Macedonia Under the Ottoman Empire
After the Balkan conquests, the Ottoman Empire was divided into large beylerbeylics, or administrative units. The rulers of these provinces, the beylerbeys, were appointed directly by the sultan and the Beylerbeys were the highest local military commanders in the beylerbeylics or pashalics. The Roumelia Beylerbeylic incorporated the territories of the Turkish provinces of Europe; this Pashalic followed normal administrative practice and was further divided into smaller administrative units called sanjaks. In addition, separate division was made of the Pasahlic into kazas; each kaza represented a judicial district for which a qadi or judge was responsible.
The Sanjak of Kyustendil included the Nahiyes (districts) of Kratovo, Shtip, Kochani and Nagorichani (all of the Kaza of Kratovo); Strumica, Tikvesh, Melnik and Lake Doyran (the Kaza of Strumica), and Slavishte and Upper Kresna (from the Kaza of Kyustendil). The Sanjak of Ohrid included most of western Macedonia. In the mid-eleventh century the Sanjak of Skopje was established, encompassing mostly Macedonian territory; the Sanjak of Thessaloniki established shortly earlier included the territories of southern Macedonia. Also in the mid-eleventh century Lerin (Florina) begins to be mentioned as a separate sanjak. The Pasha-sanjak included the Nahiyes of Tetovo, Kichevo, Veles, Prilep, Bitola, Enidje-Vardar, Voden, Berroia, Serfidje, Hrupishta, Kostur, Biglishte, Drama, Serres, Zihna, Nevrokop, Demir Hisar and Siderokapsa.
The conquest of Macedonia by Turks caused ethnic changes in these territories, breaking up the uniformity of Macedonian settlement throughout the region. Some of the Macedonian population were taken captive; others fled Macedonia before the armies of their conquerors. Many inhabited regions in Macedonia became desolate, and in order to rebuild the economy of Macedonia Turkish authorities encouraged the settlement of Turks in the region. Consequently, the first Turkish settlements can be seen in Macedonia soon after the conquest, and rapidly increased in number. In 1460 in the Nahiye of Veles there were five Turkish villages, and 15 within a hundred years. The Moslem population particularly increased in urban centers: in 1455, 551 Moslem and 339 Christian families lived in Skopje, but while in 1519 the number of Christian families had declined to 302, the Moslem families had increased to 717. In Kichevo in 1476 there were 31 Moslem families (increasing to 111 within 50 years), while the 186 Christian families were reduced to 146 during the same period. In Bitola, from 1460 to 1519, the number of Moslem families increased from 295 to 756; while Christian families did increase (due to the expansion of the town), they increased to only 330 from the original 185. Macedonia appeared quite suitable as well for the settlement of Turkic nomads from Asia Minor: Yürüks settled in the regions of Thessaloniki, Nevrokop, Strumica, Radovish, Kochani and Ovche Pole.
In addition to Turkish settlement in Macedonia, following the introduction of the Catholic Inquisition in Spain and Portugal there were mass migrations of Jews to Macedonia, particularly in the late 15th century. Here, they found safe shelter within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The introduction of Jewish entrepreneurs and craftsmen encouraged economic growth in towns where Jews settled: primarily Thessaloniki, but also Bitola, Skopje, Ber, Kostur, Serres, Shtip, Kratovo and Strumica. Towards the middle of the 16th century there were about 3,000 Jewish households in Thessaloniki, and the town was dubbed "the mother-city of Israel." In the 17th century, the Jewish quarter of the town of Skopje possessed its own walls, two synagogues and a number of schools.
In a situation when its ethnic unity was seriously endangered by newcomers who differed in religion and language, the Macedonian people had to violently defend themselves in order to survive the threat of assimilation.
