Sandzak’s Nazi Past: Still Forgotten

Posted on June 27, 2013 by

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Nazi/fascist Sandzak Muslim leader Acif-efendija, standing, with his father Emin-aga.

Sandzak or Rashka?The Sandzak or Rashka region of Serbia and Montenegro is an area of potential instability and conflict. The region is evenly divided by Orthodox Christian Slavs, Serbs, and Montenegrins, and Muslim Slavs. What is the history of the Rashka or Sandzak region? What are the bases for “autonomy” and “secession” and “independence”? What is the history of Sandzak during World War II? What role did Sandzak play during the Holocaust? Sandzak’s Nazi past has been covered up and censored in the West. Why is Sandzak’s Nazi past still forgotten?

When Nazi Germany occupied Sandzak in 1943, the Sandzak achieved “autonomy” under Nazi occupation and administration.

During World War II, up to 120,000 Balkan Muslims from Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sandzak were in German military and security formations. Up to 1.5 million Muslims in the USSR were in the Nazi German forces from Chechnya, Crimea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and the Caucasus. The motto of the newspaper Gazavat (“Jihad”), a political organ of the North-Caucasus National Liberation Movement set up by Nazis in the USSR, was: “Allah above us, And Adolf Hitler beside us.” In the North Caucasus region of the southern USSR, up to 75,000 Muslims were put in the German forces. Chechen Muslims from Chechnya volunteered for the North Caucasus Legion or Nordkaukasische Legion formed in 1942 which existed until 1943. It also was made up of Muslim Dagestanis and Muslim Ingushetians. Nazi Germany was successfully able to recruit and mobilize Balkan and Caucasus Muslims into the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS formations.

Sandzak: History

During the medieval period, the Sandzak region was known as Rashka, the center of the Serbian state. The Serbian city of Ras was in the vicinity where the present city of Novi Pazar was settled. The Serbian Orthodox monasteries of Sopocani and Djurdjevi stupovi were in Rashka. In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turkish Empire invaded and occupied the region. The Sandzak region was on a key trade route from Istanbul/Constantinople and Asia Minor to Bosnia, the key Ottoman Turkish base in Europe. Novi Pazar literally means new bazaar, or new marketplace, a key center in the Ottoman trade network in the Balkans. Sandzak was a vital economic supply line for the Ottoman Empire and was vital for the Ottoman economy.

Kama Division: On far left, Gotz Berens von Rautenfeld of the Handzar Division.

The Sandzak area had important strategic and military importance because it provided supply lines from Istanbul to Bosnia. This was known as the “Green Belt”, a strategic interconnected route or corridor from Istanbul to Sarajevo to Travnik to Bihac. The Ottoman Turks settled this region with Muslim Slavs to ensure this vital link. Orthodox Serbs were cleansed and resettled out of this strategic belt. Christians were perceived as a potential security threat to this corridor. The Ottoman Turks settled this route with Slavic Muslims, Islamicized Slavs who were referred to as poTurcenaci. This conversion was achieved through economic inducements, property grants, and a dominant status in the Ottoman society. For centuries, there was the devshirme or boy tribute system, where Slavs had to give up their children to be raised up as Muslims. This genocidal nature of the Ottoman Islamic system has rarely been seriously examined in so-called Western scholarship. Naturally, there was considerable animosity, but also sympathy, towards the Islamicized Slavs of the Sandzak. They were in a tragic position once the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and the Turkish Army and civil administration was withdrawn. The role of the Muslim Slavs was to keep the Christian Slavic rayah down. Once the tables were turned, they no longer had a purpose. They merely played a destabilizing role in the Balkans. This was the tragic result of the genocidal policies of the Ottoman Turkish occupation of Serbia.

Albanian tribes settled the southern region during the Ottoman occupation. About 20% of the Sandzaklije are descended from Albanian Malesors, or mountain tribes, settlers who came to the Sandak following the Austro-Turkish Wars of 1700-1710.

