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Contemporary Jihadism and Remembrance of Bulgaria's Islamic Past - Lessons from Bistra Tsvetkova

The first of two recent reports by the invaluable Ned May at Gates of Vienna highlights the resurgent jihadism in the former Ottoman Muslim colony of Bulgaria. Given the predictably self-loathing reaction of Bulgaria’s prototypical Leftist media, it is well past overdue for such uninformed ignorami to understand what the yoke of the Sharia inflicted upon their noble ancestors, invoking Santayana, ad nauseum…

Murad-I_Ottoman_Congueror_of_Sofia_1385_ADBistra Tsvetkova [Cvetkova] (1926-1982) was a Bulgarian-born scholar who studied in Sofia, Cairo, and Paris, before obtaining her PhD from Leningrad University in 1972. Her doctoral thesis analyzed the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans during the early fifteenth century. Dr. Tesvetkova became a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in 1952, and a professor at Sofia University, and concurrently, director of the Commission on Ottoman-Turkish source materials, in 1972. The Universite de Strasbourg conferred upon her an honorary degree in 1981. Tsvetkova’s major work, Les Institutions Ottomanes en Europe was published in 1978. Not long after a horrific traffic accident, during which her husband was instantly killed, and she was seriously injured, Dr. Tsvetkova committed suicide, August 16, 1982.

Here are the conclusions from her Russian essay, which translates, “Religious and ethnic discrimination in Bulgaria during the period of Turkish rule,”:

The Ottoman feudal aristocracy purposely encouraged the religious fanaticism of the Muslims, and the hatred of the Muslims towards the non-Muslim reaya [raya; “dhimmis”]. By these means the ruling class intended to distract the Turkish peasantry from the ever-increasing social antagonism within the state, and to prevent them from recognizing their true class enemies and originators of their oppression and exploitation.

Ethnic and religious discrimination, inexorably linked with the burdensome regime of feudal exploitation and political oppression, stalled the development of the Bulgarian people for centuries. This discrimination, which doomed the non-Muslim reaya to enduring insults and attacks on their dignity as human beings, their life, and their personal and familial honor, also limited religious freedom and threatened coercive Islamization, and tightened the yoke of Turkish feudal oppression. Yet, over centuries, the Bulgarian people stubbornly and courageously resisted this regime of discrimination and oppression, and despite attempts at enforced assimilation, managed to preserve its national identity and culture.

Tsvetkova’s analysis of the movement to liberate Bulgarians from Ottoman-imposed dhimmitude, the  so-called haiduk movement [“The Bulgarian Haiduk Movement in the 15th-18th Centuries" in East Central European Society and War in the Pre-Revolutionary Eighteenth Century, edited by G.E. Rothenberg, B.K. Kiraly, and P.F. Sugar, 1982.], included these observations, from pp. 327-28:

…[T]he haiduk movement and the spontaneous outbursts of the rayah (dhimmi Christians) were a manifestation of the subjugated Bulgarians’ national self-awareness as well as their implacable opposition to the system their oppressors had installed. Even in the scant information in official documents, the distinctiveness the Bulgarians felt comes through in the references to their clothing and appearance, both provocative to the Turks. As one element of Ottoman religious and national discrimination, the non-Muslim rayah was forbidden to wear bright or striking garments; flouting this convention would be seen as rebelliousness. Thus the Turks testifying against the haiduk, Voivode Chavdar of Sopotnica near Bitola, did not fail to mention that he wore a red cloak and feathers in his cap.

The translation of Tsvetkova’s “Religious and ethnic discrimination in Bulgaria during the period of Turkish rule,” is presented in full, below:

The consolidation of the Ottoman institutions and authorities in the Bulgarian territories at the end of the fourteenth century established an onerous regime of ethnic and religious discrimination towards the conquered non-Muslim population. This discrimination was accompanied by ever-increasing manifestations of feudal exploitation and political oppression. For almost five centuries of the Turkish rule, this regime of discrimination stalled and stifled development of the Bulgarian people, depriving it of the opportunity to lead a normal human existence.

