Recovering Macedonia 12 - The Macedonian Revival II

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Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913

Part 12 - The Macedonian Revival II

September, 2006


[Macedonia will remain occupied as long as the Macedonian people are unrecognized, abused and made to feel like strangers on their own native lands. It is a well known fact that Macedonia was invaded, occupied and illegally partitioned by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912-1913 against the wishes of the Macedonian people. The Serbian occupied part, now known as the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 and is today a sovereign state while the parts annexed by Greece and Bulgaria remain occupied.]

The roaring fires which King Samoil of Macedonia ignited in the Macedonian people began to slowly extinguish as Pravoslav control tightened over Macedonia. Economically divided into themes and controlled by foreign hands, Macedonia's capacity to free itself began to slowly diminish.

Tax reforms introduced in 1040 requiring peasants to pay taxes with money were good for the economy and for the tax collectors but bad for the peasants. Feudal lords awarded rights to collect state taxes meant that foreigners in addition to owning the lands were now also in authority to extract not only taxes for the state but whatever else they could for themselves above and beyond what the law prescribed. Besides regular taxes, Macedonians were also obliged to pay various supplementary taxes, like judicial fines, toll tax for crossing rivers, fishing tax, water-mill tax and marriage tax. As a marriage tax the groom was obliged to pay his bishop a gold piece and the bride twelve ells (15 meters) of linen.

This was too much for the Macedonian people to bear and in their frustration they began to rebel. Leading the rebellion was Peter Delyan, Gabriel Radomir's son by his first wife, the daughter of the Hungarian king. The rebellion, supported by the Hungarian king, began in the regions of Belgrade and Morava near the Hungarian border and soon spread south to Skopje. With popular support and assistance from the local Macedonian population, the rebel army invaded and took Skopje. Tsari Grad quickly reacted by dispatching an army in pursuit. But instead of attacking, the Pravoslav soldiers defected and proclaimed Tihomir, one of their own soldiers, as their emperor. Tihomir unfortunately died in battle leaving his army under Delyan's command.

Delyan immediately began a military campaign to recover his grandfather's (Samoil's) kingdom by sending troops to Dyrrachium and, with the support of the local people, took that theme. He then sent a large army to besiege Solun. At the sight of Delyan's immense army, Pravoslav Emperor Michael IV, who at the time was waiting for him, fled in terror to Tsari Grad leaving Manuel Ivets in command of the Pravoslav army. Instead of fighting Ivets defected to Delyan's side, joining forces with the rebels.

Exploiting the panic which had risen in the ranks of the Pravoslav army, Delyan dispatched his armies in several directions. One, led by Anthimus, made its way south reaching as deep as the town Tiva and spreading the revolt into Epirus and conquering the theme of Naupactos. Another army took Demetrias (Volos in Thessaly) and so on. Soon Delyan was in possession of a large territory encompassing the greater part of Samoil's kingdom.

Unfortunately the rebellion proved futile as the numerically superior Pravoslav army in 1041 engaged and defeated the rebels.

Instead of bringing change for the better, the rebellion brought disaster to the Macedonian people. The Pravoslav army, which consisted mainly of Norwegian mercenaries under the command of Harold Hardraga, devastated Macedonia. They enslaved most of the population and brought new state officials and feudal lords who, together with the army, introduced even more oppressive measures.

Frustration continued to boil in Macedonia and in 1072 the Macedonian people again took to the streets and began another rebellion. Led by George Voyteh a revolt broke out in Skopje and was immediately assisted by Michael, the ruler of Zeta, who was related to Samoil. Michael sent his son Constantine Bodin along with three hundred of his elite troops to join Voyteh and his rebels at Prizren and immediately proclaimed him emperor under the name Peter, in honour of the fallen Peter Delyan.

The rebels descended on Macedonia with two columns of armies and managed to liberate Skopje and Ohrid but received a severe blow while attempting to liberate Kostur. Outnumbered and outgunned, Voyteh agreed to surrender thus ending the rebellion.

In 1073 the Pravoslavs stepped up their campaign in Macedonia and brought additional forces in to rout out the remaining pockets of rebel resistance. Unfortunately that was not all that they did. In pursuit of the rebels, the Pravoslav army destroyed Samoil's imperial palace in Prespa and looted the churches in the vicinity. These acts further inflamed the situation and the rebels continued to resist, forcing the Pravoslavs to bring even more troops and take more drastic measures. Only by burning and razing everything, wherever opposition was offered, did the Pravoslavs succeeded in putting down the rebellion. By the end of 1073 it was all over.

