Rebirth of a national name and consciousness among Bosniaks
Rebirth of a national name and consciousness among Bosniaks
The generally accepted definition (and the one used in this article) holds that Bosniaks are the Slavic Muslims on the territory of the former Yugoslavia who identify themselves with Bosnia and Herzegovina as their ethnic state and are part of such a common nation. However, individuals may hold their own personal interpretations as well. For instance, some, such as prominent Bosniak intellectuals Muhamed Filipović and Adil Zulfikarpašić, hold the view that all Bosnians, including Catholics and Orthodox Christians, were Bosniaks regardless of religion, but assimilated into Croats and Serbs influenced by national movements in Croatia and Serbia in the second half of the 19th century. Some others, such as Montenegrin Abdul Kurpejović, recognize an Islamic component in the Bosniak identity but see it as referring exclusively to Slavic Muslims in Bosnia. Still others consider all Slavic Muslims in the former Yugoslavia (i.e. including the Gorani) to be Bosniaks. 
In Serb-dominated Yugoslavia unlike the preceding Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosniaks were not allowed to declare themselves as Bosniaks. As a compromise, the Constitution of Yugoslavia was amended in 1968 to list Muslims by nationality recognizing a nation, but not the Bosniak name. The Yugoslav “Muslim by nationality” policy was considered by Bosniaks to be neglecting and opposing their Bosnian identity because the term tried to describe Bosniaks as a religious group not an ethnic one. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, most people who used to declare as Muslims began to declare themselves as Bosniaks. In September 1993, the Second Bosniak Congress (Bosnian: Drugi bošnjački sabor) officially re-introduced the historical ethnic name Bosniaks instead of the previously used Muslim in former Yugoslavia.  Today, the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizes the results from 1991 population census as results referring to Bosniaks.
In other countires with significant Bosniak populations that constituted former Yugoslavia it is not the case. The effects of this phenomenon can best be seen in the censuses. For instance, the 2003 Montenegrin census recorded 48,184 people who registered as Bosniaks and 28,714 who registered as Muslim by nationality. Although Montenegro's Slavic Muslims form one ethnic community with a shared culture and history, this community is divided on whether to register as Bosniaks (i.e. adopt Bosniak national identity) or as Muslims by nationality. Similarly, the 2002 Slovenian census recorded 8,062 people who registered as Bosnians, presumably highlighting (in large part) the decision of many secular Bosniaks to primarily identify themselves in that way (a situation somewhat comparable to the Yugoslav option during the socialist period). That said, it is important to note that such people represent a minority (even in countries such as Montenegro where it is a significant issue), and that the great majority of Slavic Muslims in the former Yugoslavia have adopted the Bosniak national name.
The earliest (genetic) roots of the Bosniak people can be traced back to the ancient populations that expanded into the Balkans following the Last Glacial Maximum 21 thousand years ago. Indeed, recent studies have indicated that the dominant Y-chromosome haplogroup found in Bosnian Bosniaks is I – and specifically its sub-haplogroup I-P37 – which are associated with these paleolithic settlers. In the 13th century BCE, the old European cultures that developed from them were overrun and assimilated by the Illyrians, the earliest inhabitants of the region of whom we have any historical detail. They would remain the dominant group in the west Balkans until the Roman conquest of the area in 9 CE, which led to the arrival of Latin-speaking settlers and the Romanization of the native population.
The earliest cultural and linguistic roots of Bosniak history, however, can be traced back to the Migration Period of the Early Middle Ages. It was then that the Slavs, a people from northeastern Europe, invaded the Eastern Roman Empire with their Avar overlords and settled in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the surrounding lands. The Serbs and Croats came in a second wave, invited by Emperor Heraclius to drive the Avars from Dalmatia. As a distinct political entity, Bosnia presumably originated sometime during the Dark Ages with the collapse of the traditional tribal social structure and advent of feudalism.
The name of the country was probably derived from Illyrian language and established by ancient Illyrian tribes who inhabited the lands surrounding Bosnia's central river – Illyrian: Bosona (Bosnian: Bosna); a testament to the significant influence of Illyrian element and heritage on the region.
Slavs settled in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the surrounding lands, which were then part of the Eastern Roman Empire, in the seventh century. The Slavic Serbs and Croats settled sometime after the first wave of Slavs. The Croats established a kingdom in what is northwestern Croatia. The Serbs settled in what is now southcentral Serbia. The Slavic Bosnians established the first form of a state between Croatia and Serbia in ninth century under the rule of local bans with the strong Bosnian Church, an indigenous Christian sect considered heretical by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The High Middle Ages political circumstance led to the area being contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. After some centuries of rule by the Byzantine Empire, an independent Bosnian kingdom flourished in central Bosnia between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.
