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Old Serbia: a Geographic and Ethnographic Picture (1912), V

Updated: May 7

By: Jevto Dedijer


From the sixteenth century onwards in this region there are ethnographic changes, which have always come out to the detriment of the Serbian people. These ethnographic changes did not occur because Serbian people are less capable of cultural struggle, but due to a state joining a people to uproot the Serbian element from these classical and for the Serbian people so important areas. Because of this the Albanian penetration, uprooting of Serbian people from these areas and the forceful Albanisation of Serbian people are for us more important questions from the very historical reminiscing and from the historical importance of these areas for us, even though we can not remain indifferent to it, especially due to it bringing our national existence into question. This was the most important reason of our constant uneasiness, our national work in these areas and a constant worry of the entire Serbian society.

Therefore in the question of Albanian-Serbian relations, the history of Albanian penetration and ethnographic circumstances of these regions we will pay special attention. The problem of Serbo-Albanian relations has been treated very little by the sciences and is not clear enough. We can not go into the matter more deeply here and we will only point out what many foreign and domestic writers have noted and that is that the region between the Montenegrin Hills and the Kačanik Gorge represents that area of the Balkan Peninsula where for the next three and a half centuries witnessed the greatest ethnographic movements and meltings. In this area already from the sixteenth century there is a spread of the Albanian element at the expense of the Serbian one. In the Middle Ages the centre of the Serbian people and Serbian state, its best and most cultured area is now almost completely Albanised! In the northerly and easterly directions alone the ethnographic border of Serbs and Albanians was moved to the damage of Serbs for at least a hundred and fifty kilometres in a direct line. While in the Middle Ages the border between Serbs and Albanians went mostly between Prizren and Lumë, today it goes from Lake Prespa to Kumanovo, Ristovac along the entire border of Serbia to Novi Pazar and Sjenica.

It is beyond doubt according to all the historical sources that east of the Prizren-Đakovica line Serbian people lived in an absolute majority. The preserved historical monuments and all the censuses of the villages and people from the time all testify to this. That there were Serbian villages between that line and the Adriatic is certain, but how many exactly can not be said. There are some indications according to which one could draw the conclusion that in this region, especially today’s Malesia there was a lot of Serbs. These conclusions are derived from these moments among others: there is a surprising number of Serbian toponyms in these regions, where few now speak Serbian. Secondly, Mr Cvijić has found in Poreč and the Tetovo valley Serbian families who claimed to hail from Skadar and Malesia. Finally, many Albanian tribes claim to be of Serb extraction and claim relations with various Montenegrin tribes. For example the Hoti are claimed to have significant Serbian origins, from emigrated Pipers and Čevljani. Berishas have a significant origin from the Kuči tribe. The Kelmendi, Gashi and Shala tribes are probably of Serbian origin as well, which claim relations with the adjacent Montenegrin tribes. (Ј. Cvijić, "Основе", Ш. p. 1163.) Despite these indications it can be fairly reliably said that in the regions west of Prizren and Lumë even in the Middle Ages there was less Serbian people, just as there was very few Albanians in the areas around Prizren, Kosovo, Metohija, Morava and the areas of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. In the Skadar seaside there was a lot of Serbian villages in the Middle Ages.

