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On the Devsirme System and Balkan Slavery

Lindy Young

2 To deny that the Balkans have had a history characterized by war and violence would be nave. ermanently outside o! greater global "olitics# the Balkans have long been torn at by all sides and viewed as $uro"e%s backwater. Like many less &modern' regions# the international community new little o! the Balkans other than the unim"ressed and dismissive tales o! travelers.( Their lot then mani!ested itsel! in the ()th century through a military invasion by the Ottoman $m"ire. *ssimilation into the em"ire was generally !avorable !or the region# with the local Slavic "eo"le being allowed relatively lenient social and religious !reedoms. +owever# the choice to remain !aith!ul to their native religions ,namely $astern Orthodo-y and .atholicism/ was not without recourse. 0on12uslim villages soon became sub3ect to the Devsirme system# a &blood ta-'4 at regular intervals# young .hristian boys were taken to be directly indoctrinated into Ottoman society. Trained !rom any early age# they were used in the !acility o! "olitical advisers# religious leaders# or troo"s !or the elite 5anissary cor". This system o! em"irical sub3ugation# then# has become one o! the most simultaneously studied and misunderstood to"ics o! Ottoman history. *ll entities within the system bene!ited in some way# but as e-"ected this bene!it was !ar !rom evenly distributed. 6urther# the balance o! "ower was less concrete than originally "lanned# and with the waning o! the Sultan%s "ower# the new Devsirme class would soon rise u" to !ill the ga". +ere lies the critical misunderstanding o! the system7 while it was created to control the Slavic natives# the sub3ugated soon became the sub3ugators. This rising class would# over the centuries o! the Devsirme system%s e-istence# come to be the uno!!icial rulers o! the Ottoman $m"ire. 6urther# the !luctuating reversal o! "ower between the Ottomans and the Slavic "eo"les o! the Balkans would hel" !orm the racial and religious tensions that would become the e"icenter o! the war crimes committed during the Yugoslav 8ars o! the (99:s.
1 Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation

$-ertion on *ll Sides

6ollowing the de!eat o! a uni!ied Slavic !orce at ;osovo ol3e on 5une <=# (>=9# Ottoman rule o! the Balkans became largely uno""osed until the (9 th century. The Bosnian "o"ulations o"enly acce"ted ?slam and to this day are largely 2uslim ,&Bosniak' is the generally acce"ted term !or this "o"ulation# with Bosnian 2uslim being largely redundant due to the inherent religious insinuations/# but all other Slavic grou"s retained whatever !orm o! .hristianity they !ollowed.< This set the stage !or the Devsirme system4 while the Slavic "eo"les were allowed to !reely kee" and "ractice their native religions# doing so made them eligible !or conscri"tion into the system. *t its core# the Devsirme system was a method o! control. *s a s"rawling em"ire con@uering a region in!amous !or its myriad ethnic grou"s and constant wars# the Ottomans !aced an im"osing dilemma concerning the most e!!icient way to tame the Balkans. Direct rule by Ottoman o!!icials would result in nearly constant regional u"heavals and revolts# and as stable control o! the Balkans already "osed a daunting task# this traditional system would be im"ossible to im"lement. 8hat the em"ire needed was a tool with which to govern the region while ensuring a @uasi1"eace!ul relationshi" with the local "eo"les. Leadershi" by Slavs taken and trained through the Devsirme ta- "roved to be an incredibly e!!ective means to this end. ?n the initial stages# incentivising coo"eration within the devsirme system was the

