and Metohija Under the Turkish Rule
Following the massive attacks of Conqueror Sultan Medmed II's troops, the Serbian states, one by one, came under Turkish rule, after the take-over of Carigrad in 1453. After the collapse of despotism (1469), the Kingdom of Bosnia (1463), and Hercegovina (1481), all Serbian lands, with the exception of Montenegro, which, shielded by impassable mountains, was able to hold off the Turks until 1492, found themselves under Turkish rule. The Serbian nobility which had migrated to southern Hungary, continued its fight for the re-establishment of despotism in the following decades, until, along with the Hungarian mobility, it, too, came under the Turks. The remainder of what was left of the feudal lords eventually converted to Islam in order to remain in possession of their estates. With the exception of the Church, which had managed to retain certain privileges during the first centuries under Turkish rule, the whole social hierarchy of the medieval Serbian state disintegrated forever in Kosovo and Metohija.
Kosovo and Metohija, the central regions of the one-time state under the Nemanjic dynasty, had been occupied by Mehmed II before the fall of despotism. The Sultan had begun his campaign against Serbia with the attack on Novo Brdo, a rich mining town in Kosovo. In June 1455, the town was destroyed by a dreadful cannonade of Turkish artillery. The Sultan killed the town aristocracy, recruited 320 young men into janissary lines (janicari), and took 700 of the most beautiful women, and divided them among his soldiers as a prize. Shortly afterwards, the towns ofLipljan, Pri-ren, PriStina and Trepca were conquered as well.
The sultan divided
Kosovo and Metohija into administrative units, sanjaks (Turkish: "flags").
According to some accounts, numerous depradations with populations,
massacred whole towns moved into Anadolia, and towns and mines destroyed
left behind a sad, deserted sight. The taxes the peasantry paid to the
Turks at the beginning of their rule were not much higher than those
they had paid under the Serbian state; however, in time, the imposed
taxes increased both in number and amount. The constant change in rule
over the estates which were held by landowners (they could not be sold,
or left to future generations), added to the worsening of the peasants'
position. The landowners raised the taxes as time went by: instead of
a tenth of an income, they asked for a ninth, then an eighth, and, in
certain places, even up to half of the total income of these folk. Next
to follow was "work-without pay (kuluk), duties paid in the form
of food and material, contributions for the army in times of war and
otherwise, lodging services... etc.
Reaching past the
borders of Austria and the Republic of Venice, almost all Serbian lands
found themselves spiritually united under the jurisdiction of the re-established
patriarchate. Through the efforts of the patriarchs in Pec, the Orthodox
religion, with the cult of St. Sava at its centre, became the faith
of the people, the embodiment of the historical and national tradition
of the Serbs, in which was merged the whole of the spiritual heritage
of this people. The Church became the vehicle for Serbian national ideology.
The re-establishment of the patriarchate marked the revival of the spiritual
life of the Serbian people. The regions of Kosovo and Metohija, abounding
in monasteries and churches, once again became the center of Serbian
national events. The highest of church dignitaries attended the conferences
and councils organized by the patriarch in Pec. In the endowments of
the sacred Nemanjic dynasty and their nobility, especially in Decani,
Gracanica and the patriarchate, cultural art centers were revived. Learned
monks copied old, as well as compiled, new hagiographies of Serbian
saints. They also wrote and illuminated religious books. Painters worked
on icons, while native masters painted new churches and parishes which
had been added on to old monasteries. One of the first printing presses
in the Balkans was set in motion in Gracanica. In 1641, the patriarch
Paisius (1614-1647), originally from Janjevo in Kosovo, wrote the biography
of Tzar Uros, the last of the Nemanjic dynasty.
The great migration
of the Serbs into Austria in 1690 caused a significant demographic disturbance
in Kosovo and Metohija. The Serbian people suffered greatly in the devastations
which followed. The settlement of the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija
was to put their survival through even more trials. Until 1690, the
Albanians, mainly those of the Catholic faith, comprised an insignificant
part of the population. After the great migration of the Serbs, the
Port began to encourage their settlement, fearing new movements by the
Christian Serbs. The Port permitted the coming down of Catholic tribes
into the flatlands of Kosovo under the condition that they converted
to Islam. Already Islamized, the Albanians slowly^ cleared more space
for settlement through use of force, theft, and constant devastation.
The positions they occupied in the system of the Turkish state rose
along with this. After the second migration of the Serbs in 1737, Albanians
of the Muslim faith in Kosovo and Metohija, became the keepers of law
and order. The Roman curia supported the strengthening of Catholic Albanian
settlements in Metohija as well. Mainly of Albanian nationality, Catholic
bishops from Skopje helped in the settlement of their fellow tribesmen
and encouraged them in their attacks on the Serbian Orthodox population.
At the beginning
of the 19th century, the Serbs in Kosovo lived under extremely unfavorable
circumstances. From Egypt to Janjina, and from Skadar to Vidin, the
rule of the independent pashas slowly undermined the foundations of
the Turkish state. It was again the Serbs who suffered most in the anarchy
Turkish rule in Kosovo and Metohija had caused. Whole Serbian villages
were mercilessly destroyed by the Albanian feudal lords, who insisted
on Islamization, and who turned the few independent landowners into
serfs (cifcije). The evacuation and utter extermination of whole Serbian
villages at the time the Serbian state was undergoing revival in northern
Serbia, resulted in migrations to neighboring parts, especially to Serbia,
only to gain even more in intensity and dimension.
