In the early 1790s Ottoman officials, Serbian communal leaders, and Habsburg officials in the borderland between the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires along the Danube increasingly began to mention a certain Kara Feyzi in their correspondence with İstanbul. Emerging from among numerous bands of irregular soldiers that coalesced along this borderland for opportunity, Kara Feyzi came to establish an amorphous, trans-regional network of bellicose men who wreaked havoc mostly within Rumeli (i.e., Ottoman Europe) in between Ottoman wars with the Habsburgs and Russians, from the early 1790s until 1806. When Sultan Selim III was finally forced to co-opt Kara Feyzi in 1806 as an Ottoman official and provincial notable, he charged Kara Feyzi with defending another– this time internal—borderland, between an increasingly autonomous Serbia and Ottoman Bulgaria. It was along these inchoate "national" borders that exist to this day that Kara Feyzi was able to create a frontier dynasty whose campaigns of violence into Serbia were now sanctioned by the state.
By exploring both Muslim and Christian contemporary sources on Kara Feyzi and his network, who have until now remained unknown to Ottoman historiography despite their notoriety at the time, I will discuss how loyalties that were constantly negotiated as well as religious sites, institutions, and figures influenced the dynamics on both sides of the Danube and along the new internal Ottoman border with Serbia. The paper will explore how different kinds of frontiers – tangible and imagined ones—that were simultaneously religious, cultural, as well as socio-economic emerged as an unintentional consequence of Istanbul’s and Vienna’s mobilization of borderland societies for frequent, large scale wars as well as everyday-life skirmishes. As I will demonstrate, imperial officials embraced their own, internal orientalist views of groups along these frontiers, which often masked the inability and frustrations of Istanbul and Vienna to control them.
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