It has been 100 years since the Ottomans left the Balkans. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars. The region had been part of the Ottoman Empire about a century ago, but in living memory was marked by communist regimes. Ultra-nationalism and massacres came hand-in-hand with communism. During this period, Islamic culture and works of Islamic art suffered and were in many cases destroyed.
Now the Balkans is undergoing a new restoration process. It is in search of stability, peace and improvement. Turkey is making constructive attempts to ensure that all people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds live peacefully and in a stable environment.
Additionally, Turkey is protecting Muslim and Ottoman works of art in the region. The mosques are being restored and put into service again. The most important issue is education. Medresas, where Muslim children will both receive a quality education and also learn about their religion and culture, are the most fundamental necessity. Medresas are foundations that offer education in the same way education is offered at imam-hatip high schools -- religious vocational high schools -- in Turkey.
Four years ago a medresa in Montenegro was reopened and started to offer courses again. Medresa Mehmed Fatih will congratulate its first graduates on the 100th anniversary of the departure of the Ottomans from the Balkans. Muslims residing in Montenegro and their children are very excited.
The process started with the preparation of a project by Montenegro's Islamic Community almost 10 years ago which aimed at establishing an imam-hatip high school that would both offer a religious education and also teach the Turkish language to children. What maintained and protected this project, which started thanks to the support of the Islamic Development Bank, was the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA).
The medresa -- built close to the capital Podgorica -- is named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who annexed Montenegro and made it a part of the Ottoman Empire. The Medresa Mehmed Fatih reopened its doors as an educational institution in 2009. It has 180 students consisting of Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians) and Albanians. Some of them are boarding students. Besides having a normal high school course schedule, the students also receive religious education and learn Turkish. For now the school only offers education for male students, but there is an intention to build a school for girls when a source of funding can be found.
Pointing out that the medresa offers a quality education similar to that offered in high schools, 18-year-old Almedin Bralic, a student at the medresa, said: “We attend courses like any other high school student. Additionally, we have lessons in religious education. Being able to speak Turkish will hopefully be of great benefit to us. The environment and the opportunities here are very good.”
Fifteen-year-old Armin Karac said he thinks those receiving an education in a medresa acquire better moral values and are more mature. The majority of students who graduate from this school prefer to go to Turkey for further education. The head of Montenegro's Islamic Community, Grand Mufti Rifat Fejzic is an example of a figure who was educated in Turkey. Bosniaks and Albanians make up 20 percent of the country, the population of which is 630,000.
The Nizam Mosque, situated near the city of Podgorica, is one of the important symbols of Islamic history in Montenegro. The mosque was closed in 1931 on the Night of Decree -- the anniversary of the revelation of the first verses of the Quran. The mosque was severely damaged during World War II and much of the historic structure collapsed. The Muslims residing in the region intended to rebuild the mosque in 2000, but financial difficulties prevented them. When Turkey heard about this, it decided to lend a hand and the mosque was rebuilt with the support of TİKA to resemble the original structure as closely as possible.
The Nizam Mosque is different from other mosques in the Balkans because of the presence of a martyrs' cemetery sprawling over the vast area around the mosque. The founder of the city, Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, had his soldiers who died in the area during and after the period that the mosque was constructed buried here. It is as if hundreds of martyrs are guarding the mosque. The new mosque was inaugurated on the holy Night of Decree in 2010, 79 years after the old mosque was shut down.
One year ago, upon asking Kosovar youngsters what they thought about the inauguration ceremony of a mosque that was restored by Turkey in Prizren, the response was somewhat surprising. Instead of praising Turkey, the 18-year-old youngsters complained that Ankara is underrepresented in the Balkans, indicating that perhaps Iran had influenced these young peoples' thoughts.
Having researched the subject of Iran's role in the Balkans, it seems that Iran made an effort to increase its role in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The grand muftis of the Balkan countries are strongly in touch with Turkey and cooperate with Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs. The Tehran government persistently invites muftis and Muslim clergymen to Iran. Whenever Muslims want to build a structure, Tehran immediately steps in and consistently sends books -- in accordance with Iran's predominant faith -- to the region.
A journalist involved in this research made the interesting observation that the psychology of minority groups should be taken into consideration and that the way Iran interprets the religion may sound more attractive to Bosniak youngsters. He said it may be easier for youngsters who experienced pain and were oppressed in the past to favor non-neutral policies. Turkey's policy is quite transparent, advising Muslims both to protect their identities and to participate in society. Iran's policy is more ambiguous.
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