The religious intolerance advocated by Islamic scholars, and theories proclaiming the superiority of the Muslims over the subjugated populace were adopted and maintained by the Turkish feudal aristocracy. The latter used the reactionary dogmas of the official Ottoman ideology to throttle class conflict within the Turkish state, and to distract the Turkish peasants from the existing acute social antagonisms. Furthermore, religious and ethnic discrimination was the means by which the Turkish feudal authorities controlled the population of conquered states.

Throughout the period of Turkish rule in Bulgaria the brutal regime of discrimination manifested itself daily. This regime particularly intensified the feudal exploitation of non-Muslim peoples and was reflected in the differences in the taxation system for the defeated infidels. It must be said that feudal oppression and exploitation was also suffered by the Muslim peasants, who were also dependents of the Turkish state and landed nobility. As opposed to their Turkish counterparts, however, the non-Muslim population was subject to a multitude of taxes, which the Muslim peasants were not obliged to pay. For example all non-Muslim men aged between 15 and 75 had to pay, cizye[i], a humiliating poll tax. These taxes underscored the difference between the subjugated population and their masters and conquerors.

In the Ottoman Empire in general, and in Bulgaria in particular, certain taxes were collected to a greater extent from the non-Muslim reaya[ii], than the Muslim one. A series of sources state that whilst the Muslim dependent population had to pay 22 Akce[iii] per farm for resm-i cift, a land tax, the non-Muslim population, and specifically the Bulgarian reaya, was forced to pay 25 Akce per household for ispence[iv], an identical tax under a different name. The very name ispence suggests that the Turkish administration was, even in fiscal nomenclature, trying to emphasise the smaller tax burden of the Muslim population in comparison to the non-Muslim one. The tax discrimination towards the non-Muslim, and specifically, the Bulgarian dependent population enabled the Turkish landed nobility and central financial management institutions to deprive the non-Muslim reaya not only of the surplus, but also of the products of its labor necessary for subsistence.

Together with their extensive retinues, members of the Turkish feudal aristocracy and its fiscal agents would eat out at the houses of Bulgarian peasants or poor city dwellers, rob them, take their cattle, and consign them to a life of utter poverty. Hundreds of Turkish documents and observations made by foreigners attest to the fact that ethnic and religious discrimination made the already heavy burden of feudal exploitation almost impossible bear for the Bulgarian people. For example, the traveler H. Dernschwam, noting the fertility of Bulgarian soil and the industry of the Bulgarian people, points out that “If the Turks did not rip them off as they do, they would be a rich people. Where they live alongside Turks, however, the Bulgarians have nothing”[v]. From a record of a trial of the Sofia kadi from July 21 1550 we discover that Bulgarian peasants from the village of Gubislav, in the okolia (district) of Sofia, complained that their sipahi took their tithe in money and not in kind, took a larger ispence than was lawful, made them work for him for five days a year, and also to deliver him firewood on their own carts.[vi]

The tax discrimination in the Bulgarian lands that manifested itself in a variety of forms of fiscal abuse throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, became particularly severe from the end of the 1500s as a result of a continued development of feudal relations. Thus, in his 1595 report for the Transylvanian landowner Sigismund Bathory, P.Djordjic notes that “the Christians are oppressed by their extreme poverty, caused by the heavy taxation and the coercion of the Janissaries and the sipahi who take from them, the most necessary of their personal possessions”[vii]. In his report to Rudolph II, the Austrian Emperor, P.Djordjic writes that the Turks dispossess the Christians of Bulgaria of “wine, grain, and anything else that comes their way… Where before they took 60 Akce from each person when I was in Bulgaria three years ago, now they take four and five hundred Akce, and I hear that they are now starting to take 800 and 1000 Akce[viii]. The cizye tax, which was between 40 and 50 Akce prior to 1582, grew to 700-800 in the first half of the 17th century[ix]. Furthermore, from 1691 this tax was not collected from a household, but from each person individually[x]. According to Selaniki, the cizye-paying Bulgarians became subject to a slew of new taxes: a tax on wine (bedel-I hamr), a surcharge on the new poll tax (ziyade-I cizye-I cedid) and an additional tax for the ascension of the new Sultan (ziyade-I culus-I humayun). Together, they added up to 300 Akce[xi]. In a 1717 letter, Lady Montague writes that the Turkish Pashas, having traveled the provinces with a sizeable retinue, and taken whatever they wanted to satisfy their appetites, then “have the audacity to demand what they call a “teeth tax” from the poor peasants”. This tax is a compensation for the blunting of the teeth that may have resulted from consuming the peasants’ produce[xii]. The German traveller Niebuhr, who passed through the Bulgarian lands in 1761 tells of the behaviour of the Aga who accompanied him. Niebuhr writes “Throughout the journey, my Aga and his retinue stayed exclusively at the houses of the Christians, even if the population of the village was predominantly Muslim. The poor Christian peasants had to provide sheep and chickens, in short, all of the foodstuffs, for free, or in return for a very small payment, if they did not wish to be beaten”[xiii].

