Guner Ismail, is a philosoph, publicist and the director of the publishing house Forum (Skopje, Macedonia)

The Position of the Turks in the Republic of Macedonia

Ancient times and other stories

Generally speaking, it can safely be assumed that the Turks have inhabited the Balkan Peninsula since the 7th century A.D. The Turk/Turk phonic tribes (Kumani, Pecenezi, Vardariots, Gagauses etc.) along with various other tribes living in and around the area once known as the “Golden Horde,” were part of a huge emigration wave in the late 6th century. The majority of these tribes settled in the territories of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece. An emigration wave of this nature should come as no surprise regardless of the major differences amongst the various tribes. True, there were major linguistic differences and differences in ethnological elements (expressed with the modern language-ethnical differences), however, they shared a common religious matrix contained in the traditions of shamanism, as an obsolete form of religious thinking and praxis. Interestingly enough, when the tribes arrived in the Balkans, the mighty Byzantine Empire with its hi-tech monotheism/Christianity religion was in power. Within a very short period of time, about 100 years, the new arrivals were converted to Christianity. This conversion was more than likely due to necessity rather than desire since Christianity mandated a complete change of lifestyles and traditions. However, beings that the new tribes now viewed the Balkan Peninsula as home, they were more willing to adapt to the customs and traditions of their new homeland.

The Byzantine Empire, adhering to the imperial concept of tolerating ethnic and religious diversities much like Rome, was a “melting pot of religions” to all newcomers at that time. This can be attributed to activities of the organized and very militant church. Only specific studies of religious diversities and schisms at that time reveal traces of the old beliefs brought from Siberia and Asia. Random reformists who had ambitions to connect the ancient beliefs and praxis from Siberia and Asia to their new homeland manifested these old beliefs. These attempts erupted into a form of radicalism as demonstrated by the “bogumils” movement that desired to awaken small “amounts” of culture brought from Siberia and Asia. The newcomers, unlike the closed tribal system, built their lives upon different rules and different trends of mobility learned from the customs of the feudal states that they interacted with. In terms of dominating different standards, from a present point-of-view, paradoxes occurred, one of the most famous being the tale of King Samoil. The apocrifs claimed that he was from a family of Armenian traders, a fact that was meaningless at that time because one’s verification was solely based on religion, and military and economic power.

Thus, from the beginning of the 7th century until the end of the 14th century, the territories of Macedonia (Vardar, Pyrin, and Aegean) were inhabited by the various tribes that had settled in the Balkans. Many great kingdoms (Byzant, Macedonian-Samoil, Bulgarian, and Serbian) were created and destroyed by the influence of these immigrants. The Turkophonic element, following the usual social dynamics that occur when persons of differing backgrounds intertwine, was minimized, an obvious effect of Christianization. It is possible to consider the ethnological structure of this area from a purely ethno-archaeology aspect. However, it is impossible to consider the political connotations or implications, which are of concern to many archaic and comic “historians” who would like to determine who did what and when during this time period.

In order to conclude this relatively long introduction, the second arrival of Turkophonic tribes in the Balkans must be mentioned since it marked the beginning of the reign of the great Ottoman Turkish State for more than five and half centuries. Ironically enough, the talented rulers of the Ottoman Empire learned everything that they needed to know in order create a highly functional and powerful empire from Byzantine emperors. For example they their professions from Byzantine traitors; how to build mighty military machinery based upon traditions of fighting prior civilizations; how to manipulate their religious platform (Islam accelerated the state’s expansion upon its ideological base); organization of state and society built throughout history and strengthened upon the experiences of the many Byzantine emperors; and imperial cosmopolitanism as a necessary element that is fundamental for the survival and the lasting of every mega-state creation etc. A vital connection exists between the ups and downs of the Ottoman Empire and the waves of immigration and emigration of the tribes of people known today as the Turks.

This brief introduction has its own goal and that is to relax the subject matter. It is intended to discourage and to make meaningless all kinds of grotesque possessiveness, as well as, to demonstrate that this area of land, like all land in the world is a terrain for mass movement of groups of people (tribes, nations). Life stories don’t happen like in the pseudo-romantic “fairytales” of the “historians” or the “ethnologists”!

