Sunday, 20 March 2011

Was Turkish rule in the Balkans relatively benign?

A few days ago I quoted an article about Turkey's attempts to re-establish its influence in the Balkans in an attempt to fulfil its cherished fantasy of recreating the Ottoman empire. In this article, the journalist stated as fact that

the historical reality is that the Ottomans were relatively benign rulers in the Balkans, allowing occupied lands to keep their way of life and religion.

But were they really? Consider this extract from The Balkan Peninsula, written in the early 20th century by Jovan Cvijić, in which he describes the effects Ottoman rule had on the non-Muslims, who were forced to live in conditions of dhimmitude:

[they became]…accustomed to belonging to an inferior, servile class, whose duty it is to make themselves acceptable to the master, to humble themselves before him and to please him. These people become close-mouthed, secretive, cunning; they lose all confidence in others; they grow used to hypocrisy and meanness because these are necessary in order for them to live and to avoid violent punishments. The direct influence of oppression and violence is manifested in almost all the Christians as feelings of fear and apprehension. Whenever Moslem brigands or evil-doers made their appearance somewhere, entire districts used to live in terror, often for months on end. There are regions where the Christian population has lived under a reign of fear from birth until death. In certain parts of Macedonia, they don’t tell you how they fought against the Turks or against the Albanians, but rather about the way that they managed to flee from them, or the ruse that they used to escape them. In Macedonia I heard people say: “Even in our dreams we flee from the Turks and the Albanians.” It is true that for about twenty years a certain number of them have regained their composure, but the deep-seated feeling has not changed among the masses of people. Even after the liberation in 1912 one could tell that a large number of Christians had not yet become aware of their new status: fear could still be read on their faces.

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