In was in the 19th century that the fiscal discrimination towards non-Christians in Bulgaria, mostly ethnic Bulgarians, reached its peak. Reports from this are not just exclusively available from Turkish sources[xiv].  Alot of information on the subject is to be found in the reports of European ambassadors and travelers and certain Bulgarian sources. We can find such information in the report made by Alexander Eksarh for the grand vizier Reshid Pasha. The report says that when the bylykbashi and beglikci arrived at the villages, they demanded to be given the best houses with the prettiest and the merriest women. Their horses were to be fed by the owners twice a day, whilst they themselves would be given banitsa, wine, vodka, and all kinds of food. Additionally, they demanded that the most beautiful woman would serve them and “and wait on them, with her arms crossed, whilst they sat at the table”[xv]. In one appeal to the Russian Emperor, dated September 1850 and signed by over a thousand people, the facts of severe discrimination against the Bulgarian people are vividly described. Amongst other tings, the document notes: “We, the poor, pay the taxes and the harac [poll tax] even for the dead for three years [after their death]. When the dead man is crossed out from the official list, the khatib [scribe] takes a ram, and, despite all this, the village is still obliged to pay. When a Christian dies, a kismet paraci [burial tax] is taken, and depending on the wealth of the dead man- this can be 50 Akce from a poor man, and 1000 Akce from a rich man- and besides, his property is sequestrated. Until the kismet paraci is paid, the Christian is not allowed to be buried. Even for one Turk we have to cook enough food to feed five. Yet, if he cannot eat all the food, he feeds it to his hunting dogs”[xvi]. The noteworthy Bulgarian Nayden Gerov, who was then the Russian vice-consul, describes in detail the abuses of the reaya by the kyrserdar, multezim and the zaitiah. “When  inspecting a certain district, the bylykbashi, same as the kyrserdar and their retinues and horses live on the free food provided by the villagers… Occasionally, they take their friends with them when going to the village, to party with them, to entertain them at the expense of the locals.

The villagers take turns to accommodate these spongers, but they are not always happy with the allocated homes, and they forcefully stay in the best houses, making the hosts dine them as best they can. For this reason, the locals avoid building good or comfortable houses.”[xvii]

The heavy tax burden and abuses extended to the Muslims, but they were less cruel and humiliating than those meted out to the religiously and ethnically discriminated-against populations of the non-Muslim quarters in towns and villages.

Ethnic and religious discrimination, with its many humiliating limitations, cast a terrible shadow over the everyday existence of the Bulgarian people. The powerless subject was supposed to convey his inferior status with every gesture, and even his appearance. The disdain and religious intolerance shown towards him by the Ottoman subjugators was underlined by the insulting nickname “kafir” (infidel). Karl Marx described very vividly the affront to the dignity of the non-Muslim population, resulting from the religious discrimination. Only a Muslim “has the right to carry weapons, and the most high-placed Christian has to make way for the lowest-placed Muslim”[xviii]. According to the shariah law, followed by the Ottoman feudal aristocracy, the non-Muslims were not allowed to wear colourful or luxuriant clothes, and generally to dress like Muslims. These instructions were followed in the Bulgarian lands.