In Skopljan Old Serbia the Serbian population is more compact, pressed with Albanians only from the north and east and in the south mixed in with the Turkish tribes Konjari and Yörüks. Besides that in the border mountains towards Serbia and Bulgaria there are some Wallachians (Aromanians) who in these mountains, especially in Rujan and Osogevija have their summer huts and in the winters they head down to the neighbouring valleys. In the Kratovo, Kočani and Kumanovo areas there are some 3000 of these Wallachians, of which one third has already been Slavicised. (Ј. Cvijić, "Основе", I, p. 183). In the southern part of Ovče Polje a purely Turkish population is dominant, who are very old immigrants from Asia Minor. They are physically decrepit and exhausted, very lazy and represent the least cultured populace of this area. A real contrast to them are the Konjari, an Asia Minor tribe, who live much farther to the south and who are characterised by soberness and hard work. Besides them there are Pomaks and Torbešs, who represent Islamised and in some places semi-Albanised Serbian population. Besides these, there is a significant number of mohajirs from Herzegovina and Bosnia in towns and villages. In the eastern part of the region a Slavic Orthodox population lives which the neighbouring Serbian and Bulgarian regions call Shopi or Shopovi. Shopdom or Shopsko is a name which describes the region on the current Serbo-Bulgaro-Turkish border catching the neighbouring parts of Serbia (around Pirot) and in Bulgaria (around Sofia, the Iskar gorge and Dupnica), then in Old Serbia where their core is considered to be the area from Ovče Polje towards Pirot. Shopovi according to the newest research by Professors Cvijić, Jireček and Kovačević represent the Slavic population which came about through a mixing of Pechenegs, Slavs and Wallachians (Ј. Cvijić, "Основе", I, p. 180). They are wedged in between the purely Serbian and purely Bulgarian areas and represent a population mostly not nationally conscious, based on their external appearance, with plenty of mongoloid types, they get married between ages of 15 to 18, taking girls who are older from the husband up to 8 and 10 years older. This population is closed off, aloof, hard working, sober, frugal and very selfish. It is noted that gloominess, lack of joy and humour and weak fantasising are traits which cover significant areas of Skopljan Old Serbia. (Ј. Cvijić, "Основе", I, p. 198).

In the areas east of Vardar, especially in Poreč, Kičevo, Kopač and Polog the majority of the population are Serbs who in the southern parts belong to the medieval Macedonian tribes Mijac and Brsjac. Besides them there is a significant number of Albanians and Pomaks. In Upper Kičevo Albanians and Pomaks make up over half of the entire population, Zajas is completely Albanian and Upper and Lower Kopač is purely Serbian. Ethnographically, Poreč is the simplest because of its 38 villages only one is Albanian. The Serb population of these areas is mostly dark-haired, rather than blond, mostly of a middling or low stature and very hard-working. In the Tetovo valley Serbs still make up the majority, while Albanians take up the mountain villages and the surrounding areas. Albanians are from Debar, Kosovo, Metohija and Lumë, then from Mati, Dukagjin and Mirditë. Albanians started settling these areas approximately 170 years ago. The Albanians first came to the highlands around Šara and Korab and from there they would send their raiding companies to the various valleys of Old Serbia and northern Macedonia which would slaughter, murder, rustle cattle, steal property, break apart the stables and settlements (katuns), prevented the Serbian population from practising agriculture and animal husbandry and thus forced it to go abroad to work and gradually emigrate. In parallel with this violence went the settling of Albanians, who aimed to bring to themselves the members of their brotherhoods and tribesmen. Thus in the last one hundred and seventy years a great mass of Albanians settled in Debar, Kičevo, Zajas and the Tetovo valley.

This process of suppression and Albanisation of the Serbian element was especially intensive in the areas north of Šara and Karadag, especially in Kosovo, Metohija, Drenica, areas around Prizren and in the southern part of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. The Albanisation of these areas was done in three ways, with the emigration of the Serbian population, the settlement of Albanians into purely Serbian areas and the Albanisation of the Serbian population. The process of the suppression of the Serbian population started a long time ago, but it was intensified only after the great Serbian migrations in the XVII and XVIII century.

