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Bosnia - 1833-1837

The Slavonic Mohammedans of Bosnia, occupying an isolated corner of the Sultan's dominions, had not been so liable to those external influences which at Constantinople itself had considerably modified the code of True Believers. The Bosniac Mussulmans had their religious antagonism perpetually roused by wars with the unbelievers who compassed them round about; they, more than the Levantine Moslems, had borne the brunt of the long struggle with Christendom. Thus Bosnia was the headquarters of Mohammedan fanaticism, and when, at the beginning of the 19th century, Sultan Mahmoud II endeavored to introduce his centralizing innovations and reforms into Bosnia - which also promised the Christians a certain amount of religious liberty - he found himself opposed here not only by the feudal caste, who rallied around the janizaries, but by Mohammedans whose religion had assumed a national character of a more fanatical hue than was fashionable in the capital.

About the year 1833, when the Sultan Mahmoud was exhausted from the loss of his fleet at Navarin, and the disastrous war with Russia, he had a long struggle with the Bosnians, who endeavored to throw off the yoke of the Osmanlis. The Bosniacs, the last to embrace Islamism, opposed a more determined resistance to the European reforms of Sultan Mahmoud than any other of the inhabitants of the Ottoman empire. They refused to furnish recruits for the Nizam as obstinately as they adhered to the hereditary jurisdiction.

Sultan Mahmoud resolved to put an end to the independence of Bosnian Moslem aristocracy, and to turn the protectorate into a tangible sovereignty. He had seen the humiliations to which the revolts of powerful Pashas, the distant satraps of Yanina, Bagdad, and Egypt, had reduced the imperial power. One after another the potent Begs of Asia Minor were, so to speak, mediatized. The Capitanates of Roumelia were also abolished ; and Bosnia, the Vendee of Turkey, was now destined to be unfeudalized, and exchange its antique hereditary noblesse and fanatical ulema, for removable governors - lax Moslem canons and tight Giaour trowsers.

A succession of Pashas, possessed of great energy, was sent to Bosnia, who sometimes by ruse, and occasionally by force, at one time aided by regular troops, at another by Arnouts, and even Christian rayahs, cut off nearly all the heads of the old families, and everywhere substituted Mussellims, removable at the pleasure of the Porte, for the old feudal jurisdictions. The Osmanlis made much use of the Christians in combating the Bosnian Moslem aristocracy.

One of the most vigorous opponents of the reforms was a certain Hamra Effendi, who seeing the summary manner in which Vegihi Pashah got quit of the old nobility, did not choose to trust himself within his clutches ; he was, therefore, lulled into security by months of unwearied attention and civility on the part of the Pasha, who, in the course of correspondence, consulted him on every important occasion. The Pasha now got up a small mock revolt, and immediately dispatched a Tatar to Bania-Iuka, urging Hamra Effendi to come to him immediately, as he was in the utmost strait Hamra fell into the trap, and proceeded to Vegihi Pasha. Hamra Effendi was delighted with the reception he met with from the Pasha, who, being a native of Angara, in Asia Minor, had all the politeness of an Asiatic. After pipes, coffee, and the usual compliments, the Cuvan Bashi of the Pasha entered with his men, and strangled Hamra Effendi on the spot.

On the death of Sultan Mahmoud a general revolt of the remains of the party of the nobles took place. They marched upon Travnik, and drove the Pasha out of the seat of government; several sharp engagements took place, in one of which 800 men were left dead on the spot, victory having declared for Vegihi Pasha. The Bosniac oligarchy was, if not extinct, at least in abeyance, after having subsisted for 800 years in the Christian and Moslem religions. In fact, it may be said that this ancient aristocracy received its death-blow, for mere antiquity of family procured little respect when the fiefs have reverted to the sovereign.

Ali Aga of Stolac was the chief Moslem noble who took the part of the Ottoman government, and, as a mark of Imperial favor, he was made Pasha and Governor of Herzegovina. On the Turkish conquest, Mostar became the seat of residence of the Viziers of Herzegovina; and just as before the dukes of St. Sava had exercised an authority almost independent of their suzerains, the kings of Bosnia, so now the Viziers of Herzegovina succeeded in defying their Bosnian superiors, the lieutenants of the Grand Signior at Travnik. One of the latest and most representative of these Turkish dukes of St. Sava was the renowned Ali Pasha, who, for the valuable assistance which he rendered Sultan Mahmoud in his struggle with the Mahometan magnates of Bosnia, was rewarded with the Vizierate of Herzegovina, which in 1833 was separated from Bosnia and erected into an independent government for the benefit of this faithful servant of the Sultan.

Ali Pasha, originally Ali Aga of Stolac, the seat of his hereditary castle and possessions, was a scion of the renegade nobility of Herzegovina, and had been enabled to aid the Grand Signior against his reactionary Mahometan vassals, by resorting to the bold expedient of arming his rayah retainers. He appears to have been a man endued above the average with the Turkish aptitude for dissimulation. While the Christians were useful to him, he was profuse in his promises of reward, and used to swear to them 'by the golden cross' that their taxes would be abolished with the exception of a hundred paras yearly of haratch.

But, once in the Vizierial palace of Mostar, he increased the haratch, levied the tithes with greater rigour, doubled the other taxes,, and, only anxious to conciliate the Moslems of his Pashalik, allowed his agents to treat the rayahs with greater cruelty than ever. On the pretence of seizing Christian subjects, who after fleeing to Montenegro might presume to revisit their homes in the Herzegovina, he used to send detachments of fanatical officers, who made the circuit of the Christian villages, and ill-treated or murdered whom they pleased, under the pretence that they were Uskoks, as these refugees were called, or had sheltered such. A native historian, a monk of Mostar, has related with a Herodotean simplicity the history of the civil war in the Herzegovina and the reign of the terrible Vizier; and the picture which he gives of the sufferings of the rayahs, of the sort of justice which was meted out to them in the country districts, and the sights with which the tyrant in the palace of Mostar was wont to feast his eyes, may serve to open people's eyes to the character of the government in this part of the Sultan's dominions during the years immediately preceding the Crimean War.

If the Pasha had a weakness, it was for impaled heads of rayahs, so that when these Uskok hunters were disappointed of legitimate game, they used to resort to a rough and ready way of securing the Pasha's approbation, and on the most trivial excuses decapitated his Christian subjects.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:58 ZULU