The rise and fall of the “kingdom” as a transition in episodes

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The Turkish population inhabited the Balkans, together with military forces and the implementation of the state organism. Beyond what was considered to be military and administrative personnel, groups of farmers and agricultural tribes, clerks, traders, and manufacturers also inhabited the area. These groups of people help to create the mechanisms of a functional city. Although the cities existed before that transformation process, these groups helped to bring about great changes. In addition, one must remember further progress brought about by the Jewish peoples integration within the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish, after their escape from Spain, came upon the hospitality of the Ottoman Emperors and helped to turn Balkan cities into very dynamic and conjuncture elements. Within a few hundred years, total integration of the various ethnic groups occurred and a typical cosmopolitan city was born. The most cosmopolitan of these cities were those that did not remember the past and relied on “newcomers” to advance the development of their society. These cities became a part of the conglomerate with the armies and were considered to be an intricate part of the gigantic empire (an illustration: the Ottoman Empire at its peak was 10 million square kilometres).

I am often asked, “why did your people come here, to the Balkans, more specifically, to Macedonia?” The curious askers, people who understand human circulation only in terms of political or economical aspects, can not understand that even the Turkish element does not know the answer to this question. They, the Turkish, only know that they were born here and that this is home for them. Many comment, “that they feel like natives.” Thus, only some of the Turks living in the Turkish Republic can reconstruct the movement of their ancestors from the Balkans to the territory known as present day Turkey. However, that being said, the loss of power by the Ottoman Empire can be traced back to the 18th century. At this time, the Empire lost its territories and the Turkish population withdrew to their center of the world-Istanbul and surrounding cities.

The Turks withdrew from the Balkans on a few different occasions. The first withdrawal, from the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, took place after the Berlin Congress. Interestingly enough, a great number of people chose to stay in the Balkans; mainly, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Southern Serbia. There is evidence that exists today to prove that these persons remained in the Balkans. For example, neighbourhoods are called “madxhir maalo” meaning that newcomers from Bosnia and Belgrade came to settle in these particular areas.

Up until the time of the Balkans Wars, things were relatively stable. However, when looking from a present day perspective, it is clear that the dilations of the Empire were happening in a negative manner. The population related its faith with the faith of the State. This is perhaps where a great deal of the turmoil began. A mere 40 years after the Balkan Wars, the second wave of emigration took place. Although the number of emigrants was large, there is still a great deal of Turks living in the Balkans. This is a population of people who have been here for generations. They have property and family here. They consider this to be their world, their home. They never related their faith to the faith of the country; although, the Ottoman Empire played a role in their lives, they didn’t experience the new state organizations as being “somebody else’s.” That is always the case with such empires. Their citizens think of them as the Zar or the Sultan. If they aren’t present, they are always “hanging in the air,” and are manifested in some form of power that affects their daily lives.

The state of conditions between the two World Wars

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After WWI, the SCS kingdom was created. In this kingdom, the Turks were able to enjoy a unique kind of freedom. The conditions, especially in terms of political and religious freedoms were “extremely flexible.” The Muslims, in general, thrived on the so-called “Sheriat Freedom.” Meaning, that they had total religious freedom. This included school functioning according to the combined Religious-Social method, rights of the Sheriate, courts as a form of peace, judges and local registration. In addition, according to the rules of the free market, economic freedoms were based upon the amount of capital and capabilities of a person.

Despite the flexible lifestyle that they were privy to, a syndrome festered amongst the people. This syndrome, known as “the nomad syndrome,” or in terms of the Turkish population, “the eternal emigrant syndrome,” rooted itself in the minds of the people. As the Empire lost its power and territories, the Turkish people felt a sense of instability and impermanence. A feeling of free falling into an unidentified abyss, into something that is not atavism, but a memory of the nomadic period left within their legends and genetic codes hampered the people. This alone caused a collective depression within the population. The conditions worsened as the prosperity of social-economic perspectives decreased. There was no longer anything to invest in and their futures were bleak and uncertain. Thus, when there was nothing left to invest in and cases of insufficient activity and apathy, in terms of economic development occurred, blurred expectations of the worst possible situation manifested. There was a sense of vain in spending hard earned capital; a decadence born out of the lack of perspective of the native society had abandoned them, according to their understanding of how things should be. This fact is very important to bear in mind, even today, when efforts are made to improve the position of the Turkish minority in Macedonia. When taken into consideration that the six decade long transition (the socialist experiment included), are similar up to a point with the periods of time when the Turks faced collapse, not only from the world map, but a total destruction of relations, relative separations, positions, state destruction, loss of basis, hope burial etc.

