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HALİL İNALCIK ARMAĞANI - I TARİH ARAŞTIRMALARI DOĞUBATI, ANKARA (2009)

MEANING OF THE HISTORIOGRAPHIC MYTHS ABOUT CONVERSION TO ISLAM

Evgeni Radushev On the following pages I offer the reader’s attention some reflections in respect of the meaning of the historiographic myths about conversion to Islam, which have gained ground in modern Bulgarian historiography. Most of the archival materials used in this paper as well as the interpretations built on them are related to the Rhodope Mountain. This is the result of my continuous study of the spread of Islam throughout the Ottoman epoch in the region. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that if the correlation Islam - identity still raises some questions in Bulgaria, this undoubtedly relates to the Bulgarian speaking Muslim population (the so called Pomaks in the Central and Western Rhodope Mountain. But before drawing the attention to all subjects which will be discussed in this article, I would like to underline that any reasoning about the ethnic identity of the Rhodope Muslims without taking into consideration their right in ethnic self-determination, turns into a “digging into the past” without any positive result1. In the years following the democratic changes in Eastern Europe, the problem that is typical for the Balkans, Islam – identity, has engaged the scientific community’s attention with new intensity. The Bulgarian historians and ethnologists’ attempts to estimate the consequences of the totalitarian communist regime’s policy on the ethnic and religious minorities in Bulgaria found the following normal behaviour reaction among the Rhodope Pomaks: most of them are willing to identify themselves with the Turkish or Arabic ethnos or to identify themselves religiously as Muslims, but they avoid calling themselves Bulgarians2. During my in situ research among the Central and Western Rhodope Muslim villages I was confronted by a similar situation. Many people there state that their ancestors came to the Balkans being Muslims and that they settled in the Rhodope Mountain in about 11 th – 12th century – the genetic connection is now obviously sought not only outside the Bulgarian ethnos, but also beyond the boundaries of the Balkans. "We are Arabs, sent by Mohammed
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Stoyanov, V. Turskoto naselenie v Bulgaria mejdu polyusite na etnicheskata politika [The Turkish population in Bulgaria between the poles of ethnic politics]. Sofia, 1998, p. 56. Cf. Georgieva, Tsv. "Struktura na vlastta v tradicionnata obshtnost na pomacite v rayona na Chech, Zapadnite Rodopi [Power structure in the traditional community of the Pomaks in the Chech area, Western Rhodope Mountain]. In Etnicheskata kartina v Bulgaria, Sofia, 1992, p. 73.

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Himself as harbingers of Islam", local people say3. This would mean that among the Pomaks there is an inclination to explain their group’s differentiation by reference to Islam, but along these lines their self-identification as Muslims of Bulgarian ethnic origin seems completely and utterly unacceptable. I would also add that today’s Rhodope Pomaks are trying to prove in a curious manner that they were the first Muslims on the Balkans. For that purpose they use the gravestones in the Pomak areas on which could often be seen date of death, engraved according to the Muslim calendar (Hijra). Thus, for example, a gravestones inscription dated 1160 according to Hijra is accepted as written in the 12th century AD, “a long time before the appearance of the Muslim Turks on the Balkans” – people state. But in this particular case the true year is of course 1747. At first sight this is a naive way to reject the idea, imposed by the nationalistic propaganda, that the Bulgarian speaking Muslims in the Rhodope Mountain are a result of the Ottoman actions for a “massive and forced Mohammedanisation4” of Christian Bulgarians. Today’s Pomaks are also aware that the fiction about Islamic Apocalypse has turned into an ideologeme, embedded into the foundations of the forced re-naming of the Muslims in Bulgaria during the communist regime. The use of force in respect to the Pomaks of the Central and Western Rhodope Mountain began in the late 60’s of the 20th Century and soon ended with their complete re-naming. In the mid-80’s the one million strong Turkish ethnic minority in Bulgaria faced the same fate. The communist regime now claims that this is a Bulgarian population, which was not only converted to Islam, but that it was completely assimilated by the Ottoman Turks. After the collapse of communism people restored their Turkish-Islamic names. In Bulgaria today there would be hardly found somebody, who would claim that ethnic Turks originate from the forcibly converted to Islam and then Turkicised Bulgarians. The use of Bulgarian language by today’s Pomaks, however, still determines the predominating public concept for them as “Mohammedans of Bulgarian ethnic origin” Bulgaro-Mohammedani. The majority of the Pomaks, however, is far from the thought of identifying itself by ethnic features with Bulgarians, particularly after the violence during the communist period. Therefore no matter how naive self-identification of the Rhodope Bulgarian speaking Muslims may seem, they demonstrate a real state of mass consciousness that could not be otherwise identified but as refusal to belong to the Bulgarian ethnos. There are Bulgarian researchers who seek the reason for this state of affairs in the “pro Turkish and Pan-Islamic anti-Bulgarian propaganda" 5. It is easiest of all to say that such reasoning belongs to the Cold war, which has already become history. But when suc h claims are made, there should not be forgotten the fact that the Muslim community in Bulgaria repeatedly suffered through the 20 th century a number of forced conversions and re-naming, mosques were demolished before their eyes, holy places were desecrated and bulldozers wiped out the graves of parents and ancestors. Those who dared to oppose the regime were locked in the communist prisons and camps. Even if it is
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Ibidem. Mohammedan / Mohammedanisation – terms with pejorative sense used in Bulgaria’s near communist past and even nowadays to express historians’ attitude to religious conversion in the Ottoman Balkans. Cf. Dimitrov, Str. "The Ethnic picture of Bulgaria". Review, Istoricheski Pregled, No 3, 1993, p. 159.

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assumed that during the block division and opposition until 1989 there was “propaganda from the outside”, the dark events in Bulgaria promise it success in advance. We are now faced with a unique situation and the main issue it imposes is whether the Bulgarian society and scientific thought could adequately adopt the already created concept of identity among the Rhodope Pomaks, whose genesis should first of all be sought in the development of the Bulgarian society during the period from the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878 till today. Over the past decades historians became aware of a number of Ottoman sources, which give a new meaning to the ethno-religious processes, which took place in the Rhodope Mountain. This material will yet be analysed by interested specialists. It seems to me, however, that before we get involved in any new sources, it is necessary to make a critical review of what has been done so far. My purpose in this article is precisely that: to study the grounds for the historical concept, which has been already established and deeply embedded in the conscience of a number of people, of mass coercions and forced conversion to Islam of Christians in the Balkans during the Ottoman era. In all cases the new sources will disclose new perspective directions for scientific research and analyses. It will be more difficult to change the predominant concept in today’s Balkan Christians that conversion to Islam may happen only under the threat of the Ottoman yataghan. I will try to explain why this is so on the following pages.

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Reasoning on the historical character of human life, the German philosopher H.-G. Gadammer maintains that the meaning of a worldly fate is a specific entity, formed not by its end, but by a meaning-forming environment. It is not around the latter, but around the crucial experience that the meaning of the entity is formed; one instant can be decisive for a whole life, concludes Gadammer6. The idea of “the crucial experience” in a specific meaning-forming environment is the key, which I am trying to apply to unpuzzling the religious conversion in a part of the Balkan area under Ottoman rule, taken separately. The crucial moment in the life of the one-time Rhodope convert from Christianity to Islam, which has determined the fate of his posterity, was undoubtedly the conversion itself. The aggregate of all individual “crucial experiences” constitutes the process of religious conversion. It was determined by significant reasons and motives, from whose core has originated the entity and only in which it is possible to be comprehended. The making of a concept of environment (socio-economic, political, cultural, religious…) seems to be the most complex part of the task. A historian of conversion to Islam well understands that his/her success depends on the fullest possible disclosure of the whole diversity of circumstances, which has given meaning to the religious behaviour of countless
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Gadammer, H.-G. "Das Problem der Geschichte in der neueren deutschen Philosphie" (1943), Kleine Schriften, I, 1-10 (Gesammelte Werke, II, 27 ff).

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religious converts. But along with this entirety, same historian should also be aware of the main difficulty of heterogeneity, insufficiency and fragmentation and in a number of cases, unreliability of the sources he/she has to work with. Added to this are also the ideological restrictions and self-restrictions, which burdened the Bulgarian historians during the communist regime. It is for this reason that only in recent years Bulgarian historiography is attempting to carry out more useful observations on particular spaces – social, religious, cultural – and on the behaviour of the different groups within them7. For a long time European historiography has been demonstrating how the reconstruction of realities in the life of individuals and groups in a geographic, social and cultural complex adequately discloses the meaning of a significant historical movements. For F. Braudel this road passes through observations on “the long and boring history of everyday life” in order to reach rationalisation of “prolonged movements in history”. The German philosophical and historical thought is also biased to such approach, evaluating it with the brief “from reality to totality”. But it does not fail to underline that totality is not a complete whole of history up to the present day, but that an environment of a centring significance structures it8. While the serious intentions of the Bulgarian researchers to disclose the Ottoman realities in the spirit of modern European historiography are noted, an important circumstance would be taken into consideration, which is unfavourable for them. The attempt to get closer to the realities through new found sources and new approaches meet the opposition of a permanently built notion of an Ottoman historical environment, overburdened with myths. Far back Fr. Nietzsche wrote, “the non-historical and historical are equally necessary for the good health of a man, a people and a culture.”9 Then he adds, that historical selfconsciousness can be different by type – preserving, forming models and feeling decline. In the equilibrium of those various ways of making history there should be preserved the yielding power, through which could only live a certain culture. This yielding power manifests itself in the intuitive need of a horizon, surrounded by myths, which should balance the might of historical enlightenment10. This “unmodern observation” of Nietzsche may well explain in a remarkable way the Bulgarian context. Here, according to the German philosopher’s scheme, we can see a situation of a disturbed equilibrium between the various ways of making history. It concerns the following: two of the historical types of self-consciousness – the preserving and the forming models, are constantly provoked by a characteristic sense of decline, caused by the memory of the long centuries of “Turkish yoke” and the deprivation from the Balkan
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Georgieva, Tsv. Prostranstvoto i prostranstvata na bulgarite prez 15 – 16 vek [Space and spaces of the Bulgarians in the 15th - 16th Century]. Sofia, 1999; Gradeva, R. “Kam vaprosa za religioznata atmosfera v Osmanskata imperia: Sofia v sredata na 16 vek” [To the issue of the religious atmosphere in the Ottoman Empire: Sofia in mid-16 Century]. The Bulgarian Sixteenth Century, Sofia, 1996; Ibid., Ivanova, Sv. “Malkite etnokonfesionalni grupi v bulgarskite gradove prez 15-16 vek” [Small ethno-confessional groups in the Bulgarian towns in the 16th –17th Centuries]; Todorova, O. Pravoslavnata carkva i bulgarite prez 15-16 vek [The Orthodox Church and Bulgarians 15th – 18th Century], Sofia, 1977; Sabev, O. Osmanskite uchilishta v bulgarskite zemi 15 - 18 vek [Ottoman schools in the Bulgarian lands 15th – 18th Century]. Sofia, 2001. Gadammer, H.-G. Op. cit. Nietzsche, Fr. Unmodern Observations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, p. 90. Ibid., 90-145.

