This article was originally published on ukraina.ru. You can find the original version here.
In the newly shot Ukrainian film “The Khadjibey Fortress” Ukrainian Cossacks and Georgians are fighting on the side of the Turks against the Russians. However, it is well known that the Cossacks played an active role in the capture of Khadjibey, on whose site Odessa was founded, by the Russians and that Georgians fought as volunteers along with Russian troops.
Obviously, the film is intended to reinforce the myth of the 600-year-old Odessa and introduce a false idea about the role of Russia in the development of the region in the 18th century. It is significant that although the film was shot in Odessa and the surrounding area, the rights to it are jointly owned by the Dovzhenko Kiev studio, Georgian International Film (Georgia), AISI film (Turkey) and the Ternopil Film Commission.
Today in Ukraine, the idea that the region would have been developed by Ukrainians even without Russian victories in the wars with Turkey is only beginning to advance into the public consciousness. However, Ukrainian nationalists are not pioneers in this matter. Similar ideas about the historical fate of Bessarabia have already been expressed by Moldovan authors.
The desire to devalue the role of Russia in the organization of the Slavic colonization of the Black Sea sometimes leads to unexpected results. Among them is the mythologization of the history of Ottoman rule in the region. As if, without the Russian victories under Cahul, Izmail or Ruschuk, the region would sooner or later get out of the power of the Sultan.
This approach is clearly biased. Indeed, when the Ottomans came to the northwest of the Black Sea region they did so “seriously and for a long time”, clearly intending to change the ethnic appearance of the region.
On June 11, 1807Ottoman possessions in Bessarabia were abolished by the Russian Emperor Alexander I. This meant the dismantling of the largest Ottoman province in the Northern Black Sea Region, which had existed here for more than three centuries.
For these three centuries, a deliberate policy of colonizing the region between the Prut and Dniester rivers had been pursued, which in the future could lead to the formation of state entities with a predominantly Muslim population like Bosnia or Albania, a kind of “New Turkey”.
The social structure of many Ottoman provinces was a kind of triangle of forces: the city, the village, the nomads. Ottoman Bessarabia also developed along this path.
The cities of Akkerman (now Belgorod-Dniester), Novaya Kiliya, Bender, Izmail, and then Khotin served as the military and political centers of the province, focusing on the development of trade and craft. Agricultural work and at the same time carrying out all kinds of corvées were of prerogative of the peasant population of the province, who lived mostly in villages around urban centers.
Nomads made up the external contour of agglomerations, were an important element of the military organization, suppliers of livestock products, as well as cheap slaves.
In order to clearly demonstrate that without Russian intervention in the 18th – 19th centuries in the affairs of Bessarabia, Moldova and some Ukrainian regions would hardly have been located where they are today, we will consider three key myths about Ottoman rule in the region.
The first myth. Under the Ottomans, Bessarabia depopulated, and the cities degraded
The conquest of the area between the Danube and the Dniester was the final stage of the Ottoman conquests in the Black Sea. It was the capture of Akkerman and Kiliya by the Turks in 1484 that meant the transformation of the Black Sea into an “Ottoman lake”. Moreover, this happened during the bitter struggle of Istanbul with the Moldavian Principality, Poland and Hungaro-Valachia.
Two strategically important ancient fortresses became the administrative centers of the so-called “paradise”. Initially, this concept was used to refer to the tax-paying Christian population under the direct control of the Pasha. However, over time, it began to be used to designate alienated territories.
During the punitive campaign in Moldova in 1538, Suleiman the Magnificent converted the entire southern part of the Prut-Dniester region to “paradise” and founded the Bender Fortress. In 1595, the Ottomans founded Izmail, and in 1622 – Reni. Finally, in 1713, after the Moldavian sovereign Dmitry Kantemir switched to the Russian side, the Ottomans tore away the Khotin fortress and its environs in northern Bessarabia.
The population of cities in the region under Turkish rule was growing steadily, their economic ties and production opportunities expanded. If in the XV century in the Black Sea and steppe parts of the Prut-Dniester basin, only a few settlements are known, then after two centuries their number reaches two hundred. At the same time, the old cities increasingly acquired a Muslim appearance.
The Sublime Porte stimulated migration to the Bessarabian agglomerations of the settled population from different parts of the Ottoman world. Officials and military arrived from the central part of the empire to serve in Bessarabia (the Janissaries served three years in the fortresses). Turkish merchants also settled here.
The resettlement of Christians (including fugitives) from the Danube principalities, Bulgarian lands and Polish possessions, including Ukraine, was welcomed. Sultans encouraged the immigration of Jews expelled from Western Europe. A particularly impressive Jewish community has developed in Izmail as a relatively new city. Along with the Greeks and Armenians, Jews controlled trade and shipping.