The Serbian population of these areas, especially Kosovo and Metohija, represented in the Middle Ages the most cultured part of the Serbian population. In the vicinity were the Albanian tribes of Malisori and Mirditës. As is known, these are physically very fertile and expansive tribes. With these highlanders faith does not play such a big role. When they come down from the mountains they would almost without exception accept Islam and adjust themselves to the requirements of the Turkish state. They were especially favoured by Turkey, making the bravest part of its military, with them comprising a special guard for the Sultan. In Old Serbia their actions were so tolerated that they were not only not respecting the Turkish authorities, but the Turks themselves had to suffer from their evils. The Serbian population was left to the mercy of those unbound highlanders. They would take land, cattle, properties, and even women, take away the children and blackmail. These evils lasted for several hundred years and would repeat with increased harshness during the uprisings by Karađorđe and Miloš, the First and Second Serbo-Turkish wars and during the various Montenegrin-Turkish wars. They would be repeated even during the Greco-Turkish war. Therefore during these events and immediately after them there were mass emigrations of the Serbian population from Kosovo, from Metohija and from the Sanjak of Novi Pazar to Serbia. Thus it happened that almost a whole third of the population of the Kingdom of Serbia is made up of these immigrants from Kosovo, Metohija and Sanjak of Novi Pazar. It is claimed that from these areas since only the years 1880 to 1900 over 60 000 people emigrated to Serbia.

The Serbian populace which stayed in Old Serbia would find various ways how to save their lives. Firstly the dress was changed. All the men accepted Albanian dress, shaved their heads and wore a braid. This was not done only by the commoners but also by priests, only to stand out less and to expose themselves to the least danger. The women, to the contrary, preserved the Serbian national dress. Albanian language was also taken in, which was used abroad, before Albanians, Turks and strangers, while Serbian was used at home. Many were forced to ostensibly accept Islam and many Serbs would abroad perform Muslim and at home the rites of the Christian faith. The Serbs who fully accept Islam do not only renounce Christianity, but renounce Serbdom and become the biggest blood drinkers of their Christian brothers. Serbs in this area behave as Islamised Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina acted: as soon as they change faith they lose their national consciousness. It is different with Albanians. They change faiths very easily, but they do not change their national consciousness, nor language, nor customs, not even their dress. All those occurrences which can be seen traveling through this part of Old Serbia were the cause for many foreign writers to see that there is no Serbian populace in these areas and that Serbdom in these areas represents just a historical memory. However the matters are not as they seem. A detailed study of certain villages the following was found. The mass which based on external signs looks purely Albanian is not Albanian, but that: 1) a significant number of Orthodox Serbs who can not be seen and who retreat from the public life due to the evil-doing, 2) among Muslims themselves of these areas there are three kinds. One are purely Albanian, the second are so-called Arnauts, that is Islamised local Serbs, and the third and muhajirs from Bosnia and Herzegovina. When the matter is viewed like this the Serbian question in Kosovan Old Serbia looks completely different.

Cvijić especially tried to find the exact number of Serbian families in Kosovo, Metohija and the area around Prizren and to establish the numerical ratio between the number of Orthodox Serbs, Arnauts, real Albanians and mohajirs. He was only able to do it sometimes. The number of Orthodox households of each village was listed in the so-called metropolitan lists. Cvijić controlled those lists himself and then through teachers, priests and other more literate men would get the lists of homes in some villages. In this manner he developed a statistics of the Serbian populace which could only be a minimal number of the Serbian populace.

According to this statistics the Serbian populace in certain parts of Old Serbia north of Šar mountain was dispersed as follows: In Kosovo in the Ferizović area there are 178 households of Orthodox Serbs, 1262 Albanians, 120 mohajirs. In the Priština area of 90 villages, 856 Orthodox Serbs, 1329 Albanians, 617 muhajir households. Besides that there are dispersed Serbian households in other villages as well, therefore the total is 1952 Serbian households (399 households of Catholic Serbs in Janjevo were counted there as well). In Vučitrn area there are Serbs in 33 villages and in the town of Vučitrn 584 Orthodox Serbian households. In ten villages examined in detail the proportion between the Orthodox Serbs and others is as follows: Orthodox Serbs 91, Albanians 45, Arnauts 14, Mohajirs 35 households. In the Mitrovica area including the town of Mitrovica there are 755 Serbian households. The proportion with Albanians was not examined. In 125 villages of the area of Morava there are only 2602 households of Orthodox Serbs, which with the town of Gnjilane make 3009 households. In 56 thoroughly examined villages the proportion is as follows. Orthodox Serbs 1013 households, Serb Catholics 18, Albanians 188, Arnauts 1155, mohajirs 106.