The following is contained in the order from the Sultan to the Istanbul kadi dated March 25, 1631: “In accordance with the demands of religion, the shariah and the law state that the kafirs must be humiliated and insulted through their clothing and conduct; they should not be allowed to ride on horseback, wear sable coats or hats, wear European-style or satin clothing, and their wives should not walk around exhibiting the manners and habits of the Muslim [women]”[xix] A similar order was sent to the Istanbul kadi in 1757. It also emphasizes that Christians and Jews should behave and dress in a way that conveys their lower social status.[xx] Much later in 1836-8 the French traveller A. Boue noted that in Turkey “there are still laws that restrict the luxuriousness of clothes…” He continues “The reaya[xxi] makes way when he runs into a Turk, and even dismounts until the Turk passes him… The reaya does not greet the Turk first… The Turk takes the greeting as an insult, since he knows that the Christian hates him, and only greets him when he is forced to”[xxii]. The Englishman W. Eton wrote in 1798: “The insulting segregation between Muslims and Jews is such that even the smallest details of clothing have become subject to restrictions. A Christian may wear only dark clothing and headwear, shoes made of black leather, and he must paint his house umber or black”[xxiii].

The discrimination created the conditions for attempts on the lives of non-Muslims, and also their personal and family honor. Hundreds of documents from the era of Turkish rule reveal a series of harrowing facts of abuse and victimisation of the Bulgarian people, perpetrated by the Turkish on the basis of religious and ethnic discrimination. It is reported that in 1589 the Muslim population of Bitoli complained that the non-Muslims that lived next to the Mahmoud Celebi Mosque distracted them from their prayers with “their indecent behaviour”. On the basis of this unsubstantiated allegation the Turkish authorities ruled that all the Bulgarian dwellings around the Mosque were to be sold to Muslims, thus removing the “kafirs” from the vicinity of the mosque[xxiv]. Legally, it was during the Tanzimat, as far back as 1839 that all the citizens of the Empire were officially guaranteed inviolability of person, property and dignity, regardless of religious inclination by the Hatti-i Sharif of Gulhane. In actual fact, the discrimination towards the non-Muslim reaya and the threat to the non-Muslims’ lives, property and dignity were not removed. Describing instances of severe discrimination Boue adds “Despite the Hatti-I Sharif, the Turks continue to oppress the reaya everywhere”.

The complaint of the Bulgarians from the Pleven okolia received by Alexandr Eksarh, many affronts to the dignity and attempts on the lives of Bulgarians are detailed. It reads “[The Turks] assaulted and robbed a man from the village of Petarnitsa… They slaughtered and robbed a family from the city of Lukovit. Whist travelling around the villages and staying at Bulgarian houses, the Turks demand chickens, banitsa, baklava, halvah, and girls and young women to serve them vodka and wine… A  man was stabbed to death in the village of Deventsi… A man from the city of Teteven was slaughtered and robbed outside the village of Cherven Breg… Six millers were massacred at their mills”[xxv]. The polish émigré Michal Czaikowsky (Sadyk Pasha) who converted to Islam, tells of the misdemeanours of Ibrahim Pasha from the city of Silistra “Ibrahim Pasha, and his retinue, particularly when he was drunk, entertained themselves by riding Bulgarians through the streets of Silistra, whipping and spurring them. He enjoyed this barbaric form of entertainment that he staged it for all the officials, agas and dervishes that came to pass through Selistra…”[xxvi]

The Ottoman rulers would not even leave the dead alone. Thus, for example, one of the documents from 1695 states that the kadis of Vidin did not allow the Bulgarian population of the city and the okolii under their jurisdiction to bury their dead until a due was paid. Consequently, the dead often remained unburied for three or four days.[xxvii]

