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Ottomans and Romanians

One of the most important actors that influenced the history of Romanians in the extra-Carpathian space was the Ottoman Empire.

RRI
RRI

, 26.02.2024, 14:00

One of the most important actors that influenced the history of Romanians in the extra-Carpathian space was the Ottoman Empire. It is considered one of the great empires in history and for more than half a millennium it dominated the world on three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa. Ottomans and Romanians met, clashed and coexisted closely from the second half of the 15th century to the last quarter of the 19th century. In their history in the proximity of the Ottoman world, the Romanian Principalities enjoyed autonomy compared to other Balkan states that were conquered and turned into pashaliks.

 

The British historian Marc David Baer, ​​author of a bestseller on the history of the Ottoman Empire, noted that status: “The interesting thing about these three provinces of the Ottomans, Transylvania and Wallachia and Moldova, which today form Romania, is that they were conquered at different times, they were treated in different ways, and more importantly, they were treated very differently than other core provinces of the Ottoman Empire. So, if we compare what is today Romania with Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, it’s very, very different because Romania, I don’t know, maybe the resistance was too strong, I don’t know. The Ottomans did not completely subject this region, what is today Romania, instead allowing it a great amount of autonomy, which is similar in some ways to the way the Ottomans treated Kurdistan in the southeast, allowing the Kurds a great measure of autonomy so long as they gave the right amount of troops and defended the empire against the external enemies.”

 

Being a part of the Ottoman world, Romanians had both gains and losses, historian Marc David Baer believes: “What are the benefits of the Ottoman Empire? When Mehmet II conquered Wallachia in, I think, the 1460s, he connected this part of the world to world commerce, to a world flow of ideas, the Ottoman Empire would become one of the greatest, strongest, wealthiest empires in the world at the time, and being part of that gave a lot of benefits to the subjects. Now, of course, from the point of view of people in this region, there were a lot of negatives. For example, the Ottomans had a tax, a levy on boys, so one out of every 40 Christian boys in an Ottoman province or newly conquered territory would be brought back to the capital, would be circumcised, converted, and trained to be either in the leading military corps, the Janissaries, or become ministers of government.”

 

The historians of the Ottoman Empire have often written about the tolerance the Ottomans had for the diversity they ruled on. Marc David Baer believes that these statements need to be explained: “We have to, first of all, define what we mean by tolerance and toleration. So, in European history, we talk about tolerance beginning at the… the end of the 30 years war in 1648. But if we think about tolerance just being something that’s brought to Europe by whoever rules it, then we can go back all the way to the eighth century and talk about the Arabs who entered Spain. And in Muslim Spain, you had religious tolerance. You had Christians, Jews, and Muslims living in Muslim kingdoms. The Ottomans introduced religious tolerance to Eastern Europe when they move into Europe in the 14th century. Now, tolerance is not the same as coexistence. It’s not the same as saying, your religion is equal to mine. We’re the same. Let’s respect each other. Tolerance in pre-modern times was about hierarchies. There was a group in the Ottoman case, Muslim and men, and also free people, had more rights than Christians, Jews, women, and slaves.”

 

In the 19th century, the Balkan nations removed the Ottoman model, gained independence, and adopted the European model of modern state and society. Mark David Baer is back at the microphone: “The Ottoman Empire was this empire that lasted 600 years. And the Ottomans themselves were a new class made up of these converted Christian men and women. And they were the minority in their own empire, on purpose. And they created this Ottoman language which was only understandable for this Ottoman elite, not for everybody. The majority of Ottoman subjects for the first four centuries were Christian in the empire. But as we move into the 19th century, we have a different empire, we have a different world. When the Russians begin to defeat the Ottomans again and again, and when the Ottomans begin to lose territory from the 17th century through the 19th century, then intellectuals and statesmen and sultans begin to ask, how can we save the empire? What can we do? Now we’re being defeated militarily, what is it that we need to do? And what they don’t turn to is nationalism, which is the idea that this land is for one people only. But for the Ottomans, there wasn’t that aim until very, very late. The aim was always to save the empire, territorially, and to find a way, which ultimately failed, to gain the loyalty of all their subjects.”

 

The Ottoman Empire formally disappeared in 1918, more than a century ago. Traces of what it meant remained mostly in written documents and less as defining features today. (LS)

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