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CROATS AND THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE (1463 - 1878)


In the dynastic crisis and the wars that followed the death of King Louis I Angevin in 1382, the Croatian nobility played the leading role. Nevertheless, the members of the Croatian nobility did not have enough power to turn that crisis to their own advantage by supporting a king of their own choice to mount the throne. The alliance with the Bosnian king was in that respect of little use since Stephan Tvrtko I availed himself of the opportunity of the existing political conflicts to extend his power to the Dalmatian cities and the areas in the south of Croatia. The party disunion, dissension and irreconcilableness with the crowning of Sigismund Luxembourgian King of Hungary and Croatia was silently supported by the Venetian Republic that wished to regain its power and rule over the Dalmatian cities and the coastal part of Croatia. New developments of the situation were turning gradually to the advantage of Venice, which inevitably lead to the destruction of unity of the Croatian territories, which in turn could not be opposed by either the nobility or King Sigismund. The separation of this area from its hinterland was disastrous for Croatia, while at the same time its north-eastern part was under even greater threat. The defeat suffered by the Serbian army at Kosovo polje in 1389 smoothed the way for the Ottoman Empire toward Hungary and Croatia, the targets of their future campaigns and military expeditions. Already in 1391 the area between the rivers Drava, Danube and Sava was exposed to violent attacks of the Ottoman light cavalry, which plundered, devastated and annihilated everything along their way, showing thus what kind of an enemy was to fight. Thanks to personal courage and decisiveness of Ivan Morovic Viceroy of Macva, this attack was repulsed; however, the whole region became deserted and the frightened population evacuated from their settlements.

THE REMAINS OF THE REMNANTS OF FORMER GLORIOUS CROATIAN KINGDOM - 1606

Depending upon the internal affairs and strengthening of the Ottoman Empire, such attacks and invasions became more frequent, particularly after the crushing defeat of the army consisting of West European knights and King Sigismund at Nikopolje in 1396. This defeat marked the end of the dreams about ousting the Turks from the European continent.

Having overcome a long-lasting crisis caused by the defeat and capturing of Sultan Bayezid I Yildirim atAngora ( 1402) in the conflictwith the Mongolian khan Timor, and after Mehmed I and his successor Murad II had succeeded to the throne, the Turks crossed the river Drina from the direction of Serbia, seized the first strongholds in Bosnia and established the Bosnian Border (serhat). Under military command of the local commanders, they were plundering the settlements throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina in lightning attacks, capturing the local population and rushing at southern, western and northern parts of Croatia. Such devastation of material goods and enslaving of the local population meant a systematic destruction of the economic and military power of the opponent, which was to prepare the ground for further extension of the Ottoman power. The panic-stricken Croatian population escaped to safer areas, retreating across the rivers Sava, Drava and Danube, or leaving for northern Hungary, eastern Austria, Bohemia and the coastal regions under Venetian rule, all the way to the islands of the Adriatic and farther to the Apennine Peninsula.
Sultan Mehmed II, also known as the Conqueror (Fatih), full of praise for his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, managed to annex Serbia to the Ottoman Empire in 1459. The Kingdom of Bosnia fell in his hands in 1463 as well. The fall of Bosnia meant a direct threat to Croatia, the next target of the Ottoman army. The Ottomans knew how to use that opportunity and carried out a fierce, full-scale attack on Croatia. In a counter-attack in the very same year, King Matthias Corvinus managed to take back the town of Jajce and defeated the Sultan\\\'s army. In order to protect the southern territories of Hungary and the northern part of Croatia stretching between the rivers Drava, Danube and Sava, in 1464 he established the districts of Srebrenica and Jajce, the so-called banovina.