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neighbours that followed loss of territories after the two Balkan wars and WW1). Many of the concepts about the sufferings are thus preserved and reproduced in the written history with the claim that it is in them precisely the meaning of Bulgarians’ historical being is encoded. Therefore the horizon of Bulgarian historiography on the Ottoman period turns to be not only surrounded, but overburdened by myths. The situation fails by far to provide the necessary pliability to the national culture, but creates complexes instead, rejects the possibility for perceiving and rationalise the otherness as an inevitable historical result. It could be objected that our notion of history does not coincide with the infinite desert of enlightened conscience, deprived of myths. Such enlightenment is, on the contrary, historically conditioned and restricted; it is only a phase in the materialisation of our destiny. H.-G. Gadammer maintains that “historical enlightenment misunderstands itself, when it thinks of itself as a freedom of historical conscience, deprived of destiny. Which means: history is what we always have been. It is the necessary thing of our fate.”11 The problem, however, is in rationalising the so-called historical destiny. In the “Bulgarian case” issues seem turned upside down. There the conscience for historicism, burdened by myths, dominates the historical enlightenment. And if we paraphrase Gadammer, then history turns to be what we wanted and want to be. In such sense the historical myth, but not history (what we were), becomes the necessary thing in our destiny. There is something else. When modern humanities raise the issue of the place, role and meaning of myths in historical knowledge, it imagines times far back in human history, idiosyncratic for “primitive thinking” (being different from the epoch of scientific thought). This issue, however, appears in a completely different way when we face the enlightened historical conscience’s inclination to use mythologems, produced from legends, sagas, anonymous chronicles etc., in order to explain problems it has faced. Most often this ends with modelling of such historical concepts, which we call either a contemporary or “historiographic myth”12, meaning an attempt to reconstruct the past with a questionable result. In the Bulgarian historiography on conversion to Islam there are two distinct mythological layers. The first one includes the group of the so called "domestic sources", known for its questionable authenticity, but accepted by a number of historians as reliable record of the forced conversion to Islam in the Bulgarian lands – mainly in the Rhodope Mountains13. Although not many, the said sources served for creating the most popular among Bulgarians historiographic image of the Ottoman policy for "mass conversion to Islam", impressive with horrifying actions of armed violence, murders and atrocities. It would be correct to note that the "domestic sources" have always caused doubts in the reliability of the described events
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Gadammer, H.-G. Op. cit. This is an apt determination of B. Alexiev for some interpretations of the past of the Rhodope Mountain’s population in the historical and ethnologic studies. See Alexiev, B. “Rodopskoto naselenie v bulgarskata humanitaristika” [The Rhodopa Mountain’s population in the Bulgarian Humanities]. Musulmanskite obshtnosti na Balkanite i v Bulgaria [Muslim communities in the Balkans and in Bulgaria], Sofia, 1997, p. 101 Cf. Zhelyazkova, A. “The Problem of the Authenticity of Some Domestic Sources on the Islamisation of the Rhodopes, Deeply Rooted in the Bulgarian History”. Etudes Balkaniques, № 4, 1990

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and the authenticity of their compilation. Way back М. Drinov14, examining the famous “Second ruining of Bulgaria by the Ottoman Turks", gives an example for a critical attitude towards such sources. Firstly he is eager to note that “for the short novel about the second ruining of Bulgaria there could be thought that it was written by the pen of Neofit of Hilendar (Bozveli)”15. Drinov does not fail also to mention that the author’s source was some unknown note and that he used it “as he liked”16. (Bulgarian researchers will later perceive that the "originals" of the domestic sources on conversion to Islam always turn out to be lost, but this has not caused serious reflections among the majority of historians about their authenticity. "The information we see here – wrote Drinov, - appears at first sight to be questionable, even incredible..."17 Therefore the scholar subjects the text to a critical analysis, indicating the chronological discrepancies in it and then suggests several cautious versions about the possible course of events and the development of the situation. Finally Drinov concludes that whatever the described devastation, they “have not ruined everything from the Black sea to the town of Vidin, nor have they finished off the Christian population in the Danubian Bulgaria to such extent what we are presented with in the short novel". Thus even in that time, in distant 1884 this outstanding Bulgarian historian leaves an example of adequate for its time attitude towards such sources. But Drinov’s allusion, that the “Second ruining...” is not an authentic historical text written in the 16th century, but a later work from the epoch of the national Renaissance in the 19th century, has not caused any critical approach of the future generations towards the “domestic sources”. Similar evidences, which meanwhile have appeared and which were intended to show the spread of Islam in the Rhodope Mountain, unhindered and permanently went into a scientific usage and even became some of the most solid evidence for the merciless Ottoman policy of “forced conversion to Islam”. The staunch critic of the historical myths of conversion to Islam, the Dutch historian M. Kiel, notes that there have been in modern Bulgarian studies some "doubts about the authenticity of such sources, but most historians come to the conclusion that even if the stories about the ruining of Bulgaria and the campaign for a forced conversion to Islam contained some errors in respect of rulers and dates, there was much historical truth in them”18. Kiel’s opponents say that he is "attempting to break open doors". Because in the Bulgarian historiography of the 70’s of the 20th century there was a critical attitude towards the most widely spread myths about conversion to Islam19. But things are more specific with the Dutch researcher. He now
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Bulgarian historian and philologist 1838-1906 one of the founders of the modern Bulgarian historiography and member-founder of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences 1869. Clergyman and scholar 1785-1848, participant in the struggle for independent Bulgarian Church. Drinov, M. “Istorichesko osvetlenie varhu statistikata na narodnostite v iztochnata chast na Bulgarskoto Knyajestvo” [Historical lighting on the statistics of the nations in the eastern part of the Bulgarian Princedom]. Periodichno spisanie na Bulgarskoto Istorichesko drujestvo, Book VII, Sofia, 1884, 8-13 Ibidem. Kiel, M. “Razprostranenie na islyama v bulgarskoto selo prez osmanskata epoha (15 – 18 vek): kolonizaciya i islyamizaciya” [Spread of Islam in the Bulgarian Rural Areas in the Ottoman Period (15 th – 18th Centuries): Colonisation and Islamisation]. In R. Gradeva, Sv. Ivanova, ed., Musulmanskata kultura po bulgarskite zemi. Izsledvaniya. [Muslim culture in the Bulgarian lands. Studies], Sofia, 1998, p. 59. Dimitrov, Str. “Shte imame li nauchni pozicii po problemite na islyamizaciyata i sadbinite na bulgarite mohamedani?” [Will we have scientific positions on the problems of Islamisation and the destiny of the Bulgarian Mohammedans?]. Rhodopica, II, No 1, 1999, p. 142.

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does not limit himself to remind his Bulgarian colleagues of groundlessness of the “domestic sources", but calls them to "tear off the mask of such writings” as this was done by other European nations, which had resorted to falsification of some episodes of their own history, which they disapproved.20 The problem is, however, that myths are not masks of the historical reality, which conscience could easily tear off, in order to enable the things to appear before us the way they were. Because at the end of every criticism of sources and evidences stands one last criterion of reliability, which does not depend on anything else, by on what we consider as possible and what we are prepared to believe. In this meaning Str. Dimitrov seems to be right, when he underlines that “nothing is capable of erasing the fact that there is a work in the Bulgarian literary history, titled “A chronicle by Priest Methodi Draginov”21, which had an exceptional impact on the minds and behaviour of Bulgarians in the 19th and 20th centuries and which was on the basis of fatal political and cultural-religious decisions”22. It sounds depressing, but the same author is also right in that “every one of those fiction stories have had a greater impact on the public behaviour and ideological development of Bulgarians than, let’s say, the works of Teodor Trayanov23 or Yordan Yovkov24... They will remain as an example of how a fiction story can cause very serious movements as long as they correspond to some need of the society”25. It is this need, embodied in the conviction that things have happened exactly in this manner, described in the “domestic sources”, outlines the boundaries of the second mythological layer in the Bulgarian historiography on conversion to Islam. It is known that the Ottoman registers (Tahrir Defterleri) can provide an approximate notion about the quantitative indices and rate of spread of Islam in the Balkans. This is, of course, under the condition that we have at our disposal sufficient sources of that kind. It will be more difficult for us only through observations in the registers to give answer to the question: “Why and in what way the number of Muslims grows?” If we accept, however, that "domestic sources" are reliable, we have already solved this problem. In these texts the “unknown chroniclers” inform that conversion to Islam develops at the initiative of the State
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Kiel, M. Op. cit., p. 81-82 This is a story about a total violence and massacres, carried out by the Ottoman Turks aimed at forced conversion of Bulgarians to Islam. The story, which is told on behalf of the non-existent Priest Methodi Draginov, states that in 1669, during the war for conquering the Island of Crete, a Turkish military expedition forcibly converted numerous Bulgarian population of the Rhodope Mountain area to Islam. See Zahariev, St. Geografsko-istoriko-statistichesko opisanie na Tatarpazardjishkata kaza [Geographic-historical-statistical Survey of the kaza of Tatar Pazardzhik]. Vienna, 1870, p. 67-68. This text was subjected to a precise linguistic and historical analysis, which proved that the text here was not a historical source, but a late forged document, written in the second half of the 19th century. See Todorov, Il. “Letopisniyat razkaz na pop Methodi Draginov” [The chronicle story by Priest Methodi Draginov]. Starobulgarska literatura, 1984, № 67; Zheljazkova, A. Op.cit. At the same time some Bulgarian researchers are convinced even today, that this text, as well as some other similar ones, is reliable historical sources about the so called “Ottoman policy for a mass forced conversion to Islam”, see Grozdanova, El., St. Andreev. “Falshifikat li e Letopisniyat razkaz na pop Methodi Draginov?” [Is the chronicle story by Priest Methodi Draginov a forged document?]. Istoricheski pregled, 1993, № 2. Dimitrov Str. “Shte imame li nauchni pozicii…?” p. 143 A poet 1882-1945 who used in his works mythological characters, related to the Bulgarians’ past. Writer and playwright. Dimitrov Str. “Shte imame li nauchni pozicii…?” p. 143