When all else failed the oppressed masses began to express their frustration by joining the Bogomil movement. They became particularly powerful at the end of the eleventh century and even more so during the course of the twelfth century. The struggle of the Bogomils was directed as equally against the feudal lords as it was against the Pravoslav Emperor and his spiritual and ecclesiastical officials.

The next conquerors to influence the Macedonian people in a negative way were the Seljuq Turks, whose conquests would change the shape of both the Muslim and Pravoslav worlds. In 1055, having conquered Persia, they entered Baghdad and their prince assumed the title of sultan and protector of the Abbasid caliphate. Before long they asserted their authority up to the borders of Fatimid Egypt and throughout Pravoslav Anatolia. They made their first appearance across the Pravoslav frontier in Armenia in the mid-1060's and went as far west as Caesarea in central Anatolia.

By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Turks had consolidated their power in Asia Minor and were becoming a threat to the Balkan states. Their first serious campaign for the conquest of Europe began in 1352 when they took the fortress of Tzympe, on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Two years later, taking advantage of a devastating earthquake, they took the fortress of Gallipoli, thus creating a convenient bridgehead for their forthcoming penetration of the Balkans.

Among the first to be threatened by the Turkish forces was Uglesha's rule, a feudal lord in Macedonia. Confronted with danger he persuaded his brother Volkashin to take joint actions. Hostilities broke out in September 1371 near Chernomen followed by a fierce battle on the River Maritsa. The river turned red as casualties mounted, among them the brothers Volkashin and Uglesha. Volkashin's son Marko retained the title of King but had to recognize Turkish authority and pay tribute and rendering military aid to the Turks. The Dragash brothers who ruled Eastern Macedonia with their seat at Velbuzhd also became Turkish vassals. It was a major victory for the Turks and a catastrophe for the Macedonians, not only for the loss of life but for the terrible change of fate.

King Marko, known to Macedonians as Marko Krale, became a legendary folk hero in western Macedonia surrounded by tales and hero stories. In 1365 Volkashin proclaimed himself king (tsar) and became co-ruler with king Urosh. His brother, the despot Uglesha, ruled over the Struma region. Marko inherited Volkashin's throne and title but as part of the treaty with the Turks, whose authority he had to recognize, he had to pay tribute to the Turkish Sultan. It is believed that Marko was born in 1335. His name was discovered in a document establishing him as one of Volkashin's delegates to Dubrovnik. His name was also discovered in some chronicles of his time establishing him as the son of Volkashin and later as Marko the king. In another document dated 1370 Volkashin makes mention of his sons Marko and Andrew and of his wife Elena.

With its capital in Prilep, Marko inherited a state that lay between the Vardar River and Albania stretching from the Shar Mountain range down to Kostur, excluding the cities of Skopje and Ohrid. After becoming king, Marko minted his own coins and placed on them the inscription: "King Marko faithful to Lord Jesus Christ".

Marko Krale was killed on May 17, 1395 in Craiova Romania, during a battle against the Vlach military leader Mircho. Marko was obliged to fight for the Turks as part of his treaty agreement with Sultan Bayazit. Marko Krale, it appears, left no heir. After his death his state reverted to the Turks.

Even though Marko Krale had been a Turkish vassal and fought on the side of Bayazit's army he was a devout Christian and just before he died on his deathbed he begged God for forgiveness and prayed out loud, asking God to help the Christians. And thus a legend was born. Marko Krale, the fearless legend, has been enshrined in the Towers of Prilep where he was born and by his frescoes and paintings in various churches and monasteries.

Life under Turkish rule in Macedonia was harsh. The Ottoman overlords overthrew the Pravoslav administration at the top and continued business as usual economically exploiting the people. Macedonian lands continued to be in foreign hands and the peasants continued to be exploited as before. The new conquerors were only interested in making profit for themselves and to feed their imperial ambitions.

When the Ottomans crossed over to the Balkans and conquered Macedonia the basic state institutions and military organization of the empire were still in a state of development. Built on a basis of feudal social relations the empire was despotic with many elements of theocratic rule.

