Kosovo (second part): the Ottoman Empire

(To Guglielmo Maria Barbetta)

In this article we will analyze the main events, for which we do not have numerous reliable sources, which followed the conclusion of the Great Battles of Kosovo, which concluded with the confirmation of Ottoman domination, and we will arrive at 1912, the year which marked the beginning of a series of conflicts known as the “Balkan Wars”.

For five hundred years much of the Balkans were ruled by the Ottoman Turks, acquiring the name Rumelia. During this period, the peninsula was divided into numerous administrative districts, called sanjak ("flags" or districts), each governed by a sanjakbey ("lord of the district") who acted on certain portions of territory.

Thanks to religious tolerance, large numbers of Christians continued to live and sometimes prosper under the Ottomans. The process of Islamization began shortly after the beginning of Ottoman rule but took a considerable period of time, lasting more than a century, and was first concentrated in cities and urban areas. Many ethnic Albanian Christian inhabitants converted directly to Islam, thus avoiding paying taxes and incurring damages or disadvantages due to their belief. To a large extent the reasons for the conversion were probably economic and social, since Muslims enjoyed much greater rights and privileges than the Christian population.

Christian religious life continued to exist, however, and the Ottomans allowed several churches to be maintained. It should be noted, however, that the Serbian Orthodox and Albanian Catholic churches, and all their congregations, suffered a very high level of taxation.

Towards the XNUMXth century, there was a growing increase in the Albanian population initially concentrated in Metohija. This was probably the result of migrations coming from the south-west (i.e. present-day Albania), with which the emigrants brought Islam to Christian lands.

There is certain evidence of numerous migrations and it is also clear that a fair number of Slavs, presumably members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, converted to Islam under Ottoman rule.

In 1689, Kosovo was seriously involved in the Great Turkish War (1683-1699), one of the epochal events of Serbian national mythology. In October of that year, a small Austrian force, led by Margrave Ludwig I of Baden, breached the Ottoman Empire and reached far enough to reach Kosovo, following the conquest of Belgrade.

Many Serbs and Albanians swore loyalty to the Habsburg Empire, with some of these joining Ludwig's army led by the Albanian Catholic bishop Pietro Bogdano. This did not happen without a general reaction; numerous other Serbs and Albanians fought on the Ottoman side to resist the Austrian advance. A massive Ottoman counter-offensive the following summer forced the Austrians to retreat to their fortress of Niš, then to that of Belgrade and finally, crossing the Danube, into Austria itself.

The Ottoman offensive was accompanied by reprisals and raids, causing numerous Serbs to flee together with the Austrians. This event has been immortalized in Serbian history as the Velika Seoba i.e. the "Great Migration".

It is traditionally said that there was such a vast exodus, consisting of hundreds of thousands of Serb refugees from Kosovo and Serbia, that it left a void only later filled by a flow of Albanian immigrants.

Starting from the Napoleonic era, the Ottoman Empire was torn by a profound internal crisis and headed towards a period of decline. Serbia, also supported by the Russian Empire, obtained its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire with two revolutions: the first in 1804 (led by Đorđe Petrović1) and the second in 1815 (with Miloš Obrenović2). Thus a semi-independent Principality of Serbia was structured (1815), although Turkish troops continued to garrison the capital, Belgrade, until 1867.

In 1871 many Serbs gathered in Prizren hoping for the restoration of an "Old Serbia" by the Principality of Serbia. The Serbo-Turkish wars of 1876-1877 (following Bosnia's revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1875) and the Russian-Turkish wars of 1877-1878 led to the full independence of Serbia, which also obtained civilian control of the cities at the Congress of Berlin Kosovars of Priština and Kosovska Mitrovica.

The Principality (kneževina) of Serbia obtained international recognition of its independence, granted by the Ottomans with the Peace of San Stefano in 1878, together with neighboring Montenegro, and became the Kingdom of Serbia starting from 1882.

Following these conflicts, many Albanian refugees from the territories conquered by Serbia settled in Kosovo.