The Second World War: Victory and the aftermath

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The Second World War provided a temporary distraction for a process that had started long ago. Macedonia fully committed itself to anti-fascism. This of course excluded the areas that were controlled by Italian Military forces. In these areas, the Italian influence prevailed and a new pro-Italian military sentiment was shaped-a natural sequel of the romantic. This was dangerous for the Albanians and the pan-Albanian dream, which collapsed at the end of the Second World War. The xenophobic regime of E. Hodxha ensured the fall of this dream with its long spiritual and material pauperisation of the territory and the people of present day Albania. The Albanians “suspiciously” sat on the sidelines while, the Turks sided with their eternal neighbours in the fight against fascism. This fight resulted in the creation of the Macedonian State, which, as a moral act is very valuable; however, this evolved within the framework of a socialist moral system. Thus, when understood in the way of semi-literate commissars, all schoolbooks only included information to Cubrilociv and Stalinist epigones.

After the war, Macedonia was involved in the global socialist process. This process was one of rigid, ideological states with tough social experiments (nationalization, confiscation, collectivization, industrialization). By nature, these experiments are highly unpleasant for all persons involved especially, for those that have an open door, a new-old type of permanent exile. Turkey, within its collective memory, remembers the imperialistic experiment as proof that big social projects always fall on the backs of the individuals, regardless of the amount of luck they promise or obtain.

The question of the choice was made easier with general ideological pressures (it’s normal when taken in consideration that all socialist projects are pointed against the small time owners-manufacturers, rural population-through collectivization). It should be mentioned that the state organs (pointed against the primitive Stalinist method) demonstrated extraordinary discipline in the implementation of the new ideological model; for example, together with repression as a tool for the “new world order,” understood in the way of primitive Balkan “cops” and party secretaries. No tales of the emigrants should be quoted from that time, but we shouldn’t forget the witnesses of a time when the goal-socialism was set up in some center, and it’s implementation was made on the backs of the already mentioned human destinies. Nobody can be happy with the fact, especially today, that “the Turks had somewhere to go” and the others didn’t. Maybe the authorities back then, or some individuals inside were happy with the socialist outcome, manifested with the destruction of, as they called it, “the nest of the class enemy.” But, they never took into consideration that the demographic structure in Macedonia had been tampered with and would never recover. Prior to the 50’s, a somewhat harmonic demographic structure existed, but again, the tampering has ruined its chances at harmony forever. This might come as a big surprise in the future to those that tampered. In addition, we shouldn’t forget that Turkey, as a state, according to the economic potentials and perspectives, didn’t face the tragedies of the Second World War. Meaning that a new regional power, included in western economic plans was born.

So, the result of a complex summa of reasons, between the 50’s and the 60’s, was the emigration of 200,000 Turks through the transfer channel located in the Turkish Embassy in Skopje (Consulate). Thousands of Albanians, Muslims from Sanxhak, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, joined them.

Is anybody there?

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Yes. It is well known that life experiences and history advise us individually. This has been the case with the estimated 100,000 Turks that stayed have opted to stay in the Balkans. Their choice to stay is a result of at least 100,000 different decisions. We can’t determine one general reason because that would not be fair. Especially, in a text that aims to prove that collectivism does not heed to individualism regardless of a great humanist or hyper rational platform.