The Rashka or Sandzak region became a part of Serbia and Montenegro after the 1912 First Balkan War. At that time, many Sanzak Muslims immigrated to Turkey with the Ottoman Turkish Army and Turkish officials. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Treaty of Berlin made the former Sandzak of Novi Pazar under Austro-Hungarian “administration”, while it remained formally a part of Ottoman Turkey. During World War I, Sandzak Muslims were decorated soldiers as part of the elite military forces of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Sandzak was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Army from 1915 to 1918 during World War I.

Sandzak Nazi militia, 1944.

Six towns in Sandzak— Novi Pazar, Priboj, Prijepolje, Nova Varos, Sjenica, and Tutin—were incorporated into Serbia. Five towns in Sandzak—Berane, Bijelo Polje, Pljevlja, Rozhaje, and Plave—were incorporated into Montenegro. Nova Varos, Priboj, Prijepolje, Berane, Bijelo Polje, Pljevlja have Serbian Orthodox majorities. Sandzak formed the Rashka region in the medieval period, which was the center of Serbian culture and the Orthodox Church. The Serbian Orthodox identity and historical presence remains in Rashka or Sandzak. The southern regions of Sandzak were made a part of Greater Albania in 1941 when fascist Italy and Nazi Germany occupied Sandzak. During World War II, the Sandzak region achieved de facto “autonomy” under Nazi Germany from 1943 to 1944. Nazi Germany sought to reconstitute Sandzak as it had existed under Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, as a Muslim statelet. After World War II, Sandzak was reintegrated back into Serbia and Montenegro. Sandzak remained a region divided almost equally between Orthodox Slavs and Muslim Slavs. The Orthodox Christian identity and character of the region competed with the Islamic, Turkic identity established under the Ottoman Empire occupation. Rashka or Sandzak? Is it a Serbian Orthodox Christian heartland or Muslim “Bosniak” district of Muslim Bosnia? Sandzak remains as the tragic detritus or residue of the rise and fall of empires and cultures. The potential for instability and conflict remains in Sandzak/Rashka.

Sandzak under Fascist Italy

Following the Nazi invasion and dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the Sandzak region was divided between fascist Italy and Nazi Germany who occupied the region. The southern part of Sandzak was incorporated into a Greater Albania. A Sandzak Muslim Legion or Guard was formed at the end of 1941, supplied with captured Yugoslav Army and Italian Army equipment. The fascist Sandzak Militia established Muslim control and occupation over the mixed Orthodox Christian and Muslim region. In February, 1942, the Militia attacked Partisan units and drove them from Sandzak. On February 1, 1942, the Muslim Militia from Sjenica and villages south in the Pester Mountain region attacked Partisan units in Nova Varos. On February 7, 1942, Muslim Militia units from Komarani near Nova Varos, in conjunction with units of the Italian 19th Division “Venezia” from Prijepolje, attacked Partisan units retreating across the Lim River into western Sandzak.

Sandzak Nazi Muslim militia members with heavy Italian weapons which Nazi Germany supplied them with.

The Italian zone of occupation encompassed Bijelo Polje, Plevlja, Tutin, Montenegro, Kosovo, Metohija, Plav, Gusinje, and Rozaje, from which a Greater Albania was created. The German occupation zone consisted of the Novi Pazar and Sjenica regions. Dzemail Konicanin (1910-1944), born in Konic near Tutin, formed a Sandzak Muslim militia in 1941 in Tutin. Dzafer Deva, the Kosovo Albanian Muslim, the minister of police or militia in the fascist-created Greater Albania, made him an officer in the Albanian security/militia/military forces. Konicanin, although a Slavic Muslim, identified with the Albanian Muslims and was part of the Greater Albanian state. This is because his identification was based on Islam, a religious identification, and because both the Albanian Muslims and Slavic Muslims were products of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. He was photographed wearing an Albanian officer’s cap with the Greater Albania goat’s head symbol of Skanderbeg. Iljaz Brezanin and Husein Hukic were members of his militia which also contained Albanian Muslims. His militia along with Albanian Muslims attacked the Serbian Orthodox Rashka region east of Tutin. He was fighting the war as a Muslim, a sehid. He was killed in a Partisan assault in 1944.