By the establishment of these districts, the southern and central parts of Croatia remained unprotected, left to the defence of the Croatian gentry who kept smaller troops in the fortified border areas at their own expense. Having reached the river Neretva and having conquered Herzegovina in 1482, the Ottomans found their way toward Croatia, skilfully avoiding the fortified towns. The central government allowed their border officers, the so-called sanjakbeys and the Border commanders to plunder the area as they wanted, inflicting thus enormous suffering and damage to the local population and Croatia on the whole. Through Croatia, the Ottoman light cavalry pushed its way towards Carinthia and Carniola, threatening thus to a broader area of Venice as well. In order to stop such invasions, in 1493 the Croats rallied their troops under the command of Viceroy Emerik Derencin at Krbava field (Krbavsko polje), waiting there for the return of the Bosnian sanjakbey Hadum Jakub-Pasha from one of his plundering campaigns. The Croats overestimated their power, rushed at the Turks and suffered a total defeat in which the cream of the old Croatian nobility perished to a man.

The defeat at Krbava field (Krbavsko polje) shook all the social strata in Croatia; however, it did not dissuade the Croats from making even more decisive and persistent attempts at defending themselves against the attacks of the much more superior enemy. Prior to that tragic battle, a whole century of full-scale wars and cruel battles had passed, in which the Croats had learned how to fight against the Ottoman army and the local members of the Turkish light cavalry forces. Quite soon they learned how to counterattack accordingly, retaliating viciously in the areas under the Ottoman rule.

The orientation of Sultan Suleyman Kanuni toward the campaign of conquest in the Pannonian Valley marked the beginning of the most brutal and tragic period of the Croatian history, during which the survival of the Croats and Croatia in general was more than questionable.

The fall of Belgrade in 1521 and the conquest of Knin in 1522 represented ominous anticipation of hard times that were ahead of Croatia and Hungary. The Ottoman army soon took the remnants of the districts of Srebrenica and Jajce, while the towns of Jajce, Banja Luka, Kamengrad and some other fortifications remained as solitary islands in the Ottoman sea. The Croats asked the Western European rulers for their support; however, it was all in van. No one heard their cry for help.

On his way toward Hungary, in 1526, Sultan Suleyman took possession of Petrovaradin, Ilok, Sarengrad, Vukovar, Erdut, Osijek and the entire region of Srijem. Having led his army across the Drava near Osijek, Suleyman destroyed the Hungarian army on August 26, in the battle at Mohacs. King Lodovic II and a great number of Croats lost their lives there. The defeat at Mohacs marked the end of the state community of Croatia and Hungary. Expecting and hoping for help in their struggle against the Turks, on January 1, I 527 in Cetin, the Croatian classes elected the Austrian Grand Duke and King of Bohemia Ferdinand Habsburg their king, who pledged his word to provide them with any kind of support. Five days later, in Szekesfehervar, the Hungarian classes elected Ivan Zapolja their king, who was supported by the majority of the nobility between the Drava and the Sava, so that instead of one Croatia had two kings. The conflicts between the classes and their mutual struggles were welcome among the Turks, who in 1527 and 1528 engaged only minor troops to occupy the entire regions of Krbava and Lika, Jajce and Banja Luka and thus approached the banks of the river Una.

Sultan Suleyman\\\'s campaign towards Vienna in 1529 and Kiszeg in 1532 distracted the Turks from Croatia for a while, although their crossing over the Sava and the occupation of Koba`s in 1530 had already clearly pointed to the goals of Ottoman strategists. In a violent attack of the Ottoman army in 1536 the central part of Croatia was lost and at the beginning of 1537 Pozega fell as well. Not more than two months after that, the southern Croatian stronghold of Klis, in the back of Split, also fell, from where the courageous fighters against the Turks, the so-called uskoci, retreated to Senj. This event marked the beginning of their unique saga of courage. The attempt at pushing the Turks out of Slavonia in the late summer of the very same year ended in a crushing defeat near Gorjani, which gave an opportunity to the Ottoman Empire to rule over that area for another century and a half.

