Page 631 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 631

 five centuries of Ottoman darkness. There is no doubt that the albanians’ contin- ued presence at the seat of power gave them an upper hand, which was the beginning of a tragic divisiveness, of separate roads for them and for the Serbs. The former became the rulers and the latter the ruled.
This split, or a parting of the ways, is
probably best seen in the gradual deterio-
ration of relations between neighboring Mon-
tenegrin and albanian tribes. in early stages of Ottoman occupation these relations were friendly. Living under similar conditions in the isolated highlands, having similar life patterns, traditions, and history, they were a world apart from the rest of the Balkans. They populated the roadless mountain areas that invaders had no particu- lar desire to visit as long as their control was acknowledged by regular tax contributions and tributes. Usually they were left alone to lead and organize their own lives around their own social patterns. Their elected local leaders, to- gether with their priests, ruled in strict observance of their traditions and customs. The Ottoman judiciary never bothered the Christians unless Muslim rule or people were involved. in their relationships members of the two societies, Christian and Muslim (Montenegrin and alba- nian, although sometimes not necessarily so clearly delin- eated), were generally cordial. Through common experi- ences and alliances in local conflicts, as well as opposition to outside influences, the binding word besa (promise) of- ten meant mutual protection.
The symbiosis that engulfed the clans of different eth- nic cities was noticeable and evident until quite recently, and traces of it can be found even today. a French traveler was taken aback, when in the late years of the 18th century he visited Herzegovina. it was the Christian holiday of St. ilija, but to his amazement he noticed that Muslims were going to the mosque, splendidly lit. His agitated curiosity and inquiry were given a laconic answer: “it’s ilija in the morning, alija in the evening!” even today one can still see albanian Muslims of Kosovo, Metohija, or Macedonia, men and women and children of the same family, descend- ing from their hills and visiting a Serbian monastery. Men, wearing their white skullcaps, in their white serge trousers braided with black lace, followed by their women (who no longer wear veils), bringing their infant children or alone, waiting for the priest to admit them to the Serbian place of worship. They arrive in reverence of the Holy Mother, or a saint whose icon is in the church or, more often, of relics of some Serbian king, sanctified in the monastery and known to help where Mohammed and esculap had failed. “No wonder,” a Serbian priest would comment after such visits (always on Friday), “they were Christians once.”
in the 14th and 15th centuries the great majority of alba- nians were Christians, eastern Orthodox or Roman Cath-
Serbs and albanians under Ottoman Rule
olic in the north, predominately eastern Orthodox in the south. Members of the north albanian tribe, Malisori, cele-
brated Saint Nikola’s Day (their pa- tron and protector, just as he is of the Montenegrins). Both could be heard
singing their national ballads, to the accompaniment of the one-string in- strument (gusle). The Malisori would sing about King Marko and Prince Lazar; the Montenegrins would sing about Skan-
derbeg, alias George Castriota.
it is an exceptional case today, but until recently it was
not unusual to see albanians visiting with their Christian friends on Christian holidays, or participating in dancing and feasting (wine and pork avoided), attending weddings and baptism ceremonies. Usually these were the tradition- al inter-family ties of friendship, a legacy from the old days, when the respective families were closely knit, living through periods of harmony or quarrels, but never inimical hostil- ity. These were the days of stable family life, when young men went abroad only to return with money saved, and then continued to live in the manner of their fathers. even today there are young Schipetars (albanians) who remem- ber that their fathers would never begin any project on Tuesday, the day of the Kosovo defeat.
The Monastery of Peć, which was the seat of the Ser- bian patriarch (1346–1556 and 1557–1766), maintained close and friendly relations with the albanians of the rugged area of Rugovo, which provided shelter to Patriarch arsenius iV in 1737, when he had to hide from the pursuing Turks.
 Above on top: Turkish levha in Celi Sulus by Sami Effendi, A.H. 1289/1872 A.D.—Translates: “May God help you in all matters.”
Above: Left to right: Turkish Grand Vizier, Sword-bearer to the Sultan, Ladle-bearer of the Janissaries, hand water-colored engravings, London, 1802, Collection of Basil W. R. jenkins.

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