For the Serbs as Christians, their loss of state independence and fall to the Ottoman Empire’s kind of theocratic state, was a terrible misfortune. With the advent of the Turks and establishment of their rule, the lands of Serbs were forcibly excluded from the circle of progressive European states wherein they occupied a prominent place precisely owing to the Byzantine civilisation, which was enhanced by local qualities and strong influences of the neighboring Mediterranean states. Being Christians, the Serbs became second-class citizens in Islamic state. Apart from religious discrimination, which was evident in all spheres of everyday life, this status of rayah also implied social dependence, as most of the Serbs were landless peasants who paid the prescribed feudal taxes. Of the many dues paid in money, labor and kind, the hardest for the Serbs was having their children taken as tribute under a law that had the healthy boys, taken from their parents, converted to Islam and trained to serve in the janissary corps of the Turkish army.

An analyse of the earliest Turkish censuses, defters, shows that the ethnic picture of Kosovo and Metohia did not alter much during the 14th and 15th centuries. The small-in-number Turkish population consisted largely of people from the administration and military that were essential in maintaining order, whereas Christians continued to predominate in the rural areas. Kosovo and parts of Metohia were registrated in 1455 under the name Vilayeti Vlk, after Vuk Brankovic who once ruled over them. Some 75,000 inhabitants lived in 590 registrated villages. An onomastic analysis of approximately 8,500 personal names shows that Slav and Christian names were heavily predominant.

Along with the Decani Charter, the register of the Brankovic region shows a clear division between old-Serbian and old-ethnic Albanian onomastics, allowing one to say, with some certainty which registrated settlement was Serbian, and which ethnically mixed. Ethnic designations (ethnic Albanian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Greek) appeared repeatedly next to the names of settlers in the region. More thorough onomastic research has shown that from the mid-14th to the 15th centuries, individual Albanian settlements appeared on the fringes of Metohia, in-between what had until then been a density of Serbian villages. This was probably due to the devastation wrought by Turks who destroyed the old landed estates, thus allowing for the mobile among the population, including ethnic Albanian cattlemen, to settle on the abandoned land and establish their settlements, which were neither big nor heavily populated.

A summary census of the houses and religious affiliations of inhabitants in the Vucitrn district (sanjak), which encompassed the one-time Brankovic lands, was drawn in 1487, showed that the ethnic situation had not altered much. Christian households predominated (totalling 16,729, out of which 412 were in Pristina and Vucitrn): there were 117 Muslim households (94 in Pristina and 83 in rural areas). A comprehensive census of the Scutari district offers the following picture: in Pec (Ipek) there were 33 Muslim and 121 Christian households, while in Suho Grlo, also in Metohia, Christians alone lived in 131 households. The number of Christians (6,124) versus Muslim (55) homes in the rural areas shows that 1% of the entire population bowed to the faith of the conqueror. An analysis of the names shows that those of Slav origin predominated among the Christians. In Pec, 68% of the population bore Slav names, in the Suho Grlo region 52%, in Donja Klina region 50% and around monastery of Decani 64%.

Ethnic Albanian settlements where people had characteristic names did not appear until one reached areas outside the borders of what is today Metohia, i.e. west of Djakovica. According to Turkish sources, in the period from 1520 to 1535 only 700 of the total number of 19,614 households in the Vucitrn district were Muslim (about 3,5%), and 359 (2%)in Prizren district.

In regions extending beyond the geographic borders of Kosovo and Metohia, in the Scutari and Dukagjin districts, Muslims accounted for 4,6% of the population. According to an analysis of the names in the Dukagjin district’s census, ethnic Albanian settlements did not predominate until one reached regions south of Djakovica, and the ethnic picture in the 16th century in Prizren and the neighboring areas remained basically unchanged.

A look at the religious affiliation of the urban population shows a rise in the Turkish and local Islamized population. In Prizren, Kosovo’s biggest city, Muslims accounted for 56% of the households, of which the Islamized population accounted for 21%. The ratio was similar in Pristina, where out of the 54% Muslim population 16% were converts. Pec also had a Muslim majority (90%), as did Vucitrn (72%). The Christians compromised the majority of the population in the mining centers of Novo Brdo (62%), Trepca (77%), Donja Trepca and Belasica (85%). Among the Christians was a smattering of Catholics. The Christian names were largely from the calendar, and to a lesser extent Slav (Voja, Dabiziv, Cvetko, Mladen, Stojko), and there were some that were typically ethnic Albanian (Prend, Don, Din, Zoti).