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or of its high ranking officials: “During the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV there was an order the Bulgarians to be turned Turk26...”Historical Notebook); “... certain Mehmed Pasha threatened the mountain villages that on their return they were going to butcher the Christians if they did not turn to Islam” (The Belovo Chronicle); "And Mehmed Pasha with many janissaries came … and gave order to butcher [the population]. Some Kara Imam Hasan Hoca begged the Pasha to forgive them if they converted to Islam.” (A Chronicle story by Priest Mehtody Draginov). The same texts also inform how this violence is implemented: "With fire and sword the Turks managed and converted to Islam the population in the following villages..." (Historical Notebook); “Come on, what you are still waiting for but not accept Islam? Or perhaps you are waiting for human heads to start rolling before you?” (Saga for the conversion to Islam in the Razlog region); “Mehmed Pasha threatened that ... he was going to butcher the Christians and advised them to embrace Islam…” (Chronicle from the Pazardzhik Monastery St. Peter); “During the act of conversion to Islam the Turks... murdered many men, women and children, who did not agree to accept Islam" (Historical Notebook); “...all villages in the mountain converted to Islam out of mortal fear... Some put up some resistance and then many were killed so that the others get scared” (The Belovo Chronicle); “In order to make fun, Imam Hasan made the new converts to demolish al churches from the village of Kostenets to the town of Stanimaka27 - 33 monasteries and 218 churches.” (A Chronicle story by Priest Mehtody Draginov). So, “domestic sources” maintain that conversion of people to Islam took place at the initiative of the Ottoman State by the use of armed force and terror on large groups of population. This provides grounds for the Bulgarian historiography of the late 19th and the early 20th century to create the theory of mass forced conversion to Islam as an official state policy of the Ottoman Empire and generations of researchers after that stick to it, adding new nuances. This view does not necessitate any search for new evidence and deepening the studies on the essence of the religious conversion. It rather requires the probable situation, offered by the myths to be confirmed in the most convincing manner in the spirit of historical positivism. Therefore conversion to Islam was subjected to an analysis in the context of the Ottoman political and social realities in order to substantiate the fact that violence and religious intolerance are immanent to the principles on which the Empire was built. There is one perplexing circumstance in this scheme: the lack of Ottoman sources about “mass and forced conversion to Islam". However, it yields to the general conviction that "domestic sources" are sufficient to compensate the silence of the Ottoman archives; after all no state administration would leave behind any compromising evidence. In such case in the limelight comes the most important task: the general and too approximate ideas about the spread of Islam, which the fragments of the Ottoman cadastre offer, to be “fit” to the situations and the spirit of the Ottoman epoch, described in the Christian chronicles, the so called "domestic sources".
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Meaning to be forced to become Muslim. Even in today’s generations of Balkan Christians conversion to Islam is equal to becoming Turk. Towns in Bulgaria.

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Long and fruitful work has been done in this direction. The last determination was used without any irony – in the course of its researches the Bulgarian studies of the Ottoman history discovered and processed a large quantity of Ottoman source material, published it in scientific translation, offered original analysis, in some of which the space of the myth is restricted to the maximum. When, however, researchers’ historical positivism dries out due to the lack of sufficient sources, invariably appears the rescuing horizon of "domestic sources". In this relation Str. Dimtrov aptly notes: "Even if we don’t want to – he wrote, – our conscience is still pestered by episodes of various notes and files – Methodi Draginov’s, the Belovo’s chronicler, other unknown literate people – about a march of “Mehmed Pasha”, of “six Pashas”..., about the ruining of everything Bulgarian during that march28. Therefore the second mythological layer is built up on multiple attempts to substantiate with arguments from Ottoman sources origin an imaginary episode of the Bulgarian and Balkan past, called a “mass forced conversion to Mohammedanism". It is remarkable that the historical myth situates events almost exclusively in the Rhodope Mountain. It is no less remarkable that since one mythologem is legitimised through historiography, it later on turns into a model when explaining the spread of Islam in other parts of the Balkans, too. Way back in time the enthusiastic Bulgarian researcher of the Rhodopean past St. Shishkov extends his conclusions about the character of the religious conversion in the Rhodope Mountain on the history of the ethno-religious processes in all those areas, in which the Muslim Turks remain in the places they were born after the RussoTurkish War (1877-1878). To him the whole population within the borders of the reestablished Bulgarian State consists of “Bulgarian Mohammedans” beyond any doubt. He convincingly maintains that during the Ottoman epoch the people from the towns converted to Islam lost their language and were quickly assimilated under the influence of the Turkish administration, while in the villages this process goes in contact with the Turkish settlers from Anatolia. For Shishkov “Turks in the Deliorman29 and the Eastern Rhodope are also result from this confusion and with the passage of time they have finally turned into a Turkicised Bulgarians, but there still remain Bulgarian national traits”. The author adds that in the Central and the Western Rhodope Mountain this “coalescence” (Turkification) has not finished yet. This means that due to the former lack of Anatolian migrants in the mountain, “the people converted to Mohammedanism” succeeded to preserve their Bulgarian language, this being different from the converts in the towns and the flat lands30. It is remarkable that 50 years later this same thesis is still “part of the equipment” in the course of the forced assimilation of ethnic Turks in communist Bulgaria). In order to prove the historical reliability of the myths the limited source base of the Ottoman archive in Sofia was counted on: fragments from the cadastre, a small number of single documents and comparatively more abundant documentation related to collection of the poll28

Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama v Zapadnite Rodopi i dolinata na reka Mesta prez 15 – 17 vek” [Demographic relations and penetration of Islam in the Western Rhodopa Mountain and the Mesta River Valley in the 15th – 17th Century]. Rodopski sbornik, I, 1965, p. 103. Historical and geographic area in today’s Bulgaria with predominantly Turkish-Muslim population. Shishkov, St. Bulgaromohamedanite (Pomaci) [The Bulgarian Mohammedans (Pomaks)]. Plovdiv, 1936, p. 10-12.

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tax (Cizye)31, payable only by the Christian subjects of the Ottoman state. A lot is said about the interpretation of those materials for the purpose of proving such ungrounded theses 32, but more could be added. On the following pages I will specifically discuss some of the most representative historiographic myths, called on to explain different sides of conversion to Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountain. But before that I would like to draw the reader’s attention to one more general situation in the Bulgarian studies of the Ottoman history. It is well known that the Ottoman archive in Sofia - Bulgaria contains numerous documents, related to the collection of the poll-tax (Cizye). In 1942 B. Nedkov paid attention to the significance of these sources for studying the history of the Balkans under the Ottoman rule33. His study stirred interest in Turkey and two years after its publication in Germany it appeared on the pages of “Веlleten” magazine – organ of the Turkish historical society34. N. Todorov makes the first representative attempt in the field of historical demography by means of use of numerous source materials about Cizye, thus challenging with his work the Turkish historian Ö. L. Barkan to discuss the issue35. Meanwhile Str. Dimitrov had successfully used data from the Cizye registers in order to disclose certain aspects of the demographic development and the state of the ethno-religious relations in the Western Rhodopes and the Mesta River Valley36. Soon after that Hr. Gandev wrote his work “The Bulgarian People During the 15th Century” with the impressive thesis about the demographic catastrophe and the biological collapse of the Bulgarian people as a result of Ottoman-Turkish conquest. Inbuilt in its base is a material from the detailed inventories of lands and population (Mufassal defterleri and the registers for Cizye. The scientific criticism immediately rejected the calculations Gandev made by a total identification of the so-called Mezraas37 with settlements, which have been destroyed and disappeared. It did not omit to underline the
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Ġnalcık, H. “Djizya”. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second edition, vol. II, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965, 562-566. Mutafchieva, V. “Za tochnite metodi v oblastta na istoricheskata demografiya” [On the Quantitative Methods in the Field of Historical Demography]. Istoricheski pregled, 1973, No 4; Dimitrov, Str. “Mezrite i demografskiya kolaps na bulgarskata narodnost” [The Mezraas and the Demographic Collapse of the Bulgarian People]. Vekove, 1973, No 6; Mutafchieva, V. “Oshte za “tochnite metodi” v istoricheskata demografiya” [More on the “Quantitative methods” in the Field of Historical Demography]. Vekove, 1989, No 1; Alexiev, B. Op. cit.; Kiel, M. “Razprostranenie na islyama v bulgarskoto selo...”; Radushev, E. “Demografski i etnoreligiozni procesi v Zapadnite Rodopi prez 15 – 18 vek” [Demographic and ethnoreligious processes in the Western Rhodope Mountain during the 15 th – 18th Centuries]. Istorichesko badeshte, 1998/1. Comp. Dimtrov, Str. “Shte imame li nauchni pozicii…” Nedkoff, B , В. Die Cizye Kopfsteuer) im Osmanishen Rein. Mit besonderer Berucksichtigung von Bulgarien, Leipzig, 1942. Nedkov, B., Osmanlı Ġmparatorluğunda Cizye (BaĢ Vergisi . Belleten, 8, 1944. Todorov, N. “Za demografskoto sastoyanie na Balkanskiya poluostrov prez 15 – 16 vek” [On the demographic situation in the Balkan Peninsula in the 15 th – 16th Century]. Godishnik na Sofiiskiya Universitet, FIF, 53, 1965, № 2. N. Todorov uses in his work a register for collecting Cizie tax in Roumelia in 1489-1491, kept in the Sofia Ottoman archive in the “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” National Library, Oriental Deptartment (hereinafter referred to as NLOD), ОАК 214/5. Ö. L. Barkan found some shortcomings in Todorov’s work and subjected it to a serious critical analysis. For that purpose the Turkish researcher published a Cizye register, which is a year older than the one kept in Sofia. See Barkan, Ö.L. “894 (1488/1489) Yılı Cizyesinin Tahsilatına ait Muhasebe Bilançolari”. Belgeler, Cilt I, Sayı 1, 1964. Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya...” Ġnalcık, H. Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun Ekomomik ve Sosyal Tarihi. Cilt I, 1300-1600, Ġstanbul 2000, 209215.

