Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History
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One can't understand the
Balkans without understanding its ethnic groups, and one can't understand the
ethnic groups and their history without knowing the influence of the region's
Even the geographic extent of the "Balkan" region is a matter of controversy. Many scholars, especially those writing in the Cold War era, have included only the Communist states and linked them with Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany, while omitting Greece and ignoring Turkey and the Ottoman era. Other historians exclude Hungary, Croatia and other Habsburg lands, because of their "central" European character, supposedly contrary to Balkan themes. But the presence of contradictory themes is itself characteristically Balkan.
For the purposes of this course of lectures, the Balkan area includes Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania and Hungary. Most of this area was once under Ottoman Turkish rule; the rest under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The lectures will not deal with all of the Ottoman Empire, which extended into Asia and Africa, or other former Habsburg lands such as Czechoslovakia and parts of Poland.
revolves around three features: the area's situation as a peninsula, its mountains,
and its rivers. Leften Stavrianos has pointed out the influence of geography
on Balkan history.
Map: GENERAL REFERENCE MAP OF EUROPE
[Clicking here will display a general reference map of Europe -- including the Balkans, with physical features and 1999 borders -- in another browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]
The Balkan region is a triangular peninsula with a wide northern border, narrowing to a tip as it extends to the south. The Black, the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas surround it; they have served as both barriers and entry points. Unlike some peninsulas, the Balkan area has not been physically isolated from nearby regions. In the northeast, Romania is exposed to the steppe regions of the Ukraine, an easy invasion route from prehistoric times to the present. In the northwest, the valley of the Danube and the flat Hungarian plain are easy points of entry. Most (but not all) of the ethnic groups in the region entered by one of these paths.
While it is surrounded on three sides by water, the peninsula is not cut off from neighboring regions to the east, west or south. To the east, the narrow straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are a natural pathway between the Balkans and Anatolia, and Asia beyond. To the west, the Italian peninsula is only forty miles away across the Adriatic from Albania, and influence from that direction has been another constant. Finally, the Aegean and Mediterranean islands to the south are stepping stones to the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt. Not surprisingly, the Balkan region has been a crossroads for traffic passing to and from all these destinations.
The mountains which divide the region are a prominent internal physical characteristic. The region takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range in Bulgaria (from a Turkish word meaning "a chain of wooded mountains"). On a larger scale, one long continuous chain of mountains crosses the region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before it marches away east into Anatolian Turkey. On the west coast, an offshoot of the Dinaric Alps follows the coast south through Dalmatia and Albania, crosses Greece and continues into the sea in the form of various islands.
The first effect of these mountains is to divide the region into small units within which distinct ethnic groups have been able to sustain themselves. This area, a little smaller in size than France and Germany or the states of Texas and Oklahoma, is home to a dozen or more prominent ethnic groups.
Second, the mountains have been physical obstacles, hampering efforts at regional combination, whether political, economic or cultural. The ethnic groups have tended toward distinct national cultures, local economies and political autonomy.
Third, the mountains have subdivided every district into vertical ecological zones, ranging from more valuable lowland farming areas to less valuable wooded or rocky uplands. This variety of ecological niches supports various cultures in close proximity: traders, farmers, transhumant herders, forest dwellers. In general, the higher up the zone, the less productive the land, and so the upper regions of the mountains act as places of exile and refuge for defeated ethnic groups expelled from more desirable coast and valley lands. In general, then, the mountain features of the Balkans have contributed to the continued fragmentation of human groups in the area.
The rivers of the region are short; their influence is usually local, with one exception. The small rivers of the area typically rise in coastal mountains and drop into the nearest sea after a short course. They are too small to carry water traffic; instead they cut ravines that block travel along the coasts. The great exception is the Danube. It enters from the northwest, passes through the Hungarian plain, skirts the south Slavic states, and exits through Romania into the Black Sea on the east. Despite its size, the Danube also fails to be a source of regional integration. Several factors prevent easy use of the Danube for regular communication and trade: low water in the summer, marshes obstructing access to the river bank, the narrow passage of the Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania (fully opened to shipping by modern engineering techniques only in 1896), and the tendency of the Black Sea delta to silt up. Instead, the Danube acts to introduce outside influences. The western reaches of the river point to the German world; the eastern reaches lead to a dead end in the Black Sea, and leave travel at the mercy of Russia and Turkey. The Danube serves the needs of powerful external forces far more than it helps the internal needs of the Balkan peoples. Like the mountains, the Balkan rivers have done little to foster unity in the area.