In the Peć area. In Podgor in 60 villages 635 Serbian, 716 Albanian, 4 mohajir, 9 Catholic households. In Prekoruplje, in 44 villages, 231 Serbian, 457 Albanian, 108 Catholic, 14 muhajir households. In Prekovode in 25 villages 183 households of Orthodox Serbs, 268 Albanians, 57 Catholic and 9 mohajir. In Reke 191 Serbian households, 646 Albanian, 14 Catholic. In the rest of the nahija of Peć 61 Serb households.

In the town of Plav and surrounding 29 villages there are 207 Orthodox Serb households with 2053 persons, Serb Muslim households 705, Albanian households 878.

In the town of Peć 519 Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Serbs 334 households, Albanian Muslims 1204, Albanian Catholics 30 households, Turks 41.

In Rugovo there are 183 households of Albanians, with not one Serb.

In the Prizren are in the 17 examined villages there are: Orthodox Serbs 516 households, Serbs Muslims 644 households, Albanians 77, besides these in the metropolitan lists in 24 other villages there are 194 Serbian households. Besides that in the Sredska area there are 420 households, in the Sirinić area (village of Sevce) there are 152 households. In this way there are 1295 Serbian households in the Sanjak of Prizren.

In the town of Prizren in 1910 there was 3200 to 3400 Muslim families with 23 800 souls, 870 Serbian households with 4350 souls, Greco-Aromanian 145 households with 725 households, Catholic 190 households with 950 souls and Gypsy 92 households with 460 souls. The town of Prizren has a total of 4497 households with 30 285 souls.

In the entirety of Old Serbia, north of Šara (the sanjaks of Priština, Peć, Sjenica, Pljevlja, Prizren and the Prizren area without the Gostivar and Tetovo sanjaks) there are 26 339 Serbian Orthodox households and of that 3965 in towns and 22 374 in the villages. According to numerous examinations the results were derived that each Serb household in this area of Old Serbia lives on average 10 souls. Accordingly the number of Orthodox Serbs in Old Serbia north of Šar mountain comes out to 260 000 souls.

In Skopljan Old Serbia the Serb population is dispersed as follows: in the kaza of Skopje 34 385, in kaza of Tetovo and Gostivar 31 897, in kaza of Kumanovo 34 191, in kaza of Kratovo 19 385, in kaza of Kriva Palanka 24 162. A total of 144 497 souls. (This number will have to be changed based on the border which will be drawn between Serbia and Bulgaria. We will still keep it for now).

According to all of this it comes out that the Serb Orthodox population in Old Serbia is between 400 000 and 500 000 souls. In the entire area which Serbia is to receive that number could go up to 800 000 souls. Besides that there are around 300 000 Serb Muslims who speak only the Serbian language and between 150 and 200 000 Muslim Serbs who are semi-Albanised, who speak both Serbian and Albanian. The remaining 300 -400 000 are true Albanians. (Dr J. Cvijić "Балкански рат и Србија", Belgrade 1912, pp 16-17).

From this statistic it can be seen that the number of Serbian people of Orthodox faith is not as small as it seemed to many foreigners, that Serbs have not completely disappeared in Kosovo or in Metohija, nor in areas around Prizren, where the greatest anarchy is ruling. Only the Orthodox Serb population of the entirety of Old Serbia makes up almost a half of the entire population. To this should be added the considerable number of Muslim Serbs who speak only Serbian. In this way the Serbian population which speaks only the Serbian language makes the absolute majority of the totality of the population of Old Serbia. This is the result of the most conscientious examination of the population of Old Serbia, a result which can be inaccurate only as insomuch that the entire Serbian Orthodox population could not be counted. According to this, the data represent the minimal numbers of the Serbian Orthodox population.

Translated by Books of Jeremiah

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