bosnia report
New Series No: 23/24/25 June - October 2001
Looking into Ottoman Bosnia
by Maja Lovrenovic

On 8-9 June 2001 The Bosnian Institute organized a conference on ‘Ottoman Bosnia - texts, materials, interpretations’ at St Anthony’s Monastery, Sarajevo. The aim was twofold: to stimulate current research and thinking about the history (politics, administration, society, religion, culture) of Ottoman Bosnia; and to mark, and make use of, the achievements of the ‘Bosnian Manuscript Ingathering Project’ (BMIP), which has recovered copies of a significant proportion of the MS materials formerly held in the library of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo. This collection was completely destroyed by incendiary shells in 1992; painstaking research by the BMIP (organized by András Riedlmayer at Harvard) has traced microfilms and other copies of many of these documents in collections all over the world. The participants included Ahmed Aliiƒ (Oriental Institute), Smail Baliƒ (Vienna), Snjeñana Buzov (Michigan), Hatidña Car-Drnda (Oriental Institute), Richard Carlton (Newcastle), Ekrem auševiƒ (Zagreb), Suraiya Faroqhi (Munich), Eleni Gara (Athens), Lejla Gaziƒ (Oriental Institute), Michael Hickok (Maxwell), Rešid Hafizoviƒ (Sarajevo), Mustafa Imamoviƒ (Sarajevo), Mustafa Jahiƒ ( Sarajevo), Cemal Kafadar (Harvard), Enes Kariƒ (Sarajevo), Kemal Karpat (Wisconsin), Machiel Kiel (Utrecht), Markus Koller (Bochum), Amina Kupusoviƒ (Oriental Institute), Noel Malcolm (The Bosnian Institute), Justin McCarthy (Louisville), Rusmir Mahmutƒehajiƒ (International Forum Bosnia), Nenad Moaanin (Zagreb), Rhoads Murphey (Birmingham), Mark Pinson (Cambridge, Mass.), András Riedlmayer (Harvard), Alan Rushworth (Newcastle), Adnan Silajdñiƒ (Sarajevo), Olga Zirojeviƒ (Belgrade), Behija Zlatar (Oriental Institute)


Looking into Ottoman Bosnia


Maja Lovrenovic


‘I was born in Romania, in a family belonging to the Turkish minority. I grew up in an environment where Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish were spoken. But throughout that whole time people would forever be saying to me, even friends: "Oh, you Turk!", insulting me as if I were a foreigner or parasite. Later on, when my family had to emigrate to Turkey, the Turkish authorities wanted to give me a Romanian surname. So in Turkey, which should supposedly have been my proper homeland, I continued to be a Romanian for them. I rejected that surname and named myself with the one I now carry: Karpat [Carpathian]. When they asked me why, I replied: "The Carpathians were here before the Romanians." It wasn’t until later on, in America, that I became a real Turk, which means - Muslim, liberal, republican.’

This little autobiographical story, from which an entire novel by Ivo Andric could be constructed, was recounted by Kemal Karpat (University of Wisconsin), an internationally recognised historian and one of the participants in the Ottoman Seminar held on 8 and 9 June 2001 in the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Anthony in Sarajevo. The seminar was organised by The Bosnian Institute from London and chaired by Noel Malcolm, while the participants were welcomed by the Guardian of the Monastery, Brother Petar Andjelovic.

Oriental scripts, chronologies, the Franciscans

The event brought together twenty of the most prominent historians and specialists whose work is concerned with study of the Ottoman Empire and archival materials dating from that period. The seminar began with an introduction to the history of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, delivered by Behija Zlatar, and one to the current state of its oriental manuscript collection by Lejla Gazic. The Oriental Institute, along with the National Library, was one of the first targets at the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, when in just one night most of the precious manuscripts and documents written in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Alhamijado were destroyed with incendiary shells. Two projects were next presented to the Seminar: the results to date of the Bosnian Manuscripts Ingathering Project, described by András Riedlmayer of Harvard University, one of a number of attempts to restore and reconstruct the destroyed collections; and the Bab-I Bosnia Project, reported on by Mark Pinson also of Harvard University, which involves locating and researching bibliographies for Ottoman Bosnian studies. The chronology of Bosnian Turkology was next traced by Ekrem Causevic of the Philosophy Faculty at Zagreb University, including the contribution of Bosnian Franciscans, who in the 19th century published grammars and organised Turkish language courses.

The purpose of the Ottoman Seminar was to establish an international academic framework, within which important questions and neuralgic points related to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to Ottoman studies in general, could be identified and discussed in a more scholarly perspective. Historical studies were designed to cover various aspects of the Ottoman period in Bosnia, from two standpoints: one looked at Bosnia from the perspective of the structure of the Ottoman Empire as a whole, while the other portrayed the Ottoman authority system within Bosnia (Behija Zlatar, Hatidza Car-Drnda, Amina Kupusovic). Various themes were analysed, relating to different periods during the more than four hundred years during which Bosnia was under Ottoman rule.

Geographical scripts, defters, piracy

According to Rhoads Murphy of the University of Birmingham, how people from the Ottoman Empire saw Bosnia, and generally the whole territory conquered in south-eastern Europe at the beginning of the 14th century, can to a certain extent be traced in geographical manuscripts, which in the early period refer to the area simply as the ‘northern regions’. As shown by Snjezana Buzov of the University of Michigan, moreover, by reading works written by Ottoman authors and travellers who visited Bosnia, one can follow how their perceptions differed over the years.

A lot of attention was paid to the question of interpretation of certain sources and the possibility of subjecting them to fresh readings. Core sources for research on the Ottoman period are the register books or defters that were used for keeping various records, from taxes to censuses. Through study of the defters it is possible to reconstruct the structure of the Ottoman Empire to a large extent, hence also the social structure in particular places. Here again, questions of methodology and comparative approach influence interpretation, according to Nenad Moacanin of the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Zagreb, and are of crucial importance in two major themes of Bosnian Ottoman studies: Islamization in the second half of the 16th century, and the status of Bosnia within the Empire.

Questions of methodology and interpretation were also part of the discussion regarding the demographic picture of the Ottoman Empire, during a presentation on the comparative study of its demographic history by Machiel Kiel of Utrecht University, and in studies on the demographic situation in Bosnia in the 19th century by Kemal Karpat and by Justin McCarthy of Louisville University. An academic study of the Ottoman outlook on piracy in the Adriatic Sea by Suraiya Faroqui - carried out by studying archives in Istanbul and Venice, subjecting them to a masterly interpretation and bringing the archival documents to life - demonstrated in a very plastic manner the multi-layered relationship between Porte and Signoria, serving also to give a foretaste of a similar seminar on The Social and Economic History of the Ottoman Empire, to be held in Dubrovnik in August 2001.


This compte-rendu has been translated from Zarez (Zagreb), 21 June 2001


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