Balkan Muslims between Empires and Nation-States, 1800–1914

AHA Session 161
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Pamela Dorn Sezgin, University of North Georgia
Warriors or Civilians? The Russian Army and the Bulgarian Muslims in the Russo-Ottoman Wars of the Nineteenth Century
Victor Taki, Moscow State University, the Center for Ukrainian and Belorussian Studies
Comparing Models of Balkan Nationalism to Ottomanism, 1856–1914
Pamela Dorn Sezgin, University of North Georgia
Faith over Blood? Russians, Greeks, and Muslim Slavs, 1856–1914
Denis Vovchenko, Northeastern State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

In the late twentieth century, Balkan Muslims have drawn the public attention in the West as victims of ethnic nationalism. The genocidal treatment of Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims in former Yugoslavia followed the earlier campaign of forcible assimilation of Muslim citizens in socialist Bulgaria during the 1980s. Although one can see both events as consequences of belated nation-building efforts, in many respects they constituted the legacy of the Russo-Ottoman confrontation during the nineteenth century.

This panel places the predicament of the Balkan Muslims into the historical perspective of the often bloody rivalry for the control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Russo-Ottoman wars in particular had become a persistent factor of Christian-Muslim relations in South-Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region by early 1800s. In an attempt to maintain and enhance their influence, political and cultural elites of Ottoman Turkey and competing European empires at times both encouraged and opposed the mobilization of the population of contested territories along religious and/or ethnic lines. As many Christian and Muslim lands broke away from the central government in Istanbul, their leadership developed nationalist visions and institutions defined by the Ottoman legacy, Western models, and intrusive European powers.

The first paper compares the policies of the Russian military authorities towards the Bulgarian Muslims during the two Russian occupations of Bulgaria in 1828-1830 and 1877-1879. In order to explain the differences in these policies and their outcomes, it addresses such factors as the experience of previous Russo-Ottoman wars, changing concepts of the military-civilian relations, changing Russian attitudes towards Islam and mounting role of mobilization of ethnicity in politics and warfare. The second paper continues this line of inquiry by addressing the debates on the military conscription of Muslims in the principality of Bulgaria, established in the wake of the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-1878. Opponents of this conscription suspected the continued loyalty of the Bulgarian Muslims to the Ottoman Empire, whereas the advocates of this measure viewed the army service as a means of inculcating the loyalty of Muslims to the Bulgarian nation-state. The third paper takes a broader view to compare the place of Islam and Muslims in various Balkan nationalist narratives ranging from official Westernized civic Ottomanism to ethnocentric Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Montenegrin, and Serbian discourses. It also puts emphasis on how external pressures especially Russo-Ottoman wars shaped the context of nationalist ideologies and the mindset of their authors. The concluding paper discusses whether ethnicity had become more important than religion in Russian policies and attitudes towards the Balkans in the so-called Age of Nationalism. Specifically, it examines whether Orthodox Greeks began to be seen as less friendly than Orthodox Slavs. The paper also analyzes whether the ethnic lens made Muslim Slavs appear as less alien and hostile to traditionally and officially Orthodox Russia.

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