33

34 35

36 37

11

questionable results in the historical and demographic reconstructions achieved on the grounds of data related to the collection of Cizye tax38. Actually Hr. Gandev himself felt the shortcomings of the documentation about this tax, since he determined the methods of the Ottoman registrars as a “strange manipulation”, “an absurd fact”, “the randomness of the figured data” etc.39 This situation is very indicative in the following aspect: Bulgarian historiography of the 60’s of the last century seems ready to declare its attitude towards the ethno-religious and demographic consequences of the Ottoman conquest and to substantiate it in a convincing manner. The use of the so-called quantitative methods – processing, observations and analyses of a mass statistical material, is most appropriate for this purpose. The source base on which this could be realised is clear: the Ottoman detailed inventories and tax registers 40. The detailed inventories of lands and population are unquestionable prerogatives, but it is known that sources of that type in the Sofia archive are not abundant. Predominant are fragments of various years; such material could mislead the researcher rather than be of any use to him41. Thus the only possibility to work with mass data sources turned to be the registers for collecting the Cizye tax. Notwithstanding the weaknesses found, the initial results seemed hopeful prospects. This was even more so, taking into consideration the fact that those were weaknesses of the methods implemented by individual authors, but not of the sources themselves. By the way, the prominent Turkish researcher Ö. L. Barkan, who had the prerogative to make use of the immense Istanbul archive, emphasised in 1964 the great value of the Cizye registers for historic and demographic studies. But he also pointed out three unfavourable circumstances, which researchers must take into consideration: this kind of tax registers do not cover the waqf reaya – it was subject to a separate registration; part of the population, having the so called “special obligations” to the State – like, for example, the Christian voynuks, who simply do not pay Cizye; and finally the most important one – it is not clear what was the connotation the Ottoman financial services put into the fiscal category Cizye hane, which is a basic one for statistical calculations42. I would add here that the sources about Cizye provide notion only about the processes among the Christian and the Jewish population. So, the reconstructed demographic picture will always appear incomplete, if a means to discover the actual trends among Muslims is not found, too. Anything else notwithstanding, until quite recently those sources had no alternative at least for the Bulgarian researchers of the demographic and ethno-religious developments. This is even more so, taking into consideration the fact, that from the beginning of the 17 century the Ottomans gradually abandoned their tradition to maintain the detailed cadastre about the

38 39

Dimitrov, Str. “Mezrite i demografskiya kolaps...”; Mutafchieva, V. “Za tochnite metodi...” Gandev, Hr. Bulgarskata narodnost prez 15 vek [The Bulgarian People During the 15th Century]. Sofia, 1972, p. 125, 127 passim. About them see Ġnalcık, H. Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun Ekomomik ve Sosyal Tarihi, 175-182. Comp. Mutafchieva, V. “Za tochnite metodi...”, p. 137. Barkan, Ö. L. 894 (1488/1489) Yılı Cizyesinin Tahsilatina ait Muhasebe Bilançoları, 3-5.

40 41 42

12

lands and the population43, the so-called “Tapu tahrir defterleri”. This is one more reason for some historians to pay even greater attention to the Cizye sources. This permanent scientific interest in the Bulgarian experts on Ottoman history to this kind of documentation found expression in two representative volumes, containing scientific translations of materials from the Sofia archive collection and numerous studies of the demographic processes in the Bulgarian and Balkan space under Ottoman rule44. Among all unfavourable circumstances, related to Cizye and pointed out so far, one poses an immediate threat to the already done historic and demographic reconstructions, to be qualified as a “historiographic myth”. These are the observations on the neglected hitherto demographic parameters, characterising the Muslim component of the population in the Ottoman Balkans. Let us see what it is all about. Considering the fact that there is not even an approximate clarity on the issue of the nature of the demographic processes among the heterogeneous by its religious features population on the Peninsula, any definite conclusion concerning the reasons for the drop of its Christian component would look dubious. Let us take as an example the established sharp decrease of Cizye hanes in the Bulgarian lands under Ottoman rule for the period of the 40’s of the 17 th century onwards. In case we attribute this to conversion to Islam, then there should be observed a relevant increase of the number of Muslim population. As a matter of fact some Bulgarian experts on Ottoman history are not far from the idea that the situation during the period in question is characterised with loss of ethnos “...as a result of mass repressions, its conversion to Islam and Turkification or banishing it beyond the boundaries of the Bulgarian lands or the Ottoman Empire in general”45. As for reasons, such as epidemics, natural calamities, famine etc. they “do not provide any ground to maintain that particularly sharp and strongly expressed drop of the number of non-Muslim households… can be explained with this demographic factor or at least only with it.”46 Because all this should have an impact “of no lesser force on the number of Muslim households in this same territory (i.e. the Bulgarian lands; my note, E.R.). Instead, the number of Muslim households here uncontrollably increases at a rate, which could not be explained neither with the traditional polygamy among the Mohammedans, nor with any other reasons of natural character.”47 Obviously the author of these lines E. Grozdanova must prove the following situation: the number of the Christians decreases for the account of increase of the Muslims' one. For this purpose here she directs readers towards researchers’ contribution, which can only convince that “this phenomenon is documented in detail with figures for the preceding 16th century bold is mine, E.R.”48 But it is not clear how we could find out whether the situation in the
43

Cf. Ġnalcık, H. “Military and fiscal transformationin the Ottoman Empire, 1600-1700”. Archivum Ottomanicum, VI, 1980, 283-237. For a detailed bibliographic reference and analysis of the individual contributions see Grozdanova, Е. Bulgarskata narodnost prez 17 vek [The Bulgarian people in the 17th century]. Sofia, 1989, 17-34. Grozdanova, E. “Promeni v demografskiya oblik na bulgarskite zemi prez 17 vek” [Changes in the demographic pattern of the Bulgarian lands in the 17 th Century]. Istoricheski pregled, 1985, No 7, p. 31. Grozdanova, E. Bulgarskata narodnost...”, p. 544. Grozdanova, “Promeni v demografskiya oblik...”, p. 31. Ibidem.

44

45

46 47 48

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next, 17th century is the same. It is true that on the pages of the detailed registers from the 16th Century historians note an increase of the Muslim population in a number of Balkan towns and villages. This, to a certain extent, is also due to the religious conversion among the local Christians. There are, however, almost no such sources for the 17th century and this is not because the Bulgarian archive has no such sources, but because the Ottomans had simply stopped compiling them. It is also true that the documentation related to Cizye indicates a decrease of the Christian population during the 17th century. But being different from the documentation of the preceding century, where the name “son of Abdullah” orients towards the first generation of new Muslims, the Cizye registers provide no cause for a definite certainty that the reduced number of Christians is result of the conversion to Islam only. So, we are being persuaded to accept by analogy and on trust the thesis about “losses of ethnos", caused by repressions and mass forced conversion to Islam only. But is there anything preventing us from also accepting the fact that Cizye hanes decrease not only due to the conversion to Islam, but also for reasons of demographic nature? In order to understand why some researchers refrain from this option it will be necessary to examine in greater detail an example from the history of Cizye in the Western Rhodope Mountain in the first half of the 17th century. This area with its intrinsic strong conversion to Islam, as a matter of fact offers the best possibilities for conclusions of the kind of “the one decrease for the account of the increase of the others” – here this situation can be really proven49. This is possible, of course, if the necessary source material is available. Until quite recently Bulgarian historians did not have such at their disposal; it occurred only after the depositories of Ottoman archives of Bulgaria and Turkey started a mutual cooperation50. Until then studies had to be satisfied with several documents on collecting the Cizye tax in the kaza of Nevrekop in the 17th century. This limited material offers the following modest information concerning the number of taxable units (Cizye hane):

Number of hanes in the Nevrekop area according to documents for the Cizye tax in the period 1616-166551
Taxation District Vilayet of Nevrekop 1616 Hanes 1493 1623-1625 Hanes No data 1636 Hanes No data 1654-1655 Hanes 2053 1656-1657 Hanes 2053 1660 Hanes 1553 1664-1665 Hanes 1553

49

Cf. Radushev E. “Demographische und ethnographische Prozesse in den Wesrodopen im 15-18 Jr.” Bulgarian Historical Review, 3-4, 2002, р. 3-49 See Radushev E. “Introduction”. In Radushev E., Kovachev R., ed. Inventory of Registers from the Ottoman Archive in Istanbul at the General Directorate of State Archives in the Republic of Turkey. Sofia, 1996. Cf. Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya [Turkish sources of Bulgarian history]. Publication of the General Directorate of Archives under the Council of Ministers (hereinafter referred to as GDA). C., 2001, p. 282-284

50

51

14

Supplement to Nevrekop
52

2043

1611

1623

It is not clear what is the meaning of the existence of two tax areas “Vilayet of Nevrekop” and “Supplement to Nevrekop”. It is not clear what territory they cover separately either, but undoubtedly together they cover all villages with Christian population in the area in question. Until recently, however, there was nowhere to find out their number. In the registers for levying Cizye of the 17th century, kept in the Sofia Ottoman archive, we will find about 50 villages at the most53. Does this represent the whole network of settlements in the kaza of Nevrekop? According to the detailed registers of the 15th – 16th century kept in the Istanbul Ottoman Archive, the kaza of Nevrekop included nearly 130 villages with Christian population. If in the 17th century only 50 of them remain in the registers for Cizye, the possible reasons for this are two: either 80 settlements cease to exist due to some demographic reason (this seems unbelievable), or their population has converted to Islam. As a matter of fact the detailed and synoptic registers of the Western Rhodope Mountain clearly disclose a mass conversion of the local Christians to Islam – a permanent voluntary process, which has started back in the 60’s of the 15th century54. Thus in early 17th century the population of at least half of those 130 villages was already completely Muslim55. Therefore from here onwards the drop in the number of Cizye hanes discloses nothing more than the course of the religious conversion in its final stage. It is right here where the Bulgarian research practice suggests several impressive historiographic myths. The above Table indicates that until the 30’s of the century the number of Cizye hanes in the "Supplement" declines by 420. There is no data preserved about the “Vilayet” but inevitably there is a process of decline there, too. This becomes clear from the fact that by the 40’s of the 17th century the Ottoman administration removes the “Supplement” to Nevrekop, uniting all settlements, where there still remained payers of Cizye tax, in a single taxation district – “The Vilayet of Nevrekop”. Here it is very important to remember that the change of the fiscal division occurs sometime in the late 30’s or in the early 40’s of the 17th century. Let us see now what kind of villages remain on the list of the taxation district called “The Vilayet of Nevrekop”. In the absence of sufficient of sources it was not possible until recently to subject the course of conversion to Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountain to a situational analysis. The documentation available failed to provide more information than the fact that in the first half
52 53

In the Turkish original – “tetimme-i Nevrekop” The documents are published in the Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya [Turkish sources of Bulgarian history]. Publication of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Vol. VII, p. 200, 303-304. See also Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya (GDA), p. 41-42, 233, 249, 292, 325 BaĢbakanlık Osmanlı ArĢivi hereafter referred to as BOA, TD 3, TD 7, TD 70, TD 403, TD 167, KuK 194 Ankara. Radushev, E. Pomacite. Hristiyanstvo i islyam v Zapadnite Rodopi s dolinata na r. Mesta, 15 – 30-te godini na 18 vek [The Pomaks. Christianity and Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountains and the Valley of the Mesta River from the 15th c. to the 1730’s.]. Sofia, 2005, 348-375.

