Since the whisper of Croatian tongue
Can grow
Can tie
East and West, poem and mind
Jer hrvatskog jezika sum
Moze da goji
Moze da spoji
Istok i zapad, pjesmu i um

Safvet-beg Basagic (1870-1934) Outstanding Muslim-Croatian poet and orientalist

Gabrijel Jurkic: Flower plateau on Kupres in Middle Bosnia

The aim of this article is to indicate deep connections between the Croats and Muslim Bosniaks (= Bosnjaci – Muslimani). In order to avoid misunderstanding we shall rather use their descriptional name – Muslim Slavs. The reason is that the Croats in Bosnia are also Bosniaks. Indeed, many of them bear Bosniak as their second name. The meaning of Bosniak is simply – a Bosnian.

In the Zagreb telephone book only (1994/95) you can see a long list of as many as 210 surnames of Bosnjak, with only one Muslim forename, and also more than 30 Bosnjakovic‘s, with only 3 Muslim forenames.

There is village Bosnjaci in Croatia (4,500 inhabitants prior to 1991, near Zupanja). I did not find any village of a similar name on a map of Bosnia. Also in Hrvatsko Zagorje, near Zagreb, there is a

  • small village of Bosna, then
  • Bosanci near Bosiljevo and Bjelovar,
  • Bosnici near Dreznica and Kijevo,
  • Bosanka (that is, Bosnian Woman!) near the famous city of Dubrovnik,
  • and two small regions of Bosna near Vrbovac and D. Stupnik.

There is also a village of Mala Bosna (that is, Small Bosnia) near the city of Subotica.

One can find Croatian families bearing the Turkish second name of Ulama even in the NW of Croatia (Hrvatsko Zagorje), as well as Turčić, Turčin, Turčinović, Turčinov, Turk, Poturica, all of them obviously derived from the Turkish name. The town of Tuhelj in Hrvatsko Zagorje was given by those Croats who had to escape from the region of the village of Tuhelj in Bosnia, between Kresevo and Konjic, see [Gizdelin, pp 44, 53]. Near Varazdin Breg there is a village of Turcin (= The Turk). Croatian glagolitic priest fra Matija Bosnjak had to escape from Bosnia in front of the Turks with numerous compatriots. He died in the town of Rab, where on his grave the year of his death, 1525, was chiselled in Croatian Glagolitic characters.

Turčić, Turčin, Turčinović, Turčinov, Turk

Vranduk in 1910.

Let us start by describing many traces left by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. This civilization, that was present on Croatian soil from the 15th to the 19th century (in eastern parts of former Yugoslavia until the beginning of the 20th century), left a deep imprint. Many Croats converted to Islam. The Muslim Slavs are in great majority of Croatian descent, and constitute now a nation, recognized according to their own wish in 1968 (Muslimani has been the usual name since the beginning of the 20th century). Except in Croatia they live today mostly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sandzak (a province in the south of Serbia, between Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia).

Croatian national costume near Tomislavgrad in BiH (photo by Stojan Puretic)

There were many disputes even about the name of “Muslimani”, which was defined to have only the national content (i.e. one could have been Musliman without being religious at all, as was the case for example with Raif Dizdarevic, former president of former Yugoslavia; of course, his predecessors were Muslims). On the other hand the term “musliman” (with small m) had the meaning of Muslim exclusively in the religious sense. The way out was to choose an old geographical name Bosniak, which traditionally denoted any citizen of Bosnia – either Croat (as we said, many of them have Bosniak as a surname), or Muslim, or Serb. It is strange that this usurpation of the name of Bosniak has been accepted even in the official Croatia. From this easily follows a complete usurpation of the Bosnian name (usurpation of Bosnian literature, language and of the entire history of Bosnia). Of course, we do not deny the right of Muslim – Bosniaks to call themselves Bosniaks. We would like to indicate that the name of Bosniaks does not refer exclusively to Bosnian Muslims, but to Bosnian Croats too.