2 Gjelten, Tom. Sarajevo Daily, A City and Its Newspaper nder Siege

4 Ottoman%s "lan !or its success. Aather than leave the local "eo"le out o! the new im"erial government and inviting constant u"risings# they devised a system wherein regions would be ruled by one o! their own. This was thought to reduce tension between the largely decentralized agricultural "o"ulations and their new Ottoman rulers. > *s the em"ire was interested not in a brie! con@uering but in long1term control# the most stable and easily maintainable system would be chosen. Thus the Devsirme system was chosen based on its ability to o!!er some small semblance o! sel!1rule4 although the Balkans were ultimately at the mercy o! the Sultan%s will# the !act that this will was carried out by local Slavs ,regardless o! their current cultural or religious a!!iliations/ greatly eased the transition. 8hile !ar !rom any true re"resentation# governors !rom Slavic stock would largely be more o"enly acce"ted by the Balkan "easants. 8hile there was no o!!icially written statement on regional bias or selection# the system still instilled a great sense o! hostility in the locals# "articularly mani!esting in anti1?slamic sentiment due to the religious divisions. +owever# villages selected to !ill the regional @uotas would o!ten remain loyal to the Turks !or the sake o! their children. 6ear o! retribution against the boys in Ottoman hands hel"ed to greatly reduced the risk o! o"en rebellion. Beyond this# converted children# unable to return to their !ormer lives# would o!ten lend aid to their home villages in other ways4 monetary aid in the !orm o! "ublic works could o!ten be e-"ected )# !urther enticing loyalty through the "ossibility o! a higher @uality o! li!e. *s the Balkan "o"ulations at the time were largely based in agricultural village li!estyles# the vast monetary aid a vizier could return to his village would be a massive boon# drastically im"roving the "oor in!rastructure.
3 Karahasan, Dzevad. Sarajevo, E!odus o" a City 4 ha!, tan"ord #. $The %ims and %&hievements o" 'ttoman (ule in the )al*ans+

, This# more than anything# has lead to a rather "er"le-ing history o! "raise !rom the sub3ected "eo"les. This cycle o! emotional damage su!!ered !rom the abductions !ollowed by years o! "ros"erity !rom the now wealthy children can be !ound both in historical re!erences and modern "rose. Yugoslav author ?vo *ndric%s The Bridge on the Drina "er!ectly e-em"li!ies this trend o! "suedo1a"ologism. 8hile much o! Bridge !ocuses on the hardshi"s !aced by the Balkans throughout the second millennium# !rom Ottoman con@uering to the ravages o! 8orld 8ar ?# the "ositive e!!ect o! the Devsirme is shown !ar beyond the negative. B 8hether this is "artly based in what remembrances o! the system are most visible today is unclear# but the "ossibility cannot be ignored. The "hysical works given back by the viziers taken# ty"ically stoneworks such as walls and the a!orementioned bridge are more o!ten than not still standing as testament to Ottoman engineering. ?t would be easy to argue then !or the "ositive e!!ects outweighing the negative# but historical documents !rom the time siding with this view"oint are scarce at best# leading on to believe that this is more 3ust biased 3usti!ications than historical o"inion. The "hysical collecting o! the children would have rarely been a "eace!ul a!!air4 while o"enly re!using the blood ta- was almost wholly unthinkable due to the threat o! Ottoman troo"s# losing "art o! the ne-t generation was still a "ain!ul "rocess !or the small villages targeted. *s most o! the region was inhabited by rural agrarian societies# the "roblem was !ar more acutely "ain!ul than it would be to urban areas. 6amilial grou"s o!ten had close ties !rom generations largely staying within the same area# and the loss o! boys meant less labor "otential in the ne-t generation# a great loss !or such societies. ?n order to ease the trans!er o! the children !rom their 3usti!iably bere!t !amilies to the Ottomans# a "articular class called the Voynuks carried out the ac@uisition and return tri". These men were themselves Slavic#
, %ndri&, -vo. T#e $ridge on t#e Drina