54

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15

of the 17th century Cizye hanes dropped by about 1/3 of the total number of settlements in the area. This was unconditionally adopted as a certain sign of a “mass and forced conversion to Mohammedanism”. Then the assertion that Islam is about to gain an easy victory even where there still existed larger or smaller groups of Christians and Cizye is paid, seems logical56. But the recently extended source base discloses development, which is contrary to the expectations: it is precisely this 1/3 part of the villages in the region in question, which permanently retains the Christian content of its population. The detailed inventory of the kaza of 1723 informs that almost all villages in the Cizye region, updated in 1660, are still Christian or with predominantly Christian population57. In the second half or the 17th century only several of them completely converted to Islam: the villages Kornitsa, Breznitsa and Lajnitsa, located in the eastern slopes of the Pirin Mountain, as well as some of the villages in the Rhodope area, such as Ribnovo, Osikovo and Bukovo… According to the detailed registers of the 16th century, conversion in those settlements has already begun in the first decades of the same century. Therefore their final turning to Islam is a natural end of a process, which has continued for more than 100 years. As far as the other settlements are concerned they, according to the sources, remain Christian or predominantly Christian until the end of the Ottoman rule in this area.58 This is also proven by the immediate observations of S. Verkovich59 and V. Kanchov60 . Therefore, it could be confidently said that somewhere about the mid-17th century a permanent content of some 40 to 50 villages in the Nevrekop region, which remain aside from the process of religious conversion. In some of them goes a partial conversion and they form the large group of mixed in the religious meaning) villages. Important in this case is the fact that they all belong to the list for collection of Cizye, which we named “The Vilayet of Nevrekop”. From here on, if we have to discuss the reduction of hanes which followed, it would be more logical to set store on the demographic factors than on conversion to Islam (without, of course, excluding some individual cases of religious conversion). What are the grounds for that? In our table we find the “Vilayet” in 1654-1655 to have 2,054 hanes, while in 1616 their number was 1493. An increase of the taxpayers? The answer of this question will wait for a while. Let us see now what is happening to the “Supplement”. In 1616 there was 2,043 hanes. The subsequent registrations also indicate how many villages this fiscal region covers: 29 for the period 1623-163661. During that period a certain stabilisation takes place in the number of taxpayers, if there is a slight increase of the number of hanes from 1,611 to 1,623 after the sharp drop of 400 hanes between 1616-1623). I mentioned above that there had to
56 57 58 59

Comp. Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 104-108. Cf. BOA, Mevkufat Kalemi 2873 BOA, ML. VRD. CMH. 210 Verkovich, S. Topografichesko-etnograficheskiy ocherk Makedonii [Topographic and ethnographic sketch of Macedonia]. St. Petersburg, 1889. Kanchov, V. “Patuvane po dolinite ns Mesta, Struma i Bregalnica” [A trip in the valleys of the rivers Struma, Mesta and Bregalnitsa]. Sbornik za narodni umotvoreniya nauka i knijnina, Vol. X – XIII, 1894-1896. Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya, Vol. VII, p. 303-304; Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya GDA, p. 40-42

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16

be remembered the circumstance, that in the late 30’s or the early 40’s of the century there was a change in the content of the Nevrekop taxation region for Cizye, as a result of which the so called “Supplement to Nevrekop” was liquidated. This by far does not mean that the 29 villages drop from the tax collection lists, i.e. they have turned to Islam. On the contrary, together with another 21 villages they formed a sole taxation district, which remained under the name “The Vilayet of Nevrekop”. Therefore in the first four decades of the 17th century the number of Cizye taxpayers in the Ottoman kaza of Nevrekop have dropped to such an extent that this imposed a merger of the two taxation regions, which existed until then. Numerically expressed this reduction looks, as follows: from a total of 3,536 hanes for the “Vilayet” and the “Supplement” in 1616 down to 2,053 hanes in 1654-55, or a drop of 41.9% for a period of 38 years. Obviously it is necessary here to think, before everything else, about a process of voluntary conversion to Islam, in which whole settlements drop out of the taxation lists. In the taxation district, whose scope is narrowed, remain 50 villages. But what is their further fate, are they also involved in the powerful conversion process? Of course, the process develops here, too – we already mentioned that in the course of the next decades several out of the 50 villages in question become completely Muslim. This, however, gives no grounds whatsoever to maintain, “...that it is these three already said possible reasons for the sharp drop in the number of Cizye hanes - mass repressions, conversion to Mohammedanism and Turkification, have worked with a particular force within the interval between 1616 and the 60’s – 70’s of the century in question”62. Things do not change even due to the significant fact that between 1656-1660 the number of Cizye hanes in the Nevrekop region sharply drops from 2,053 to 1,553 (see the Table. The drop of 500 hanes within such a short period of 4 years is so impressive, that the outstanding supporter of the idea of a “massive forced conversion to Mohammedanism” P. Petrov categorically concludes: “Undoubtedly this could have happened by means of forced Islamisation”.63 Str. Dimitrov is not far from that thought, either: "Thus in the mid-17th century the Christian religion in those lands suffered a total disaster. Any other definition here would be incomplete... At about mid-17 century the Bulgarian population in the Western Rhodope Mountain and the Nevrekop area were subjected to a new strong attack for conversion to Mohammedanism, which inflicted great damages”64. It was this Bulgarian historian who discovered in the archives the register for collecting the Cizye tax in the kaza of Nevrekop in 1660, where we read the following significant text: In the list of the infidel within the jurisdiction of the kaza of Nevrekop there were formerly 2,053 Cizye hanes, but a large part of the tax payers have either died or have run away and such quantity of Cizye was beyond the paying capabilities of the remaining infidels. Some time ago this was reported to the Capital, from where was condescended 500 hanes to be reduced. The remaining 1,553 hanes according to the almighty sublime order and according to an agreement between the ayans of the Vilayet and the reaya tax was imposed on the villages, capable of paying and those which could not pay, had
62 63

Grozdanova, E. “Promeni v demografskiya oblik...”, p. 31. Petrov, P. Sadbonosni vekove za bulgarskata narodnost [Crucial centuries for the Bulgarian Nation] Sofia, 1975, p. 179 Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 104 - 108

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their tax reduced. This is the new corrected list, written on the first day of the month of Receb 1070 13.03.1660.65 Then follows the list of 51 villages in the Nevrekop area, with Cizye taxpayers in them. This text is so clear that it excludes any interpretations for a purposeful action for forced conversion to Islam. But it is possible to think about “mass repressions” (see above one of the three reasons of E. Grozdanova), which quite suits the prevailing notion about a “…stormy century of Bulgarian history under Ottoman yoke...”66, when in the second half of the 17th century “a heavy blow was served to the Bulgarian people..., a time of a great flight of the population and of its forced conversion to Mohammedanism”67. The impact of causes, such as epidemics, natural calamities, hunger, military activities etc. is deemed modest and to a certain extent controversial: “In the end epidemics, hunger, natural calamities etc. are not a factor, which could act selectively, i.e. to cause reduction of only the non-Muslim and an increase of the Muslim population (author’s italics)”68. This conclusion, referred to our concrete case, requires evidence that “the dying off and fleeing” had involved both Christians and Muslims to an equal degree. But in the scarcity of sources this somehow seems impossible... For some time now the Dutch expert on Ottoman history М. Кiel is persuading his Bulgarian colleagues to take into consideration the difficult climatic conditions in the 17th century – called the "Little Ice Age” – as one of the factors, which in combination with the process of voluntary conversion to Islam contributed to the drop of Cizye hanes, observed in the registers. In one of his last papers he even offered us a short bibliography of works on the role of the climate in history.69 On these pages Kiel also performs some observations on the demographic indices of the Christian and the Muslim population in the area of the town of Zlatitsa70 in order to establish that during the period 1580-1642 the number of Christians there dropped by half, while that of Muslims – by 36%. For Kiel this drop is due to two factors: 1. Worsened weather conditions a sharp spell of cold weather, which increases the death rate and forces a part of the population to migrate down towards the warmer plains. This situation equally involves Christians and Muslims; 2. The greater decline on the number of Christians in the area is also due to a certain voluntary conversion to Islam, which the Dutch scholar discovers and follows on the pages of the Ottoman cadastre from the period in question.71 This demographic reconstruction stands quite convincingly mostly because M. Kiel made an effort to make observations on the development of the two religious groups. Is it possible to do something similar for the Western Rhodope Mountain?
65 66 67 68 69

NLOD, F. 126A, a.e. 9. Grozdanova, E. “Promeni v demografskiya oblik...”, p. 21 Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 30-31. Grozdanova, Е. Bulgarskata narodnost..., p. 545. Kiel, M. “Izladi / Zlatitsa. Population Changes. Colonization and Islamisation in a Bulgarian Mouintain Area, 15th – 19th Centuries”. In Studia in Honorem Professoris Verae Mutafcieva. Sofia., 2001, 182-183. Town in the Province of Sofia. Kiel, M. “Izladi / Zlatitsa...”, p. 178-179

