the Muslim umbrella after 20 years, were subject to repressive atheist assimilation policies imposed by the government.


In our book that consists of three parts, we started the third and last section with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1990. Essentially, the dissolution process of Socialist Yugoslavia began in 1980 with the death of Tito. However, during this era after the Second World War, the political conjecturewas for preserving the current international order. For this reason, the Croatian Spring movement that began in 1971, which was led by the Croatian diaspora, was firmly suppressed by Tito. The Glasnost and Perestroika movements initiated by leader of the Soviet Union M. Gorbachev, which he later could not put into action, brought the end of the Soviet Union. The uprisings against Moscow that began first in Hungary and then in Czech Slovakia in 1968, found their peak in Poland during the 80s. States that no longer wanted to be satellites for Moscow got their fate in their own hands one by one. Other states in the East, such as Azerbaijan, also followed suit and declared their independence. The bloodless dissolution of the Soviet Union led to great relief across the world. Due to its relevance to our study, it’s important to note that the Czech Slovakia that left the Soviet Union was later divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The two parties celebrated this separation with champagne. Next in line was Yugoslavia. However, unfortunately, the dissolution of Yugoslavia was not like that of the Soviets.

The message portrayed by Serbia President Slobodan Milošević during the 600. Commemoration of the Kosovo battle in Gazimestan was the indicator for the upcoming bloody events. Let us leave for history to decide on whether Western-allied states, the U.S. and European Union understood the ‘get ready for war’ message given by Milošević to his followers. However, the message given at Gazimestan on 28 June, 1989, was very clear. War was inevitable. And the key to war was in Belgrade in the hands of Milošević. Serbia and its leader Milošević were responsible for the bloody armed conflicts in Yugoslavia. Being influenced at the square, those that believed in the big Serbia ideal believed that there was no pathway other than war. The old army, diplomacy, intelligence agencies, and powerful state companies of the old Yugoslavia were all under the control of Milošević.Insidiously obtaining these armed forces, Milošević believed that he would make other federal republics kneel by threatening them with weapons. However, by gaining German support, Slovenia and Hungary were successful in getting rid of the threat from Belgrade after the world accepted their independence. However, due to the 30% Serbian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country could not get rid of this threat and the catastrophe in 1992-1995 occurred in this way. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina saved its independence, it could not escape from this catastrophe. The traces of this disastrous event have not been erased and it looks like even it will not be in the near future.

Around the size of the island Cyprus, the Sandžak area is located between Serbia and Montenegro. With a population of around 400.000, Bosnians make up approximately 75% of the population in the area. As the First World War was continuing, during the 1917 Senica Conference, the Sanjak Bosnians tried to obtain political rights. However, they were not successful and lived deprived of all their rights in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A similar attempt was made once again in 1943, but the Communist regime decided in 1945 to give up the autonomy decision announced on November 20, 1943, without any justification. Hundreds of Bosnian intellectuals that fought for the rights of the Bosnian people were brutally murdered. It was even a crime to mention their names. The referendum on 26-27 October, 1991, was the last step for the struggle of autonomy of the Sanjak Bosnians. However, the Belgrade regime continued to resist giving the Sanjak Bosnians their natural human and political rights. Bosnians, who failed to find any international support in their previous search for their rights, were not alone this time. Before anything, they obtained the support of Turkey and this time round, the Sanjak Bosnians walk for freedom was going to succeed.