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Re-examining the “Terrible Turk” in the Early Modern Period Walter Woodward Capstone 492.1 Dr. Diane Margolf May 9, 2019
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Introduction Sarajevo, Bosnia: a quiet city filled with old fashioned houses, red tiled roofs and a pleasant downtown all situated along the Miljacka River. The city is situated in a lush valley with hills rising on either side covered in verdant forests which provide cover to much of the surrounding suburbs. The downtown looks new with tall office buildings and a modern feel yet still remarkably humble. The city seems to have lost none of its quaint medieval feel as it grew into a modern city. The Miljacka River is lit up at night with a pleasant yellow glow, so the heart of the city is always what draws the eye day or night. A view of the city from above reveals the breathtaking architecture of centuries of Orthodox cathedrals and Islamic mosques situated throughout the city. In Sarajevo and Belgrade, in T rgovişte and in Bucharest, in Sofia and in Buda, these legacies of the Ottomans are visible everywhere. And yet it is still widely demonized as a nightmarish period for these peoples. That the two buildings exist side by side in major cities of the Balkans speaks to two realities. One, that the Ottoman Turks ruled over the Balkans for centuries and left a deep imprint of Islamic culture when they eventually left. And two, that despite what nationalist historiography since the nineteenth century would tell you, the rule of the Ottomans was not a demographic and economic disaster for the peoples of the Balkans. What follows is an examination of how the Ottomans managed religious conversions, how they ruled over their disparate populations, how they governed commerce and marriage, and how they balanced the varying needs if their many subjects. It is, ultimately, an attempt to refute the assertions of the modern Balkan narrative of the “Terrible Turk” and refute the legacy the Ottoman empire has been given.
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The “Terrible Turk” and the Ottoman Legacy in Modern Balkan Historiography All the social, political and economic travails the Balkans have suffered in the twentieth century are laid at the feet of the Ottomans. This feeling is perfectly encapsulated in a quote passed on by author Robert D. Kaplan from his travels in Serbia in 1996, “Mother Tatiana did not hint, therefore: ‘We would have been even greater than the Italians, were it not for the Turks” 1 . It is clear from her words that she, and presumably many other Serbians feel that their history was disrupted or thrown off course by the Turkish conquest and that they were destined for greatness before the outsiders came. In this common telling it is the Ottoman policies of preferential treatment towards some communities, their fondness for an agricultural Balkans and the taking of young Christian boys to build a new elite in Constantinople which deprived the Balkans of their wealth and promise. H. Gandev, one of Bulgaria’s most respected twentieth
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