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The Balkan Peninsula

After the Ottomans’ transformation from an insignificant minor emirate into a major power in Asia Minor, they embarked on a campaign of expansion, in the 8th century AH (14th cen. AD), toward the Balkan Peninsula and the southeastern regions of Europe. Before the Ottomans, certain groups of the Sari-Sutluq Turkmen, who had fled Khurasan to escape the Mongol onslaught, had arrived in the Balkans, in the 7th century AH (13th cen. AD), and had established a ten- to twelve-thousand-strong Islamic community in the city of Dobruja. In the period 662 – 758 AH, Muslim Turks invaded the Byzantine territories in Europe eighteen times. The second Ottoman emperor, Orkhan, assisted Kantakouzenos in the succession dispute which arose after the death of Andronicus III, and thus consolidated the Muslim position. The fortress of Chimp was handed over to Orkhan and the Gallipoli Peninsula was captured as the first Ottoman base and as the first Islamic territory in the Balkans. The Byzantine emperor, Kantakouzenos, recognized the Muslim conquests in Europe and gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to Orkhan. 

The policy of advancement in the Balkans initiated by Orkhan was pushed forward by his son, Murad I, who used Gallipoli as a launching pad for his conquests of Turakiyah, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia. First, he captured Adirnah, the strongest fortress between Constantinople, Danube and the Black Sea, and made it his capital. The allied Christian force was defeated by him at Maritsa (the Battle of Chirman), as a result of which Balkan prices were made vassals of the Muslims. 

Te conquest of Adrinah marked the onset of immigration of Muslim Turks from Anatolia into the Ili Rome, i.e. the European territories of the Ottoman Empire. By making a payment of some sixty thousand coins to the Genovese, Murad transported a huge population of Muslims to Turakiyah. The Ottomans treated the Jews and Christians of the Balkans as People of the Book. In fact, a large portion of the Christians, including the Bugulims converted to Islam. 

Murad continued his advance toward the southeastern flank of Europe, where he captured Sophia and subjugated Shishman, the king of the Bulgars, after which he moved on to Serbia. Serbia fell into Ottoman hands after the famous battle of Kosovo (Quswah), in southern Serbia. Though, the battle resulted in the death of Murad at the hands of a Serbian peasant by the name of Milosh, it transformed Muslims into a real power in the Balkan Peninsula (Inalcik, ibid.), where Ottoman rulers consolidated their position as Islamic kings in Bulgaria and Serbia. 

In line with the policy of advancement in Europe, Bayezid I conquered the regions of Silistrah, Walashi (Aflaq), Moldavia (Bughdan), Vidin (in Poland), Bosnia and Albania. Sarajevo was established as the capital of the border areas with Poland and Muslims became the neighbors of the Habsburgs. Through his construction of mosques and other religious endowments in various cities, including Adirnah, Bayezid accelerated the propagation of Islam in the region. 

The advancement of Muslims in Europe so worried the pope, Bonifacius, that he began preparations for another Crusade. A Christian army, made up of British, Scottish, Polish, Bohemian, Austrian and Italian soldiers, crossed the Danube and engaged in the massacre of the Muslims. The final battle was joined in Nicopolis, on the 21st of Dhi Hajjah 798 AD (September 25, 1396 AD), and resulted in a Muslim victory. The triumph caused much stir in the Islamic world and caused Bayezid to win the title of “Sultan al-Rum”. His successor, Mehmed, succeeded to subjugate the feudal aristocracy of the Balkans through his conquest of Dobruja. 

During the reign of Murdad II, the capture of Thessalonica consolidated the Ottoman hold over the Aegean coast, Bulgaria fell under direct Muslim control, and the policy of Islamization of the Balkans continued unabated. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured Bosnia and, thus, extended Muslim sovereignty up the shores of Dalmachi. His advanced guard (Akinci) made their way up to the port of Trieste. In the 10th century AH (16th cen. AD), during the reign of Sultan Suleyman, the Ottoman campaign was resumed with the attack on Belgrade. Following their domination of the Balkans, the Muslims undertook a wide spectrum of measures to consolidate their position, moves that contributed to their popularity among the peasantry. For instance, they abolished the feudal system, outlawed the practice of free labor, and established a system of state property which severed the peasants’ link to the land, according to which they paid a land tax (Cift Resmi) equal to 22 aspers. 

Statistical research has established that by the second half of the 9th century AH (15th cen. AD) 80 to 90 percent of the population of Turakiyah and Sanjaq Aydin regions consisted of Muslims. Following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans there began a major wave of immigration into the area. The new immigrants settled in Turakiyah and the eastern Balkan Peninsula. They founded hundreds of villages in the region to which they gave the names of their old habitations in Anatolia. Over time, groups of Christian peasants converted to the religion of their new neighbors. Muslims tended to transform the cities in which they took up residence into Islamic cities. For instance, by 859 AH (1455 AD), Skopje, captured by the Muslims in 793 AH (1391 AD), had twenty-two Muslim neighborhoods versus eight Christian ones. The number of Muslims in Bulgaria is reported to have reached 1.2 million by 957 AH (1550 AD). The construction of a large number of mosques, schools and other Islamic establishments in Bulgaria, in the period 803 – 1009 AH (1400 – 1600 AD), is an indication of the rising influence of Islam in the region. 

The developments which took place within the Ottoman Empire in the 11th century AH (17th cen. AD) resulted in a shift in the demographic composition of the Balkans to the benefit of the Christians. As a result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1294 AH (1877 AD), in which some four hundred thousand Muslim soldiers lost their lives, and the subsequent treaty of 1295 AH, which led to the establishment of several independent Balkan states, around one million Muslims were forced to leave the region. None the less, today, Islam is the second largest religion of the Balkan Peninsula, with nine million adherents, or fifteen percent of its total population. Were we to take into account the population of the Turakiyah region of Turkey, which is a de facto part of the Balkan Peninsula, this region’s Muslim population would stand at some fifteen million. Seventy, seventeen and twenty-six percent of the respective populations of Albania, the former Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria consist of Muslims. There are 70 and 250 thousand Muslims living in Romania and Greece, respectively. Eighty percent of the Muslim population of former Yugoslavia live in Kosovo (Quswah) and Macedonia, forty-two percent in Bosnia, and the rest in Herzegovina and Croatia. The Muslim population of Bulgaria is concentrated in the eastern regions of the country, in Razgrad, Silistra, Meric and the Rhodope Mountains.

* source: Dianat , Aliakbar "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.545 - 546

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