. s"eci!ically BulgarianC# and while the !orcible taking o! children will o!ten be met with anger and grie! no matter the circumstance# using locals as o!!iciators hel"ed relieve some tension. 8hile Bulgarians had o!ten ,and to some e-tent still are/ seen as being distinctly di!!erent !rom some o! the Balkan "o"ulations like Serbs# they were still a much more relatable grou" than the wholly !oreign Ottomans. The boys taken were indoctrinated throughout their childhood# converted to ?sland# and enticed with massive social u"ward mobility or military "ower. Based on natural a"titudes# they would be sorted into various sectors# whether as "olitical advisers o! the "alace# religious leaders# or soldiers o! the 5anissaries. 8ith such "ossibilities o"en to them# loyalty was easy to attain. Being raised by Ottoman handlers !rom young ages# even as early as "re1 adolescance# hel"ed !urther ensured com"lete sub3ugation by conditioning them during their most !ormative years. The "rominent belie! since the ince"tion o! the system was that the boys# i! taken at a young enough age# would lose all meaning!ul connections to their villages# culture# and religion.D That this was not entirely "ossible was an unavoidable "roblem recognized by the Ottomans# but the diminishing returns caused by generations o! the new Devsirme class interacting was not entirely !oreseen. 0ow we can see the !ull web o! the Devsirme system%s control. The villages sub3ect to the ta- would bear through and remain loyal to the Ottomans both !or the sake o! the boys taken and !or the "romise o! eventual gain. The boys# stri""ed ,to varying degrees# less so as time "rogressed/ o! their local ties# "ledged loyalty both !or the "romises o! "ower!ul "ositions within the Ottoman government and due to the !act that they now lived# worked# and were educated in the ca"ital# had little other choice. 6inally# the em"ire itsel! gained not the loyalty
. %hmed %*/unduz, %smanli &anunnameleri ve 'u(u(i Ta#lilleri 0 Kunt, Metin -1rahim. $2thni&3(e/ional 45ins6 olidarity in the eventeenth35entury 'ttoman 2sta1lishment+

0 o! the newly con@uered regions but also highly skilled advisers or military !orces# and by "aying only a monetary "rice in the !orm o! the boys% rearing and eventual salaries. *ll three grou"s were to no small e-tent de"endent on the continued coo"eration o! the others# and here lay both the genius and the eventual down!all o! the Devsirme system. The mutually bene!icial nature o! the ta- ensured that all were likely to remain !aith!ul# and in the early years this bene!it still swung in !avor o! the Ottomans# lulling them into a !alse sense o! solidi!ication as the true bene!actors.

Aeligion and ?dentity

To understand how the Devsirme system became so success!ul# one must understand the greater history o! the Balkans. 2uch o! the Southern Slav "eo"les had long been .hristian# though o!ten belonging to di!!erent sects. .yril and 2ethodius# two ninth century a"ostles# are largely res"onsible !or the s"read o! .hristianity among the Slavs o! the Balkans# as well as develo"ing the early !orms o! .hurch Slavonic. .enturies later the (:B) $ast18est schism within .hristendom reached even the Balkans# setting u" the !inal "re1 Ottoman grou"s o! .atholic ,"rimarily .roatian/ and Orthodo- ,most other Slavic grou"s# "articularly Serbian/.= These various religious grou"s had become strongly tied to their national identity# blurring the lines between what identi!ied one%s "lace in society more "rominently# nationality or !aith. To some they were even one in the same# as with the "reviously mentioned Bosniaks. +ere lay the !irst ma3or cultural decision created by the Devsirme system7 religious
7 Ka8lan, (o1ert D. $al(an )#osts, A *ourney T#roug# 'istory

