Page 629 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 629

Serbs and albanians under Ottoman Rule
Alex Dragnich and Slavko Todorovich
 The end of the Serbian Despotate in 1459 was followed by the demise of the Kingdom of Bosnia (1463). The Ottoman empire now ruled not only over all Serbs, ex-
cept those in Montenegro, of which more will be said later, but stretched all the way from Mesopotamia to the Dan- ube, and westward to the adriatic. Serbs, Greeks, Bulgars, and albanians were subjugated, and they had no idea how long their plight would last. at the same time, some among them concluded that life would be easier if they converted to islam. Many others decided to move out—to Hungary or to go to the coast to look for a haven in Venice or in Ve- netian-held territories in Dalmatia, or to try the gates of Dubrovnik, which in exchange for tribute to the sultan, was allowed to retain its small territory free of Ottomans. Those who stayed and did not convert had one thing in common: all of them were classified as giaours, a category that lumped together all those who were not Muslim.
To the Ottomans, the Byzantine and Roman faiths were two sides of the same coin, a logical conclusion. in real life, however, the best proof that it was not so was to be found in the very fact of Ottoman victory. it took them less than a century to annihilate three Balkan tsardoms, divided and never assisted by Christian Western europe.
On the other hand, Christianity was the only single bond that the subjugated peoples of the Balkans now had in com- mon. What else was there to hold onto until the islamic flood should recede? Moreover, the Balkan peninsula be- came a 2-realm society: Muslim and Christian, one privi- leged and the other discriminated against. it was up to the individual to decide whether he wanted to live and die as an exploited person or lead a more favorable existence. it was obvious that hard decisions had to be made.
The Ottoman occupation did not mean the same thing for all Balkan nationalities. The Greeks, for example, who had played such an important role in the Byzantine world, were viewed with the greatest respect by the invader. The Ottoman Turks were good fighters and eager to participate in the spoils of war, but when it came to bureaucracy and administration in general they were sadly lacking. it was not long after the fall of Constantinople that the city’s Greek, Venetian, and jewish communities began to bustle with activity and opulence. Someone had to provide the conti-
Captured Ottoman yatagans, ca. 1800.
nuity in commerce, administration, and in understanding the affairs of the Balkan mosaic. By all standards, in the reality of the period, the Greeks were the most suited for this function.
When it came to choosing who would represent the Christians and to provide spiritual leadership, the choice again fell to the Greeks. Having a Greek as eastern Ortho- dox patriarch in Constantinople made a substantial differ- ence.
For the Serbs, a glimpse into the extremity of their situ- ation in that period is given us by a contemporary Serbian, turned adventurer, soldier of fortune, and author—Kon- stantine Mihailović of Ostrovica. Serving for 10 full years as a member of Ottoman shock troops and fighting for Sul- tan Mehmed ii, he later escaped to Hungary. Toward the end of his life, this gifted man wrote Memoirs of a Janis- sary, in the form of a general history of the Turks of his time. One of the events he described was the fall of the Serbian mining town of Novo Brdo into the hands of the sultan. First, the sultan ordered all gates closed except one, through which all of the inhabitants had to pass, leaving their possessions behind. “So they began passing through, one by one,” writes Mihailović, “and the sultan, standing at the gate, was separating males from females... then he or- dered the leaders beheaded. He saved 320 young men and 704 women... He distributed the women among his war- riors, and the young men he took into the janissary corps, sending them to anatolia... i was there, in that city of No- vo Brdo, i who write this...“
The shipping of young Christian men (and boys) to Ot- toman schools to become janissaries, or if talented, to be a part of the administrative apparatus, was common prac- tice in the Ottoman empire. it was part of the tribute the Christian “raja” had to pay to the Turks, but it was not al- ways the same in all regions. it is not clear whether it was a

   627   628   629   630   631