In principle, the Turks were tolerant in respect to national and religious beliefs of subjugated peoples. However, this does not necessarily mean that conflicts or incidents prompted by religious fanaticism did not happen from time to time. In such cases, large numbers of the conquered peoples were converted to Islam. Economic, social and political circumstances had their own effects on prompting conversion. Many noblemen accepted Islam in order to retain their privileges and property. Some of the poor converted as well, to be exempted from the high tributes and taxes leveled on Christians. Towards the middle of the 17th century, Ricko the traveler recorded a number of methods used by the Turks to persuade Christians to convert to Islam: "The greedy were satisfied with money, the vain and ambitious with honors and prospects of high office, the timid and weak with threats and force." The German traveler Aelsier notes compulsory Islamization and states that the Turks kidnapped beautiful women for their sarays (palaces) and that Christians could escape death sentences only by conversion to Islam. In one firman (edict) addressed to the Qadi of Bitola in January 1731, Turkish authorities noted that "some Moslems walk along the streets, beating drums, attacking Christians, taking their children away from them and exerting pressure on the raya (non-Islamic subjects) to convert to Islam, and they can not go freely to church." The Italian traveler and writer Benedetto Ramberti notes an example from 1534, when the eldest of seven brothers converts to Islam in order to avoid paying tribute-if one member of the family changed their religion, the entire family was exempted from the special taxes for the raya.
The Macedonian population resisted Islamization in various ways. From a firman dated June 18, 1785, it can be seen that Hadji Yanaki filed a complaint with the sultan because Bayezid Agha kidnapped Yanaki's daughter, converted her to Islam and made her his wife. Similarly, on September 23, 1763, a group of former convicts came to Thessaloniki and asked the diplomatic representatives in the town's consulates for food, so as not to die from hunger or to be forced to convert to Islam; some of their friends had been driven by hunger to accept Islam.
In this resistance against conversion, a number of martyrs emerged in Macedonia. Jovan Novi from Thessaloniki was killed in Constantinople in the summer of 1514 because of his religious beliefs. On October 1, 1520, Yakov of Kostur and his two disciples Yakov and Dionisiy were executed for refusal to convert. Angel from the village of Florina (Lerin) was publicly beheaded in Bitola in 1750, despite his youth, because he had refused conversion. On August 29, 1794, Spas or Anastas from Radovish was executed in Thessaloniki after refusing to convert. For their refusal of conversion two martyrs from Macedonia have been proclaimed as saints: Georgi of Kratovo and Zlata of Meglen. Georgi was born in Kratovo in 1497. In adolescence, he sought to become a scholar, studying first at his birthplace and then continuing his education in Sofia, where he displayed a great love for books and religion. This did not escape the notice of the Turks, who attempted to convert him to Islam. After refusing them repeatedly, he was jailed. At his trial he was accused of not recognizing Mohammed as a prophet, was subsequently lynched by a group of fanatic Turks and was ultimately thrown into a blazing fire. At his death on February 10, 1550, he was only 18. Owing to this self-sacrifice, Georgi of Kratovo was proclaimed a saint by the Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox Churches.
Zlata of Meglen was born in the village of Slatina near Meglen. She was kidnapped and, after refusing to accept Islam and to marry one of her kidnappers, she was imprisoned for three months. Categorically refusing to change her religion, she was executed on October 13, 1795, O.S. Hung up by the legs and cut into pieces, parts of her body were later taken as relics by Christians. While there is no record of the church formally recognizing her as a saint, her portrait is depicted in a number of Macedonian churches and monasteries, where she is honored as a martyr and saint.
The most common form of resistance against the Ottoman Empire was banditry. It was not confined to Macedonia, but was common to all areas where political and social relations were feudal in nature. Aleksandar Matkovski, author of the first and most comprehensive monograph on this social phenomenon in Macedonia, argues that banditry was not mere criminal activity-but neither should it be exaggerated to be a liberation movement. Rather, banditry was a product of the feudal system and only a continuation of peasant movements which had existed before the coming of the Turks. The first known written document in Macedonia concerning banditry or outlawry is a record dated January 1502, stating that haiduks (outlaws) attacked a merchant caravan composed mainly of men from Dubrovnik. After this attack, ten of the assailants were captured and the Qadi of Shtip ordered that all captured outlaws to be impaled.
Banditry particularly gained strength when the power of the Ottomans was in decline after the mid-16th century. The Timar-Spahi system of feudal landholding estates began to break down, and the discipline of the central authorities grew feeble. A considerable number of peasants joined outlaw bands in response to the violence and lawlessness which was increasingly prevalent. Many of them had witnessed the murder of someone close to them, had a wife or sister raped or kidnapped, or been robbed. With this in mind, it seems logical to conclude that banditry was also a social protest against oppression. "The bad treatment of the Christians by Turkish authorities was the essential reason for their gathering and plundering on the roads", opined one diplomat. The Bitola sydjils (court register) of October 1658 recorded that the Qadi of Bitola ordered Turkish landowners to stop abusing the raya under the pretext that there were outlaws in the village, to not steal money or commit acts would induce the raya villagers join haiduk bands.
