Xavier Bougarel is a researcher at the Paris Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan, and Central Asian Studies at EHESS. He is the author of several books on the modern history of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). He spoke about the Khanjar Division and contemporary dilemmas among Bosniaks.
At the History Fest, which gathered the most prominent regional and European historians in Sarajevo from June 7th to 12th, Bougarel’s last book, The Handzar Division: Waffen SS in Bosnia 1943-1945, was presented, its actions, the attitude of the Bosniak elite towards it and the fate of the soldiers after the Second World War.
In his scientific work, Bougarel dealt with the position of Bosniaks in World War II, issues of Islam in BiH, the historical formation of Bosniaks, and social movements within the Bosniak corps during and after the war in BiH.
Bougarel is the author of books that have been published in French, English, and Bosnian: “Surviving Empires: Islam, National Identity and Political Loyalty in BiH” and “Bosnia-Anatomy of War”.
Bougarel noted that when talking about the Khanjar division, it is necessary to talk on the one hand about the Muslim elites and on the other hand about the members of the division.
As for the members of the Khanjar Division, Bougarel pointedout that the Germans expected a large number of volunteers, but that this did not happen. Instead, they had to force the Ustasha authorities to give them Muslim NDH members in the forced process. About two-thirds of Muslims in the SS division were not volunteers but were forcibly mobilized.
The great irony of the whole story is that the Muslim leaders imagined the Khanjar Division to protect itself from the Chetniks, but when the division returned from training in Germany to northern Bosnia, the officers of this unit mostly cooperated with the Chetniks.
“The Khanjar division was stationed in the cities, while the villages were left to Chetnik units. The biggest goal of the Germans was to get rid of the partisans, and they used the Chetniks for that,” Bougarel said how the hopes of a part of the Bosniak elite of that time were betrayed.
Estimates suggest that the Khanjar Division killed about 1.800 civilians in BiH and about 500 in Srijem. These massacres took place mainly in Serb settlements, in one case men were killed in a Muslim village.
“It is important to understand that this violence was a way of German struggle against partisans. These Serbs were not killed because they were Serbs but as a way of fighting partisans. Serbs represented the majority of partisans in the area. The massacres were part of German strategy, not an expression of the hatred of members of the Khanjar Division against Serbs as such, “ Bougarel explains.
“After the end of the war, some members returned to Yugoslavia in an organized manner. Most of these people were sentenced to small sentences of one or two years in prison unless a military court considered a member directly involved in war crimes,” Bougarel described the destiny of members of the Khanjar Division.
The crisis of pluralism may be due to rising tensions or God forbid a new war. I do not see great danger for Bosniaks in the names of streets and schools, it is a secondary issue. Bosniaks must be aware that they survived World War II not thanks to Mustafa Busuluadzic or Mehmed Handzic, but thanks to the partisans. The partisan heritage must be especially important for Bosniaks,” Bougarel concluded, Klix.ba writes.