After sacking Tsari Grad the Ottomans adapted much of the Pravoslav administration and feudal practices and began to settle the Balkans. The conquered people of the new Ottoman territories became subjects of the empire, to be ruled according to Muslim law. At the head of the Ottoman Empire sat the Sultan who was God's representative on earth. The Sultan owned everything and everyone in the empire. Below the Sultan sat the ruling class and below them sat the Rajak (protected flock). Everyone worked for the Sultan and he in turn provided his subjects with all of life's necessities. The Sultan was the supreme head of the empire and his power was unrestricted.

The Ottoman legal system was created around the Seriat which had its basis in Islam. The Koran and Hadith were the books from which the ideals and fundamental principles for the construction of the legal system were drawn. No law could be passed which in principle contradicted the Seriat. Only the supreme religious leader, the Sejh-ul-Islam, had the right to interpret and assess the legal norms and only from the point of view of Islamic law.

The Koran dictated Muslim conduct and behaviour, including punishment for crimes. In the Ottoman mind only religion and the word of God had sole authority over peoples' lives. Religion was the official government of the Ottoman State. Islam was the only recognized form of rule that suited Muslims but could not be directly applied to non-Muslims. So the next best thing was to allow another religion to rule the non-Muslims. The obvious choice of course was the Pravoslav Christian Orthodox religion, which was the foundation of the Pravoslav Empire. There was a catch however. The official Muslim documents that would allow the "transfer of rule" were based on an ancient Islamic model, which denounced all Christianity as a corrupt invention of the "Evil one". The conservative Turks regarded the Christians as no more than unclean and perverted animals. Also, the ancient documents called for sacrifices to be made. A Christian religious leader, for being granted leadership by the Muslims, was expected to sacrifice his own flock on demand to prove his loyalty to the Sultan. It was under these conditions that the Patriarch accepted his installment as sole ruler of the Christian Orthodox faith and of the non-Muslim Millet.

The Sultans tolerated Christianity as the government of the non-Muslim Millet and sold the Patriarchate to an adventurer who could buy (bribe) his nomination. Once nominated, the Patriarch in turn sold consecration rights to Bishops, who in turn regarded their gain as a "legitimate investment" of capital and proceeded to "farm their diocese". Under Ottoman rule the Patriarchate in Tsari Grad became a corrupt business, having little to do with faith and more to do with making money. As more and more bishoprics fell into the hands of the new Patriarch, faith at the top began to fade away. This was also the beginning of the end for the Slavonic (Macedonian) Churches in the Ottoman Empire.

In addition to being a religious ruler, the Patriarch and his appointed Bishops became civil administrators of the Christian and non-Muslim people. Their authority included mediating with the Turks, administering Christian law (marriages, inheritance, divorce, etc.), running schools and hospitals and dealing with the large and small issues of life. There were no prescribed provisions on how to deal with criminal matters or the limit of authority on the part of the Bishops. In other words, there was no uniform manner by which Christian criminals could be punished or limits to how far a Bishop could exercise his authority. This opened the way for interpretation, neglect, abuse and activities of corruption such as nepotism, favouritism and bribery.

In an attempt to create a stable political and social support system in conquered Macedonia, the Ottoman authorities introduced voluntary migration for Turks from Asia Minor. As a result, many Turkish settlements sprang up all over Macedonia and occupied strategic positions like valleys of navigable rivers and coastal plains. This increase in Muslim numbers, particularly in the larger towns, was at the expense of the Macedonian Christian population. The nomads of Anatolia were best suited for such migration because of their nomadic way of life.

Migration into Macedonia was not restricted to Turks. Late in the 15th century Jews fleeing the western European Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal also settled in Macedonia. These migrations were of particular significance to Macedonia's economic development. Jewish colonies sprang up and flourished in important urban centers like Solun, Bitola, Skopje, Berroea, Kostur, Serres, Shtip, Kratovo and Strumitsa. The Jewish colony in Solun was one of the largest and most significant of all colonies in the entire Ottoman Empire. By the middle of the 16th century Solun was home to more than three thousand Jewish families.

Besides the colonization of Macedonia by foreign elements, there was also the assimilation of Macedonians in the Islamic fold. The process of converting Christians to Muslims began as soon as Macedonia was conquered. At the outset, a fair number of the old nobility converted to Islam in the hope of protecting and even increasing their landholdings. Gradually greater proportions of the population were converted, sometimes whole villages and districts at once. Macedonians living among the Turks, especially in the larger towns, gradually began to assimilate into the Turkish fold. Even though they became Turks, a great majority of the Macedonians retained their mother tongue and continued to speak Macedonian, practicing their traditions and even their religious customs.