Unable to help its fellow countrymen politically, and protect them from the attacks of the Albanians and Turks, around the 30's of the 19th century, during the reign of Prince Milo§ Obrenovic, the principality of Serbia began giving financial support to the Serbian population in Kosovo. Those in circles of authority in Serbia did not remain indifferent to the outcries of the victims in Kosovo. Money for the reconstruction of monasteries and the building of schools was sent secretly through the monks and merchants; from the 50's, financial aid became constant, and increased in amount. In 1871, a theological seminary, which becames the center of religious and national happenings, was founded in Prizren by the merchant Sima Andrejevic Igumanov, who had acquired his fortune in Russia, through trade. Sava Decanac, a monk from the Monastery of Decani, was its first rector. Serbs from all parts of the Turkish Empire were educated at this seminary. In it were bred priests and teachers who kept up, as well as strengthened, national consciousness among the discouraged and disheartened people. The religious and educational activities of the people there were conducted through the seminaiy, which was under the direct supervision of the Serbian government.
The Great Eastern Crisis (1875-1878), was an important turning point in the lives of the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. From being a distant Turkish province in which attacks upon Christians had become an everyday thing, to which Europe had remained indifferent, Kosovo and Metohija suddenly become the focal point of the conflicting interests of the Great Powers and the Balkan states. From 1878 to 1912, possession of the territory of Kosovo and Metohija meant havings dominance on the Balkans.
In the war between
Serbia and Turkey, in 1877-1878, the advance guards of the Serbian army
managed to push through to Kosovo, liberate Gnjilane, and take Communion
in the Monastery of Gracanica near Pristina. A special liturgy was held
in the monastery in honor of the liberation, while a commemorative service
was given in tribute to the heroes of the Battle of Kosovo. However,
the celebration of the Serbs in Kosovo lasted but a few days. According
to the agreements laid down in the armistice between the Russians and
Turks, the Serbian units had to evacuate Kosovo. In 1877, approximately
30,000 Albanians retreated before the Serbian army which had liberated
southern Serbia (Nis, Leskovac, Prokuplje, Vranje) and immediately began
their revenge upon the Serbs living there. The Albanian Legion (1878-1881)
was formed under the protection of the High Porta, prior to the beginning
of the Berlin congress. Its purpose was to invalidate the war conquests
of Serbia and Montenegro, to preserve the Turkish territory as a whole,
and to present the demands of the Albanian National Movement before
the European council. Being of explicit anti-Serbian orientation, the
Legion started up a new wave of terror upon the innocent population,
which, from individual acts of assault, grew into a movement for the
extermination of the Serbs in Kosovo, Metohija, and neighboring areas.
The Serbs become the main obstacle to further Albanian population expansion,
as well as in the increase of feudal privileges enjoyed by their tribal
heads. As a result of murder, and various other forms of pressure (blackmail,
high taxation and fines, kidnapping of women, conversion of children
into Turks, usurpation of estates), the emigrational flow moved towards
the borders of free Serbia. From 1878 to 1912, around 150,000 Serbs
from Kosovo, Metohija, and neighboring parts, found refuge in Serbia.
The position of the Serbian population was becoming progressively worse.
Around the middle of the 80's, a Turkish-Albanian coalition was formed
under the guidance of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Proclaiming pan Islamism
as his principle guideline, "the bloody sultan" introduced
his policy of giving in to the Albanians, who become his main weapon
in the suppression of all Christian movements in Europe. Having become
fanatics through pan Islamic agitation, the Albanians identified themselves,
more and more, with the interests of the Turkish Empire. Acting as a
human rampart in protecting the interests of the Islamic Empire against
the territorial aspirations of neighboring Christian states, the Albanians
were given the right to freely attack the Serbs, taking away their lands,
cattle, and women. The murders, thefts, and blackmail reached such proportions
that even the representatives of the Turkish law began to shudder at
all the anarchy. Serbia attempted organizing a movement for the protection
of the Serbian population, on several occasions at Port, but all her
efforts, unsupported by the great powers, ended in failure.
The unchecked anarchy
in Kosovo, together with the terrorizing and genocide of the Serbian
population, lasted, continuously, until 1912, when Albanians rebelling
against the Young Turks, accelerated the forming of the Balkan Alliance.
Realizing that a complete annihilation of the Serbian nation was imminent
under Turkish rule, Serbia and Montenegro decided, along with Bulgaria
and Greece, to make the decisive move. In the fall of 1912, in the war
proclaimed against Turkey, the Serbian army, whole-heartedly encouraged
by the belief that they were fulfilling "the pledge guiding all
Serbs" - to free Kosovo, managed to crush the resistance of the
Albanians and liberated Pritina, Prizren, and other cities of Kosovo,
within only a few days. The Montenegrin army took over Metohija, together
with Djakovica and Pec. The liberators were welcomed in Pec with the
following words: 'You came at the last minute. If the war had been postponed
for another few years, Serbs would have ceased to exist in these parts."