Despite his pledge and formal commitment to provide every kind of support to the Croats in their struggle against the Turks, King Ferdinand\\\'s primary goal was to secure his right to the Hungarian throne, leaving Croatia at the same time to its own devices.

Sultan Suleyman\\\'s entering into Budim in 1541 and the annexation of Hungary to the Ottoman Empire provided much encouragement to further occupations in the region between the Drava and the Sava. Quite soon a whole series of towns and places was lost: Orahovica, Valpovo, Vocin, Brezovica, Sirac, Pakrac, Kraljeva Velika and finally, in 1552, Virovitica and Cazma.

South of the Sava, the Turks broke the defence line at the river Una and took Kostajnica in 1556, then also Dubica, Novi, Otoka and Krupa. Taking the towns one after another, until 1576 they reached Ozalj, Dubovac, Pokupsko, Hrastovica, Petrinja and Sisak. That campaign meant a threat to Zagreb and the Austrian provinces. As the situation with other towns and fortifications between the Sava and the Drava, such as Ivanic, Kriz, Dubrava, Vrbovec, Krizevci, Koprivnica and Durdevac, was very much the same, one could not help asking how long the Croats would resist the Ottoman invasion and actually defend the Austrian Empire. Furthermore, the Croats received irregular and insignificant support from Austria, very often at the expense of their own compatriots and the Croatian viceroys who used to finance the army with their own means.

As the position of defence in Croatia worsened dramatically, upon the initiative of the Styrian Grand Duke Karl and by consent of the Court Military Council, in I 578 the Croatian Military Border was established along the border with the Ottoman Empire, stretching from the river Drava to the Adriatic Sea. The construction works on a massive military fortress at the foot of the town of Dubovac, the possession of the princes Zrinski, started in the very same year. The fortress was named after Grand Duke Karl - Karlstadt, i.e. Karlovac, although the Croatian classes proposed that it should be erected at some other place. They thought that the Ottoman military commanders would easily make a detour and direct their troops toward Sisak and Zagreb. Quite soon their thoughts proved to be true.

The establishment of the Croatian Military Border came as a belated act in the defence of Croatia, since the country was reduced to reliquiae reliquiarum, the miserable remains. Furthermore, the area of the Croatian Military Border was separated from these remains as an independent military structure beyond the authority of the Croatian Viceroy and the nobility, so that Croatia was reduced to one tenth of the area it had had in the period before the wars against the Ottoman Empire. More precisely, it was reduced to the County of Varazdin and the Counties of Zagreb and Krizevci, which were more than halved. Thus Croatia became completely dependent upon the Military Border headquarters in Graz and the Emperor\\\'s Court in Vienna. Due to that position, although reduced to a small piece of territory, Croatia was compelled not only to defend frantically its state and legal autonomy but also to hang on for dear life. Namely, the German language was introduced as the official language of the Croatian Military Border and the foreigners, who came from the Austrian provinces and pushed the Croats out, occupied all major positions in the military.

While the Croatian Military Border was still in the process of formation, these border-lands had always been an inseparable part of the conquering policy of the Ottoman Empire, which dated back to its very beginning. This meant an enormous strategic advantage for the Ottomans in their aspirations toward the adjacent countries and territories. With the extension of the Ottoman Empire, the border-lands were also moved, serving as a starting point of further invasions and conquests.

Around 1580, along the border with Croatia, from the river Drava to the Adriatic Sea, there were more than 6,000 Ottoman mercenaries deployed in the fortresses and military strongholds, the most important combat strength consisting in cavalry. Apart from the mercenaries, the Ottoman authorities settled numerous livestock breeders, the so-called T~lasi, all along the border, to perform various auxiliary services with the military. Included in the light cavalry troops, they also used to break into Croatia across the border, where they were plundering, destroying, stealing the cattle, laying ambushes, murdering and taking away the people. Due to all this, they became the most detested class at the Border, equalised with the most hardened criminals. Their insatiable greed, brutality and fickleness provoked much suspicion among the Turks themselves, so that these criminals were quite often persecuted and suspected of plotting with the opposing army.

