After doing a ton of research and writing a lot of about this subject I feel like doing a timeline, so here it is:
This is a timeline about the Balkans and the world. The Point of divergence is in September 1872, when Dimitar Obshti, a good friend of Vasil Levski and the second in command of the secret committees of revolutionaries named the “Internal Revolutionary Organization”, organizes a daring robbery of the Ottoman postal convoy. This same robbery is what leads to the capture and imprisonment of both Obsthi and Levski himself, singlehandedly handicapping the growing revolution. I will introduce Bulgarian and Ottoman history and my interpretation on how events will occur if Vasil Levski, the genius of the Bulgarian Revolution, was never captured and hanged. From there on out we will see minor changes in the Balkans that will eventually grow and culminate in some major butterflies. My goal will be to, at the very least, reach the post-WW2 period with Bulgaria gaining quite the prominence in Europe up to that point. I will try to introduce the forum to, what I hope, is some interesting information of the Bulgarian nation and its heroes, hopes and dreams and also tragedies, fears and catastrophes, but in the process create a historically plausible timeline that will change its fortunes for good. I hope you find it fun, enjoyable and at the very least, somewhat realistic.
Here we go. First we need to examine the Bulgarians within the Ottoman Empire and Rumelia and how they came to be dominated by the Turks. That is the first book, then we move on to examining the National Revival of Bulgaria (second book) that eventually lead to birth of the revolutions, which we will examine through the Life of Georgi Rakovski. Please Enjoy.
PS: The books are semi-fictional, the authors are not.
Excerpt from “the History of Rumelia”
by Professor Bozhidar Dimitrov
© Balkan Press Ltd., 1994
The Arguments over whether should we call the Period the “Turkish slavery” as it is widely accepted nowadays, or “Ottoman presence” as some historians argue is ridiculous to its core. The discussion in fact is lead manly between historical publicists and scientific historians, the first base their statements on the raw emotions over the Turk domination and the latter partly because they would prefer to keep their statuses as real historians prefer from abstaining from using harsh words. You see, “Slavery” is by far a bad choice of words, because Bulgarians where never slaves of the Sultan per see. They were never considered objects to be sold, purchased, killed or tortured whenever their owner wishes. But at the same time, when you take the monstrous discrimination over the Christian-Bulgarians, you cannot in a clear heart call it a “presence”. But the worst thing in this argument is that both sides are wrong.
The Empire in which Bulgaria founds itself back in 1396, and proceeded to exist in for 500 years experienced a lot of changes, the same Empire we cry out for oppressing the Bulgarians itself was oppressing the Turkish themselves. This might seem like a pretty controversial statement to modern Bulgarians, but in the Early Empire period, especially the XV–XVII the Turks could not take any administrative or military role in the Ottoman Imperial Apparatus. By law they were given to the Christians children in the empire taken via the devşirme system. Modern Bulgarians know about it via the myth of the hated and feared Janissaries and the stories of babies being taken from their parents and returning decades later as Muslims and killing their own families. But those stories where rare, in fact in the early Empire period, parents willingly gave their children, because this assured them the future that the parents could never give them. In fact, an example of the early Empire’s meritocracy was Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. He was the de facto ruler of the empire for more than 14 years and was actually a Serbian who accepted the Muslim faith from the Janissary Corps, his real name was Bajo Nenadić, he was called Sokolović ((Sokol means Falcon)). Surprising isn’t it? In fact, from the XV–XVII century, all 11 Grand Viziers, the actual rulers of the Empire where Serbians, Croats and even a Bulgarian.
Here is where the problem lies, you see first of all, the Empire was an Empire based on faith, not nationality. The early Ottomans didn’t care if you are Slav, they wanted you to be Muslim and rule the empire as such, that is why the Janissaries, despite the legends of them stealing children that are told throughout modern Bulgarian schools, were in fact recruited from the Christian families at the age of 10-12 and from Muslim families at the age of 15-17 and indoctrinated in the Muslim ways. But being an empire of faith, it had to resort to mostly Turks and some Arab Muslims to teach the young ones and act as foster families, which meant that, put in an environment where the boys are surrounded by Turks, they themselves become Turkеnized, if not for the boys themselves, then their children and so on.
Being the dominant Islamic Ethic group, the Turks and Turkenized Slavs eventually grew to dominate the Empire and the same Janissary system that oppressed them became their main tool to do so. Once the devşirme system was abolished, the Janissaries deteriorated, it turn into a volunteer force by law, but in practice it was a heraldry force, where fathers would arrange for their sons to serve and where Muslims, mostly Turks will dominate. This same system leads to the complete replacement of the higher ranks of the Ottomans with Turks to the point that the word Ottoman became synonymous with Turk. That is where the problems of the Muslim Slavs and Greeks started.
But what we just examined was the plight of the around 10-20 at its high 30% of the population, you see Bulgaria as a whole was Christian and even under forceful conversion and discriminatory laws against Christians, they remained Christians even at the cost of their life. Now, the Sultans did several mistakes with their Christian population. First they grouped them together; putting them all under the Patriarchy of Constantinople and named the lands they occupy “Rumelia” basically meaning Rome. But this wasn’t the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria had had a thriving history and culture and its own Slavic sacred text that where understood by the population, same goes for Serbs, Bosnians and so on. This was replaced with Greek language preaching and Greek schools and even more cultural subjugation that would actually be the original cause of the Revolution, but later on that.
The second thing the sultan did wrong was to allow his Sipahi to rule over the rural areas, giving them free reigns over the arias and allowing them to collect the taxes themselves and keep them. Theoretically the tax was 10% of income, but the Sipahi would, via their own choosing, gather up to 50% and maybe even more. They were basically feudal rulers and they remained such until the end of the empire. They were also Turkish for the most part, only around 25% of them where Christian and Slavic and only a small percent of those 25% where Bulgarians.