70 71

18

Although insufficient for making a detailed picture, the available sources still indicate that the 17th century, particularly its second half, offered quite unfavourable living environment for the whole population of the kaza of Nevrekop. Several years after the Istanbul offices reduced 500 hanes the Christians’ liability to pay Cizye, the authorities are induced to also reduce the burden for the taxpayers of Avariz, which means that this measure now covered the whole reaya of the kaza - Christians and Muslims. A reduction by 200 hanes was made, which corresponds to approximately 500-600 households72. It is difficult to say what exactly made the central authorities to take such action, but one thing is clear: there was absence in the Nevrekop region of tax payers for 200 hanes of the Avariz tax (“they have either died or have fled” – wasn’t that the same argument for the reduction in the case of Cizye hanes?!). Assumptions get a more specific outline from the following order of the Sultan concerning the Avariz taxation in 1723: “...In the kaza of Nevrekop there are 1200 Avariz hanes, but some time ago on the occasion of the passing of military marches the situation in the area was complicated and a decision was made that until those marches cease, the population’s obligations to pay Avariz and Nuzul was reduced by 1/3. In the year 1100 [26.10.1688 14.10.1689] the said 1/3, representing 400 hanes, was deducted73, while the remaining 800 hanes were once more reduced by 13 hanes. The reaya, which fled due the military activities and returned home after they cease, found its property plundered by the remaining population of the kaza. The reaya thus plundered is not capable of paying their dues to the State. Such coercions must be forbidden and not allowed anymore.”74 Some additional details related to the situation in the Western Rhodope Mountain offers a report of the kadi of Nevrekop to the central authorities, which caused the issue of the above order of the Sultan. It is very indicative, because it offers the view of the population itself on its own situation: “...the population of the kaza was asked about its situation. The people stated: most of our villages are located in mountainous and rocky areas, while the plot is in many cases unsuitable for agricultural activities. Apart from that in the years 1110 [10.07.1698 - 28.06.1699] and 1130 [5.12.1717 - 23.11.1718] most villages suffered horrible plague, many of the people fled to other places because of the military forces, passing through the kaza. Therefore we cannot find a way to pay the required Avariz hanes”75. It turns out that during the last quarter of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century the population of the Nevrekop area were befallen by the most horrible dangers, which stalked the people then – “the black death” (plague) and the military forces, passing through the region. Both disasters made no difference between Christians and Muslims, therefore the consequences for the whole population of the kaza were devastating. The detailed register from 1723 suggests the picture of a real demographic disaster. The initial impression of disastrous events comes from the numerous heads of households, entered into the “diseased” column, whose properties are ticked as “desolate, destroyed”. Along with this attention is
72 73

Comp. NLOD, D 368 with F.126, a.e. 94 Obviously the financial offices have made a mistake. We saw that the initial reduction by 200 khanes was made some time in the late 60’s – early 70’s of the century. In the 80’s two new consecutive reductions by another 200 and then by 13 more hanes follow. BOA, Mevkufat Kalemi 2873 Ibidem.

74 75

19

drawn towards the disproportionately large number of widows in almost every village – no matter whether Christian or Muslim one. Here and there are entered wounded and disabled Muslims. There is an abundance of ticks “runaway” concerning both religious groups. Emblematically, however, is the mass exodus of Muslims from their motherland, which became too dangerous for them. A note to the inventory of the village of Rashovo says: “Hamlet Dere Gölü, which is part of the said village [Rashovo]. In 1127 [07.01.1715 - 26.12 1715] the population of the said hamlet ran away and currently, according to information, lives in two newly established villages in the kaza of Filibe”76. These are not the usual observations of the clerks, engaged in tax registration, through which they periodically establish the current changes in the number of taxpayers. Before us are findings about damages, inflicted by a sequence of force majeure circumstances, in respect of which the financial office is forced to also react extraordinarily, reducing the number of taxable units (hanes) within the whole kaza. Important in this case is the fact that this measure is applied to the whole population, regardless its religious affiliations. We saw here above that such reductions are also implemented in the collection of the Cizye tax. So far the most complete observations on the documentation related to the Bulgarian lands disclose that in the course of the 17th century the ethnos not only failed to gain any natural growth, “but for one reason or another at least 1/3 of the initially registered nonMuslim households “disappear” from the Cizye taxation lists”77. Thus the circle closes and we are again faced with the question: what was the reason for the decline of the number of hanes, respectively Christian population? So far I have tried to convince the readers that the way out of this circle is the broadening of the source base of the research. Each historical and demographic study includes conversion to Islam among the factors, determining the development of the Balkan Christians under Ottoman rule. The lack of an appropriate documentation, which could provide a most general notion about the Muslim population (which the Cizye registers provide about Christians), is regarded by researchers as an obstacle for establishing an “eventual transition from the one to the other religious community”78. In other words, the research practice meets difficulties in determining the Christians-Muslim ratio, without which it is impossible to convincingly substantiate the “eventual transition” to Islam as the main reason for the drop in the numbers of Christian population. But these also mean that beyond the perimeter of observations or at least along their periphery remain the neglected reasons of demographic nature. Therefore the doubts that the quantitative analyses, carried out on the limited base of Cizye documentation most often lead to unsubstantiated conclusions seem fully justified. Doubts grow stronger due to the circumstance that this kind of studies bring some additional argumentation from the famous for the lack of any historical reliability “domestic sources for forced Mohammedanisation”. These normally appear where there are insufficient arguments in favour of the conclusion that the drop in the demographic indices is due to a large extent to
76 77 78

Ibidem. Grozdanova, E. Bulgarskata narodnost..., p. 526 Ibid., p. 40

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“the Ottoman policy of mass and forced conversion to Mohammedanism”. Thus the intentions to combine the positive historical knowledge with storylines of a legendary origin invariably turn the research process into fabricating historiographic fallacies. It must be pointed out here that a historiographic myth comes to life not only by means of involving sources of questionable historical value. This also occurs the other way around – by interpreting the Ottoman source material in view of proving fabricated theories. Let us consider this version. Despite the recent incomplete concept of the quantitative dimensions of the conversion to Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountain, a long time ago the Bulgarian historiography adopted the notion of the disastrous extent of this process. The Sultan’s order of 1660 for reduction of the number of Cizye hanes in the Nevrekop region by 500 – from 2,053 to 1,553, make things look even gloomier in the eyes of some researchers. We saw that P. Petrov concluded without any hesitation: “this undoubtedly could have happened by means of forced Mohammedanisation". But we also saw that the Ottoman document unambiguously points out “dying off and fleeing” of the reaya as the reason for reducing the hanes. Let us remember that those events took place in the already narrowed Nevrekop taxation district for Cizye, for which we said to include about 50 villages, most of which retain as Christian till the end of the Ottoman epoch. This is a very important fact, which comes to suggest that we have to trust the information provided by the Ottoman clerk about “dying off and fleeing”, i.e. to accept that the drop is due to nothing else but demographic reasons. The discoverer of this document – Str. Dimitrov – assumes in his interpretation that the clerk has intentionally omitted some important circumstances. According to him “there had to be an extremely important reason leading to the more difficult situation of the Nevrekop region…”79. One may say that everyday life could hardly bring about anything more extreme in its nature than “the dying off and fleeing”. The intention has apparently been, however, to explore whether there was a real relationship between the sharp drop in the Cizye hanes and the situations rendered in the myths of “mass and forced Mohammedanisation” in the Rhodope Mountain, because “…the notes in the “domestic sources” relate the extinction of the Bulgarian population in the Western Rhodope Mountain not only to its fleeing, but mainly to its Mohammedanisation by force”80. It should be noted, however, that there is a substantial difference in time between the sharp drop in the Cizye hanes in 1660 and the fabricated tragic events in the Rhodope Mountain, described in “the domestic sources”. In addition to that, an Ottoman document from the same 1660 discloses an identical situation of “dying off and fleeing” in the neighbouring kaza of Razlog. The authors are more detailed so that the text does not leave to doubt the existence of anything concealed or distorted. The immediate proximity of both kazas, the absolute coincidence of the time of the described circumstances (the documents from Nevrekop and Razlog date back not only to the same year, but also to the same month), reveals that the situations in the two neighbouring regions had been the identical.

79 80

Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 103. Ibidem.

21

The document from Razlog was compiled by “the learned people, imams, janissaries, spahis and other poor and weak people and the reaya, living in the kaza”. All of them inform the capital of the following: …When the [Christian] reaya in the vilayet [the Razlog taxation district] were enlisted, there were 883 Cizye hanes registered. Nevertheless, since the time when the reaya was listed until this day, some had left their homes for other places, some had died, so that half of those entered into the new imperial register taxpayers of Cizye are not present. Those who fled more than 10 years ago have already dispersed and have been lost as taxpayers. Therefore we ask for benevolence [so that all such people are removed from the register]. The statement of the local notable people and the Christian reaya was taken into account by the financial authorities in the capital and reflected in the following resolution: …Some [of the tax payers] have died, others have left their homes and moved elsewhere, and most of the remaining reaya have grown too poor to pay such an amount of Cizye hanes. As a sign of condescension towards the situation of the poor reaya, 120 Cizye hanes are to be reduced81. Here are the most important details set out in the picture so far: 1. The number of the Christian population in the Western Rhodope Mountain sharply declined. According to the analysis of the Ottoman sources it may turn out that this decline considerably exceeds what has been believed until now; 2. One of the reasons for that is the conversion to Islam, but obviously it is not the only one. The Ottoman sources from the preceding 16th century actually provide adequate information on the spread of Islam among the Christian population in the Western Rhodope Mountain, the reasons being mainly of economic character. Even if we cannot follow the progress of this process into the 17th century (there is no sufficient number of reliable sources), the documentation from the previous period is adequate enough to give an idea of the ongoing developments; 3. It is absolutely clear, however, that various causes of demographic nature have also had effect on the decrease of the Christian population. In many cases their importance is even crucial. Consequently, the issue here is not whether or not any Balkan Christians converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule. Regarding the region of the Western Rhodope Mountain in particular, the source materials, discovered recently, undoubtedly prove that there took place a prolonged voluntary process of conversion to Islam comprising large groups of the local Christian population. Consequently the conversion had a mass character as a number of Bulgarian researchers insist. Then, there remains the issue about the technology of religious conversion. It ceases to exist, however, if we trust credulous the allegations of the “domestic sources” that the Ottoman government had designed special terrorist actions for mass and forced production of Muslims. Actually, the sharp decrease of the number of Cizye hanes in the Ottoman sources has been interpreted until now as a sign of the “mass Mohammedanisation” attained through violence on a regular basis. What is more, the effect of the demographic factors has been deemed unsubstantial as a rule.
81

NLOD, F. 128, a.e.9. The full text of the documents is translated by Str. Dimitrov and published in Rodoski sbornik, Vol. I, Sofia, 1965, 319-322.