7 assimilation# or inde"endence at the "rice o! "ossible conscri"tionE 8hile this may seem like an already di!!icult choice to some modern audiences# the conte-t o! the situation makes it all the more decisive. 8ithin the Balkans# religious identity !ar sur"assed any other within society. Des"ite the multi"le ethnicities ,along with their res"ective nations/# a "erson%s religion de!ined their "osition in the "ublic eye. The city o! ;osovo has long served as a microcosm o! the Balkans region# in at least the !unction o! the dis"arate "eo"les inhabiting the area. The middle ages showed a ;osovo strictly divided by ethnic ,and its o!ten res"ective ma3ority religion/ lines# rigidly laying out residents into their own sections. 8hile the residential areas were held in this "lanned !ramework# mercantile and "olitical sectors were s"eci!ically "laced in neutral zones# o"en to all e@ually. These areas o! daily contact created a melding zone !or the city%s cultures.9 8ith religion being the only universal trait between the numerous ethnic grou"s# one%s belie!s @uickly became the uni!ying "ower between these grou"s. To sim"ly change one%s religion# then# was sim"ly out o! the @uestion !or most "eo"le with little e-ce"tions outside o! the Bosniak "o"ulations. 8hile there were those cases outside o! Bosnia# the vast ma3ority o! the occu"ied Slavs o"ted to kee" their native belie!s. The monetary ta-es re@uired to do so# as well as the inherent eligibility !or conscri"tion# was then well worth the cost. Aule under the Ottomans# while certainly more restrictive in the broader sense# was hardly noticeable in the daily li!e o! a "easant. To submit to Ottoman rule in the !ace o! massacre by the Turkish military was an easy choice. .ommon "eo"le retained virtually every as"ect o! their li!e "rior to Ottoman rule4 while ta-es slightly rose# the Ottoman raya system was !ar kinder to the average "easant when com"ared to the various systems o! ser!dom "o"ular throughout 8estern $uro"e at the time.(: To submit to religious conversion#
9 Karahasan, Dzevad 1: u/ar, Peter ;. $Major 5han/es in the Li"e o" the lav Peasantry <nder 'ttoman (ule+

9 though# cut much dee"er. Fiving u" small "hysical conveniences were nothing4 to give u" one%s religion was to give u" one%s entire identity. .onversion was to turn your back on your !amily# your village# your entire historical culture. That this was a reasonable "rice to "ay !or inclusion into the Ottoman society and a "ossibility o! u"ward social mobility was seen as uncouth# and not until the mid1seventeenth century did voluntary conversion to ?slam gain "o"ularity amongst the native Slavs.(( The Ottoman leadershi"# already e-"erimenting with the millet system# easily realized the im"ortance o! religious belie!s within the Balkans# "articularly in their !unction as a "ro3ection o! one%s social identity. (< They e-"ertly used the religious division between ?slamic and .hristian !aiths to simultaneously se"arate and drive together the dis"arate cultures. 8ith the ethnically Slavic boys now converted ,and !athering &"ro"er' ?slamic sons themselves/# they had essentially made living bridges between the cultures# mediators with common ties to both grou"s. The system also served to rela- their own internal religious issues4 namely# to sate the ghazis# &!rontier warriors o! the !aith' that strongly believed in the choice between either !orced conversion or death.(> The system o!!ered both !orced conversion and submission to an ?slamic "ower# @uelling the ghazi drive !or conversion. +ere the Devsirme system !ound a true balance. By !orce!ully converting this relatively small "ortion o! the "o"ulation# they hel"ed connect their "hysically and culturally distant government to the newly sub3ugated Balkans# and did so with an admittedly minor im"act as !ar as the region%s overall religious "o"ulations were concerned. There were no mass !orced conversions nor religious based slaughters o! villagers !rom re!usal to convert4 though the system was "ain!ul !or the !amilies a!!ected# the religious !reedom and rate o! !orced
11 (adushev, 2v/eni. $=Peasant= #anissaries>+ 12 )ar*ey, Karen. $-slam and Toleration? tudyin/ the 'ttoman -m8erial Model+ 13 hinder, #oel. $2arly 'ttoman %dministration in the @ilderness? ome Limits on 5om8arison+

1: conversion was e-ce"tionally !air when taken into the historical conte-t. ?t is rather odd to see such religious lenience towards .hristian "o"ulations not long a!ter the mass violence caused by the crusades against largely 2uslim "eo"les# and is testament to the liberal measures taken by the Ottomans towards the multi"le religious and ethnic grou"s under their control.