Banditry was not limited to Macedonia, nor limited only during the period of Ottoman rule. There had been armed resistance even before the Turks conquered the Balkans; Byzantine laws provided for strict punishments for banditry, and Dushan's Law Code were no less strict. Portraying banditry as merely a form of resistance by Christians against the alien religion and customs of the conqueror would mean a simplified interpretation of a complex series of political and social relations in a multi-national and multi-denominational feudal community. All ethnicities were exploited alike by the failure of Turkish central authority to restrain local feudal lords or efficiently govern the empire. Hence, in some outlaw bands there were Vlachs, Albanians, Turks and members of other ethnic groups. Banditry was a form of protest against the oppressive feudal system and against local feudal lords-including Slavic lords-who robbed the local population.
Risto Poplazarov notes that "the fact itself that outlawry existed and could not be suppressed by state authorities during Ottoman rule in Macedonia is proof that it was an armed struggle with sufficient strength to exist and achieve significant results." Acting first to take vengeance against individual members of the ruling elite, over the course of time outlaws began to direct their activities against the Ottoman government as a whole, acquiring some attributes of a national resistance or liberation movement. Through rebellions in Mariovo, the Karposh uprising and uprising of Ilyo Maleshevski, banditry matured into a national movement aimed at breaking and eradicating existing political structures. Consequently, when resistance against the conqueror developed into an organized national liberation movement in Macedonia, it was not surprising that banditry was assimilated within it or that outlaws became significant figures in the movement itself.
The resistance of outlaws against the Ottomans had a direct influence on strengthening the awareness of the people that an end to Turkish rule could come only through battle. Banditry itself never evolved into a national liberation movement, but it was a phenomenon which helped create the preconditions for the emergence of such movements both in Macedonia and elsewhere in the Balkans.
In 1683 the Turks besieged Vienna. For weeks it was a question simply of when the Austrian capital would fall: then, something unexpected happened. Aided by other European powers, Austria heavily defeated the Turks and its army, led by General Picolomini, advanced deep into the territories of the Ottomans-as far as Skopje. When the Austrian army emerged from Kachanik Gorge and marched on Skopje, Picolomini wrote to Emperor Leopold informing him of his raid deep into the territories of the Ottoman Empire: "In front of us we saw a wide plain in the middle of which the town rested. The pasha was prepared for defense and the situation was dangerous; only strong determination would make a favorable outcome possible. But we were encouraged by the greetings of the inhabitants from the mountain ridges... Then the Turks were in headlong flight. Wary of ambushes, I ordered that the enemy be chased very carefully. That time 200 carts with Christian families were saved and many Turks captured."
The Skopje Stone Bridge Kameniot most vo Skopje
Picolomini entered Skopje on October 26, 1689. The town was abandoned, its inhabitants fleeing the twin dangers of the plague which raged in Skopje and the Austrian advance. One contemporary document gives a personal reflection on the plight of the inhabitants: "We left my brother-in-law Josif Cura who was dying, suffering from plague, with cotton in his mouth, and ran away from fear of the enemy who was coming to Skopje..." The Turkish chronicler Sylahdar records that "All of them, especially the women, abandoned their properties and possessions. They ran away to the nearby mountains on foot, or on horseback and in carts, leaving everything behind them. The majority of them were taken as captives. Many of the old people, men and women, were killed by their children. The careless pasha and his supporters escaped to Serres and Sofia."
The Austrians entered Skopje and, without paying attention to the disease, robbed the lavishly furnished stores and warehouses. Picolomini himself paid a high price for such foolishness: he was infected by the plague and died in Prizren on November 9, 1689. Before dying, however, he first ordered that Skopje be burned to the ground, lacking the troops to garrison it. "I was sorry for the buildings," he informed his emperor, "as I have not seen anything similar during this war. Mosques built of the finest marble and porphyry with thousands of lamps and gilded Korans... magnificent antiquities, gardens and places of entertainment... However, in order to not leave anything of worth to the enemy, and to spread fear and horror... I decided to carry out the following action: at all town corners men with torches were placed. At the signal of three cannon shots flames rushed up and fumes blackened out the sun on October 26 and the following day..."