22

Str. Dimitrov, who is the first to establish that around 1660 the number of the Cizye hanes in the Western Rhodope Mountain had sharply dropped, highlights the fact that the Ottoman narrative sources from that period do not provide “any evidence on the forced Islamisation of Bulgarians there. Even the eloquent Evliya Çelebi, who crossed the Western Rhodope Mountain during the 50’s and 60’s of the same century, did not mention a word of the Christian population’s lot and events from that region.”82 Shall we finally accept that the Ottoman authorities are too embarrassed to talk due to the incurred evil and only the “domestic sources” are to be trusted in their representation of the situation in its true dramatic light? Here the issue of the chronology of the events turns out to be really of crucial importance. The apparent lack of coincidence in time doesn’t allow the catastrophic situations described in the “domestic sources” to be confirmed by the available evidence contained in the Ottoman documentation. However, in the context of the representation of the Ottoman rule, adopted in the Bulgarian historiography, it is possible to believe that the people “flee and perish” due to the regular violent measures against the Christian population; it is implied that the survivors are faced by only one choice – to embrace Islam. In that respect P. Petrov offers the following interpretation: “the forced Mohammedanisation in the Nevrekop region in 16th century continued at the same rate also during the next century and only for the period 1635-1660 the Bulgarian Christian population shrunk by over 40%”. The apogee, however, according to the ideas of this author, was still to come, because “the mass forced Mohammedanisation in the Central Rhodopes in 1669 had undoubtedly also affected Nevrekop Region in the western part of the mountain. The fact that the Sultan came hunting in Dospat83 in the spring of 1671 shows that there were no Christians remained in that region anymore”84. The described situation of some imagined Islamisation pressure in the Nevrekop Region relies on limited but chronologically orientated source materials. The first chronological marker is called “Nevrekop Region on the eve of the second85 mass forced Mohammedanisation”. This is the well-known register for collection of Cizye tax from 51 villages in the Nevrekop Region in 1660 where we see the number of the hanes sharply dropped. The next marker is the “second mass forced Mohammedanisation” itself, i.e. – the imaginary Islamisation pressure in 1669, described by the non-existent priest Methodi
82 83 84

Dimitrov, Str., “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 103, Pastoral area in the Western Rhodope Mountain. Petrov, P. Sadbonosni vekove..., p. 179. The connection between the Sultan’s hunting and the so called “mass forced Mohammedanisation in 1669” is not clear here. Apparently the mountain inhabited by Bulgarian Christians had inspired Sultan Mehmed IV with respect and avoided visiting this region during his hunting expeditions. Two years after the fictitious mass and forcible conversion of the mountain people to Islam, he seemed to be visiting the Rhodope Mountain undaunted. Actually, the witness of the events and also their chronicler – Sarı Mehmed Pasha – does not mention anything like that: “In that happy year we had not planned any military expeditions and His Majesty wished to spend the summer at a pleasant place with nice air and water. He was told about the high mountain pastures in the Dospat Region and on 16 Muharrem 1082 [25.V.1671] were ordered to head for that place”. Cf. Defterdar Sarı Mehmed PaĢa. Zübde-i Vekayat (10661116/1656-1704). Tahlil ve Metin. Ankara, 1995, 17-18. As first one is considered the mass "conversion to Mohammedanism", reported in the legendary story of the "ruin of Bulgaria" during the reign of sultan Selim I (1515). See Petrov, P. Po sledite na nasilieto [On the Footsteps of Terror]. Sofia, 1972, p. 204-206.

85

23

Draginov86 (from P. Petrov we understood that the pressure in question “had undoubtedly also affected Nevrekop Region”). The third chronological marker is an Ottoman document from 1671 that allegedly discloses the consequences from the events of 1669 and therefore some Bulgarian historians called it as “The villages in the Nevrekop Region after the second mass forced Mohammedanisation”87. It is clear that the mythologem of mass repressions and armed violence against the Christian population in that mountain underlies the historiographic representation of the Islamisation in the Rhodope Mountain, plotted and put into practice by the Ottoman authorities. Up to this point it was demonstrated that the attempts to prove the authenticity of these events using the Ottoman archive sources – mainly documentation concerned with the Cizye tax – do not yield a convincing result. This increases the value of the document from 1671. It was issued by the local authorities and therefore reveals events “at first hand”. Actually from here is expected the appearance of undisputed evidence that the Bulgarians from the Western Rhodope Mountain had been directly subjected to the Ottoman religious violence allegedly occurring in the neighbouring regions in the central part of the mountain. Therefore, in a broader sense, this source is even required to support the historical truthfulness of the "domestic sources". The careful analysis of events, however, has the opposite result: the idea of a regular, forced and mass conversion to Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountain is deprived of its last argument and one more myth is added to the sequence of historiographic myths surrounding the spread of Islam. The reader is probably curious now to learn what kind of document that is. This is a report of the local kadi regarding the reimbursement of amounts concerning the obligatory delivery of corn and wheat by the population of the kaza of Nevrekop. Authorized representatives of the reaya appear before the kadi to receive the monetary equivalent of the supplied foodstuffs on behalf of the reaya. The interpreters of the document are convinced that “depending on the names of the representatives of the different villages we can speak with certainty about the stage of forced Mohammedanisation", as “the representatives of the Christian villages are usually Christians, the representatives of the mixed villages are one Christian and one Muslim, and the representatives of the Muslim villages are only Muslims… The data shows that there were Muslims in only 34 out of 43 villages in the Nevrekop region (5 of them were with mixed population)"88. And indeed villages, which according to the register from 1660 paid Cizye, i.e. undisputedly Christian, in the documents from 1671 they were already represented by Muslims. It turns out that Christianity had really ceased to exist there. Now we have the convincing evidence that the forced mass Islamisation in the Rhodope Mountain in 1669, reported by the “domestic sources”, did actually occur. It also affected the Nevrekop Region and the result was not only “fled and killed” Bulgarians, but also unconditional “forced Mohammedanisation”. This does not seem anymore like a coincidence so as to doubt the power of the evidence.
86 87

See Kiel, M. “Razprostranenie na islyama...”, p. 58 passim. Petrov, P. Po sledite na nasilieto, p. 262-263. Comp. Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 108-109. Petrov, P. Sadbonosni vekove..., p. 179. Comp. Dimitrov, Str. “Demografski otnosheniya i pronikvane na islyama...”, p. 108-109.

88

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A detailed and until recently unknown inventory of the population in the kaza of Nevrekop from 172389 allows us to comprehend the actual religious situation in the region five decades after the eventual drama called “second mass conversion to Islam”. That is quite a long period and if Christianity survives somehow here and there after the “religious outrage”, it had to be completely finished at a later time. Let’s see what the situation looked like in the light of this new source. According to the Cizye register of 1660 the Christians from the Village of Obidim were obliged to pay 55 hanes, and in 1671 the village seems to be hundred percent Muslim as someone called Halil Çelebi represents the villagers. However, the Village of Obidim is a Christian village without a single Muslim family according to the register from 1723. The village of Osenovo is also considered to be forced to Islam after "the second mass conversion to Mohammedanism". In 1660 the local Christians had to pay 20 Cizye hanes, and in 1671 the Muslim Ali Efendi represents the village. According to the registration from 1723, however, it also proved to be populated only by Christians with a total of 12 households. The Christians from the village of Leshten were supposed to be forced to Islam as well; however, the Christians there had a predominance of 18 families to only 2 Muslim households. The same also holds for the villages of Chereshovo, Tsiropol, Musomishte, Dolyan and many others. As far as the representatives of the village population are concerned, they were most probably the local usurers who had credited the villagers in the payment of their duties and who appeared before the authorities to have their money recovered. The archive documentation discloses a similar practice in the Nevrekop Region and not only there, according to which the rich local people were always ready to pay the duties of the reaya against a debenture and the respective interest90. The arbitrary interpretation of this group of Ottoman documents has some more surprises to present. Here is one of them: the Christian population of the village of Ribnovo paid in 1660 10 Cizye hanes. The process of voluntary Islamisation there began as early as the first decades of the previous century91 and during the 60s and 70s of the 17th century it was to its end; that is evidenced by the low number of Cizye hanes, paid at the same time. Nevertheless, it turns out that in 1671 a certain Boyo – one of the few Christians in the village, represented it before the kadi of Nevrekop. It is because of this person that P. Petrov allocates Ribnovo to the group of villages “with Christian representatives”, i.e. of those spared from the “Mohammedan violence”92 due to some kind of miracle. The same author makes it clear that those few villages “with Christian representatives” share the “same unfortunate fate at a later time, as the forced conversion did not end in the 17th and 18th centuries”. At that time “was actually completed the Mohammedanisation of the village
89

BOA, Mevkufat Kalemi 2873. Comp. Radushev, E., R. Kovachev, ed. Inventory of Registers from the Ottoman Archive in Istanbul at the General Directorate of the State Archives in the Republic of Turkey, p. 50-51. BOA, Mevkufat Kalemi, 2873, fol. 109. Comp. Turski izvori za bulgarskata istoriya (GDA), 266-269. Radushev, E. Pomacite, 406-414. Petrov, P. Sadbonosni vekove..., p. 180.

90 91 92

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of Krushevo and the villages of Ribnovo, Skrebatno Fotovishta, Turlis, Starchishta, Zarnevo, Teshovo as well as others were also supposed to be entirely converted to Mohammedanism by force93” (my italic, E.R.). Here we again come upon a misunderstanding: except for the villages of Ribnovo and Krushevo, characterised by prolonged voluntary conversion, none of the above places had to convert to Islam. They belong to the group of Rhodope villages reported to have remained Christian during the entire Ottoman period or which the voluntary conversion process only peripherally affected94. The approach to the spread of Islam in the Western Rhodope Mountain, discussed here, actually does not add anything new to the idea of “mass forced Mohammedanisation", underlying the Bulgarian historiography. The interpretation of Ottoman archival materials for the purpose of proving the scientific reliability of fabricated theories does not attach any historical positivism to the research process. Thus, the initial invented story produced by the "domestic sources", after having been fit into a context of authentic sources, quickly picks up elements of positive knowledge only to become eventually the next historiographic myth. *** I could have concluded this text here, however, my attention has been attracted these days by an unusual method for production of historiographic myths so I decided to acquaint the readers with it. Some time ago, the Bulgarian researchers Е. Grozdanova and St. Andreev announced the discovery of a new-founded Ottoman document containing important information on the religious situation in Western Rhodope Mountain and more specifically, in the town of Nevrekop. It seemed that a new source had appeared, confirming in a straightforward text the idea of the Islamic fanaticism and the religious intolerance as an underlying principle in the Ottoman policy towards the Christian population in the Balkans. According to the two historians, this source exposes unequivocally the purposeful actions of the Ottoman authorities intended “to attack first of all the Christian religion and the Bulgarian folk customs and traditions which had preserved the ethnic awareness of the Bulgarians under the foreign yoke”95. It turns out, however, that the deciphering of the Ottoman Turkish text and the scientific interpretation of that important document quite unexpectedly discloses the meaning of the images through which historiography, considered in terms of a contemporary myth, affirms the notion of religious pressure during the Ottoman epoch. The document is an imperial order to the kadis of the towns of Nevrekop and Drama dated 1560 and is kept at BaĢbakanlık Osmanlı ArĢivi - Istanbul96. Grozdanova/Andreev are convinced that it contains important information about the Ottoman past of the Western Rhodope Mountain, therefore they dedicate particular attention to this source and publish

93 94 95

Ibid., p. 181. See BOA, Mevkufat Kalemi, 2873. Comp. with BOA, ML. VRD. CMH. 210. Grozdanova E, St. Andreev. “Osmanoturski dokument ot 1560 g. za obichaya lazaruvane v Nevrokop” [Ottoman Turkish document from 1560 on the celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day in Nevrekop]. Vekove, 1982, No 5, p. 67. BOA, 3. Mühimme Defteri, fol. 274, doc. 1.