Heavy restrictions on religious freedoms meant that the Bulgarians were forbidden from building churches and openly performing religious rituals. Brought up as fundamentalists, the representatives often acted disrespectfully towards the Christian churches, often converting them into Mosques. (for example, the Sofia  churches of St. George and St. Sofia)[xxviii]. The Turkish authorities officially forbade the construction of large and beautiful churches, particularly next to mosques. The Christian prayer houses were not meant to stand out in any way, and were very often built underground. A range of Turkish documents from various periods of Ottoman rule show that the Turkish officials ordered the demolition of Christian churches without hesitation. Thus, one such order from September 30, 1613 the kadis of the Ohrid sanjak are firmly instructed to demolish all churches built without permission, with the exception of those that were damaged during the Turkish invasion and later rebuilt in the same way.[xxix] On August 13, 1624 the Plovdiv kadi was ordered to demolish a new church in Stanimake, of the Asenovgrad okolia as being large and fortified, it could become a shelter for insurgents[xxx]. In a firman from December 20-29, 1693 the kadi of Balchik and Silistra was instructed to destroy the rebuilt church in the Kavarna village of the Balchik District. The church was built in place of another one, which was also destroyed because it was next to a Turkish mosque.[xxxi] W.Eton also stresses that “Christians can neither build new churches, nor can they renovate old ones without [paying] large sums of money”[xxxii]. The victimisation of Christian monks and churchmen was also commonplace in Bulgaria. So, we discover from a firman to the bey of Kyustendil and the kadi of Dupnitsa we discover that as far back as 1493, the monks at the monastery of Rila complained about the behaviour of certain local sipahi and other officials, who, when visiting the monastery, would demand free food and wine. “Apart from this, the unwelcome guests ran riot, and committed various abuses and misdemeanours towards the monks”[xxxiii] A different firman from the Sultan, dated 1595, to the kadis of Samokov and Dupnitsa we discover of the murder of two monks from the Azarnovch Monastery[xxxiv]. The communications of Catholic churchmen in Bulgaria also contain a litany of testaments of abuse by the representatives of the Turkish authorities.[xxxv]

The Bulgarians could not hope for a fair punishment for the criminals, and could not rely on the intercessions of the Turkish administration. Without a doubt the Turkish dependents also suffered from the shariah courts, which safeguarded the mastery and privileges of the Ottoman landed elite. Yet this court was particularly biased towards the non-Muslims, and often ruled in favor of Muslims on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. Telling evidence of this is contained in the copy of a notification of the Vidin kadi (1700). According to this notification, Omer, a Turk from Vidin, appropriated the vineyard of a certain Ivan, son of Nikola from the same city. Despite the evidence provided by Ivan’s witnesses, and despite the fact that Omer had no way of proving his rights to the ownership of the appropriated vineyard, the court ruled in favour of the Muslim[xxxvi]. The defencelessness of the non-Muslim reaya before the Turkish courts was picked up by M.Febure “[The Turks] allow themselves to beat and insult Christians, who cannot retaliate in the same fashion. If they lose their temper, they will be severely punished by the courts, as if they have made some sort of attempt on a life, and as a result they have no choice but to abscond. They retain a right to appeal to the judge, but in order to have their grievance settled, and to have the perpetrator punished, they must have a witness, who is a Turk, the same as the culprit; as Jews and Christians were considered “infidels”, neither had the right to testify against a Muslim…”[xxxvii] “The Turks only recognizes the law when dealing with another Turk” reads the Bulgarian appeal to the Russian Emperor from 1853. “In the Tatar-Pazardzhik district of the Filipopol diocese alone, 106 Bulgarians were killed in 1852, and not a single Turk was caught, and yet the murderer of the only Turk killed in the same period was caught”[xxxviii]. In his 1861 report to the Russian ambassador in Istanbul, Nayden Gerov lists a number of facts demonstrating discrimination towards non-Muslims in the area of shipbuilding. Summing up the facts Gerov wrote “The old Turkish taxes are so elastic that, in the words of Turks themselves, they are like wet skin that will stretch in any direction you try to stretch it… [The Christians’] testimonies are not accepted in court, as they are non-Muslims”

On the contrary, when faced against the testimonies of two Turks any written document loses its legal power.Furthermore, any document not supported by a Turk’s signature does not have any legal power”[xxxix].

