My central research question is how the experience and collective memory of (mostly forced) Muslim refugeeness — known as muhacirlik in Turkish — is interrelated with the rehabilitation and gentrification of the Ottoman past in significant parts of the political and societal sphere of Turkey and the „Western Balkans“ in the past three decades. The focal group at the beginning of my research were Istanbul and Izmir-based Bosniak Muslim migrants (henceforth muhacirs) from post-Seond World War Yugoslavia, their life stories, neighborhoods and homeland associations. In the course of my field studies in those muhacirs’ homelands, I came to realize that the legacy of those migrations, the daily practice of migrant associations in Turkey, and their connectivity to their old homelands reverberate in another, even broader discourse: the rediscovery of the Ottoman past and the Ottoman Balkans, reified by a rapidly growing number of cultural diplomats from Turkey and their respective Bosniak counterparts. In its intensity and visibility, this phenomenon is unprecedented, and often referred to as Neo-Ottomanism. As such, it is interesting per se and has attracted scholarly attention in recent years. However, the fact that the discourse of Neo-Ottomanism touches and overlaps the narratives of late and post-Ottoman forced Muslim migrations, and Turkey as the welcoming and safe haven for Muslims in direct and more subtle ways, has not been studied so far.
Whether in the streets of Skopje (Macedonia), Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Novi Pazar (Serbian Sandžak), Rožaje (Montenegrin Sandžak), or Prizren (Kosovo), where I spent two months of field-studies (November-December 2014) prior to my long sojourns in Istanbul (January 2015-October 2015) and Sarajevo (November 2015-September 2016): Turkish banks, Turkish language courses, Turkish tourists and travel agencies, restored Ottoman mosques, bridges, tekije (tr. tekke), „international“ schools and universities under Turkish auspices, mobility programs, the rising number of Turkish cultural institutes, the numerous popular Turkish soap operas on Balkanic TV screens (like the notorious Suleyman the Magnificent/Muhteşem Yüzyıl), cannot be missed even by short-term visitors. A deeper look into the narratives transmitted by high-ranked Turkish politicians and religious authorities on their visits to bridge-, mosque, shrine-openings, commemorative festivities like the annual Srebrenica commemoration of the July 1995 genocide against Bosnian Muslims/Bosniaks, reveals the centrality of topics such as the joint Ottoman heritage (Osmanlı mirası), the lost ancestors’ lands (kaybedilmiş topraklarımız), Muslim victimhood and martyrdom (şehitlik), security promises and solidarity by the Turkish state (Turkey appears here as the state of the ensar), kinship (kardeş ülke/şehir/belediye), homeland (memleket) and motherland (anavatan).
Thus, my particular research interest is not only to show how both discourses of muhacirlik and neo-Ottomanism are semantically interwoven on a narrative-discoursive level. In my thesis, I will show how history serves as a form of symbolic, cultural, and economic capital in Bosniak and Turkish cultural diplomats’ speech acts and activities, by taking into consideration the geopolitical and technological development of the past decades: the end of the cold war; the destruction of Bosnia; and the digital revolution, facilitating the emergence of new forms of social spaces and connectivity. I will also show how the deep rootedness of the collective memory of muhacirlik in Turkish society, as demonstrated on the example of two Istanbulite city districts, Pendik and Bayrampaşa, with their „Bosniak“ neighborhoods, restaurants, homeland associations, odonyms, architectural features, etc. explains to understand the „succesful“ amalgamation of Turkish foreign policy, soft power, and Balkan Muslims’ trauma of the recent genocide in Bosnia, continuing fears from persecution, and unsettled security issues. In the last chapter of my dissertation, I will discuss the „location“ of the social spaces produced in this discoursive running to and fro between Istanbul and Sarajevo, contrasting my findings with Ulrich Beck’s thesis of the „metamorphosis of the world“ and the emergence of „cosmopoliticized spaces of action“.
Based on my first observations, I developed one of my main hypotheses: The narratives alligned with the Bosnian War (1992-1995) serve as a reminder of muhacirlik. The war against Muslims in Bosnia, its public perception and transmission in Turkey, and its unsettled legacies amongst Balkan Muslims play a crucial role in the gentrification of Muhacirlik, Bosniakness and Turkishness as a cultural, symbolic, and even economic capital in the interplay of cultural diplomacy between Bosnia, Turkey, and in the „social space“ in between. Avoiding the pitfalls of methodological nationalism vis-à-vis the cemented post-war paradox of the ethnically fragmented Bosnian „state“, as well as the situation of the transnational borderland-area of the Serb-Montenegrin Sandžak (from where most Bosniak migrants in Bayrampaşa and Pendik originate), I conceptualize a social space with a modification of Norbert Elias’ notion of the figuration. Thus, I grasp the social space as a „communicative Bosniak-Turkish figuration“, without neglecting the figuration’s members’ constant reference to national and nationalist symbols and rhetorics. I argue that the remarkable cultural intimacy, expressions of loyalty, kinship and friendship in the Bosniak-Turkish figuration — as demonstrated at the example of selected actors from the political and public sphere — are congruent with the main narratives, or tropes, of Muhacirlik and Neo-Ottomanism.