96

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their research interpretation in the Bulgarian scientific press 97. Attached to their publication, however, is an illegible photocopy of the original source so that the specialized reader can only take on trust the translation into Bulgarian language, offered by the two authors. After a while, in Turkey began the publication of the representative series “Divan-i Hümâyun Sicilleri Dizisi” where I found the same document, published as a facsimile and with transcription in the Roman alphabet98. Comparing the original source text and the translation published by Grozdanova/Andreev, I established a number of weaknesses in their work resulting eventually in the production of another historiographic myth. As the failures in the interpretation result from the incorrect deciphering of its contents, let’s first take a look at the translation, submitted by Grozdanova/Andreev: Order to the kadis of Nevrekop and the surrounding regions: There was a complaint sent to my honourable throne that the church in the mentioned town is located on a hill, surrounded by the mosques and the mescids. On Friday and on other days, when the time for sallah and ezan comes, the infidels residing in the church celebrate St. Lazarus’ Day. As I have been informed of that, I issue this order: When the [order] regarding this matter arrives and becomes registered, investigate whether there are any other similar churches, what kind of churches they are, whether infidels live there and how many they are. In the report specify whether in the vicinity similar churches can be found and how the behaviour and customs of the infidels who lead such lives violate the sacred law. If there is such behaviour and customs, forbid them. Write and report on the events in that respect. When acting in accordance with the order, be careful. [Note in the margin]: [The order] was handed to the Çavuş-başı on 30 Cemazi el-evvel 967 [27. II. 1560]99. What makes greatest impression here is the appearance of the term “celebrate St. Lazarus’ Day” in an official Ottoman-Turkish document (the reader’s particular attention is drawn to the fact that this is the earliest presently known written evidence of this typically Bulgarian custom)100. Grozdanova/Andreev interpret this unusual circumstance as “evidence of the widespread celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day among the Bulgarian population, particularly in Nevrekop and the Region of Nevrekop under the Ottoman rule”. And more: “The introduction of the term “celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day” in the official Ottoman-Turkish lexis through the spoken language, at least specifically with regard to Nevrekop, must have been facilitated by another circumstance. Between 1530 and 1569 Nevrekop witnessed an exceptionally intensive increase of the Muslim element at the expense of the Christian one. Therefore, a large number of the local Mohammedans during the 60’s of the 16th Century were Bulgarians who had been recently converted to Islam due to one or another reason and
97 98

Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. Op. cit., 65-68 3 Numaralı Mühimme Defteri (966-988/1558-1560). Özet, Transkripsyon ve Tıpkıbasım. In Divan-i Hümayûn Sicilleri Dizisi: I. Ankara, 1993, p. 362, doc. 799. Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. Op. cit., 65-68. Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. Op. cit., 65-66. Comp. Grozdanova, Е., St. Andreev. Bulgarite prez 16 vek [Bulgarians during the 16th Century]. Sofia, 1986, p. 86.

99 100

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Bulgarian was their mother tongue”101. For that reason Grozdanova/Andreev come to the following conclusion: “Under those circumstances the fear of the Ottoman authorities had been even more understandable as the old Bulgarian customs and rites could have disconcerted the recent Mohammedan converts and distracted their attention from their prayers to Allah”102. One detail in the document perplexes the two researchers. The sultan’s order is from February and “therefore the complaint to which it served as an answer could hardly have been sent from Nevrekop to the capital Istanbul later than a month or two before… This creates the impression that the representatives of the Ottoman administration … had been more likely annoyed by the sequence of winter celebrations of the Nevrekop Christian Bulgarians between the end of December and the end of January”. That is how Grozdanova/Andreev assume that the term “celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day” denotes “a general, rather than a specific term. In other words, celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day does not signify particularly the spring maidenly custom, but all similar customs of the Bulgarians in Nevrekop, concerned with singing, dancing and folk games”103. This research thesis would have been justified to a certain extent if the translation had been correct. Let’s see where the two authors are mistaken and what the consequences of the failure to understand the text correctly are. For that reason, I suggest that we acquaint ourselves with the source’s transcription into the Roman alphabet, performed by the experts of BaĢbakanlık Osmanlı ArĢivi – Istanbul: Yazıldı. ÇavuĢ-baĢına teslim olındı. Fi selh-i Cumâde'1-ûlâ sene 967. Nevrekop ve Drama kadîlarına hüküm ki: Hâliyâ Südde-i saâdetüme arz-ı hâl sunılup kasaba-i mezbûrede olan kilise bir mürtefi yirde olup cevami u mesâcide havale olup yevm-i cumada ve sair evkatda sala ve ezan okundukda kilisede sakin olan kefere dil-âzârlık ider diyü ilam itmeğin büyürdüm ki: Vusul buldukta, bu bâbda mukayyed olup göresin; anun gibi kilise var mıdur; ne makuledür ve içinde kefere sakin olurlar mı; ne mikdar kefere vardur ve arz olınduğı gibi hâvâle yirde midür? Anun gibi sakin olan keferenin hilâf-i ġer-i ġerif evzâ u etvârları var mıdur, nicedür? Anun gibi hilâf-i ġer evzâ u etvârları var ise men idüp kazıyyelerin vukuı üzre yazup arz idesin. Himâyet etmekden hazer idesin. [Tahrîren] fî 23 Cemâziye’l-evvel sene 967104.
101

Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. “Osmanoturski dokument...”, 66-67. Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. Ibid., 66-67. Ibid., p. 67 3 Numaralı Mühimme Defteri, p. 362, doc. 799. Here I suggest my translation of the Ottoman Turkish text: “[Note in the margin]: Registered. [The document] was handed to the ÇavuĢ-baĢı on 30 Cemazi el-evvel 967

102 103 104

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Grozdanova/Andreev’s most serious mistake is that they understand and interpret incorrectly the word dil-âzârlık (insult, offence) as Lazarlık (meaning “celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day”). They also admit other inaccuracies on the basis of which they conclude that the Ottoman central authority, concerned with the situation in Nevrekop, orders the investigation whether there are similar churches in the neighbouring kazas. In that respect, both authors consider that the sultan’s order “actually started another violent campaign or at least increased the pressure on the existing Bulgarian population in this Rhodope Region and particularly along the Valley of Mesta River”105. Thus, in an unusual way, the historiography witnessed the appearance of yet another historiographic myth. What is noteworthy here is that though it is the result of inaccuracies in the understanding and translation of the source, it coincides with the common idea of the “forced Mohammedanisation” in the Rhodope Mountain. Here the oxymoron “correct mistake” is most suitable to express the meaning of this situation. The fabricated “celebration of St. Lazarus’ Day” not only adds a new detail to the concept of the confessional relations during the Ottoman period, established in the Bulgarian historiography. Within the meaning of the sustainable concepts, the presentation of this Ottoman document with an incorrect interpretation easily affirms the archetypes already created by the "domestic sources" and set deeply in the historical self-consciousness of today’s Bulgarians. Actually the source, discovered by Grozdanova/Andreev allows for the wonderful opportunity to feel the daily routine of the religious communities in Nevrekop during the second half of the 16th Century. The textological analysis unveils interesting aspects of the relationships between Christians and Muslims when Islam had already dominated the spiritual atmosphere of the town. So, there is still some more work to be done in respect of this source, but it should take place in a completely different context. The meaning of the historiographic myths of Islamisation in the Rhodope Mountain has two sides. On one side, they express the inability of the historical positivism to be fully realized because of the lack of suitable sources or because of the inability of the researchers to abandon their romantic passion and national pathos. At the same time, listening to the tradition, historiography has been reproducing grim episodes of religious violence in the Ottoman state for over a century now based on legends, sagas and anonymous chronicles. And it often happens that each criticism of the tradition, expressed by us as historians, is accepted at first as an attempt to offend the historical knowledge. Therefore it is hardly surprising that only recently did any Bulgarian critical analyses of the “domestic sources”
[27. II. 1560]. Order to the kadis of Nevrekop and Drama: There was a complaint sent to my honourable throne that the church in the mentioned town [Nevrekop] is situated on a hill and rises above the mosques and the mescids. It is being announced that on Friday, and on other days [of the week], when the sallah and ezan are read, the infidels residing in the church insult [the Muslims]. Therefore I ordered: When the [order] arrives it should be registered that you have to investigate: whether such church exists; what does it look like and do infidels live therein; what is their number and is the [church] situated on a high place as has been reported; do the infidels, living in the [church] violate the sacred religious law and how; if there are any acts violating the sacred law, forbid them and report of the undertaken measures. Refrain from patronizing [anyone]. Written on 23 Cemazi el-evvel 967 [20. II. 1560].”
105

Grozdanova E., St. Andreev. “Osmanoturski dokument...”, p. 67.

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and the historiographic myths based on them appear. It is a well-known fact that our historical knowledge actually represents our own selves. And nowhere does delusion come as easily and closely as it does in self-knowledge and selfevaluation. So, the historiographic myths appear most readily where we expect tradition to reveal our own selves the way we are used to knowing ourselves or as what we would like to be. In that sense, the Bulgarian historiography has encountered a deep internal contradiction: whether to affirm as true the notion that corresponds to the public opinion about the Ottoman past or to go deeper with the critical review of tradition. We have made clear so far the consequences resulting from the intention to provide a convincing justification of the historical reliability of the “domestic sources” (the tradition). In all cases this results in historiographic myths, i.e., a series of attempts to reconstruct the past with rather controversial outcome. This outcome would have been viewed just as a notso-successful period in the research on the spread of Islam, if the historiographic myths had not turned out to be a suitable means for justifying fatefully wrong social and political decisions in the recent past (the forced change of the names of the Pomaks and ethnic Turks during the communist regime in Bulgaria). We can ask here: if the Bulgarian historians had had access to such reliable sources in the available amounts seen only after the democratic changes, would the vague mixture of mythology and historical emotions, triggering political actions and public reactions with a permanent negative result, have appeared? This question may seem naive at least because a negative answer would actually suggest an already impossible alternative to events, which we jointly criticize today. However, if referred to the future of Ottoman studies in Bulgaria, the question acquires particular meaning. The successfully expanded source base allows believing that the ill fortunes of the predecessors may not plague the modern and future generations of Bulgarian historians. Therefore, it is worth trying once again.