By purposefully settling the territory with Tatars and Nogais, the steppe, which in former times had been called wasteland due to the rare population, was thoroughly developed. Mixed villages were a frequent occurrence: for example, the Tatar-Voloshsky and Voloshko-Tatar villages north of Akkerman.
The Ottoman cities were peculiar melting pots, transforming a diverse population into faithful subjects of the Sultan. Through fiscal policy, the Ottoman authorities stimulated the conversion of people of other religions to Islam. Muslim marriages with Christian women, whose children were Turkized, were encouraged. Judging by the fact that mosques were numerically superior to Christian churches, the process of “Turkification” (Islamization and assimilation into Ottoman culture) proceeded intensively.
According to official documentation, a century after the conquest in the Akkerman District, 353 male subjects paid a Christian tax (ispendje), and the number of Muslim families was 1,700.
In Bessarabian settlements, as in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, multilingualism reigned. However , the Nogai language prevailed in the countryside. The official language of the business sphere was Ottoman. Primary Muslim schools promoted the spread of the Arabic language in which services were held.
The Ottoman authorities showed great urban development, created road infrastructure (roads, bridges, crossings, ports, inns, fortified points to ensure security). The latter included a small fortress at the intersection of the Tatar – Bunar steppe roads (the modern district center of Tatarbunary of Odessa region).
Imaret – the central complex of a large Bessarabian city was built and maintained with the active support of the imperial authorities. The imaret complex usually included a mosque, a madrasah (school), a guest yard, a water supply system, a bathhouse, public charity institutions, as well as a caravanserai and other profitable establishments.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries , about ten mosques were built in Akkerman , and slightly less in Izmail and Kiliya . Mosques were in all major villages of the region. In the region there were possessions of dervish monasteries.
Crafts developed. In the 60s of the XVII century. the traveler Evliya ебelebi counted 500 shops of various workshops in Kiliya, and also saw the malls. It is also known that there was a daily fair for foreign merchants. The south of Bessarabia was famous throughout Eastern Europe for its fisheries.
A stable feature of the Ottoman city was slave markets. Through them prisoners of war passed, as well as peasants kidnapped by the Nogais from the adjacent possessions of the Danube principalities, and sometimes from the Polish and Russian states.
Bessarabia occupied an extremely important position in the system of trade relations of the Ottoman Empire. From the Danube and the Dniester from Asia Minor there were supplies of cotton, silk, woolen fabrics, and spices. Grain was transported in bulk in the opposite direction.
The dynamics of socio-economic development of Ottoman Bessarabia, at least, was not inferior to similar indicators of the neighboring Moldavian principality or Vallachia. This, as well as the emerging ethno-religious specifics of the region, made its peaceful absorption by neighbors unlikely.
Second myth. The Tatar-Nogai population was exclusively cattle-breeding and little attached to the territory of Bessarabia
A significant part of the territory of the Ottoman part of Bessarabia was made by the Bujak possessions of the Crimean Khan. In the XVIII century six Nogai tribal associations living here formed the Budzhak horde, which was subordinated to Istanbul and Bakhchisarai. The administrative center of this horde was in the Bessarabian village of Kaushany, often serving as the reserve headquarters of the Crimean Khan.
During the Russian-Turkish wars of the XVIII century, Bessarabian Nogais appeared to the Europeans as nomads whose main occupation was extensive cattle breeding.
However, it should be borne in mind that this group of the Tatar-Nogai population was not the only one in Ottoman Bessarabia. The main part of the Budzhak horde of the XVIII century relocated to Bessarabia from the Volga region and the North Caucasus only in the second half of the 17th century.
The Budzhak Tatars (Budzhaks) have inhabited Bessrabia since the time of the Golden Horde period. Under the influence of climatic conditions of the region to the XVI century, they had already begun to settle down.
The only thing left of nomadism in their way of life there was only the migration of part of herds for summer holidays and the return to winter-houses. The basis of the economy of the Budzhak Tatars was commodity agriculture, the sale of grain, livestock products, honey and wax. Moreover, they lived both within the Ottoman paradise, forming Tatar villages here, and in the steppe zone.
In 1570, the collection of grain within the Akkerman kaz (judicial administrative district) amounted to more than 5.4 thousand tons, legumes – about 50 thousand tons. Herds of sheep here totaled 42 thousand heads.
In the XVII – XVIII centuries there were several waves of Nogai resettlement within Bessarabia. But these tribes sometimes showed a tendency to agriculture. Describing the Nogais who were forcibly resettled from Bessarabia to Crimea in the 60s of the 17th century, Celebi wrote: “Nogai tribes … in addition to the ghazavat (that is, the war with the “infidels”), are engaged in agriculture, that is, they are peasants. Mostly they grow millet”.
