Posted by: History Of Macedonia | July 8, 2007

Epirus – Turkish occupation


In order to secure their possession of Epirus, the Turks fought fiercely against the Venetians, who held certain forts on the western shore, and were constantly inciting the Epirots to revolt. These rebellions, aided by the Venetians and the Pope, extended as far as northern Albania. The famous George Castriota, better known under the name Skanderbeg (alternatively Skender Bey), operating out of Kroia, succeeded in checking the Ottoman thrust until the period of his death. Skanderbeg thus became the champion of the Balkan Christians against Turkish domination.

After the death of Skanderbeg, the Turks were able to extend their dominion over the entire region. In order to secure their hold they initiated certain fundamental measures that aimed to strip the Christians of all power, and to increase the Muslim population of the region. Christian toparchs (kephalades or sipahis) were forbidden from exercising any authority (raising taxes on behalf of the Turks, maintaining armed retainers, etc.) and privileges (administrative positions, estates to cultivate and others) were granted to those who turned Muslim. As a consequence of these measures, most of the 12000 sipahis (regular cavalry), who were usually large landholders, were islamized in order not to lose their fortunes. These new converts became the harshest persecutors and oppressors of their own people.

Islamization took on greater proportions in the province of “new” Epirus, modern Albania. In fact, the Albanians, lacking a developed ethnic identity until that time, would readily join foreign rulers and invaders. They took advantage of the new Ottoman policy to gain great estates, to the detriment of the Epirots, who remained faithful to their ancestral religion and their national tradition. Initially, the Ottoman yoke had not been particularly heavy. Besides levying taxes (a responsibility assigned to the local notables), the Turks were mainly interested in ensuring their absolute control of the region, and in the territories they conquered, they mostly left the Byzantine administrative system in place. There were, in fact, certain cities and mountain regions which had gained special privileges. Ioannina, for example, was exempt from the “devshirme” (the child tribute, or the seizure of children from the Christian subject peoples). In addition, Turks were forbidden to stay in the city, which was protected by the fortress. Cheimarra, as well as certain other mountainous regions, was also exempt from the head tax and the inhabitants had the right to bear arms.l Before long, conditions began to worsen. The islamization of the Albanians transformed the situation in Epirus and especially in its northern regions. The islamized Albanians, the so-called “Turk-Albanians,” became terrible persecutors of the Christian Greeks. Many were forced to abandon their ancestral homes in the countryside, and to move in groups towards the southern areas of Epirus, and other regions of Greece, such as Attica, Boeotia, the Peloponnese, and the Aegean islands. Those who remained in the countryside began to withdraw from the valleys to the mountains and in many regions the phenomenon of “crypto-Christians” appeared.

Despite ongoing persecution, the Epirots continued to maintain their fervent commitment to their culture and their belief in their national regeneration. Rebellions and insurrections continued and, whenever Venice, the Habsburg Empire, or Russia were at war with the Ottoman Empire, the
Epirots were always ready to accept promises for support and to rebel. However, time and again they were abandoned and forced to pay the heavy price of the betrayal of their hopes for liberty. An almost unbelievable number of rebellions took place in Epirus during the wars between the Venetians-Austrians and the Ottoman Empire.

Among the more noteworthy revolts was that led in central Epirus by Dionysios 11, metropolitan bishop of Trikke (modern Trikala), called “Skylosophos.” He arrived in Epirus in 1611, and incited the local peasants into a revolt. Having defeated certain Turkish provincial garrison troops in the countryside, as well as the inhabitants of certain islamized villages, he succeeded in reaching the Ioannina lake on the night of 10 to 11 September 1611, at the head of approximately one thousand, mostly unarmed, peasants, and to occupy the city. On the following day, the Turks, realizing the weakness of the rebel force and enlisting the sipahi cavalry, crushed the rebellion. Dionysius was captured and flayed a1ive.

The Treaty of Passarowitz (21 July 1718) marked the end of the wars between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Republic, that drained their strength and ushered in a period of decline for both. Austria and later Russia continued the struggle against the Turks. The collaboration between the Venetians and the Epirot armatoles ceased, and a long and unusual reign of peace followed in the region. In any case, the resulting conditions in Epirus did not permit the continuation of rebellious movements. The Turks increasingly used the Turk-Albanians to suppress outbreaks of rebellions, not only by the Greeks, but by the other Christian peoples of the Balkans. Thus, the unruly Turk-Albanians evolved into the scourge of all Balkan nations, including the Turks themselves.

The Epirots’ possessions, life, and honor at this time, fell into the hands of armed Turk-Albanian gangs. They were punished even in cases of outbreaks of rebellion in other Balkan areas in which they had taken no part. Under the pretext of disarming the Christians or punishing them for secretly financing insurrections, even in remote areas of the Balkans, such as Romania or the Peloponnese, the Turk-Albanians plundered cities and villages of Epirus. The Epirots also felt the vengeful lust of the Turk-Albanians for defeats or losses the latter had suffered at the hands of Christian armies in various wars. They also paid for victories of the rejoicing Albanians against the “infidel.” Thus when a new rebellion took place in the Peloponnese in 1769-1770 (the so-called Orlov Revolt), the Turk-Albanians destroyed Moschopolis. Vithkuqi, Nikolitsa, Emporia (Mborje), Linotopi and other cities and towns of Epirus.

The destruction the Turk-Albanians wrought during this period finally forced the Ottoman authorities to intervene by force, in order to curtail them, both in the Peloponnese (1774), as well as in Epirus (1779). The depredations had reached such a level that the Ottomans realized that there Intelwas danger of annihilation of the Christian reayas (subjugated populations), who formed the tax base of the empire, by their payment of the head tax.

It was during this period of upheaval that the terrible Turk-Albanian Tepelenli Ali Pasha arose in Epirus. He became the despot of Epirus for almost 40 years (1778-1821). Ali Pasha turned vengefully against centers of resistance to central authority in Epirus. He succeeded in wiping out the best-known armatoles and klephts of the period, after a prolonged struggle. His wars against the brave Souliots are well-known. He sought finally to establish an autonomous entity and for that purpose tried to coopt his Greek subjects, appointing them to high offices and rank. He never succeeded in gaining their complete trust. The Philihe Hetairia considered his break with the sultan and the concentration of loyalist troops in Epirus an opportunity for a Greek rebellion. Consequently it declared the revolution to achieve Greek independence in 1821.

The contribution of the Epirots to the preparations and the conduct of the Great Uprising (the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1830) is well known. Two of the three founders of the Philihe Hetaireia (Nikolaos Skouphas, Athanasios Tsakaloff) were from Epirus. The Souliots, the Cheimarriots and many other Epirots contributed significantly to the struggles in Mesolongi, Attica, the Peloponnese, and even in Crete. During the first two years of the War of Independence, the Epirots were able to tie down the bulk of the Turkish forces away from the main theater of operations, as a result of continuous and fierce battles in Souli and around Ioannina, in Arta and the region of Makrynoros.Finally, the affluent Epirots of Diaspora communities contributed generous economic support to the struggle.

1-Brittanika, Epirus
2-Konstantinos Vakalopoulos, Epiros
3-The Struggle Of North Epirus, Greek DIS
4-Epirus:4000 years of Greek history and Civilization

Written by Akritas


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