See also Vladimir Zerjavic: Muslim-Bosniaks did not secure the right of autochthony in Croatia.
In Croatian: “Muslimani-Bossnjaci nisu stekli uvjete authotonosti u Hrvatskoj”.

I recommend the interested reader to consult BEHAR, the journal of the Cultural society of Bosniaks (more precisely: Bosniaks – Muslims) in Zagreb called Preporod, for their views on these very sensitive questions, especially an article by Esad Cimic in No22-23, p.12-15, 1996. The society unites outstanding Muslim intellectuals in Croatia. “Behar” was founded in 1900 – its first editor in chief had been Safvet-beg Basagic. It was forbidden during the 70 years’ ex-Yugoslav period.

Even the historical names of many officials in the Ottoman Empire reveal their origin (Hirwat = Hrvat or Horvat, which is a Croatian name for Croat):

  • Mahmut-pasha Hirwat (= Hrvat)
  • Rusten-pasha Hrvat
  • Pijali-pasha Hrvat (or Piyale pasha)
  • Sijavus-pasha Hrvat, etc.

In the 16th century a traveler and writer Marco A. Pigaffetta wrote that almost everybody on the Turkish court in Constantinople knows the Croatian language, and especially soldiers. Marco Pigafetta in his “Itinerario” published in London in 1585 states: “In Istanbul it is customary to speak Croatian, a language which is understood by almost all official Turks, especially military men.”

This can also be confirmed by the 1553 visit of Antun Vrancic, Roman cardinal, and Franjo Zay, a diplomat, to Istanbul as envoys of the Croat – Hungarian king to discuss a peace treaty with the Turks. During the initial ceremonial greetings they had with Rustem – pasha Hrvat (= Croat) the conversation led in Turkish with an official interpreter was suddenly interrupted. Rustem – pasha Hrvat asked in Croatian if Zay and Vrancic spoke Croatian language. The interpreter was then dismissed and they proceeded in the Croatian language during the entire process of negotiations.
Igitur quum inter loquendum Verancius loqueretur ad interpretem, quod passae responderi debebat, conversus passa ad Zay: Tu, inquit, scisne Croatice? Scieo, respondit. Eti is collega tuus? Respondit: Ipse quoque… Sed et Verancius itidem, quum eum Croatice ob quaedam severius dicta lenire vellet, dixit.. (Verancius, 66-67). See [Eterovich], p. 18. Hrvat Rustem pasha originates from the region of Makarska, and his original Croatian second name was Opukovic.

The above two photos are from [Martic].

Piyale Pasha (c. 1515-1578), was a Croatian Ottoman admiral and an Ottoman Vizier. He was also known as Piale Pasha in the West or Pialí Bajá in Spain; Turkish: Piyale Pasa.

Croatian song in Arabica
Arabica alphabet

One of the oldest texts written in Arabica (which is in fact Arabic script for the Croatian language) is a love song called “Chirvat-türkisi” (= Croatian song) from 1588, written by a certain Mehmed in Bosnia. This manuscript is held in the National Library in Vienna. Except for literature Arabica was also used in religious schools and administration. Of course, it was in much lesser use than other scripts. The last book in Arabica was printed in 1941.

Many of the Muslim Slavs in Bosnia-Herzegovina had a strong awareness of their Croatian descent, and even called themselves Muslim Croats, to distinguish from the Catholic Croats. Some of the most outstanding Croatian writers and intellectuals of the Muslim faith in Bosnia and Herzegovina are:

  • Edhem Mulabdic (1862-1954),
  • Adenaga Mesic (1868-1945),
  • Ivan Aziz Milicevic (1868-1950),
  • Safvet-beg Basagic (1870-1934),
  • Osman Nuri Hadzic (1869-1937),
  • Hasan Fehim Nametak (1871-1953),
  • Fehim Spaho (1877-1942),
  • Musa Cazim Catic (1878-1915),
  • Dzafer-beg Kulenovic (1891-1956),
  • Ahmed Muradbegovic (1898-1972),
  • Hasan Kikic (1905-1942),
  • Hamdija Kresevljakovic (1898-1959)
  • Alija Nametak (1906-1987),
  • Nahir Kulenovic (1929-1963),
  • Enver Colakovic (1913-1976),
  • Mehmedalija Mak Dizdar (1917-1971)
  • Muhamed Hadzijahic (1918-1978)
  • Asaf Durakovic (1940)
  • Ekrem Spahic (1945)