Today, the Macedonian Turks live crucified yet again. This is evident when one considers how prosperous present day Turkey has been versus transitional efforts followed by rapid pauperisation. Many Turks have loved ones in Turkey; however, they were born and raised in the Balkans in a very different and calm ambient. Though, their range of relations are not enough to broaden their views, this is home. The Turks in Macedonia are subjected to a secondary minority status along with the Romas, Serbs, and Vlachs, because priority standards are reserved for the 450,000 Albanians residing in the country. They have experienced a loss of identity especially, in areas where they have mixed with Albanians. In these areas, relations are taking on a strange new twist. For example, there is a mixture of Islam with Albanian “religious practices,” plus language and social differences; a solidarity cultural matrix based on pseudo folklores (kitsch, turbo-folk). “Arabescism” and “mediteranianism” and similar detergents and erasers for brainwashing that causes primitivism as collateral damage to a neo-rich layer of customs. The violence of the primordial accumulation, anomie as a natural substitute of the rigid party statutes and norms, destroy us all regardless of the language of the brainwash. Be it Serbian, Turkish, Albanian, or Macedonian. The Macedonian Turks face many difficulties due to their small population and their wide dispersion throughout Macedonia. There is an ability to create a feeling of belonging to a cultural circle, manifested in their lack of presence in the state administration and in the Parliament. The Macedonian Constitution disables positive discrimination, in the representative bodies, and the efforts to improve the problem of the non-presence of the minorities in the administration are comical and non-efficient as the famous communist “keys,” especially in the hard fact that they insisted upon party belonging and closeness, immanent also for the Macedonian political elite. Currently, the Macedonian state is highly centralized and leaves the Turkish, originating citizens, with no doors to knock on. There is no place to express their fears or concerns. Ironically, in light of what the Constitution says, the Macedonians and the Albanians are in a much better position. It is very important to stress that within the period between 1990-1996, the Turkish state helped Macedonia to stand on its own two feet. The help was moral, material, and political. Their help nowadays is more discreet due to the unexplainable problems that Turks encounter when trying to initiate change. The Macedonian political elite usually stomps on their initiatives. The impression is that this elite, unlike the tasteless forcing of other states with traditionally dishonest ambitions towards Macedonia, doesn’t pay enough attention to the Turkish presence in the Balkans, which, as history will tell, is detrimental. The schoolbooks used within the education system makes this point very clear when considering what has and has not been read.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the 1990’s, Macedonians of Turkish decent, experienced the hardest moments of the first time transition yet lived; psychologically sound because this country is a part of them and their family history. They regarded the State as the great helper, protector of the country they were born in, live in, and totally forgetting all the moments of fake honesty, double measurements, and winks, manifested many times in history.

The Macedonian political elite treated the Turks in a very comfortable and familiar manner especially, in the mist of the creation of their state. This was more than likely due to the fact that there were no “hot” wishes brewing on the Turkish agenda. Even when evoking memories of cookies and meals, “long gone” neighbours that had returned to Turkey, the ethnological heritage of the Turkish cultural circle and other similar baloneys, remained in Macedonia. During election times, they never forget the main argument that “the Turks are always loyal.” This implicates two things. First, that “someone else” is not loyal and second, that they are pleasantly surprised, because they expected something else of the Turkish population. Here are a few fake words said on behalf of the Turkish. Meaning, that they can expect their vote.

Macedonia needed a whole decade to stand on its feet, and the price for all that was possible and impossible, was paid by all. In the newly established world, some Macedonian Turks have taken steps towards their old traditions and have moved back to Turkey. Data says that the regions of Valandovo, Stip, and Radovis, passive villages with a cattle growing and agricultural population that is very poor, are almost empty or, the intention is such. The urban element has another recipe for success. They create a base in Turkey, by buying apartments, houses, stores, sending kids to school their, marriages, and live in Macedonia as well as possible, or by simply existing. In the western parts of Macedonia, due to the large number of Albanians and their political capacity, they have a different understanding of social mobility (followed by a great militant behavior, hard to notice for any observer). The Turks are maybe twice as many, but they pay the price of their retreat and staying too long when it was apparent that there was no possibility to settle or to become an intricate part of society (the recipe works – half here, half in Turkey).

Is there an epilogue?

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Of course not, unless we take as an epilogue the statistics in the schools, the kindergartens, the mosques, the Muslim priests, the cultural and artistic organizations, the number of Turks without a job, and number of Turks with a domestic job, in stores, in administration, state services, presence in the media etc.

The debates concentrated on the quality of life and its conditions, regardless of who is the majority or who is the minority, are unable to be implemented in this matter because they simply don’t apply. It is very difficult to use destiny as a teacher if you are without the hope of a future. It is clear that the implementation of a model society that would cater to individual and collective rights is the best remedy, however, very difficult to realize and to implement. Why? First, the critical mass for such model society is very small. Second and most importantly, any effort to create such an “institution” in the past has failed within the criminal labyrinths of Macedonian democracy, where the Macedonian political elite walk around dirty and their eyes half open.