Albanian Muslims and Sandzak Muslims fought as allies during World War II. Albanian fascist Saban Poluza was an ally of the Sandzak Muslims and fought Serbian forces jointly with Sandzak Muslims, especially to maintain Muslim control of Novi Pazar. Acif Hadziahmetovic (1887-1945), known as Acif-efendija, was a prominent leader of the Sandzak Muslims during the Nazi/fascist occupation. Ahmet-aga Daca was the president of the Sandzak district when it was under Nazi/fascist occupation.

The Holocaust in Sandzak: Still Forgotten

The Jews of Sandzak were rounded up and transported to the Kosovska Mitrovica prison at the end of March, 1942. The Jews of Novi Pazar, Tutin, Sjenica, and Duga Poljana were forced to march on foot for five hours from Novi Pazar to Rashka, 24 kilometers away. From Rashka to Kosovska Mitrovica, they were transported in wagons Near the village of Pridvorica, they were forced to cross the bridge on foot to get on a second transport. The bridge had been destroyed by guerrillas. Mosha Bahar, an elderly Jew from Sandzak, was too weak to cross, so he was executed on the spot. In January, 1942, two males and a female from the Konforti family were executed. They were Jews from the Duga Poljana region between Sjenica and Novi Pazar. Matilda Ruben was killed and five Jews from Duga Poljana near Novi Pazar were executed.

At first, the Sandzak Muslims were under Italian control and sponsorship and collaborated with both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Italy occupied Montenegro and formed an all-Muslim legion from the Sandzak. The MVAC or Milizia Voluntare Anti-Comunista or Anti-Communist Volunteer Police or Militia organized the formation the Legion. By February 28, 1943, there were 780 Sandzak Muslims in this Militia.

SS Gruppenfuehrer Hermann Behrends, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Sandzak, Serbia, and Montenegro, shown after the war. PHOTO CREDIT: Island Farm website, Brett Exton

Operation Schwarz or Black was launched from May 15 to June 15, 1943 consisting of the German 724th Infantry Regiment of the 104th Jaeger Division and the Italian Venezia Division. For two weeks they fought against Partisan units in the Sandzak region. In an April 25, 1943 Geheimkommandosache–Chefsachen or secret order, all German and Italian military commanders were informed as follows:

“They [the Sandzak Muslims] are to be treated as allies and are not to be disarmed. The Moslems in Sandjak have formed a Moslem self-defense militia, which is essentially an armed village guard. It supposedly comprises 8,000-10,000 men.”

Nazi Germany and Sandzak

After Italy surrendered, on September 9, 1943, the German 118th Jaeger Division turned over the occupation of Pljevlja to the Muslim Militia of Sandzak. Generalmajor Josef Kuebler, the commander of the Division, wanted to maintain the Sandzak Milita at 5,000 men. The German occupation forces lacked manpower to combat both the Serbian Chetnik and Communist Partisan guerrillas. They also could not keep the roads and supply lines secure without the help of the Sandzak Militia. Pljevlja was a majority Serbian Orthodox town. The Serbian Chetnik forces planned to attack the Serbian town and to free it from Muslim occupation. Chetnik forces began to mass in the region. But according to captured Waffen SS records and command orders, the Nazi Muslim Militia collaborated with the Partisan 2nd Proletarian Division to prevent the Chetniks from taking the town. On September 20, the Partisan units attacked the Chetnik forces and were able to enter the town with help or collaboration from the Nazi Muslim Militia. This is an example of collaboration between the Partisan’s and Nazi occupation forces in Yugoslavia.