Ever since its inception, the Ohrid Archbishopric extended its sphere of influence and dominated the neighbouring churches. In spite of Pravoslav attempts to curb its power, the Ohrid Archbishopric survived and began its revitalization. By the start of the 15th century it subordinated the Sofia and Vidin eparchies and by the middle of the same century it was in control of the Vlach and Moldavian eparchies. Shortly afterwards it took control of parts of the Pech Patriarchate including Pech itself. Even the Orthodox districts of Italy (Apulia, Calabria and Sicily), Venice and Dalmatia were subordinated to the Ohrid Archbishopric for a while.

Unfortunately the more powerful the Macedonian Church became the more it attracted attention prompting the Sultan to break it up by establishing separate eparchies. In 1557 the Pech Patriarchate was reinstated and took Tetovo, Skopje, Shtip and Upper Ozumaya from the Ohrid Archbishopric. In 1575 the Orthodox Christians of Dalmatia and Venice were taken away from the Ohrid Church and moved under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate in Tsari Grad. At the start of the 17th century Ohrid lost all the eparchies from southern Italy. After that Ohrid's boundaries remained unaltered until the dissolution of the Macedonian Church in 1767.

As mentioned earlier, the Archbishopric of Ohrid, since its inception, has been an autonomous church headed by an Archbishop who was elected by a Synod. The Synod consisted of archpriests from various eparchies and was summoned on various occasions to deal with the more important matters while the Church Convocation dealt with general matters. The majority of Archbishops who served the Ohrid Church were foreigners and most of them were greedy for money, succumbing to bribery. Some, however, worked hard to raise the standards of the Archbishopric and others including Prohor, Athanasius and Barlaam even worked secretly against the Ottoman yoke.

Even though the Ohrid Church had lost a great number of its possessions to the Ottomans it still remained a feudal institution and, apart from the returns it received from its church lands, it also received considerable income from various taxes, from performing services and settling disputes. The Ohrid lower clergy were all Macedonian and were scarcely distinguishable economically from the general population. Even though foreigners occupied the leading positions in the church, the church itself supported a unique Macedonian culture and an independent Macedonia.

During the second half of the 16th century there were obvious signs of a weakening Ottoman Empire. The successful campaigns that were waged earlier were coming to an end only to be replaced by a series of military defeats and territorial losses. Unable to expand or even hold onto existing territories, the Ottoman central government began to lose prestige and slowly fell into an economic crisis. The situation worsened when feudal lords decided to replace the Rajak's tax contributions in kind (finished products) with money, most of which they kept for themselves. In time, the feudal lords became less interested in taking part in unsuccessful campaigns and defied the weakening central government by refusing to supply the war effort with men or materials. The central government's inability to exercise authority over the feudal lords created a suitable environment for anarchy. More and more of the more powerful feudal lords began to take advantage of the situation and formed their own small military fiefs.

By the middle of the 17th century life in the chifliks became so harsh that peasants left their villages for larger towns, adding to the influx of Muslims and Jews. Many, who could no longer bear the burden and had nowhere to go, turned to marauding and robbing. Bands of peasants left their hearths and fled to either join outlaw organizations (ajdutska druzhina) or live in larger towns where some of them succeeded in becoming factors of significance in the urban economy.

During the 17th century western Europeans came to Macedonia and procured certain privileges from the Ottomans that allowed them to open consular agencies. In 1685 French merchants from Marseilles opened an agency in Solun and in 1700 they opened another one in Kavalla, through which they purchased cotton and wheat. Later Britain, Venice and the Netherlands also established consular agencies in Macedonia. At that time Solun was the gateway to the Ottoman Empire and the largest port for European goods destined for the Balkans.

With the ascendancy of the Atlantic trade routes, Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and the Italian towns began to decline, particularly during the 17th century when western traders were being replaced by local ones, especially in central Europe.

