Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Quotes: Turkish occupation of Bulgaria

From Defenders of the Faith by James Reston Jr. (pages 174-175):

In the early decades of the Turkish occupation of Bulgaria, Turkish rule had been harsh. Towns were sacked. Vast numbers of Christians fled, their towns resettled by Turks. The Christians who remained were subjected to a heavy "capitation" tax. The Christian families of Bulgaria became a rich source for the enslavement of janissaries [soldiers], the flower of Balkan youth who were seized from their families between the ages of ten and twelve, sent to Constantinople for training, and were now returning to their native land as an invading force. As the janissaries provided the Ottomans with first-rate soldiers, so their recruitment undermined the ability of annexed territory to resist. The Ottomans replaced the feudal system with their own administration, dividing the country into sanjaks or districts, to be ruled by a commander or beyleybey in Sophia. Many nobles had converted to Islam and were rewarded for it with fiefdoms. Most Bosnians converted as well.

But after the initial suppression and reorganization of Bulgaria, the lot of the subject peoples, especially the peasantry, improved under Ottoman rule. Aside from the brutal enslavement of janissaries, Christians were not required to perform military service. Aside from voluntary and self-serving conversions, no systematic effort at enforced conversion to Islam was undertaken. Aside from the capitation tax, Christian churches were permitted to function as before. Commerce thrived as the Ottomans built new roads.