etc. Anybody wishing to study the history of Islamic culture in Bosnia-Herzegovina seriously should consult numerous works of Hamdija Kresevljakovic (1888-1959), an outstanding Muslim Croat, member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb, author of an important monograph about history of Croatian literature in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Biographies of important Muslim Croats can be found in his “Kratak pregled hrvatske knjige u Herceg – Bosni” (A short survey of Croatian literature in Herzeg – Bosnia) printed in Sarajevo in 1912. For more information see [Karihman]. It should be noted that the literary and scientific activity of such intellectuals has been severely suppressed during the 70 years’ Yugoslav period, resulting that today a very small percentage of the entire Muslim Slav population in BiH and Croatia has the awareness of its Croatian roots.

Additional information:

We can document the equivalence of the name of Bosniak and Hrvat during many centuries, until the Yugoslav period (see below). It seems that the final and almost complete national individualization of Muslim Slavs took place only during the tragedy they experienced during the Serbian large-scale aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period of 1992-95 (the aggression against BiH started already in October 1991 by the slaughter of the Croats in the Herzegovinian village of Ravno). This aggression found Muslim officials totally unprepared. Moreover, when Vukovar and the whole of Croatia were bleeding, being systematically destroyed in the second half of 1991, president Izetbegovic declared “This is not our war”, believing naively that the Yugoslav Army and armed extremists would not dare to do the same in Bosnia – Hercegovina. Of course, the national individualization was strengthened also during the tragic conflict with the Croats in 1993, which was one of the well prepared results of the Serbian aggression.

The equivalence of the name of Bosniak and Croat in the early period of the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia is documented by the famous Turkish historian Aali (1542-1599) in his work Knhulahbar, also known as Tarihi Aali. He gave the following description of the properties of Croatian tribe (as he calls it) in Bosnia:

As regards the tribe of the Croats, which is assigned to the river Bosna, their character is reflected in their cheerful mood; throughout Bosnia they are also known according to that river… [i.e. Croats = Bosniaks i.e. Bosnians].

Then follows an interesting passage describing virtues of the Croats in Bosnia.
Let us cite it in Croatian, in Basagic’s translation (the original text in the Arabic script and its translation can be seen in [Karihman], p. 78, with the Croatin translation being taken from Safvet-beg Basagic: Bossnjaci i Hercegovci u Islamskoj knjizzevnosti):

SSto se ticce plemena Hrvata, koje se pripisuje rijeci Bosni, njihov se znaccaj odrazuje u veseloj naravi; oni su po Bosni poznati i po tekuchoj rijeci prozvati [dakle Bossnjaci]. Dussa im je ccista, a lice svijetlo; vechinom su stasiti i prostodussni – njihovi likovi kao znaccajevi naginju pravednosti. Golobradi mladichi i lijepi momci poznati su (na daleko) po pokrajinama radi naoccitosti i ponositosti, a daroviti spisatelji kao umni i misaoni ljudi. Uzrok je ovo, ssto je Bog – koji se uzvisuje i uzdizze – u osmanlijskoj drzzavi podigao vrijednost tome hvaljenom narodu dostojanstvom i ccast njegove sreche uzvisio kao visoki uzrast i poletnu dussu, jer se meddu njima nasilnika malo nalazi. Vechina onih, koji su dossli do visokih polozzaja (u Turskoj drzzavi) odlikuju se veledussjem to jest: ccasschu i ponosom; malo ih je koji su tjeskogrudni, zavidni i pohlepni. Neustrassivi su u boju i na mejdanu, a u drusstvu, gdje se uzziva i pije, prostodussni. Obiccno su prijazni, dobrochudni i ljubazni. Osobito se odlikuje ovo pleme vanrednom ljepotom i iznimnim uzrastom… Bez sumnje Bossnjaci, koji se pribrajaju hrvatskom narodu, odlikuju se kao prosti vojnici dobrotom i pobozznosti, kao age i zapovjednici obrazovanosschu i vrlinom; ako doddu do ccasti velikih vezira, u upravi su dobrochudni, ponosni i pravedni, da ih velikassi hvale i odliccni umnici slave.”