Regarding the subject of ethnicity in medieval Bosnia, despite the fact that this complex and sensitive subject has been obscured by nationalism and propaganda through the ages, there is no sign that the population of pre-Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina, in whichever social stratum, had developed Croatian or Serbian ethnic consciousness even in a medieval sense of the word. To quote Noel Malcolm from the book “Bosnia A Short History”:
As for the question of whether the inhabitants of Bosnia were really Croat or really Serb in 1180, it cannot be answered, for two reasons: first, because we lack evidence, and secondly, because the question lacks meaning. We can say that the majority of the Bosnian territory (in 1180) was probably occupied by Croats – or at least, by Slavs under Croat rule – in the seventh century; but that is a tribal label which has little or no meaning five centuries later. The Bosnians were generally closer to the Croats in their religious and political history; but to apply the modern notion of Croat identity (something constructed in recent centuries out of religion, history, and language) to anyone in this period would be an anachronism. All that one can sensibly say about the ethnic identity of the Bosnians is this: they were the Slavs who lived in Bosnia.
Religion proved to be the determining factor in the later development of national consciousness, and was more pertinent than any original ‘tribal heritage’ from centuries earlier. The lack of Bosnian medieval identity can, most likely, be explained by the fact earlier mentioned, the lack of any single, dominant religious denomination within Bosnia. Whilst it's Bishoprics were under Rome's jurisdiction, there was a large following of its local/native Bosnian Church – a form of Christianity with a connection, little known of, to Bogomilism. The Bosnian Church declared to be faithful to Rome but practiced in Slavic liturgy with eastern type Monasticism. Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and local Bosnian Church following each predominated in certain areas, but neither was overriding. This combined with the lack of centralised rule which plagued Bosnia's Ban-Kings further re-inforced particularism. Upon the Ottoman's invasion of Europe, large numbers of Bosnians converted to Islam. It is historically thought that the Bosnian Muslims were mainly Bosnian Church adherents, but according to some evidence a number Catholic and Orthodox adherents also converted to Islam. There was a three-way split of the population in religious terms. This was cemented by the Ottoman system, whose rule separated people along religious, not ethnic lines- the Millet system. With slow the decay of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of nation-state nationalism in Europe, the Bosnians who were Catholic eventually identified with the Croatian nation, whilst those that were Orthodox identified with the Serbian nation, giving rise to what we now call ‘Bosnian Croats” and “Bosnian Serbs”. The Islamic Bosnians continued to put their religion at the forefront of their identity, and thus did not align with the early-modern Serbian or Croatian nationality. They were, by neighbouring Serbs and Croats referred to simply as Bosnian Muslims – or even pejoratively “Turks” (in the light of a few centuries genereted hatred toward Ottoman Turks). Bosniaks have recently, at the dawn of their independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, re-introduced the old name Bosniaks.
Bosniak folklore has a long tradition dating back to the 15th century. Like many other elements of Bosniak culture, their folklore is a mix of Slavic and Oriental influences, typically taking place prior to the 19th century.
Two popular characters seen often in Bosniak folklore are the trickster and the Hero. Probably the most famous example of the first is that of Nasrudin Hodža, where local folklore has him taking part in various episodes in a Bosnian setting. Other tricksters include an old wise man in the legend behind the old Orthodox church in Mostar. Supposedly, a local official demanded that the church be built on land no bigger than an animal hide. The wise man then cut the hide into thin strips and laying them end to end was able to demarcate enough land to build a reasonably sized church.
National heroes are typically historical figures, whose life and skill in battle are emphasised. These include figures such as Gazi Husrev-beg, the second Ottoman governor of Bosnia who conquered many territories in Dalmatia, Northern Bosnia, and Croatia, and Gerz Eljaz Đerzelez Alija, an almost mythic character who even the Ottoman Sultan was said to have called “A Hero”.
Old Slavic influences can also be seen. Ban Kulin has acquired legendary status. “Even today,” wrote the historian William Miller in 1921 “the people regard him as a favorite of the fairies, and his reign as a golden age.” Characters such as fairies, Vila, are also present. Pre-Slavic influences are far less common but nonetheless present. Certain elements of Illyrian, and Celtic belief have been found.