This intensive discrimination can also be seen in the many acts of enforced assimilation, a “Turkification” of the Bulgarian people through the times of the Turkish occupation. One of the ways of forced assimilation was the so-called devsirme. Every three, five or seven years, all the healthiest Christian children were selected and taken to the capital of the Empire, where they were converted to Islam and given military training. The janissary corps was formed from these boys. The janissaries were brought up in the spirit of intransigent intolerance, derision and hatred towards the non-Muslim peoples[xl].

In one communication to the Eastern congregation, the Catholic Archbishop Martin Bici describes the forced removal of Christian children to become janissaries “Last year [1610], a janissary commander, sent by the Sultan, arrived to collect the children of the Christian peoples. It is a long-standing tradition [to take these children] to serve him and his sarai. As a result [the bishop Petur Solinat] went through a great deal of suffering. The said Bishop of Sofia and the poor Christian people hid their children in caves, mountains and forests, to keep them in the holy faith, and to prevent them from falling into the hands of the infidels, and even so not without further augmenting their poverty.”[xli] In a letter to the congregation from October 20 1646 the Catholic bishop Fransisc Soimirovich writes of the same thing “…the Sultan sent out the order to collect the children. One of the noblemen from his court arrived with two hundred janissaries that later arrived here, took some Christian boys, and a large sum of money. They put several Christians in chains demanding that more children be found. When we saw these horrors, we took our young to the mountains, where we stayed for a week…”[xlii] In very rare cases the practice of devsirme was continued into the 18th century. In this way Ahmed III ordered a thousand Christian children to be recruited through devsirme in 1703[xliii].

The previously quoted works of Alexander Eksarh it is described how Bulgarian women were forcibly converted into Islam. When a low-ranking Turkish official wanted a beautiful Bulgarian woman for a wife, he would “gather his friends, who would surround the girl’s house, abduct her, take her to Albania, where she is forced to take up Islam, and finally the abductor gets to take the woman as a wife”[xliv]. One complaint for the Bulgarians from the Pleven district from the middle of the 19th century, writes that the local Turkish tyrants forcibly take women away, and make them their wives[xlv]. In a witness testimony from 1876 of one Turk from the village of Chaushkoy (Tsenovo, Belene okolia) before the Turkish court one such forcible conversion into Islam is described: two Turks abducted a Bulgarian girl from Iblanovo (?) to make her convert and marry one of them. According to the testimony “she was resisting and did not want to become a Muslim”.[xlvi]

The national Bulgarian epos is rich with moving songs praising the resistance of courageous Bulgarian men and women to being converted to Islam and isolated from their people. One such example is the song about brave Balkanji Yovo. Despite the terrible abuses he was subjected to by the Turkish officials, so that he would agree to the Turkification of his sister, he fearlessly tells his tormentor “Hey voivoda, I will give my head, but I will not surrender Yana to Islam” A different song from Macedonia tells of a girl by the name of Kana, who was thrown into prison for her refusal to convert to Islam. Distraught about the fate of her daughter, the girl’s mother comes to the prison and tries to persuade her daughter to yield to her captors, and to enter Islam to avoid death. Kana responds angrily to this:

Be silent, mother, fall dumb

Where you stand, be struck blind

How can I sell my faith,

What do I first need to forget?

When her abductors heard these words they subjected her to even greater tortures. Yet, in the words of the folk singer, the wonderful, resilient Kana gave away her life, but not her faith.[xlvii]

The Turkish authorities in Bulgarian lands were not averse to attempting mass Turkification of the citizens of entire villages and districts. One of the earliest of these attempts goes back to the times of Selim I (1512-1520). From the anonymous “Tale of the Second Destruction of Bulgaria” we discover that Bulgaria was ruined by Selim I, and the population in the areas around Chepino, Dospat, Kochan and Krupnik was Turkified.[xlviii]

