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  • The Jewish Heritage of Novi Pazar:A Case of Decaying Memory
  • Marina Mihaljević

The modern city of Novi Pazar is still a diverse multicultural community, which has been shaped by a long history stretching back to medieval times. The city is situated in the southern part of Serbia in the historic area of Ras, today known as Raška (Rascia). It was once the heart of the Serbian medieval state. Because of its advantageous geographic position, developed road network, and economic potential, the area maintained its importance in the post-medieval period as well.1 Hence, the formation of the city of Novi Pazar itself, which came to be an important regional center, and the subsequent advent of Jews are both associated with Ottoman times. We know from historical documents that the Ottoman General Isa-beg Ishaković established the city sometime during the 1460s, in the vicinity of the older medieval marketplace Trgovište (later known as Eski Bazar), and accordingly named it Yeni Bazar (Novi Pazar).2 Soon, the city included 10 mahalas (neighborhoods), five of them inhabited by Muslims, and the other five belonging to Serbian Christians.3 Due to its location on important routes that connected the Adriatic littoral and Bosnia with important cities—Belgrade to the north, Thessaloniki to the south, and Sofia and Istanbul to the east—the city rapidly developed. At its peak in the second half of the 17th century, it was a prosperous economic center, [End Page 103] exporting its products: wool, leather, fur, and wax.4 At that time Novi Pazar had as many as 40 mahalas, with a number of public buildings—mosques, hamams (baths), caravanserais (inns), and bezistans (covered markets).5 The city was populated by some 30,000 inhabitants, mostly Muslim and Serbian, but it also had a colony of about twenty merchants from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) that were engaged in the city’s trading affairs. Being a part of the so-called Pashalic (paşalık) of Bosnia, Novi Pazar was its major center, second only to Sarajevo. However, the unstable political conditions at the end of the 17th and throughout the 18th century deeply affected the city, which dwindled to half of its previous size. General insecurity and recurring tensions between Ragusan traders and domestic authorities caused most of the Ragusan merchants to leave the city before the end of 17th century.6

This change in trading activities left Novi Pazar as an open, potentially lucrative, market, which probably encouraged the arrival of the domesticized Ottoman Jewish merchants. Although the Jewish presence in the city may be assumed to date from much earlier times, they were first mentioned in 1776 in a report stating that the sons of a Ragusan merchant Luka Miljković left their bezistan in Novi Pazar to Jewish merchants.7 Despite the political instability and the weakening economy which characterized the period of the 18th century, Novi Pazar maintained its status as an important center in the Central Balkans.8 The city’s persistent commercial activity apparently further enticed the arrival of Jews, who were traditionally engaged in trade.9 Already in 1807, the city was inhabited by a community of 100 Jews. Allegedly, Novi Pazar Jews were of Sephardic origins, speaking Ladino as their native tongue.10 It [End Page 104] seems that most of them came from Sarajevo, which, as a major center within the Ottoman Empire, had had a strong Jewish community since the mid-16th century.

Jews in Novi Pazar shared the city’s changeable destiny. The liberation wars against the Ottoman occupation at the beginning of the 19th century brought a period of turmoil to the city and its inhabitants, forcing repeated evacuations and migrations from the city. Consequently, a number of Jews left Novi Pazar. After 1809 there was only evidence of 5 Jewish homes within the city of 4,000 houses. Yet, the Jewish community did not permanently abandon the city. The evidence shows that in 1866 Novi Pazar had around 200 Jewish inhabitants, while their number in 1896 was 156. The beginning of the 20th century and the Balkan wars brought the liberation of Novi Pazar from Ottoman rule.11 The outbreak of WWI, however, induced...


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