Generally, folklore also varies from region to region and city to city. Cities like Sarajevo and Mostar have a rich tradition all by themselves. Many man-made structures such as bridges and fountains, as well as natural sites, play a significant role as well.
Bosniaks speak the Bosnian language. This language only has minor differences with the Serbian language or Croatian language in writing and grammar, but its speakers are, on the level of colloquial idiom, more linguistically homogeneous than either Serbs or Croats. The Bosnian language has a number of orientalisms as well as germanisms not often used in the neighboring languages.
Bosniaks have also had two of their own unique scripts. The first was the Begovica (also called Bosančica), a descendant of local Cyrillic script that remained in use among the region's nobility. The second was the Arabica, a version of the Arabic alphabet modified for Bosnian that was in use among nearly all literate Bosniaks until the 20th century (compare with Morisco Aljamiado). Both alphabets have almost died out, as the number of people literate in them today is undoubtedly minuscule.
Most Bosniaks are Muslim, but some number of them are Atheist, Agnostic and Deist. This is due to the secular humanist world view that was prevalent during the times of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, in Bosnia-Herzegovina most Bosniaks belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, although historically Sufism has also played a significant role in the country.
Surnames and names
Bosniak surnames, as is typical among the South Slavs, often end with “ić” or “ović”. This is a patronymic which basically translates to “son of” in English and plays the same role as “son” in English surnames such as Johnson or Wilson. What comes prior to this can often tell a lot about the history of a certain family.
Most Bosniak surnames follow a familiar pattern dating from the period of time that surnames in Bosnia and Herzegovina were standardized. Some Bosniak Muslim names have the name of the founder of the family first, followed by an oriental profession or title, and ending with ić. Examples of this include Izetbegović (Son of Izet bey), and Hadžiosmanović (“son of Osman Hajji“). Other variations of this pattern can include surnames that only mention the name, such as Osmanović (“son of Osman”), and surnames that only mention profession, such as Imamović (“son of the Imam“).
Some Bosniak names have nothing oriental about them, but end in ić. These names have probably stayed the same since medieval times, and typically come from old Bosnian nobility, or come from the last wave of converts to Islam. Examples of such names include Tvrtković and Kulenović.
Yet some Bosniaks have surnames that do not end in ić at all. These surnames are typically derived from place of origin, occupations, or various others such factors in the family's history. Examples of such surnames include Zlatar (“goldsmith”), Fočo or Tuco.
Many Bosniak national names are of foreign origin, indicating that the founder of the family came from a place outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many such Bosniak surnames have Hungarian, Vlach or Turkish origins. Examples of such surnames include Vlasić and Arapović.
Many Bosniak surnames are also common as Croatian and Serbian surnames which are likely to have been the names these families had before conversion to Islam examples include: Puškar, Sučić, Subašić, Begić, Hadžić
First names among Bosniaks have mostly Arabic, Turkish, or Persian roots, similar to the way that many English names have Hebrew, Latin, and Greek origins despite it being a Germanic language. South Slavic names such as “Zlatan” are also popular primarily among non-religious Bosniaks. What is notable however is that due to the structure of the Bosnian language, many of the oriental names have been altered to create uniquely Bosniak names. Some of the Arabic names have been shortened.
The most famous example of this is that of the stereotypical Bosniak characters Mujo and Suljo, whose names are actually Bosniak short forms of Mustafa and Suleyman. More popular still is the transformation of names that in Arabic or Turkish are confined to one gender to apply to the other sex. In Bosnian, simply taking away the letter “a” changes the traditionally feminine “Jasmina” into the popular male name “Jasmin”. Similarly, adding an “a” to the typically male “Mahir” results in the feminine “Mahira”.
Bosniaks have a wide number of historical symbols that are associated with them. Traditional Bosniak colors are green, white, yellow, and blue. The two best known Bosniak national symbols are the crescent moon and the Lillium Bosniacum.
The earliest Bosniak symbol from medieval times and the old flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the flag of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina are very popular symbols among Bosniaks. They were founded by king Tvrtko Kotromanić. It was supposed to represent the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the flag was not officially accepted by the Serb and Croat leadership, which led to the flag being traditionally associated with Bosniaks. Some Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs today venerate the flag (see Bosnians).
The earliest Bosniak flags date from the Ottoman era, and are typically a white crescent moon and star on a green background. The flag was also the symbol of the short lived independent Bosnia in the 19th century and of the resistance against the Turks led by Husein Gradaščević. The flag of the Bosniak Islamic Union is same as the flag just mentioned and is also a traditional flag of Bosniaks.