After Hasan-Pasha Predojevic had become the supreme commander of the Bosnian Pashaluk, the Croats\\\' struggle against the Ottoman Empire reached its critical point. The conquests of Ripac in 1591 and Bihac (on the river Una) in 1592 removed the last obstacles on the way toward realisation of the Ottoman strategic plans. Having gathered the army from all over Bosnia and Slavonia under the Ottoman command, Hasan-Pasha undertook an all-out attack in order to defeat the Croatian combat troops and wipe away Croatia. However, in the battle of Sisak, in 1593, Hasan-Pasha suffered a total defeat and fell together with thousands of his soldiers and a great number of the Ottoman commanders.

Finally, the glorious victory in the battle of Sisak marked the end of the Ottoman invasions after almost two hundred years of the Croatian fighting against the Ottoman Empire. The Viceroy\\\'s army, chasing the Turks away from Petrinja in 1595, crowned the great victory.

In further combats the Viceroy\\\'s army, together with the Military Border troops, broke deeply into the area under the Ottoman rule, inflicting much damage to the Turks and turning the whole Border area into a battlefield and the scene of many fierce battles and destruction. On the return from such missions, numerous refugees followed the army, among them also a great number of the people known as Iilasi, under the leadership of their headmen and Orthodox priests who went over to the Croatian side. The Croatian Military Border authorities settled these people along the border and encouraged their further settling, promising them privileges in military service, regardless of the fact that the lands belonged to the Croatian nobility. This provoked much indignation among the Croatian classes, which expressed their displeasure by asking that these people were equalised with other subordinates and were to pay all public taxes. Representing the interests of the military and pursuing the policy of the Emperor\\\'s Court, the Croatian Military Border authorities started to protect the Vlasi, who expressed their loyalty and paid respect to the Emperor, declining to be anyone\\\'s subordinates. Thus a completely different world started to emerge on the Croatian soil, with which the Croats had no common historic, cultural, spiritual, religious and political background and which the Croats felt as an alien element, a foreign body in their own tissue. The far-reaching consequences, which arose from that, were no concern of the military authorities, let alone the sufferings of the Croatian people who had to make superhuman efforts to protect themselves and maintain its self-awareness.

The peace treaty of 1606 eventually established the balance between the great powers. What was taken in war operations was to be retained by the belligerent powers. Thus the Ottoman Empire drew Croatia\\\'s eastern border.

Two centuries of the Ottoman invasions represented a devastating disaster for Croatia and the Croatian nation, which had not been experienced by any European nation before. About 3,000 settlements were reduced to ashes, and the local population disappeared without a trace. A number of dioceses disappeared - Makarska, Skradin, Knin, Krbava, Bosnia and Dakovo, Srijem - together with their chapters. The Zagreb diocese area was reduced to almost one third of its earlier size. More than 550 churches and monasteries, the centres of cultural life and education, were devastated and pulled down. Thousands of the gentry manor houses were destroyed, the middle and lower gentry and clergy was exterminated, as well as the educated individuals, cultural goods and all traces of literacy. Thousands of women, children and men were captured and taken prisoners. A large number of people fell at the battleground, defending their country, freedom and existence. Once flourishing, commercially powerful and densely populated areas, in which one could live a peaceful and comfortable life, much better than in many parts of Western Europe, were turned into a horrifying desert. It is difficult to describe in words all that was destroyed and reduced to ashes. An advanced stage of development, once attained, was brutally interrupted and turned centuries back. Croatia was turned into a narrow belt stretching from the border with Austrian provinces and the river Drava, via durdevac, Bjelovar, Sisak, Karlovac, Otocac and Senj to Rijeka, while its eastern part became the Croatian Military Border. Having lost its ethnic and political space, Croatia lost its complete mediaeval tradition, characterised by numerous churches, abbeys and monasteries, towns and castles of the Croatian nobility, built in Romanesque and Gothic styles and decorated in the spirit of the time in which they had been created. In other words, under the conditions that made life enormously difficult in those days, in grinding poverty, famine and misery caused by the Ottoman conquests, the people also became rougher and everything served the purpose of struggling for survival.