So the actual thing we should talk about is not whether this was a “Slavery” or “Presence” as it was a bit of both depending on where and when do you look at it, the real question is “Was it a disaster for Bulgaria.” And here we can clearly say, “Yes.” Not because we were ruled by another entity, not because in some places we were virtual slaves, but because the demographics disaster and the backwardness of the empire. The first comes from the fact that Bulgarians where not subjects of the Empire, they were an object of Imperial possession. The Bulgarian nation, at the mid XIV century was estimated to be one of the biggest in Europe, followed closely by French and English people and in par with the Germans. But the subsequent conversions of many young Bulgarians to Islam in the early empire period and the loss of national culture in those same people along with the huge patterns of immigration out of Bulgaria of people that will later be Russified, Germanized, Romanianized and Turkenized is the actual tragedy of the Bulgarian Nation and the second part of the tragedy was that it was still apart of “the Sick man of Europe”.
“170 Years Ago”
written by Vanya Raicheva
for “Svoboda” magazine; ©2007
The basis for what will later be known as the Bulgarian revolution could be found in what is now widely referred as the “National Revival Process”. Sometimes it is also known as the Bulgarian Renaissance. It is commonly accepted to have started with the historical book, History of Slav-Bulgarians (История Славянобългарска), written in 1762 by Paisius, a Bulgarian monk of the Hilandar monastery at Mount Athos. This is the first real indicator of the decomposition in the Ottoman Empire as the Ottoman authorities were unable to stop the spread of this book, seen as dangerous by the Ottomans as it begun with the words “Fools! Why art thou afraid to call thyself Bulgarian and read in your own language? Where there not great Bulgarians, did thy not have a great kingdom, powerful and splendid, taking taxes from even the might Romans and wise Greeks?”
At its very core this statement could sum up the revival, “We once were! And we will be again!” that was the call it ushered and the reason why it worried the Ottomans. It was easier for Ottoman authorities to deal with the Greek Patriarchy which was put in charge over the Rumelian religious institutions, but the Greeks where completely out of touch with the Bulgarians and other Slavic people, the Greek Patriarchy while excreting its religious authority was highly bias towards its own people. This, was an age where in order to go to school and learn you had to pass through the church, the same church that used only the Greek language and concentrated on studies connected with Greece and the Byzantine empire.
This is what lead to the first cries for independence, the millet system in the Ottoman Empire granted a number of important civil and judicial functions to the Patriarch of Constantinople and the diocesan metropolitans. As the higher Bulgarian church clerics were replaced by Greek ones at the beginning of the Ottoman domination, the Bulgarian population was subjected to double oppression – political by the Ottomans and cultural by the Greek clergy. Around the 19th century with the emergence of Greek culture, Bulgarian in the church was completely forbidden, the Patriarchy of Constantinople turned into a tool of cultural assimilation by building Greek only schools and forcing Bulgarians to have to content with Greek culture in schools, creating the idea that the Greek culture is superior. That is what Paisius of Hilendar called against, the increasing hegemony of the Greeks over the Balkan cultures.
The Struggle intensified by the 1860s as the population was galvanized around the revolutionary liberal ideals against the chorbaji (Çorbacı) upper classes that were (Christian) members of the rural elite, heads of villages and other rural communities and rich peasants. Employed by the Ottomans in various administrative positions, such as that of tax collectors and judges in the courts of law. The struggle reached its peak when Bulgarian monks and bishoprics expelling Greek clerics and banishing high status bishops from their posts, sometimes by force. Eventually, this convinced the Sultan to issue a firman by which he created the Bulgarian Patriarchate under the name of "Bulgarian Exarchate". All of this happens in February 28, 1870, the borders of the Exarchate which will be established in a few years later, would form the borders aspired to by the Bulgarian nation for the revolution that was already boiling in this region.
Excerpt from: “Writings on Bulgaria’s Uprisings”
by Zahari Stoyanov; 1884–1892.
The revolution itself took root in the immigrant communities as a whole. The original father of the revolution is Georgi Rakovski, he was the one who banded the Bulgarian communities together in Romania and created the “Chetnizi” strategy, even though it will eventually prove wrong, this strategy was what lead to the clandestine operations that will later be seen in Bulgaria. His revolutionary work begun in 1841 when he gathered in Tsarigrad (Istanbul) a group of likeminded people and begun providing the Russians with information from the Ottoman Empire. He was discovered and was about to go to trial when escaping, he had other initiatives before that point, but this is considered to be the beginnings of his actual fight against the Ottomans. In, after moving between different countries and publishing a lot of writings, he moved to Belgrade in Serbia in 1860. Where in 1861 he published the “Plan for the Liberation of Bulgaria” in those manuscripts he creates the idea of a united Bulgarian opposition.
This comes to existence with the First Bulgarian Legion of Serbia which takes part in fights and skirmishes against the Ottomans. This however does not last and is disbanded by the Serbs when the relations with the Ottomans normalize. After several other failures he moves to Bucharest where the Romanians, without his consent create the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee in order to facilitate relations with Bulgarians. He writes the “Law for the People’s Cheti for national liberation” as he sincerely believes the Cheti that are created in Romania would make the population rise up once entering Bulgaria via the Danube. He manages to see two Cheti cross the Danube before dying from tuberculosis in the 9th of October 1867. 1868 sees the end of the Secret Central Bulgarian Committee, but sees the start of the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee and two of his students, Vasil Levski and Lyuben Karavelov will be the ones who develop his ideals and take them to new highs.
And that is the first post. Next up we will examine the life of Vasil Levski the Internal Revolutionary Organization and finally see the PoD.