Some Bosniak organizations combine the two, adopting symbols with a crescent moon where a Lillium Bosniacum (a fleur-de-lis) replaces the traditional star. Other variations of combining the two exist. A notable one is the seal of the Bosniaks in Sandžak, which is based on the old Bosnian flag but changes one half of the seal so that instead of yellow lillies on a blue background there are yellow crescent moons on a green background.
Traditions and customs
The nation takes pride in the melancholic folk songs sevdalinka, the precious medieval filigree manufactured by old Sarajevo craftsmen, and a wide array of traditional wisdoms that are carried down to newer generations by word of mouth, and in recent years written down in numerous books. Another prevalent tradition is “Mustuluk”, whereby a gift is owed to any bringer of good news.
 Important dates to Bosniaks
- 29 March 1831 – The Great Bosnian uprising
- 25 November 1943 – Day of the republic
- 6 May 1950– “Cazin uprising” against Communists and their agrarian reforms
- 2 May 1991 – Day of the Patriotic league
- 1 March 1992 – The Independence day
- 15 April 1992 – Day of the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (today day of Bosniak unit – part of Defence forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- 7 May 1993 – Day of mosques
- 28 September 1993 – Official rebirth of a national name
- 6 March 1995 – Day of the first Bosnian flag
- 11 July 1995 – Day of genocide
- 14 December 1995 – The Dayton agreement
- 4 February 1998 – Day of the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 19 October 2003 – Death of Alija Izetbegović, first president of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina   
Today, a national consciousness is found in the vast majority of Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the country, Bosniaks make up a large majority in the Bosna river valley and western Bosnian Krajina, with significant populations found in Herzegovina. Currently, they are estimated to make up 52-55% of the total population. With no official census however, its impossible to know for sure.
National consciousness has also spread to most Bosniaks in the neighboring countries. The largest number of Bosniaks outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina are found in Serbia and Montenegro (specifically in the Sandžak region). The city of Novi Pazar is home to the largest Bosniak population outside of Bosnia.
Another 40,000 Bosniaks are found in Croatia and 38,000 in Slovenia. However, some of them still identify themselves as “Muslims” or “Bosnians”, according to latest estimates. In Macedonia there are estimated to be about 17,000 Bosniaks.
Due to warfare and ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a large part of the world's 2.6+ million (est.) Bosniaks are found in countries outside of the Balkans. The highest Bosniak populations outside of the ex-Yugoslavian states are found in the United States, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and Turkey. Prior generations of Bosniak immigrants to some of these countries have by now been mostly integrated.
Regarding the Western countries most of the Bosniaks are war refugees that only arrived in these countries during the past 15 years or so. They still speak Bosnian, and maintain a cultural and religious community and visit their mother country regularly.
The United States is home to about 130,000 (est.) Bosniaks, the cities with the highest Bosniak populations are St. Louis and Chicago. The following major American cities, ordered randomly, have notable Bosniak communities: Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tampa, Florida and New York City.
In the United States there are also significant Bosniak communities in the following places, in no specific order: Lawrenceville, Georgia, Utica, New York, Hamtramck, Michigan, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Erie, Pennsylvania, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hartford, Louisville, Lynnwood, Washington, Northbrook, Illinois, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Clearwater, Florida, and Manchester, New Hampshire. These places do not have as many Bosniaks as those mentioned before but the Bosniaks in these cities make up a considerably larger percentage of the total population.
In Turkey Bosniaks are mostly live in the Marmara Region which is in other words the north-west Turkey. The biggest Bosniak community in Turkey is in Istanbul and also there are notable Bosniak communities in Izmir, Edirne, and Bursa.
The highest number of Bosniak immigrants and people descending of Bosniaks are found in Turkey. Today, it is generally accepted that approximately 350,000 Turks descend directly from Bosniaks who immigrated to Turkey mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Documents recently found by Turkish historians, however, indicate that Turks having direct and indirect Bosniak ancestry, number as high as 1.5 million.
It is believed that many aspects of Bosniak identity were lost among these people due to Turkish assimilation laws in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Bosniak immigrants to Turkey were required to change their names to Turkish or Turkish sounding ones(under the Law on Family names). As a consequence of this, today some Turks do have somewhat Slavic sounding surnames. However some also have entirely Slavic surnames, the most common one probably being “Kiliç” spelled in Turkish as compared to the Bosnian version which is spelled “Kilić”.