The logic of the development of the economic life of the Budzhak Tatars in the XIII – XVI centuries gives reason to believe that if the 50 thousand strong Budzhak Horde (in the XVIII century) had further strengthened in the territory of Bessarabia, the Nogais would also have gone into agriculture, and, therefore, would have replenished the settled population. In this case, it would have been much more difficult to evict this ethnic group from the region than it was during the Russian-Turkish wars.
Third myth. The Ottoman Empire did not claim the remaining possessions of the Principality of Moldova in Bessarabia
For the entire first half of the XVIII century the Principality of Moldova was under pressure of territorial claims by the closest Ottoman ally in the region – the Crimean Khanate. The desire of Bakhchisaray to expand the territory of the Budzhak horde at the expense of Bessarabian cynuts (counties) of Moldova was determined by the increase in the number of Nogais and the need for new pastures for an increasing number of nomads.
The Porte balanced between the interests of her vassals in the region (Moldova and Crimea) as well as it could, however, the more powerful military and political status of the khans allowed them to more successfully defend their claims.
The geographic configuration of the Moldovan-Crimean border, which existed at the beginning of the 18th century, was achieved in 1666. The border, named after its developer, the Ottoman official Khalil Pasha, relied on objects of the natural landscape and stretched from the Yalpug estuary (near Izmail), along Upper Trayanov rampart and to the borders of Bendery paradise. This distinction corresponds to the northwestern limits of the Budzhak steppe.
However, in 1711, the local Nogai leader Jaun-Mirza put forward a new territorial claim against Moldova, which was supported by Devlet Giray.
The pretext for this demand was that the Nogais “did not have enough of Khalil Pasha to feed because they multiplied”. The petitioners also indicated that the population on the Moldovan side of the border is not excessive. True, they failed to mention that the Moldavian peasants were leaving to the north, fearing Nogai raids.
The last argument is very similar to the logic that led to redrawing of inter-republican borders of the USSR: the ruler of Moldova and the khan of Crimea were both subjects of the Sultan, therefore, it did not particularly matter how the internal borders inside the Ottoman Empire ran.
The Porte approved the new demarcation and the Nogais acquired the right to operate according to the formula: “from the border of Khalil Pasha to the Dniester, a 32-hour journey in length and a 2-hour journey in width on the territorz of Moldova”. Using it, the khanate received from the Moldavian principality an area of 3,100 square km.
At the same time, it was specifically stipulated that all taxes on income from the use of these lands should be directly paid to the Sultan’s treasury. The latter circumstance allows us to consider this territorial transformation a hidden form of annexation in favor of the Porte, under which the Nogais acted as land users, and the ownership passed to the Sultan.
It is very important that, having occupied the abandoned Moldovan villages in the occupied territory, the Nogais began to switch to a settled way of life, giving preference to agriculture. Quickly enough, the Nogai lords founded two settlements here, populated them with karatatars (ordinary Tatars) and slaves of various nationalities. Thus, there was a replacement of the settled population now in the forest-steppe (central) part of Bessarabia.
Already in the 20s of the XVIII century the Nogais went beyond this line of demarcation and again delved into the territory of the Principality of Moldova. The Nogai nobility responded to blackmail by attempts by the Ottoman authorities to stabilize the border situation: if new plots for land use were not allocated, then the tribes would go to Poland.
In 1727-1728 the desire of the Budzhak horde to expand its land holdings at the expense of the Moldavian part of Bessarabia even resulted in an open revolt against the Crimean authorities. In an effort to calm down the protests, Ottoman officials were forced to give new consent to the expansion of the territory controlled by the Budzhak horde.
By the 40s of the XVIII century. Nogais are already deployed permanently outside the “two-hour zone”, directly in the areas of Moldavian provinces located east of the Prut.
In the same period, identical processes took place on the territory of the newly created Khotyn paradise in the north of Bessarabia. In 1713, the Turks not only introduced the Ottoman garrison to Khotyn, but also settled a horde of Lipcan Tatars here. The latter was formerly subject to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but during the Polish-Turkish war of 1672-1676, again sided with the Turks.
It is unlikely that the vector of these migration processes would have substantially changed, if an intensive phase of military confrontation between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, among other things because of Bessarabia, had not begun in the 1730s.
The example of Bessarabia shows that without Russian intervention, the lands on the northern coast of the Black Sea would have been increasingly Turkized and Islamized and would have remained inaccessible to Moldovans and Ukrainians.