6ailure o! the Ottoman State

8hile the Devsirme system was unarguably set u" in such a !ashion as to !orm a long1 term social construct# the Ottoman $m"ire itsel! was not as lucky. The steady si"honing o! "ower !rom the Sultan to the Devsirme class itsel! can be traced back at least to the mid1 si-teenth century# when !ollowing the death o! the current Sultan members o! the 5anissary cor" used the "olitical chaos to win the rights to marry# and later on to enlist their own sons into the cor".() This has been "reviously !orbidden e-"licitly to remove the "ossibility that the 5anissaries could begin consolidating "ower into their own !amilies4 to little sur"rise# this is immediately what they began to do# and the events serve as a landmark !or the rise o! the Devsirme class as a whole into "ower.(B This consolidation soon shi!ted "ower away !rom ?stanbul and into the hands o! the Devsirme# "articularly the 5anissaries. +aving been given the ability to include their own !amily into the ranks# their numbers were soon bolstered beyond what the traditional Ottoman !orces could e!!ectively control# e-"anding !rom (>#::: members to >=#::: by (C:: (C. 0ow
14 (adushev, 2v/eni 1, Prousis, Theo8hilus. 5lass Le&tures Aotes, 2<B 332: 1. )ar*ey, Karen. $(e1ellious %llian&es? The tate and Peasant <nrest in 2arly eventeenth35entury ;ran&e and the 'ttoman 2m8ire+

11 essentially unshackled !rom the centuries o! !ormerly strict control# they were able to move !reely and conduct themselves essentially uno""osed while not directly involved in !oreign or domestic wars. Thus the seventeenth century became one characterized by rebellions within the Ottoman $m"ire. 8ith the 5anissaries now under their own "ower# they soon began to seize "easant lands in the Balkans and rule the villages themselves# with ta-es being redirected to their own units instead o! ?stanbul.(D 8ith im"erial !orces "owerless to sto" the now massively swelled 5anissary troo"s# little could be done but let them have their way with the outlaying Balkan territories. Steadily amassing "ower throughout the largely rural areas# this would soon trans!orm into regicide and wide1s"read rebellion amongst the "easant "o"ulations# now s"urred on by 5anissary su""ort and the instability o! the greater international community that the em"ire now !aced. The 5anissaries# through small mani"ulations over the centuries# had mor"hed !rom the Sultan%s most loyal troo"s to his own successors. *ny direct action against them would be to threaten one%s sa!ety4 in (C<< the current Sultan Osman ?? was o"enly assassinated by the 5anissaries# and within a year "o"ular thought held the class as largely innocent. (= That o"en regicide could be met without re"rimand truly shows 3ust how !ar the Sultanate had !allen. So thorough was this re"lacement o! "ower that even within the Turkish courts# Balkan languages soon became the s"eech o! choice7 &The better sort use the Slavonian tongue... the vulgar s"eake the Turkish language'. (9 The ra"idly weakening central government began straining !or military resources to the

10 )ar*ey, Karen. 17 Tez&an, )a*i. $The Bistory o" a =Primary our&e=? The Ma*in/ o" Tu/hi=s 5hroni&le on the (e/i&ide o" 'sman --+ 19 Mazo!er, Mar*. T#e $al(ans: A S#ort 'istory