The Balkans have been inhabited
since prehistoric times. but today's ethnic groups descend from Indo-European
migrants or ethnic groups that arrived in historical times. The pre-Indo-European
inhabitants left little behind except for archaelogical remnants and a few place
names (like Knossos on the island of Crete).
Knowledge of the area's national and ethnic groups is fundamental to Balkan history: they are the alphabet, the periodic table of elements. At a minimum this means recognizing a dozen major ethnic groups, where they live (now and in the past), and how their religions, languages and cultures compare and interconnect.
Map: MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS
IN THE BALKANS CIRCA 1990
[Clicking here will display a map indicating major ethnic groups in the Balkans in another browser window, while leaving this lecture text in the original browser window.]
Placing these ethnic groups on the map in the order in which they came to the region is a simple way to introduce them. It has the virtues of the chronological and helps explain how some later arrivals affected their neighbors.
Unfortunately the early history of some groups is incomplete and the evidence is controversial. The question of who has lived where, when and for how long is critical for several modern political and territorial disputes. The story of the Albanians illustrates these points about evidence, and the controversies about its use.
The Albanians, or more
accurately their ancestors the Illyrians, "appeared" in the western Balkans
around 1200 BC (or BCE, Before Christian Era). More precisely, we can say that
around 1200 BC the archaeological record shows a "discontinuity," a significant
break in material culture during a short span of time. Objects left in graves
and the structure of grave sites changed. Nineteenth century writers explained
this (and similar events, especially among the Greeks) by describing supposed
waves of Indo-European invaders: men, women and children travelling in wagons
out of the steppes, driving their herds before them and wiping out the existing
population. Modern scholars argue for scenarios with less drama. Alterations
in burials can mean a total change in population, but they can also mean that
an existing population adopted new customs, with or without the arrival of large
numbers of new people. For example, future archaelogists should not see the
sudden appearance of Japanese VCRs in late twentieth century American landfills
as evidence of migration or invasion, but only of trade and cultural contact.
The same thing is true in Balkan prehistory. In 1200 BC, people in the Western
Balkans took up the cultural practices that we call "Illyrian". Some new people
probably entered the area, and some of the old population probably remained.
After 1200 BC, classical Greek records describe the Illyrians as a non-Greek people to the north and west. The Illyrians left no "historic" or written records of their own. We have to use linguistic and archaeological evidence to trace their story. Based on this evidence, scholars will say that the Illyrians inhabited the region which today makes up Albania and the former Yugoslavia. Their descendants have remained in the mountains of present-day Albania continuously since 1200 BC: today's Albanians are in fact linked to the Illyrians. In the rest of former Illyria, other peoples took their place.
Albanian is an Indo-European language, but one without relatives; it is believed to be the only surviving language descended from ancient Illyrian. The linguistic evidence is not simple. Modern Albanian is obviously very different from the language of its neighbors, but we have nothing written in the language before the year 1555 of the Christian era, unlike Greek and the Slavic languages, for which we have classical and/or medieval writings dating back to a very early period. Direct linguistic descent is easy to trace in those kinds of records, but not for Illyrian/Albanian. The linguistic evidence here relies on fields like "onomastics", the study of place names and the names for everyday objects, and complex reasoning from meagre facts.
Archaeology is the second source for Albanian prehistory. Scholars can trace a continuous evolution of burial goods, ornamentation on costumes, and cultural practices (deduced from material remains) from 1200 BC forward to the historic Middle Ages. Based on that, and on the lack of recorded migration to the area by other groups, scholars believe the Illyrians became the modern Albanians.
The Albanians today number about five million. Three and a half million live within Albania, another 1.7 million in the adjacent Kosovo region of Serbia, and half a million in the new state known as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." Historically most Albanians have been Muslim since the time of the Ottoman conquest, with Eastern Orthodox and smaller Catholic minorities. The Kosovo region is a good example of competing historical claims to Balkan lands. Kosovo is a region of great cultural significance for Serbia, the site of important medieval events. At the same time, it has a majority Albanian population today, and the Illyrian evidence says that proto-Albanians were there long before the Serbs. Both nations claim it. In cases like this, scholarship is mixed with nationalist politics: that is why controversy accompanies history here.