On October 30, 1943, the Sandzak Militia is referred to in the SS records for the first time in an operations order as Moslem Group von Krempler or Muselmanengruppe von Krempler. German occupation forces sought to organize the Sandzak Muslim Legion unit along company and battalion lines. German Waffen SS NCOs were assigned to the Legion to create an SS formation. Oberst der Polizei und Sturmbannfuehrer der Waffen-SS Karl von Krempler was known as the Sandzak Prince. He was the top Islamist specialist in the Waffen SS and had been a member of the Prinz Eugen Division and helped to form the Bosnian Muslim Handzar Division. Born in Serbia, he spoke fluent Serbian, German, and Turkish. On March 1, 1944, he was promoted to the rank of SS-Standartenfuehrer der Reserve. In a photograph from 1944, he is shown with members of the Muslim Militia wearing Waffen SS collar tabs, the Edelweiss patch on his right sleeve, and a badge for destroying a tank. In early October, 1944, he was assigned to Sandzak to form a legion out of the Militia. The German military headquarters in Sandzak were in Sjenica, where the Militia was also headquartered. The 2nd Proletarian Division amassed for an attack on Sjenica on November 10, 1943.

The Militia along with five German battalions attacked the Partisan forces, who withdraw. Operation Kugelblitz or Ball Lightning was planned in the region south of Tuzla in eastern Bosnia. On November 21, 1943, the German 2nd Panzer Army ordered that Group Siegfried secure the Sjenica region. Group Siegfried was made up of “the Muslim Legion von Krempler”, 524th German Grenadier Regiment, the 2nd Regiment “Brandenburg”, consisting of a platoon of tanks and a battery of artillery. This operation was to allow the German 1st Mountain Division to pass through the Sjenica region to deploy to eastern Bosnia for Operation Kugelblitz.

Prominent Sandzak Muslim leaders in Novi Pazar before World War II. Ahmet-aga Daca, the president of the Sandzak district during the Nazi/fascist occupation, is first on left.

By the end of 1943, when the Germans occupied the Sandzak and took control of the Militia, they sought to organize the Militia along company and battalion lines. German NCOs of the Waffen SS were photographed inspecting a platoon of Sandzak Muslims. Some received Wehrmacht or German Army uniforms, tunics, alpine pants, and boots. The Germans also obtained and supplied to the Muslims heavier Italian weapons. Short of Muslim manpower, many of the recruits were very young. Waffen SS NCOs drilled and trained the Sandzak Muslims to create an organized military unit of the Waffen SS. The Sandzak Muslims wore either the Ottoman Empire Turkish fez, which was red in color, or the Albanerfez, or white Albanian skullcap. Some were photographed wearing white Muslim turbans around their heads. The leader of the Sandzak Militia was Islamic cleric Hafiz Sulejman Pacariz who led his troops riding a black horse.

On January 16 to 17, 1944, the Sandzak Militia participated in a German attack against Partisan forces south of Sjenica. The Partisan 7th and 4th Proletarian Brigades were attacked.  The objective was to open the roads north and south into Montenegro. The attack was a failure. On February 6 to 8 another attack was launched in the same area but was a failure. The town of Meljak was taken and the Partisan 4th Sandzak Brigade was driven out.

A German SS NCO inspects a platoon of Sandzak Muslim militia Nazi troops in the Nazi Muslim Sandzak Legion. Bundesarchiv.

German occupation forces in the Sandzak granted “autonomy” or independence to the Sandzak Muslims. Von Krempler worked to create a Muslim administration in Sjenica that would see a Nazi-controlled autonomous Sandzak, a Nazi Sandzak. On February 21, 1944, the Higher SS and Police Commander in Serbia (HSSPF Serbien), SS Gruppenfuehrer August Meyszner, told the Military Commander Southeast or Militarbefehlshaber Sudost, General der Infanterie Hans Felber that Krempler’s forces in Sandzak consisted of two battalions of Sandzak Muslims consisting of 800 troops.

The Military Commander Southeast sent a message to the German 2nd Panzer Army on February 28 regarding the situation in Sandzak.  It noted that from Krempler’s force of 4,000 to 5,000 members of the Sandzak Muslim Militia, 2,000 were to be earmarked for the formation of a new Muslim legion. The Sandzak Legion was to be modeled on the Bosnian Muslim Handzar Division, equipped, supplied, and uniformed by German forces and would receive rations like German troops. On March 18 Militia troops from the Priboj area along with German troops and elements of the 4th Regiment Brandenburg from Prijepolje fought against the 4th Krajiski and 2nd Proletarian Brigades that were in the Priboj region.