Relating to the same period (about 1515-1520) are some interesting facts contained in one fragment from the tax roll for the villages in the Nevrokop okolia. This fragment of the tax roll contains a tax inventory of the villages in this okolia that includes the names of the Muslims and the non-Muslims, exact information about the number of households, the number of the unmarried and the widowed, and about the size and types of taxes collected from them. In one such segment from the village of Baba Vylkan, or Tilani, that was a part of the Nevrokop okolia, the page 5-b contains a separate list of the Muslim citizens of this village. Amongst them are a few names that give cause to a certain well-known kind of speculation. Here are the names: Bekhadir, son of Georgo; Elias, son of Todor; Yusuf, son of Georgo; Elias, son of Momchila. In page 7-a listing the Muslims from the village of Bezretche, which was a part of the Pomest, we read the following names: Mehmed, son of Istancho (Stancho); Kurd, son of Vylko; Shir Mourad, son of Rajko; Karagyoz, son of Radi; Hasan, son of Torni. Amongst the Muslims of the village of Petrovo, in the Nevrokop okolia, we can find on page 1-b we can find a certain Karagyoz, son of Istano (Stano) in Paparayko, or Lykavich, we find a Ferrah, son of Istani (Stani); page 5-a from the village of Isferitina, in the Pomest, there is marked down an Ali, son of Milko (page 8-a), whilst in Bolotniche, in the Nevrokop, there is a Yusuf, son of Georgo (page 10-a). These interesting facts give us reason to think that the above only recently entered Islam. We can infer this from the Bulgarian names of their fathers, accurately noted down by the registrar. Considering that these fragments contain not one or two people, but a substantial proportion of the population of these cities, it is feasible that these Christians converted to Islam as a result of organised pressure from the Turkish authorities, which led to the mass Turkification. Considering that the tax rolls are from between 1515 and 1520, it is reasonable to link these to the mass Turkification that took place in Macedonia under Selim I.

Testaments of mass Turkification in the Bulgarian lands become particularly frequent from the second half of the 17th century. The changes in the Turkish feudal system, the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the intensification of feudal exploitation and political oppression resulted in an upturn in the degree of religious discrimination towards the Bulgarians, and to more frequent attempts at mass forced assimilation. The Turkification of the Bulgarians in the Chepintsi Bay, so vividly described by the clergyman Metodi Draginov from the village of Korova, is also from this era, or specifically 1657. Draginov writes that the Turkification was accompanied by atrocious crimes “Some of those who did not convert to Islam were slaughtered, whilst others escaped to the woods and had their houses burnt down”[xlix] From one communication of the Karnobat Naib, dated April 20, 1690, we discover about the Turkification of 30 people from the village of Bin Geran in the Karnobat okolia. This communication tells us that the dwellers of this village told the court that their village, which was the vakf of Rakas Sinan, had a cizye imposed of over 262 hane (literally “houses”, but here a unit of tax). This was a result of thirty of the villages entering Islam, and being spared from paying the cizye, whilst the tax burden was distributed between the remaining Christian villagers. The villagers say that they cannot pay the cizye on behalf of the converts and ask that it be reduced.[l] In all probability we are also talking about a case of enforced Turkification, as a result of which, a group of thirty peasants was converted into Islam. The record of trial of the Vodina kadi from October 25- November tells of similar instances of Turkification of the Bulgarian population of the city of Vodina. In this document, the Vodina reaya complains that every Easter, the Muslims run riot on the streets of the city, catch Christians, abuse them, destroy their dwellings and force them to convert to Islam.[li]

The Ottoman feudal aristocracy purposely encouraged the religious fanaticism of the Muslims, and the hatred of the Muslims towards the non-Muslim reaya. By these means the ruling class intended to distract the Turkish peasantry from the ever-increasing social antagonism within the state, and to prevent them from recognising their true class enemies and originators of their oppression and exploitation.

Ethnic and religious discrimination, inexorably linked with the burdensome regime of feudal exploitation and political oppression, stalled the development of the Bulgarian people for centuries. This discrimination, which doomed the non-Muslim reaya to enduring insults and attacks on their dignity as human beings, their life, and their personal and familial honor, also limited religious freedom and threatened coercive Islamization, and tightened the yoke of Turkish feudal oppression. Yet, over centuries, the Bulgarian people stubbornly and courageously resisted this regime of discrimination and oppression, and despite attempts at enforced assimilation, managed to preserve its national identity and culture.

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