According the documents from the 15th and 16th centuries, Bosnian Muslims in central Bosnia and in Herzegovina called their language Croatian language and called themselves the Croats. Even today there are Bosnian Muslims with the second name Hrvat (= Croat). Islam left valuable written and architectural monuments, like in Spain for instance. Let us mention that Croatia’s capital Zagreb has one of the biggest and most beautiful newly built mosques in Europe, although in Turkish time it had none (Zagreb was never occupied by the Turks). For instance in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, there had been several hundred mosques from the Turkish time, out of which only one survived.

Probably the most interesting writings about the life in Ottoman Empire in the 16th century are numerous works published by Bartol Gyurgieuvits (1506-1566), who spent there 13 years as a slave.

Croatian woman in Bosnia In the province of Molise in central Italy there is a small Croatian enclave (about 4,500 people), living today in several villages, inhabited in 15 villages in the 16th century by the Croats fleeing before the Turks. They preserved their ethnic identity and language even today.

Since the 16th century a similar enclave has existed near Bratislava in Slovakia. The largest Croatian community of exiles dating from that period is in the area of Gradisce (Burgenland) in Austria and Hungary. One of the results of this forced migrations is that the most widespread surname in today’s Hungary is Horvath, whose meaning is simply Croat. Also the family name Horvat is one of the most widespread in today’s Slovenia. The surname Charvat (= Croat) in the present-day Czechia is a remaining of the presence of White Croats on this area since the Early Middle Ages. The family name Horwath and its variations is also very common in Austria (see the telephone book in Vienna). The most famous descendant of Gradisce Croats is without any doubt Joseph Haydn. It is interesting that King Ferdinand I (1515-1564) granted the Burgenland Croats in Austria the right to use Glagolitic Mass, see here.

In Slovenian part of Istria, near Italian border east of Trieste, there is the village of Hrvatini (literally – Croats). Also in Croatian part of Istria, north-east of Zminj, there is the village of Hrvatin. Several Istrian villages have names that are obviously related to those Croats who had to escape before the Turks from the region Lika and Krbava.

Additional information about centuries old Croatian emigration in Czechia and Slovakia can be obtained here:

Today there are several tens of thousands of Croats living in about fifty settlements in the region of Gradisce, i.e. Eisenstadt (about two thirds) and in Vienna (one third). There are 14 Croatian settlements left in Hungary and only four in Slovakia, among them Hrvatski Grob (Croatian Grave) near Bratislava. Specialists estimate that the overall number of Croatian settlements in these regions in the 16th century was as many as 200 to 300! In the 16th century in the area around Bratislava in Slovakia there were about sixty Croatian settlements. See Sanja Vulic, Bernardina Petrovic: Govor Hrvatskoga Groba u Slovackoj, Sekcija DHK i Hrvatkog PEN-a za proucavanje knjizevnosti u hrvatskom iseljenistvu, Zagreb 1999.

In 1722 the Croats in the Hungarian city of Pecuh exiled from Bosnia made 47% of population, in suburbs of Budim (a part of today’s Budapest) 80%, and in Siget (Szeged) 53%.

Among descendants of the Croats in Italy we should mention Pope Sixto V (he was the Pope from 1585 to 1590), who spoke Croatian at home.

It is estimated that until the 18th century there were about two million Croats who had been either exiled or taken as slaves to Turkey. Among the Bosnian Catholics there was a large number of Cryptocatholics, i.e. those who were secretly Catholics at home, and “Muslims” out of it. Children were circumcised, but secretly baptized as well.

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