After the fall of Serbia in 1459, the Pec Patriarchate soon ceased to work and the Serbian eparchies came under the jurisdiction of the Hellenic Ochrid Archbishophoric. In the first decade following Turkish conquest, many large endowments and wealthier churches were pillaged and destroyed, while some turned into mosques. The Our Lady of Ljeviska Cathedral in Prizren was probably converted into a mosque right immediately following the conquest of the town; Banjska, one of the grandest monasteries dating from the age of King Milutin, suffered the same fate. The Church of the Holy Archangels near Prizren, Stefan Dusan’s chief endowment was turned into ruins. Most of the monasteries and churches were left unrenewed after being devastated, and many village churches were abandoned. Many were not restored until after the liberation of Kosovo and Metohia in 1912. Archeological findings have shown that some 1,300 monasteries, churches and other monuments existed in the Kosovo and Metohia area. The magnitude of the havoc wrought can be seen from the earliest Turkish censuses: In the 15th and 16th centuries there were ten to fourteen active places of Christian worship. At first the great monasteries like Decani and Gracanica, were exempt from destruction, but their wealthy estates were reduced to a handfull of surrounding villages. The privileges granted the monastic brotherhoods by the sultans obliged them to perform the service of falconry as well.

sokolovici-mehmed-pasa-i-makarije-713x454

Two brothers of different faith and historical roles – Patriarch Makarije Sokolovic and his relative (a brother) Mehmed Pasha Sokollu (who was taken as a little child by Turks to be a yannisar)

The restoration of the Pec Patriarchate in 1557 (thanks to Mehmed-pasha Sokolovic, a Serb by origin, at the time the third vizier at the Porte) marked a major turn and helped revive the spiritual life of the Serbs, especially in Kosovo and Metohia. Mehmed-pasha Sokolovic (Turkish: Sokollu) enthroned his relative Makarije Sokolovic on the patriarchal throne. Like the great reform movements in 16th century Europe, the restoration of the Serbian Orthodox Church meant the rediscovery of lost spiritual strongholds. Thanks to the Patriarchate, Kosovo and Metohia were for the next two centuries again the spiritual and political center of the Serbs. On an area vaster than the Nemanjic empire, high-ranking ecclesiastical dignitaries revived old and created new eparchies endeavoring to reinforce the Orthodox faith which had been undermined by influences alien (particularly by Islamic Bekteshi order of dervishes) to its authentic teachings.

Based on the tradition of the medieval Serbian state, the Pec Patriarchate revived old and established new cults of the holy rulers, archbishops, martyrs and warriors, lending life to the Nemanjic heritage. The feeling of religious and ethnic solidarity was enhanced by joint deliberation at church assemblies attended by the higher and lower clergy, village chiefs and hajduk leaders, and by stepping up a morale on the traditions of Saint Sava but suited to the new conditions and strong patriarchal customs renewed after the Turkish conquest in the village communities.

The spiritual rebirth was reflected in the restoration of deserted churches and monasteries: some twenty new churches were built in Kosovo and Metohia alone, inclusive of printing houses (the most important one was at Gracanica): many old and abandoned churches were redecorated with frescoes.6

Serbian patriarchs and bishops gradually took over the role of the one-time rulers, endeavoring with assistance from the neighboring Christian states of Habsburg Empire and the Venetian Republic, to incite the people to rebel. Plans for overthrowing the Turks and re-establishing an independent Serbian state sprang throughout the lands from the Adriatic to the Danube. The patriarchs of Pec, often learned men and able politicians, were usually the ones who initiated and coordinated efforts at launching popular uprisings when the right moment came. Patriarch Jovan failed to instigate a major rebellion against the Turks, seeking the alliance of the European Christian powers assembled around Pope Clement VII. Patriarch Jovan was assassinated in Constantinople in 1614. Patriarch Gavrilo Rajic lived the same fate in 1659 after going to Russia to seek help in instigating a revolt.

The least auspicious conditions for an uprising were actually in Kosovo and Metohia itself. In the fertile plains, the non-Muslim masses labored under the yoke of the local Turkish administrators, continually threatened by marauding tribes from the Albanian highlands. The crisis that overcome the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th century further aggrovated the position of the Serbs in Kosovo, Metohia and neighboring regions. Rebellions fomented by cattle-raising tribes in Albania and Montenegro, and the punitive expeditions sent to deal with them turned Kosovo and Metohia into a bloody terrain where Albanian tribes, kept clashing with detachments of the local authorities, plundered Christian villages along the way. Hardened by constant clashes with the Turks, Montenegro gradually picked up the torch of defending Serbian Orthodoxy; meanwhile, in northern Albania, particularly in Malesia, a reverse process was under way. Under steady pressure from the Turkish authorities, the Islamization of ethnic Albanian tribes became more widespread and the process assumed broader proportions when antagonistic strivings grew within the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th and early 18th century.