12 "oint o! cri""ling many outlying regions o! the em"ire# garnering massive resistance !rom the "easant "o"ulations. The nineteenth century saw a ra"id increase in organized revolts# "articularly within the Balkans. 8ith a mass u"rising o! Serbs in (=:) and a similar event with Freek citizens in (=<(<:# the region was @uickly becoming almost uncontrollable. Seeing the !utility o! the current structure# the Ottomans instituted swee"ing re!orms in an attem"t to modernize the em"ire%s visibly aged system# collectively known as the Tanzimat and s"anning nearly !our decades !rom (=>9 to (=DC. 8hile mildly hel"!ul# the Tanzimat ultimately caused almost as many "roblems as it solved4 one "articularly troubling e!!ect was an increase in nationalism as the various grou"s within the em"ire ,and s"eci!ically the Balkans/ underwent a resurgence o! national identity. One o! the largest surges o! nationalism occurred in the Bulgarian "o"ulations# long viewed as outsiders by the Slavic grou"s within the Balkan "eninsula itsel!.<( This strati!ication o! "reviously healthily interacting nationalGethnic grou"s would serve as a harbinger !or the events o! the late <: th century# as will be discussed in more detail later. This was also immediately "receded by the Vaka-i Hayriye# which !ormally dissolved the 5anissary cor" a!ter a !ailed rebellion in (=<C. << 8hile under the guise o! modernization ,which was a "roblem des"erately needing to be addressed itsel!/# many o! the re!orms were aimed at removing as much "ower as "ossible !rom the still "resent Devsirme class and re1 centralizing "ower within the government "ro"er. 8hile moderately success!ul# at least in the sense o! !orce!ully removing the 5anissaries !rom "ower# the Tanzimat was !ar too late in creation to meaning!ully a!!ect the em"ire%s health4 roughly hal! a century later the Ottoman $m"ire would cease to e-ist.
2: %ns&om1e, ;rederi&* ;. $The )al*an (evolutionary %/e+ 21 Petrov, Milen C. $2veryday ;orms o" 5om8lian&e? u1altern 5ommentaries on 'ttoman (e"orm, 17.4317.7 22 Petrov, Milen C.


The Huestion o! Slavery

By !ar the mostly hotly debated to"ic within the greater historiogra"hy o! the Devsirme system is that o! slavery. 8as the system truly slaveryE Beyond this# is there a "oint at which slavery becomes bene!icial and 3usti!iable !or the slave# and i! so where is the line drawnE *lmost more o! a "hiloso"hical argument than a historical one# it comes to no sur"rise that some !ind themselves @uestioning their "redis"ositions when !aced with the moral dilemma o! the Devsirme system. 8hether or not the system was slavery on the sur!ace is easy enough to answer. * blood ta- characterized by !orced kidna""ing and subse@uent brainwashing o! children into a !oreign "ower could hardly be considered anything but slavery. The "roblem arises when the modern observer com"ares it to what they ty"ically consider &traditional' slavery. 8hat comes to mind is usually a system !ar crueler than anything !aced by the children raised as viziers or within the 5anissary cor"4 com"ared to the "reconce"tions o! how im"erial slavery !unctions# the Ottoman system seems more o! a blessing than slavery. This cannot be allowed to cloud one%s 3udgment# as at its core the system is the same. 8hat is less clear cut is whether this a""arent case o! "arado-ically bene!icial slavery actually holds u" to scrutiny. 8hile the system was universally hated u"on institution# it seems to have become gradually acce"ted by the Slavic "o"ulations as a means to a better li!e. Towards the end o! the em"ire in the late (D th century onward through the em"ire%s e-istence into the early <:th# voluntary conversion to ?slam became an increasingly "o"ular as a way to gain acce"tance into Ottoman culture# o!ten leading to a measurable increase in @uality o!