While Croatia was bleeding and suffering under the burden of crucial moments of its historic drama, Western Europe led a completely different way of life. A civil revolution succeeded in the Netherlands; England\\\'s economy was flourishing; the fashion of those days was dominated by the Spanish style, the Church was carrying out its reforms; it was the time of early Baroque, the time of the brightest literary achievements of William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, the time of the great philosophers Giordano Bruno and Francis Bacon, the great masters Tizian Vecelli, Michel Montaigne, Paolo Veronese, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens, the time of the famous astronomers Tycho Brahe, Johann Kepler, the time of rapid development of mathematics, physics and other natural sciences.

On the occupied territories, the Ottoman Empire immediately established its authorities and founded its military and administrative districts, the so-called sanjaks, which were divided intojuridical districts, the so-called cadiluks. Among the first established ones were the sanjaks of Osijek-Srijem, Klis, Pozega, Cazma and Krka-Lika. Until 1541, the sanjaks of Osijek, Klis and Pozega had belonged to the Rumelian beglerbeylik, when the sanjak of Pozega was annexed to the newly established beglerbeylik of Budim. It remained a part of it until the establishment of the beglerbeylik of Bosnia in 1580. After the conquest of Kanisza in 1600, the sanjak of Pozega was separated from the Bosnian beglerbeylik and included in the beglerbeylik of Kanisza, remaining thus a part of it until the end of the Ottoman rule.

Upon the establishment of the Ottoman authorities, a special form of feudal system was introduced. The Roman Catholic Church organisation was destroyed and the subordinated population, which could not escape the oppressors, was turned into the so-called raja (a kind of serfs). According to the Moslem religious law (Sheriyat), the raja had to fulfil all public obligations. The Ottoman population inhabited the towns and administrative centres, where mosques and public buildings were built. A small number of the native Croats were converted to Islam. Pozega and Osijek were the only bigger cities. Thanks to the erection of the famous Suleyman\\\'s bridge in 1566, on the left bank of the Drava, across the marshland in Baranya, Osijek grew out into the largest traffic, commercial and urban centre of those days. In comparison with the subordinated local population, the Ottomans made up a very small ruling and social stratum, situated mostly in larger towns, market towns and Border fortresses, where they protected their rule by military force. Aware of its position, the subjugated Croatian population could not become reconciled with the foreign rule and made every effort to fight it, never giving up hope of its liberation.

Except for some minor battles and conflicts at the border, all until 1663 it was relatively peaceful in Croatia. The erection of Novi Zrin by Viceroy Nikola Zrinski, just opposite of Kanizsa, was the immediate cause for another war. Grand Vizier Ahmed-Pasha Koprulu led his army toward northern Hungary and took Gyor, Nove Zamky and Levice. His lack of experience in waging such a war, as he sent his troops to distant territories in winter, was cunningly used by Nikola Zrinski. In a lightning attack, in the middle of winter 1664, he reached
Osijek, devastated the town outskirts and set the Suleyman\\\'s bridge on fire. The courageous undertaking of the Croatian Viceroy caused much admiration throughout Europe but also the envy of the Emperor\\\'s military strategists. Having come to terms with the unpleasant surprise, the Turks reconstructed the bridge so that in the summer of the very same year the Grand Vizier carried out a vicious attack on Novi Zrin and levelled it to the ground. Returning from this mission, his army reached the village of Mogersdorf, where they suffered a crushing defeat on August 1, 1664. Instead of seizing the opportunity offered by such a great victory, ten days later, the cowardly Emperor Leopold I concluded the peace treaty at Vasvar. This event caused dissatisfaction among the members of the Hungarian and Croatian nobility who were expecting the continuation of the war and driving the Turks out of the occupied territories.
Recognising the intentions of the Emperor\\\'s Court, Viceroy Nikola Zrinski took over the leadership of the dissatisfied nobility. However, he met a violent and sudden death while wild boar hunting. The leader\\\'s role was taken over by his son, the Croatian Viceroy Petar Zrinski and his brother-in-law Fran Krsto Frankapan. Weaving a web of intrigue around them and their supporters, the Emperor\\\'s Court accused them of an alleged act of treason and plot and executed them on April 21, 1671 in Wiener Neustadt. The execution of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankapan astonished the Croatian public and each Croat considered their death as his personal loss. The extermination of the houses of Zrinski and Frankapan, whose prominence and family trees could have been compared to those of the ruling house of Habsburg, removed the last obstacles on Emperor Leopold\\\'s way toward the introduction of his absolutism.