Fearing that the Congress of Berlin would lead to a fragmentation of the territories inhabited by Albanians between Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria, the League of Prizren was founded three days before it, with the support of the Sultan himself3.

The purpose of the League was to resist Ottoman rule and especially incursions from the recently established Balkan nations. The Albanians soon transformed the League into a national movement and later, in 1881, into a government for all Albanians, regardless of religious differences, under the command of Ymer Prizreni, assisted by Abdyl Frashëri4 and Sulejman Vokshi. Under pressure from the European powers, from 1881 the Ottoman Empire opposed the League, and the provisional government was defeated in 1884 only three years after its foundation5.

In 1899 another Albanian league was founded, the League of Peja, led by Haxhi Zeka, already a member of the League of Prizren, with a similar program: the creation of a vilayet Albanian language6 autonomous. The league was defeated the following year by Ottoman forces, and Zeka was assassinated by a Serbian agent in 1902, with the implicit support of the Ottoman government.

Albanians supported the Young Turk movement at the start of the XNUMXth century, hoping for greater autonomy and the use of Albanian in administration and education7.

In 1908, 20.000 armed Albanian peasants gathered in Uroševac8 to prevent any type of foreign intervention; their leaders, Bajram Curri and Isa Boletini, asked the sultan to promulgate a constitution and open a parliament.

The victory of the Young Turks did not, however, bring any benefit to the Albanians.

An Albanian revolt broke out in Kosovo in 1909 and was soon repressed. The change in power in Istanbul made the situation even worse, with a new armed insurrection against the Ottomans in April 1910, led by Idriz Seferi and Isa Boletini, which resisted for several months before having to withdraw.

The Ottoman Sultan visited Kosovo in June 1911, during peace talks that affected all the inhabitants of the Albanian regions9.

A further Albanian rebellion in 1912 was the pretext for starting the First Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire. At its end, three Kosovar districts (Zvečan, Kosovo and southern Metohija) were incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbia, while the region of Metohija (Dukagjini) was annexed to Montenegro.

Read: "Kosovo (part one): a history spanning millennia"

Read: "Kosovo (third part): the Balkan Wars (1912-1913)"

Read: "Kosovo (fourth part): the First World War and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia"

Read: "Kosovo (fifth part): Socialist Yugoslavia and the Pristina Spring"

Read: "Kosovo (sixth part): towards conflict"

1 Known as Karađorđe, he was a Serbian soldier and leader of the Serbian uprising against the Turks. The pseudonym Karadjordje he was created by the Turks who called him "Kara Yorgi", George the Black, because of the fear he inspired due to his ruthlessness.

2 Prince of Serbia between 1815 and 1839 and between 1858 and 1860.

3 H. Myzyri, "Kreu VIII: Lidhja Shqiptare e Prizrenit (1878-1881)," Historia e popullit shqiptar: për shkollat ​​e mesme (Libri Shkollor: Prishtinë, 2002), pp. 149-172

4 Albanian-Ottoman politician, diplomat and writer. He was a leading figure of the Rilindja Kombëtare, the Albanian Risorgimento, becoming the initiator of the League of Prizren.

5 H. Myzyri, “Kreu VIII: Lidhja Shqiptare e Prizrenit (1878–1881),” Historia e popullit shqiptar: për shkollat ​​e mesme (Libri Shkollor: Prishtinë, 2002), pp. 182-185

6 Administrative subdivision of the late Ottoman Empire.

7 H. Myzyri, "Lëvizja kombëtare shqiptare dhe turqit e rinj," Historia e popullit shqiptar: për shkollat ​​e mesme (Libri Shkollor: Prishtinë, 2002), p. 191

8 City of Kosovo

9 H. Myzyri, "Kryengritjet shqiptare të viteve 1909-1911," Historia e popullit shqiptar: për shkollat ​​e mesme (Libri Shkollor: Prishtinë, 2002), pp. 195-198

Photo: web