Catholic influence and propaganda, although somewhat disorganized, was present in Macedonia as early as the 16th century. In 1622 when the Papal Throne came under Jesuit control, a new organization called the Congregation for the Spreading of the Faith was established with aims at controlling all Catholic missionary activities throughout the world. It was not too long afterwards that the Catholic missions infiltrated Macedonia, including the Archbishopric of Ohrid. By the first half of the 17th century four of the Archbishops of Ohrid (Porphyry, Athanasius, Abraham and Meletius) were secretly working for the Catholics. Links were established by eparchies where Church Congregations were discretely approached to switch to Catholicism. The missionaries from Rome were cautious, tactful and did not impose the Latin language upon the population. By doing so and by showing respect for the dogma of the Eastern Church, Catholic propaganda in Ohrid became very effective in gaining ground. In fact it became so effective that in 1630 the Unites attempted to take over the archiepiscopal church of the Assumption of the Virgin but the Archbishop, by handsomely bribing the Ottoman authorities, was able to halt the takeover. That unfortunately did not stop the Catholics from trying and by the middle of the 17th century they created a Catholic Archbishopric inside Ohrid. But as soon as it was created, conditions turned unfavourable for them and it had to be dissolved and subordinated to the Diocese of Skopje.

In 1661 Archbishop Athanasius took a trip to Rome with a proposal to unify Rome and the Archbishopric of Ohrid. An agreement was reached and a missionary by the name of Onuphrius Constantine was elected as Bishop to serve at the Koine speaking College in Rome. The union, however, did not work out and Catholic propaganda in Macedonia began to lose its effect. A new hope was growing among the Balkan people that Russia, a Christian Orthodox country, would some day liberate them from their bondage.

The Macedonian people were never content with being occupied and showed their displeasure at every opportunity. The first major uprising after the fall of Samoil's empire occurred in the middle of the 15th century in the Debar region, where Macedonians, Albanians and Vlachs lived together. Led by George Castriot, the people rose up against the tyranny of the Turks.

George Castriot, who took the name Scanderbeg after Iskander, more commonly known as Alexander the Great, came from an illustrious feudal family which at the time ruled part of present day central Albania and the greater Debar region in the present day Republic of Macedonia. During the Ottoman conquests in the region, John Castriot, George's father, managed to retain his title and holdings by acknowledging the supreme authority of the Sultan and fulfilling certain obligations as his vassal. As proof of his loyalty, John Castriot surrendered his sons to the Sultan to be held as hostages. One of those sons was George who quickly became fascinated by the energy and vigour of the Ottoman military and could not wait to join them.

Having accepted Islam, George's first act was to change his name to Scanderbeg. Scanderbeg quickly built a reputation as an able commander and gained the confidence of the Ottoman supreme authorities. When his father died in 1437, Scanderbeg took his father's place as governor of the same district. Even though Scanderbeg was an ally of the Sultan, his real loyalties lay with his people.

When war broke out in the region in 1442 and Janos Hunjadi's armies penetrated the interior of the Ottoman Empire, Scanderbeg decided the time was right to renounce his allegiance to the Sultan and raise a rebellion.

Scanderbeg was becoming a legend and a serious threat to Ottoman stability so it did not take long for the Ottoman military to amass a large force and after a long struggle, push Scanderbeg into Albania.

Scanderbeg died of illness on January 17, 1468. Ten years later after the fall of Croia, the last bastion of rebel strength, on January 16, 1478 the rebellion was over. This however was not the first or last rebellion. In time, and with the breakdown of Ottoman rule, more and more revolts would take place in the future.

The next local uprising took place in 1564/65, in the Moriovo region and spread to the Prilep plains and from there to the town of Prilep. Dubbed as the Moriovo and Prilep revolt, it is unknown why this revolt began but it is clear that three peasants and two priests from the Moriovo district started it. No sooner had the trouble started than the Sultan, through a decree dated October 3, 1564, ordered that the leaders of the revolt be put to death while the followers were to be sent to serve as oarsmen on Turkish galleys. Before the decree could be enforced however, the perpetrators fled causing the Sultan to order another decree for their capture.

Prilep soon became a hotbed of demonstrations when the Ottoman court ruled in favour of a Pasha in a dispute with the peasants. According to a document dated December 1565 a revolt broke out inside the town of Prilep when the Prilep Court, in settling a dispute between the peasants and Mustapha Pasha, ruled in favour of the Pasha. When the news hit the streets more than a thousand rebels from the surrounding villages, armed with sticks and stones, assembled and stormed the court. It is unknown how this revolt ended.