The raya, deprived of their rights, rose up in northeastern Macedonia (in the region between Kyustendil and Skopje centering around Kriva Palanka). Enraged by intensified banditry in Macedonia, they also at the same time saw the opportunity to take advantage of the chaotic situation in the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, the advance of an Austrian army toward the heartlands of the empire likely induced the population to rise against the conqueror. The uprising began in the second half of September or October 1689-but there is little data available about the exact date.
The rebellion was led by Karposh, an outlaw chieftain. The occupation of Kriva Palanka, until then the strongest Turkish fortification in the region, encouraged the insurgents to greater efforts. They proceeded to occupy and fortify Kumanovo and began moving toward Kyustendil and Skopje. Austrian Emperor Leopold I noted the movements of the Macedonian insurgents, and accepted Karposh as "king of Kumanovo", sending a busby to him as confirmation of this recognition. It can only be hypothesized that the insurgents occupied Kratovo as well and advanced on Skopje. According to the limited data available, the territory held by Karposh's insurgents can be reconstructed as follows: from Kachanik Gorge and Veles to Kyustendil, and from Grdelica Gorge to Shtip. This was the first interruption of Turkish authority in the region, but it lasted for only about six weeks.
At the end of September, the Ottomans decided to stabilize the situation in Macedonia. Commanders were replaced and aid requested from the leader of the Crimean Tartars, Khan Selim Giray. On November 14, 1689, at a conference in Sofia, the decision was made to attack the insurgents. The latter, fearing enemy forces, burned Kriva Palanka and retreated to Kumanovo. The battle before the recently-built Kumanovo fortress was short but violent, ending in the defeat and death of most of the insurgents. The Tartar khan took the captured insurgents from the town, including Karposh-who, according to the chronicles, fought to the last moment-and set out for Skopje. Here Giray entered the city easily, as there were no defenders: the few hundred insurgents in the city had fled as soon as they heard of the defeat at Kumanovo and of the Ottoman armies heading for Skopje.
Devastation was wrought everywhere the Tartars passed. Selim Giray destroyed nearly all that was Christian in the region between Kumanovo and Skopje. With equal violence he carried out mopping up operations in Tetovo, Veles and Mariovo. A large Turkish army from Peloponnesus led by Arnaut (Albanian) Khoja Halil Pasha headed for Skopje from the south. Halil's army was no less brutal towards the local population. The Monastery of Treskavec holds a note dated 1690 which reads: "At that time Halil Pasha with his army destroyed Skopje and Kachanik and cut the Nahyie of Skopje. Then there was great evil and expense." The sultan, satisfied with the success of Halil Pasha and his Arnauts and ignoring the military contributions of the Tartar khan, issued two firmans whereby the Albanian mercenaries were granted land in Skopje and Tetovo regions out of gratitude, as "the legendary and brave beys from your regions have always shown their exceptional self-sacrifice for the fame and honor of the most powerful religion and for my rule." But the violence of Halil Pasha reached a point where the Sublime Porte, in a special firman, ordered him to reduce the severity of his retribution and made "Hassan, the collector of state revenues, bear the full responsibility" for the use of excessive force while collecting taxes.
Karposh, together with about 200 of his comrades-in-arms, was impaled on the Stone Bridge in Skopje; afterwards, the Tartars hacked his body apart with their swords and threw the parts into the Vardar River. This took place in the first days of December 1689.
On April 6, 1690, Leopold I sent an appeal to the Balkan peoples, the Macedonians among them, to rise up again against the Ottomans and to assist the Austrians armies. Twenty days later, the Habsburg emperor issued the "Letter of Protection to the Macedonian People", wherein he referred to the statements of Marko Kranda from Kozhani and Dimitri Georgi Popovich from Thessaloniki, both Macedonians, about "how much the Macedonian people, out of respect for Our most just deed, with eagerness and zeal towards Our service and with serious intent, wish to free themselves from the heavy Turkish yoke and place themselves under Our protection, if Our mercy be extended to it... For that reason," stressed the emperor, "We mercifully accept and receive under Our imperial and royal mercy, in any manner and kind, the above-mentioned Macedonian people, kindly recommending to all Our military commanders not to attack the Macedonian people or cause any difficulties to them, but, in accordance with the forces available, to protect, defend and help them always and under any circumstances."
On May 31, 1690, Leopold I issued another appeal where he extended his protection to the population of Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania and called them to Austrian colors to fight against the Turkish yoke.
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