Novo_Brdo_Serbia1

The ruins of the Ancient Novo Brdo Basilica – Novo Brdo was one of the major medieval cities in Kosovo. In the 14th century the population of Novo Brdo was greater than London

It is not until the end of the 17th century that the colonization of Albanian tribes in Kosovo and Metohia can be established. Reports by contemporary Catholic visitators show that the ethnic border between the Serbs and Albanians still followed the old dividing lines of the Black and White Drim rivers. All reports on Kosovo and Metohia regard them as being in Serbia: for the Catholic visitators, Prizren was still its capital city. In Albania, the first wave of Islamization swept the feudal strata and urban population. Special tax and political alleviations encouraged the rural population to convert to Islam in larger number. Instead of being part of the oppressed non-Muslim masses, the converts became a privileged class of Ottoman society, with free access to the highest positions in the state. In Kosovo and Metohia, where they moved to avoid heavy taxes, Catholic tribes of Malesia converted to Islam. Conversion to Islam in a strongly Orthodox environment rendered them the desired privileges (the property of Orthodox and of the Catholics) and saved them from melting with Serbian Orthodox population. It was only with the process of Islamization that the ethnic Albanian colonisation of lands inhabited by Serbs became expansive.

The ethnic picture of Kosovo did not radically change in the first centuries of Ottoman rule. Islamization encompassed part of a Serbian population, although the first generations at least, converted as a mere formality, to avoid heavy financial burdens and constant political pressure. Conversion constituted the basis of Ottoman policy in the Balkans but it was les successfull in Kosovo and Metohia, regions with the strongest religious traditions, than in other Christian areas. The Turks’ strong reaction to rebellions throughout the Serbian lands and to the revival of Orthodoxy, embodied in the cult of Saint Sava, the founder of the independent Serbian church, ended in setting fire to the Mileseva monastery the burial place of the first Serbian saint. The Turks burned his wonder working relics in Belgrade in 1594, during a great uprising of Serbs in southern Banat. This triggered off fresh waves of Islamization accompanied by severe reprisals and the thwarting of any sign of rebellion.

Apart from Islamization, Kosovo and Metohia became the target of proselytizing Catholic missionaries at the end of 17th century, especially after the creation of the Sacra Congregazione de Propaganda Fide (1622). The ultimate aim of the Roman Catholic propaganda was to converts the Orthodox to Graeco-Catholicism as the initial phase in completely converting them to the Catholic faith. The appeals of patriarchs of Pec to the Roman popes to help the liberatory aspirations of the Serbs were met with the condition that they renounce the Orthodox faith. In spreading the Catholicism, the missionaries of the Roman Curia had the support of local Turkish authorities; a considerable number of the missionaries were of Albanian origin. Consequently, the propagators of Catholic proselytism persisted in inciting Catholic and Muslim Albanians against the Serbs, whose loyalty to Orthodoxy and their medieval traditions was the main obstacle to the spreading of the Catholic faith in the central and southern regions of the Balkans.9

Catholic propaganda attempts at separating the high clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the people prompted the Pec Patriarchate to revive old and create a new cults with even greater vigor. In 1642 Patriarch Pajsije, who was born in Janjevo, Kosovo, wrote The Service and The Life of the last Nemanjic, the Holy Tsar Uros, imbuing old literary forms with new content reflecting the contemporary moment. By introducing popular legends (which gradually took shape),into classical hagiography Patriarch Pajsije strove to establish a new cult of saints which would have a beneficial impact on his compatriots in preserving their faith.

Parallel with the Orthodox Church national policy in traditionally patriarchal societies, popular tales gradually matured into oral epic chronicles. Nurtured through epic poetry, which was sung to the accompaniment of the gusle, epic tales glorified national heroes and ruler, cultivating the spirit of non-subjugation and cherishing the hope in liberation from the Turkish yoke. Folk poems about the battle of Kosovo and its heroes, about the tragic fate of the last Nemanjices, the heroism of Prince Lazar and his knight Milos Obilic, and, especially, about Kraljevic Marko (King Marko Mrnjavcevic) as the faultless and dauntless legendary knight who was always defeating Turks and saving Serbs, were an expression not only of the tragic sense of life in which Turkish rule was a synonymous to evil, but a particular moral code that in time crystalized into a common attitude towards life, defined in the first centuries of Ottoman rule. The Serbian nation’s Kosovo covenant is embodied in the choice which, according to legend, was made by Prince Lazar on the eve of the battle of Kosovo. The choice of freedom in the kingdom of heaven instead of humiliation in the kingdom of earth constituted the Serbian nation’s spiritual stronghold. Prince Lazar’s refusal to resign to injustice and slavery, raised to the level of biblical drama, determined his unquenchable thirst for freedom. Together with the cult of Saint Sava, which grew into a common civilisational framework in everyday life, the Kosovo idea which, in time, gained universal meaning. With its wise policy the Patriarchate of Pec carefully built epic legend into the hagiography of old and new Serbian saints, glorifying their works in frescoes and icons.

Novo_Brdo_Castle_04