On March 26, the Military Commander Southeast informed Heinrich Himmler in Berlin that the Sandzak Militia and the elements of the Muslim Legion being formed in the Sandzak should be put under the command of the 2nd Panzer Army headquarters. The headquarters were to be in Nishka Banja outside of Nish in Serbia. The office of the Higher SS and Police Leader for Serbia, HSSPF “Serbien”, was to be responsible for troop services. On March 30, Himmler approved this chain of command for the Sandzak formations. He appointed Karl von Krempler SS Commander in the Sandzak under the title “SS Fuehrer im Gebiet Sandschak”. For the next five months, the Muslims under Krempler were engaged in combat in the Sandzak region.

Nazi/fascist Sandzak Muslim leader Dzemail Konicanin wearing a fascist Greater Albania police uniform with the Skanderbeg goat’s head symbol on his cap.

Operation Exterminator

On April 4, 1944, the Sandzak Militia was made a part of Operation Kammerjaeger or Operation Exterminator, massive, coordinated military operations that lasted for seven weeks. The Militia was engaged with German troops against Partisan penetrations into southern Serbia. On April 11, in conjunction with German forces, the Militia attacked the Partisan 37th Division southwest of Sjenica along the Brodarevo and Bijelo Polje Road in the Lim and Tara Valleys. The Partisans were driven back. From June 18 to 24, 1944, two battalions of German troops and 400 Sandzak Muslim Militia troops from Sjenica began an assault on Bijelo Polje against Partisan forces in the Garibaldi Division, which was made up of Italian volunteers who had joined the Yugoslav guerrilla forces. The Sandzak Militia and German forces fought unsuccessfully for a week to take Bijelo Polje, suffering 150 casualties.

In July, the Militia attacked near Stitari and established a bridgehead on the west bank of the Lim River. They could not, however, supply the troops. The Partisan forces were also strongly entrenched in the region. This necessitated a withdrawal by the Militia from the region.

On April 28, HSSPF Serbien under SS Gruppenfuehrer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Hermann Behrends in Belgrade reported to Himmler in Berlin that Legion Krempler was nearing completion and noted that Hauptamt Orpo or the Headquarters of the German Order Police in Berlin had been very helpful in this effort. From April 1, 1944 to October, 1944, Behrends was the Higher SS and Police Leader “Serbien, Sandschak, und Montenegro”, with headquarters in Belgrade. He was the representative of the German Reich in Serbia.

In July, 1944, the Sandzak Militia was reorganized and renamed Police Self-Defense Regiment Sandzak or Polizei Selbstschutz Regiment “Sandschak” as part of the SS consisting of 3,000 men. The field post numbers of the Regiment were:

1. Regimental Staff Company—21 095
2. 1st battalion—22 118
3. 2nd Battalion—23 051
4. 3rd Battalion—24 125
5. 4th Battalion—24 983

According to German military records, the Regiment consisted only of a headquarters staff and a single battalion, the 1st Battalion, with four companies that were “in training”. By 1944, German occupation forces could not muster enough troops. There were also not enough uniforms and equipment at this stage of the war.

Sandzak Muslim Nazi militia member wearing turban in action.

On July 18, German forces launched Operation Draufganger or Operation Daredevil to prevent Partisan incursions into the Ibar Valley. Krempler’s Sandzak Muslim troops were stationed near Bioca on the east bank of the Lim River between Bijelo Polje and Berane (which had been known as Ivangrad from July, 1949 to March, 1992).

On August 12, Operation Ruebezahl (literally, “Turnip Number”, a mountain sprite or gnome in German mythology) was launched by German forces. Krempler’s Legion/Regiment/Militia participated in this action, along with the Kosovo Albanian Muslim Skanderbeg SS Division, the Prinz Eugen SS Division, the 1st Mountain Division, and Albanian Army units. The Sandzak Regiment attacked along the Bijelo Polje and Prijepolje fronts. The objective was to prevent Partisan forces from linking up with Soviet Red Army troops that were rapidly advancing on Belgrade. When Romania switched to the Soviet side, the German military occupation of the Balkans was doomed.

