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Who? How Many?

View of Sarajevo from the east - Copyright © by Alan Grant

The size and composition of the population of Sarajevo is different today from that on the eve of war in 1992. But that is nothing new. Sarajevo's population has always fluctuated.

From half a dozen scattered villages in the 1450s, Sarajevo's population grew to about 23,500 by 1600, making it the third largest city in the European lands of the Ottoman Empire, after Salonica and Edirne. The growth stemmed largely from South Slav immigration from nearby villages and other areas of Bosnia; Ottoman census records show that few Sarajevans immigrated from elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. Local officials controlled migration into the city. Although Turkish was the official language in Sarajevo's early centuries, almost all inhabitants were native Slavic speakers. Turkish, Arabic and Persian were languages of official function and literary culture.

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Today the city is again predominantly Muslim, or Bosniak, and in that its composition has changed much from the far more cosmopolitan and mixed city which existed both before 1941 (after which most of its Jews perished,) and again after 1992, after which most Serbs and many Croats too left the city. But again, such shifts in the make up of its population are nothing new.

Most scholars agree that Islamization in Bosnia was gradual and generally voluntary. Through conversions of the local Slavic-speakers to Islam, Sarajevo's urban population changed from being about 73 percent Christian and 27 percent Muslim in 1485, to about 97 percent Muslim in 1530. Census records show that conversions occurred at about the same pace in nearby rural settlements as in the city itself.

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Sarajevo: A Biography. 2005. Robert Donia [C. Hurst & Co]

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