Since Christians by law were not allowed to carry arms, they had no effective defense against maltreatment, especially from the corrupt legal system. The only recourse available to them was to become outlaws. Although unpopular, outlawry was one of the oldest forms of armed struggle expressed by the Macedonian people, which reached epidemic proportions over the course of the 17th century. The outlaws, or haiduks, lived secret lives known only to other outlaws or trusted friends. When it came to defending their homes and properties, they came together in bands or druzhini of twenty to thirty people. Occasionally, for defensive purposes a number of smaller bands combined together to form a large band usually numbering no more than three hundred people. The band leaders or vojvodi were elected members of their bands and were usually chosen for their military skills and leadership abilities. The ranks of the outlaws came mostly from the feudally tied peasants but it was not uncommon to find priests and monks among them. Women too were known to have joined outlaw bands. The oldest record of a woman outlaw dates back to 1636. Her name was Kira and she was from the village Chapari. Kira was a member of Petar Dundar's band from the village Berantsi, near Bitola. There were also recorded cases of women who led outlaw bands.

The main preoccupation of the outlaws was to defend the oppressed and in times of trouble come to their aid. In retaliation the outlaws were known to attack feudal estates and even burn down Spahi (tax collector) harvests. They also ambushed and robbed merchant caravans and tax collectors. Bands were known to have attacked some of the larger towns. On several occasions outlaws banded together and overran Bitola, Lerin, Ohrid and Resen. Twice they looted the bezesteen in Bitola, once in 1646 and again in 1661.

To curb outlaw activities, the Ottoman authorities frequently undertook extreme measures by organizing posses to hunt them down, burning down villages that were known to be sympathetic to outlaws and imprisoning and sometimes executing relatives of outlaws. When all these measures failed to stop them, the Ottomans introduced the services of the derbendkis, to provide safe passage through the countryside to important functionaries such as merchants, tax collectors and travelers.

Outlaws who were captured were tortured, sent to prison for life, or executed. The lucky ones were executed outright. Their dead bodies were then impaled on stakes or on iron hooks for everyone to see. Those less fortunate were skinned alive, had their heads split open and were left to die a slow and painful death. Those sent to prison were usually chained to galleys and spent the rest of their lives as oarsmen.

Despite the extreme measures exercised against them, the outlaws were never stamped out and were always a part of every conflict. The outlaws were the nucleus of the armed forces and the experienced leaders and commanders of the revolts and uprisings. They were the first to raise the spirit of resistance and the first to stand up for the people. That is why the outlaws are so widely revered in Macedonian folklore.

Unwilling to yield, the Ottoman noose continued to tighten on the Macedonian peasants, Christian and Muslim alike. Their moment to strike back, however, came when the Ottomans became entangled with the Austrians in a war during the Austrian invasion of Macedonia.

What came to be known as the Karposh Uprising, dubbed after its leader Karposh, was a Macedonian people's revolt against the economic, social and political injustices perpetrated by the Ottoman overlords.

In 1683 the Ottomans, for the second time, tried to take Vienna but failed after a two-month siege. The city was saved with the assistance of the Polish army led by King John Sobiesky. The Ottoman army suffered a catastrophic defeat resulting in enormous losses of territory, material and manpower. To prevent further expansion and keep the Ottomans in check, the Holy League of Austria, Poland, Venice and later Russia was created.

Once they gained momentum the Austrians continued to drive the Ottomans southward reaching the northern boundaries of Macedonia. Led by General Piccolomini, the Austrians entered the Plain of Skopje on October 25, 1689 and were met by a jubilant crowd celebrating their triumphant arrival.

The Austrians continued to march southward and came upon the town of Skopje only to find it empty. Skopje had been evacuated and left with plenty of food and all kinds of merchandise. Feeling that it may have been a trap, Piccolomini withdrew his forces at once and set the town on fire. The fires raged for two whole days and consumed the greater part of Skopje.

The Austrians continued to move through the Macedonian interior and set camp in the village of Orizari, near Kumanovo. A detachment was sent to Shtip, which arrived there at dawn on November 10, 1689 only to be met with Ottoman resistance. A fierce battle broke out but the Austrians managed to force the Ottomans out, leaving about two thousand of their dead behind. After setting the town on fire, the Austrians left for camp but on their way ran into an Ottoman detachment of three hundred soldiers. Another battle ensued and the Ottomans disbursed.

