This is because Serbia’s Sandzak, one of the last sanjaks (districts) the Ottomans held in Eastern Europe, has exactly what he is looking for. As a matter of fact, most people in Turkey, except for the Bosniaks, were unaware of the existence of Muslims, who lived in this region for 500 years. However, Sandzak, home to around 350,000 Muslims, resembles Turkey in many ways.
Last week Fenerbahçe fans enjoyed discovering Sandzak, especially its capital city of Novi Pazar, which Kuper, who thinks football is both a political and a cultural issue, probably ignored. Founded by Isa-Beg Ishakovic in the time of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, Novi Pazar bears strong traces of the Ottoman period with its 50 mosques and a population of 120,000 people. It saw a historic day on Friday, March 2.
The history behind the strong ties between Novi Pazar and Fenerbahçe are as follows: FK Novi Pazar, founded in 1928, gained the love of Fenerbahçe fans months ago by holding Turkish flags FK Novi Pazar played matches in the Serbian Super League. Supporters of FK Novi Pazar held Turkish flags, sang songs sung by the Janissaries at the risk of receiving a penalty in a nationalist country such as Serbia, and waved small Fenerbahçe flags -- maybe because Bosniak Mirsad Türkcan (Jahovic) plays on Fenerbahçe’s basketball team and on the Turkish national basketball team. Realizing Novi Pazar’s interest in Fenerbahçe on the Internet, the fans of the İstanbul club unfurled a banner reading “Novi Pazar, Our Heart is with You” during a Fenerbahçe match last October. And this simple move by Fenerbahçe supporters also won the hearts of Bosniaks. With both teams calling each other brothers, FK Novi Pazar fans invited Fenerbahçe supporters to a match between FK Novi Pazar and FK Partizan.
Seventeen young Fenerbahçe supporters replied to this invitation. Novi Pazar fans welcomed the 17 warmly at Kosovo’s Prishtine Airport and took them to Sandzak. In Sandzak, a convoy comprising over 100 cars was waiting for the Fenerbahçe fans.
When Turkish guests arrived in Novi Pazar, around 3,000 Bosniaks welcomed them by unfurling a banner which read “Welcome to Novi Pazar” in front of the Novi Pazar Municipality. They then sang Janissary songs while taking the Turkish guests to their hotels.
On the morning of March 3, there was unusual activity in Novi Pazar. The Serbian press broadcast the arrival of the Fenerbahçe supporters over and over while Serbian police took citywide security measures, as 400 ardent FK Partizan fans were expected in the city. At the beginning of the match FK Novi Pazar footballers took to the field with a banner welcoming their Turkish guests. Little children wearing Fenerbahçe jerseys accompanied them. Feeling the spiritual support of the Turkish guests and their supporters, they started the match on a good note.
Partizan coach surprised to see Turkish flags
FK Novi Pazar managed to take one point from the match against Partizan despite the fact that the referee ruled unfairly during the game and that FK Novi Pazar has very limited financial resources in comparison to FK Partizan. FK Partizan coach Avram Grant said he was surprised to see Turkish flags in the grandstands and that he appreciated the friendship between the two Serbian teams. Thousands of Bosniak youths shouted out: “Novi Pazar! Thousands of hearts beat for you, you will never be alone!” They declared that Novi Pazar will be protected eternally. The 17 Fenerbahçe supporters, led by Sefa Kalya and who spent two unforgettable days in Novi Pazar, said their goodbyes to their Bosniak brothers in tears -- at least until they meet again for a match between Fenerbahçe and Bursaspor in Kadıköy, İstanbul.
FK Novi Pazar asks for friendly
Novi Pazar’s football team became a first division team for the first time in its history this season. Rasim Ljajic, who worked as the chairman of FK Novi Pazar, the colors of which are white and blue, played an important role in this success. Currently the Serbian minister of employment and social security, Ljajic continues to provide financial and spiritual support to this Bosniak soccer club. Novi Pazar Mayor Meho Mahmutovic also supports the team. Ljajic says they want to play a friendly with Fenerbahçe as soon as possible.