By September, 1944, the Regiment was redeployed along the Priboj-Prijepolje-Rozaj-Pester Mountains region attached to Kampfgruppe “Bendel”, consisting of two Muslim battalions from the Albanian Army. The Germans were now planning the withdrawal from the Balkans before they were cut-off and destroyed by rapidly advancing Soviet troops. German troops were rushed to the Banat and the Serbian-Bulgarian border to allow Heeresgruppe E time to retreat. The Germans were retreating from Greece through Macedonia and Kosovo. The Regiment was forced to retreat to Sjenica. The Regiment garrisoned Sjenica, which was attacked by Partisan forces on October 14. The Police Self-Defense Regiment Sandschak was driven out of Sjenica and forced to withdraw to Duga Poljana. The German forces were able to reoccupy Sjenica on October 25. The Regiment was, however, effectively destroyed as a result of the engagements. The Muslim collaborationist troops were able to switch sides after the partisans proclaimed an amnesty in September.

Several hundred Muslims were able to flee to Sarajevo by November, 1944 under the leadership of Islamic cleric or hodza Hafiz Sulejman Pacariz and his Chief of Staff, Major Ramiz Sipilovic. In Sarajevo, they were placed under the command of Ustasha General Vjekoslav Maks Luburic who was sent to Sarajevo by Croatian Poglavnik Ante Pavelic to impress Muslims and other troops into Ustasha formations. The reorganized Sandzak Regiment was integrated in the Ustasha forces. Pacariz was given the rank of Ustasha Pukovnik or Ustasha Colonel in the Militia. The Regiment was officially dissolved in early 1945 by the Germans in Graz, Austria. SS Standartenfuehrer der Reserve und Oberst Polizei Karl von Krempler was reassigned.

Sandzak Muslim Nazi militia troops armed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

In March, 1945, the remnants of the Sandzak Regiment/Militia saw combat action south of Sarajevo in the Ivan Sedlo region but were unable to hold out. Sarajevo was taken by Partisan forces on April 6. Some of the Sandzak Muslims died in the fighting while others were executed by the Partisans after capture. Most of them fled to Sisak south of Zagreb where they were placed in the Ustasha Brigade “Obrana” or “Defense” under Luburic, which was reorganized as the 18th Assault Division. On May 8, the Partisans captured Zagreb. Some of the Sandzak Muslims were killed in the fanatical defense of Zagreb while others fled with other Ustasha troops into Austria.

Hermann Behrens, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Serbia, Montenegro, and Sandzak, was extradited by Yugoslavia and tried for war crimes. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad on December 4, 1948, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He had also been a member of the Prinz Eugen and Handzar Divisions SS Divisions. Acif-efendija fled into Kosovo after the German military retreat from Sandzak. He surrendered to Partisan forces in Djakovica. He was brought back to Novi Pazar where he was tried and convicted of being a Nazi/fascist collaborator. He was executed in 1945 in Novi Pazar. Acif-efendija stated before his execution: “If I am guilty, let them kill me, although I don’t consider myself guilty, before Allah, and before the people.” Ahmet-aga Daca, the president of the Sandzak district during the Nazi/fascist occupation, was also tried and convicted of collaborating with the Nazi/fascist occupation forces. He was executed in Novi Pazar in 1945.

Autonomy and Secession

The Sandzak region is an area of potential instability and separatism. It is a conflict area that could be manipulated to foment secession in Serbia and Montenegro. The Kosovo model could be applied to the Sandzak to achieve, first, “autonomy, then, “independence”. Indeed, the “international community” is keenly aware of the divisive role the Sandzak can play in destabilizing Serbia and Montenegro. Both the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have devoted attention to the Sandzak. Is Sandzak “still forgotten”? Sandzak remains, like Kosovo, a tool and instrument for the “international community” to pressure, manipulate, and destabilize Serbia and Montenegro. Sandzak is, thus, not “still forgotten” but is available as a potential future instrument of the “international community” to use against Serbia and Montenegro.