14 li!e.<> The growing trend towards the end o! the em"ire seems to show an increasingly large ga" between the tradition o! kee"ing one%s religion and the economic I social gains o! "etitioning !or conversion. *s the Devsirme system had begun its systematic deconstruction by Ottoman o!!icials directly be!ore these "eriods o! mass voluntary conversion <) a disturbing "attern a""ears to be develo"ing. Though the em"ire did not remain intact long enough to make a true 3udgment# it is !ully "ossible that the im"erial government# seeking a system o! control and cohesion to re"lace the Devsirme system# turned to !urther incentivization o! o!!icial conversion. .ould this have been the ultimate goalE The increasing "easant revolts throughout the southern Balkans necessitated a new way to control the region as "eace!ully as "ossible. The Devsirme class had "roven its ca"ability to overthrow their su""osed masters# so clearly a similar system was out o! the @uestion. .reating a larger drive !or "easants to convert and !ully incor"orate themselves into Ottoman society would drastically increase cohesion between ?stanbul and the outlying regions o! the em"ire# hel"ing to settle unrest and "aci!y the Slavic "o"ulations as a whole. Though certainly less a""ealing to the Ottomans due to the massive !lu- o! converts into their culture ,and a religion ty"ically against converts as a whole/# it would serve as a much sim"ler and more "eace!ul o"tion than direct military control. 8ith the s"ectacular !ailure o! "hysical slavery# this massive increase in conversion can easily be seen as a methods o! direct sub3ugation through culture. 8ith the Devsirme abolished and u"risings a""earing at an alarmingly ra"id "ace# a means o! reestablishing control as @uickly and subtlety as "ossible was necessary. 2ass voluntary conversions o! the "ossibly rebellious "easant "o"ulations# driven by a des"erate need !or im"rovement o! li!e#
23 Min*ov, %nton. $5onversion to -slam in the )al*ans+ 24 Min*ov, %nton

1, can easily be seen as the solution to 3ust such a "roblem. 8hether this !inal system can be given the title o! slavery is much less likely# but it was no less e!!ective at cementing the Slavic "eo"le under the Ottoman yoke !or the short remainder o! the em"ire%s li!e.

$choes o! the ast

0ot a century a!ter the Ottoman%s !all# they would again be at the center o! a con!lict with the Slavic "eo"les o! the Balkans# though this time as the victims. The breaku" o! Yugoslavia# a country itsel! !ormed !rom the remains o! the !allen Ottoman $m"ire%s territory# would see some o! the most violent and horri!ic crimes against humanity seen since the 8orld 8ars. Fenocide# rebranded as &ethnic cleansing' and largely ignored by the international community !or !ar too long# became the hallmark o! the Yugoslav 8ars. Bosniaks# Turks# and 2uslim "o"ulations in general where the sole target o! these cleansings# with Serbian and to a lesser degree .roatian nationalist elements "er"etrating the crimes. 8hile the involvement o! ram"ant nationalism has been the sub3ect o! a growing historiogra"hy !ollowing the wars% end# the ties to the Devsirme system have been largely ignored. The starkly religious divisions between the Yugoslavian eo"le%s *rmy ,50*/ make little sense without this seemingly obvious historical conte-t. 8hile the "reviously mentioned ties between nationality and religious a!!iliation within the Balkans seems like a sim"le e-"lanation# it is more o! a com"licating !actor than root cause. The irredentist movement common amongst the various Serbian nationalist grou"s made their "oint clear7 ;osovo# as a historical "art o! the ()th Serbian kingdom# right!ully belonged to the Serbian "eo"le. The region was not only now overwhelmingly inhabited by