The siege of Vienna in 1683 and the double defeat of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa-Pasha\\\'s army represented the introduction and immediate cause of the war for the liberation of Hungary and certain parts of Croatia from the Ottoman rule. Upon the creation of the Holy Alliance, consisting of the Austrian Empire, Poland and the Venetian Republic, the war was waged throughout Hungary, in the north and south of Croatia and on the Peloponnesian peninsula. Already in the summer 1684, the Ottoman defence lines were broken in the north of Croatia, by the conquest of Virovitica, and until the autumn 1686 the Ottomans were thrown out from Hungary. The glorious victory over Vizier Suleyman-Pasha in 1687 provided an additional impetus to the war operations in Croatia, so that the whole region between the rivers Drava, Danube and Sava was soon regained, as well as Dubica and Kostajnica on the river Una. In mid-summer 1689, the regions of Lika and Krbava were also liberated. In the south of Croatia, i.e. Dalmatia, the Venetian Republic managed to take over Sinj, Vrlika and Knin. Having suffered crushing defeats at Slankamen in 1691 and in the vicinity of Senta in 1697, the Ottoman Empire was compelled to conclude a peace treaty in 1699 according to the principle uti possidetis, i.e. each of the parties was to retain what it had taken in military operations. Upon such delimitation, the borders of the Ottoman Empire with Croatia followed this line: the river Sava to the Una river mouth, the Una river to Novi and from there across Lika and Krbava to the border with the Venetian Republic.

The newly liberated Croatian territories were again devastated and ravaged in numerous war operations. Hundreds of villages and towns were wiped off the face of the earth, together with them the people vanished also. All that had been built up and created by the foreign rulers was turned to dust and ashes.

Although Croatia was in more than a poor state and terribly ruined, the idea of its reconstruction aroused great enthusiasm, particularly after Emperor Leopold\\\'s formal pledge that all territories regained in the wars against the Turks, that had earlier belonged to Croatia, would be returned under the rule of the Croatian Viceroy.

However, despite the Emperor\\\'s promise, Croatia was given none of its territories. All that had been regained in the war against the Ottoman Empire was put under the rule of the Court Chamber in Vienna. Along the Sava river, the Military Border was established and thus connected with the Military Border south of the Sava. The regions of Lika and Krbava were also annexed to it. This formal act produced a kind of military regime, i.e. state, twice as big as the so-called Civil Croatia (Banska Hrvatska), where only the military laws were applied and a rough, military life was led.

During three centuries of wars against the Ottoman Empire, Croatia was torn in pieces and spiritually disunited. Having lost its historic territories, it also lost a half of its population. The borders of the Ottoman Empire, won in the wars, became the spatial, i.e. physical, and political borders of Croatia. Under a heavy burden of the legacy of its past, Croatia and the Croatian nation entered the eighteenth century. The consequences of those events of the distant past were felt for centuries, all until the reestablishment of the Croatian state and its international recognition in 1992.

 

Source: HercegBosna.org

 

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