The destruction and mayhem caused by the Austro-Turkish War brought a sudden deterioration in the economic and political situation in the region. The need for further military operations forced the Ottoman state to increase its purchases of grain, fodder, livestock, timber and other agricultural products, far below normal prices. Also, to pay for the military campaigns, a host of new taxes were introduced. During this difficult period the Rajak also suffered violence at the hands of deserters from the Ottoman army and from the defectors of the central government.

The military catastrophe and the chaotic situation inside the Ottoman Empire again created suitable conditions for widespread outlawry in all parts of Macedonia, especially in the Moriovo, Bitola, Tikvesh, Veles, Shtip and Mt. Dospat regions which led up to the famous Karposh Uprising.

Sometime in the middle of October 1689 the famous outlaw Arambasha Karposh led an uprising which broke out in the region between Kustendil and Skopje. Immediately after declaring a revolt, Karposh attacked and captured Kriva Palanka. Kriva Palanka was an Ottoman stronghold built in 1636 to house Ottoman soldiers. After capturing the stronghold, Karposh declared it liberated rebel territory and made it his center of resistance. Among the items captured at the stronghold were six cannons, a real prize for the rebels. After securing Kriva Palanka the rebels built and secured a new stronghold near Kumanovo.

It is not known whether or not the rebels were assisted by the Austrians but it is possible. According to contemporary Ottoman chronicles and local legends, Karposh was known as the "King of Kumanovo". This could have been a title conferred upon him by the Austrian emperor Leopold I who sent him a Busby (a tall fur hat worn by hussars and guardsmen) as a gift and a sign of recognition.

Unfortunately for the rebels, the current situation did not last long and a reversal in military and political events played a decisive role in the fate of the uprising. The Ottomans had by now had enough time to take countermeasures to stop the economic and military decline of their state.

The first step taken in Macedonia was to put down the rebellion and drive the Austrian army out of Macedonian territory. To do that the Ottomans employed the services of the Crimean Khan, Selim Giray, along with his fierce detachment of Tartar warriors.

The Turkish council of war met in Sofia on November 14, 1689 and decided to attack the Karposh uprising through Kustendil. But before they could do that they had to secure Kriva Palanka. Upon finding that they were about to be attacked, the rebels set fire to Kriva Palanka and concentrated their forces in the new fortress in Kumanovo. No sooner had they prepared their defenses than the Ottoman and Tartar detachments arrived. The rebels stood their ground and fought gallantly but were quickly overwhelmed by the numerically superior Ottoman force. A large number of rebels, including Karposh, were captured at the outset. When the battle was over, all rebels who resisted to the end were slaughtered. Karposh and the others were taken prisoner. After subduing Kumanovo, the Ottomans left for Skopje where they executed Karposh and the others.

Karposh was brought before Selim Giray who at the time was standing on the Stone Bridge over the River Vardar. Selim used him for target practice and impaled him with his Tartar lances. He then had his body hurled into the Vardar River. Karposh died in early December 1689 and with him died the Karposh uprising.

For the rebels who survived the battles there was no salvation from the Ottoman backlash except to leave Macedonia. Many fled north beyond the Sava and Danube Rivers. Some even went as far north as the Ukraine and Russia and joined the Russian military. There they formed the "Macedonian regiment" which became part of the regular Russian army. The failed Karposh uprising depleted the local population of northwestern Macedonia of people opening the way for large scale Albanian immigration.

Just as the Karposh revolt was winding down in Macedonia, on April 6, 1690, Leopold I issued a manifesto inviting "all peoples of Albania, Serbia, Mysia, Bulgaria, Silistria, Illyria, Macedonia and Rashka to join the Austrians in taking up arms against the Turks." Then on April 26, 1690 he issued a letter making Macedonia and her people his protectorate. It has been said that Leopold acted on the advice of Macedonians Marko Krajda of Kozhani and Dimitri Georgija Popovich of Solun. Among other things the letter stated that "we graciously accept the Macedonian people, in its entirety in every respect, under our imperial and regal protection." Another letter was issued on May 31, 1690 extending Austria's protection to Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Unfortunately, all these good gestures were too little too late for Macedonia which by 1690 was back under tight Ottoman control.


Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov Publications, 2005

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