Nazi Sandzak Muslim militia troops wearing white skullcaps and white turbans.

The Sandzak became a volatile and explosive region of the former Yugoslavia with the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1990. The situation resulted in conflict following the crisis in neighboring Bosnia-Hercegovina. Sandzak Muslims perceived themselves as “Bosniaks” or Bosnjaci or Bosnians and allied politically with the radical, Islamic nationalist SDA Party of Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia. Sandzak Muslims began calling for the “autonomy” of Sandzak with the right to secede. The goal was to secede from Serbia and Montenegro and to form a Greater Bosnia, a Greater Islamic State of Bosnia. Izetbegovic encouraged and supported a Greater Muslim Bosnia that would include the Sandzak. Reports also emerged that the Bosnian Muslim leadership had shipped weapons and ammunition to the Sandzak Muslims. Sandzak Muslims are known to have sent “volunteers” to Bosnia to fight on the side of the Bosnian Muslim faction as part of the Bosnian Muslim Army. Sandzak Muslim or Sandzaklije troops participated in the combat in the Srebrenica pocket. Bosnian Muslim military commander Naser Oric engaged in the mass murder and mutilation of Bosnian Serb civilians in the Srebrenica pocket. Bosnian Serb POWs were executed, decapitated, tortured, and mutilated. Sandzak Muslims were part of these Bosniam Muslim military forces.

Muslim ultra-nationalists in Sandzak itself were advocating secession and separatism. On May 21, 1994, the Turkish journal Aydinlik of Istanbul reported that hundreds of Muslims from Sandzak were secretly brought into Turkey through Macedonia for commando training: “The project of training the Sandzak Muslims is part of a plan to create a Muslim state in parts of Serbia and Montenegro.” Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic supported the annexation of the Sandzak into a Greater Bosnia. The radical, ultra-nationalist Party for Democratic Action, SDA, Stranka Demokratske Akcije, was active in Sandzak, where branches were established, with links to Sarajevo. As early as February, 1991, Sulejman Ugljanin, the President of the Sandzak branch of the Bosnian Muslim SDA Party, began his political agitation in Sandzak for autonomy and secession and annexation to Bosnia. In March, 1991, the BBC reported that the SDA planned to declare the autonomy of the Sandzak region “if any other Yugoslav republic secedes or if it feels that it is necessary to protect the region’s Moslem population.” The US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia continue to support the recognition of Islamic statelets in the Balkans. Secession and separatism will inevitably destabilize the Balkans and result in Balkanization, small, weak, and fragmented “statelets” that will be controlled and manipulated by foreign powers and interests. The Sandzak/Rashka is a region divided into two evenly dispersed populations: Orthodox Christians and Muslim Slavs. The population balance can be exploited and manipulated and disrupted by foreign actors to foment instability and conflict. This is the potential threat to Sandzak.

Sandzak’s Nazi past and role during the Holocaust are still forgotten. Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Heinrich Himmler created “autonomy” for the Sandzak during World War II. Nazi Germany used the Sandzak to maintain the Nazi occupation of Serbia and Montenegro. The Nazi-created “autonomy” for the Sandzak created a political precedent that can be revived and reconstituted by the “international community”. It is a precedent that has the potential for revival. The Nazis understood the importance of the Sandzak in ensuring their control and occupation of the Balkans. The ICG and RFE/RL understand the significance and strategic importance of the Sandzak. How long will the Sandzak be “still forgotten”?

Bibliography

Andrejevich, Milan. “The Sandzak: The Next Balkan Theater of War?” RFE/RL Research Report, 1 (47), November 27, 1992, pp. 26-34.

Munoz, Antonio, ed. The East Came West. NY: Axis Europa Books, 2001.

Schmidt, Fabian. “The Sandzak: Muslims between Serbia and Montenegro.” RFE/RL Research Report, 3 (6), February 11, 1994, pp. 29-35.

Stojanovic, Srdjan. “Serbia’s Sandzak: Still Forgotten.” Europe Report N. 162. International Crisis Group. April 8, 2005.

Author: Carl Savich, Serbianna.com