1. *lbanians# most o! whom were 2uslim#<B but had also been taken !rom the Serbian kingdom by the Ottomans u"on their initial con@uering o! the region. This created a dangerous situation within the region# all centered around centuries o! historical anti1?slamicism stemming !rom the Ottoman $m"ire and# arguably# generations o! Serbs lost to the Devsirme system. Aelations between the local *lbanian and Turkish "o"ulations had a history o! "olitical o""ression by the Serbian government# but mostly chose to either "eace!ully "rotest# emigrate to Turkey# or sim"ly su!!er through.<C 8ithin the chaos o! Yugoslavia%s dissolution# the local government chose to declare itsel! inde"endent not only !rom Yugoslavia but !rom Serbia as well. Seizing the e-cuse o! reclaiming territory actually owned within hal! a millennium# the Serbian military soon began the "rocess o! ethnic cleansing# systematically murdering or !orce!ully evicting all 2uslim "eo"les !rom the land. The intense !ocus on removal o! 2uslim "eo"les within both the Serbian military and "olitical s"heres "oints at something !ar beyond the hatred o! an &other'. The now in!amous &Serbia Strong' video<D "er!ectly e-em"li!ies the dee" historical hatred driving the military actions. * &music video' !or Serbian "olitican ,and later "resident o! the Serbian Ae"ublic within Bosnia1+erzegovina/ Aadovan ;aradzic# it makes clear mention to the removal o! &6ascists and Turks' !rom Serbian land4 the !ormer re!erring to the .roatian Jstashi which served as a "u""et state !or 0azi Fermany during 88??# and the later a direct attack at the ancestors o! their now century old enemy the Ottoman Turks. That it later mentions &The 8olves are coming' only solidi!ies the ties to hatred started during the days o! the Devsirme system# as the 8hite 8olves were a Serbian "aramilitary !orce known !or committing
2, Ball, Dere* (. $(e8resentations o" Pla&e? %l1ania+ 2. %rtisien, Patri&* ;. (. $% Aote on Kosovo and the ;uture o" Du/oslav3%l1anian (elations? % )al*an Pers8e&tive+ 20 $ er1ia tron/ translation 4God is a er16+, DouTu1e video, 3?4., 8osted 1y $The-ronTyrant+, De&. 17, 2:11, htt8s?EE!!!.youtu1e.&omE!at&h>vF<32G#%7%ha&

10 atrocious war crimes against Turks. The military actions o! the 50* and Serbian armed !orces went !ar beyond what was necessary !or the stated goal o! retaining Serbian territory. 2uch like the ?m"erial Ferman military%s abuses o! "ower within Ferman Southwest *!rica. <= *s in the *!rican case# active military actions continued long a!ter victory had been clearly achieved# and resulted in the same slaughter o! an entire grou" through nothing more than unchecked military "ower. 8here the 50* and Serbian !orces di!!er !rom the Fermans is in their clear intention !or this to occur. That little was done by the international community to sto" these crimes is ironically a sym"tom o! the Ottoman%s rule. *s "reviously mentioned the Balkans had long been considered the backwater o! $uro"e# geogra"hically closer than Freece but culturally seen as !ar removed !rom centers o! civilization. The Ottomans did little to im"rove this image# and so the besieged "o"ulations o! their descendants received only "altry grou"s o! ill e@ui""ed "eace kee"ers !rom the J0.<9 The con!lict was seen as no more than# in Otto von Bismarck%s !amous words# &Some damned !oolish thing in the Balkans'. This then is the !inal legacy o! the Devsirme system. *t once both slavery and salvation# it served as a "arado-ical tool that simultaneously sub3ugated and raised u" the Slavic "eo"les o! the Balkan "eninsula. 0ow with the closing o! the <: th century# its history is used only as a 3usti!ication !or the genocide and removal o! multi"le ethnic grou"s throughout the nations o! the !ormer Yugoslavia. 8ithin a decade# more blood had been shed in the name o! vengeance than the em"ire likely caused over the course o! centuries# at least in regard to the Serbian "o"ulation it ruled over. 6ew re"utable historians would deny the Devsirme system as anything but slavery o! the Balkan "eo"les4 none would agree that
27 Bull, -sa1el C. A+solute Destruction 29 )arnett, Mi&hael. Empire o" 'umanity: A 'istory o" 'umanitarianism

17 anything like the crimes committed in Bosnia1+erzegovina and ;osovo were 3usti!ied acts o! revenge. Des"ite the centuries o! slavery and sub3ugation im"osed on the Slavic "easants# the Turkish descendants o! the Ottoman $m"ire have become the Devsirme system%s !inal victims.



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