Bulgarian History, The Ottoman Turks

The Sofia Echo

What the Ottomans did to the people of Bulgaria was far worse – and on a much grander scale – than the Crusades over which Muslims are still enjoy whining.

The Ottoman Turks had been steadily marching through Asia Minor and the Balkans since the early 1300s. Winning a decisive victory over the Serbs in Kosovo in 1389 and conquering most of the Bulgarian lands as well as its capital Veliko Turnovo by about 1393, the Turks captured the last Bulgarian stronghold of Vidin in the northwest in 1396. Several rebellions against the Turks were put down, and when Constantinople itself fell in 1453, regional hope of continued resistance vanished and five centuries of “The Turkish Yoke” began.

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It was the beginning of a bloody and violent era, and some estimate that almost half the Bulgarian population perished in massacres or was carted off to other parts of the Ottoman Empire to be used as slaves. The Turkish governor took up residence in Sofia and Turkish colonists poured in to live on the plains surrounding the city and other prime, fertile land. A more severe system of feudalism was established, whereby Bulgarians who had survived the initial massacres and enslavement were forced to live as serfs of the Spahis, the Turkish knights who were landowners. The government as well as the feudal lords imposed harsh taxes, and the most hated was the devshirme, or “blood tax,” where families were stripped of their oldest boys, who were taken away to be trained as janissaries in the Ottoman military. Only pomaks, or those Bulgarians who had been converted to Islam, were exempt.

Those who kept Christianity were called Rayah, or the “herd,” and many strived to keep the old traditions of Bulgaria and the church alive by living in hidden mountain monasteries. These establishments, too, were usually overrun and looted by the Ottomans, who forced the official Orthodox Church of Bulgaria to be subordinate to the Patriarchy of Constantinople, headed by Greek clergy faithful to the Sultanate.

Centuries of rule by the Turks took a huge toll on the Bulgarian population, who were robbed, raped, kidnapped and worse, yet they were generally left without recourse in the Ottoman court system. Periodic attempts to revolt throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries were put down without mercy, but from these failures developed a thriving underground coalition of outlaws called haiduks. Helped secretly by the local population despite threats of retaliation from the government, the haiduks were a much-needed source of Bulgarian pride and steadily increasing resistance, and their memory is preserved in folk ballads that survive today.

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The Crusades: A Response to Islamic Aggression

John J. O’Neill’s latest essay shines a light on the historical reality of the Crusades, which were a defensive action against the forcible expansion of Islam into territories that had been part of Christendom for centuries.

One of the most potent myths of our age is that the Crusades were little more than an unprovoked attack by a barbarous Europe against a quiescent and cultured Islamic world. According to conventional ideas, the seventh and eighth centuries constitute the great age of Islamic expansion. By the eleventh century — the time of the First Crusade — we are told that the Islamic world was quiescent and settled and that, by implication, the Crusaders were the aggressors. Indeed, the Crusaders are routinely portrayed as a horde of barbarians from a backward and superstitious Europe irrupting into the cultured and urbane world of the eleventh century Near East. More from the Gates of Vienna