The Greeks are as ancient
as the Albanians in their Balkan ties. The 19th century model for Greek entry
to the area involved three "waves" of invaders riding in carts, driving cattle
and overwhelming the pre-Indo-European inhabitants. Each wave was associated
with historic sites and a later dialect group -- Achaeans, Ionians and Dorians
-- with intricate dating squabbles. The current view is simpler. Scholars now
see a single immigration, with the dialects evolving later. The image of the
"tribal mass" in motion has been discarded in favor of two competing theories.
According to the first model, the "invasion" consisted of individuals, families
and small groups blending into the indigenous population. The second model sees
a small clique of well-armed conquerors, who used the innovation of the chariot
to defeat and displace the existing rulers. In either case, the old inhabitants
simply took on the new culture, adopting new tools and a new religion, and creating
a mix which is classical "Greek" culture.
Ancient Greece encompassed not only today's Greek state but the Aegean islands and lands in Anatolia. Greek colonies appeared all around the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean, and followed Alexander the Great all over the Middle East.
We have copious historic records about Greece, but there are still some questions. The most mysterious episode in Greek national history takes place at the end of the Roman period. The Greek world was part of Rome, but Greek culture survived under Roman rule. Greek was the language of the earliest Christian gospels. The eastern half of the Roman Empire was culturally Greek and survived as the Byzantine Empire until 1453 AD (or CE, Christian Era). Between 600 and 800 AD, Slavic invaders washed over Greece as far south as the Peloponessus. These "barbarians" created a "dark age" in the Balkans during which written Greek records cease. In 800 AD Greek written culture reappears. Apparently these "invasions" can also be characterized as an intermingling of peoples. Greek civilization seems to have survived in small cities, and ultimately the newly arrived Slavs became Hellenized. Are we then dealing with the same Greek identity? It persists in a cultural sense, but the 19th century notion of "blood" might say that these are not quite the same people. This is worth keeping in mind later as one wrestles with questions of ethnic identity.
In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell under Ottoman rule, but Greek culture and language once again survived. Today there are over ten million Greeks in Europe. Most Greeks live in the Greek state. However, until the 1920s there were substantial Greek populations in Anatolia. Today the chief "irredenta" (or minority populations outside the borders of Greece) are in Istanbul, on Cyprus and in southern Albania (excluding Greeks in America, and others abroad).
The Greeks are overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox, under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Many Americans fail to know that there are a dozen independent branches of the Eastern Orthodox church, identified with separate Balkan and East European ethnic groups. Just as the Roman Catholic Pope in Rome and the Greek Patriarch in Constantinople split over issues of doctrinal authority in 1054 AD, the other national Orthodox churches have often rejected the authority of the Greek patriarch. The Greek Orthodox Church has to be distinguished from the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Church, and so on.
The Greek language has continued to evolve since classical times. Today it includes a formal written version called katharevousa, a less formal spoken version called dimotiki, and an archaic version used in church services. Until this century, notable Greek communities elsewhere in the Balkans or in Anatolia spoke other languages (such as Turkish) but this is not common today.
The Romanians also have
origins in the classical era, but their history is complicated and controversial.
Romanian and Hungarian nationalists disagree fundamentally about the origin
of the modern Romanians. The Romanian position is this. In 106 AD Rome conquered
the kingdom of the Getes, in what is today Transylvania (this event is the subject
matter of Trajan's Column). The Getes, Roman settlers, administrators and merchants
mixed to form a new Latin-speaking Dacian ethnic group. In 271 AD, Dacia was
evacuated in the face of barbarian invasions. Soldiers, townspeople, merchants
and administrators fled south. Peasants and country folk probably did not leave,
but moved to safety in the wooded Carpathians during the barbarian invasions.
During this period the Magyars (Hungarians) settled in parts of Transylvania.
In a document of 1247 AD, Romanians reappear in historical records, both in
Transylvania and in Moldavia and Wallachia. Romanian nationalists say that this
shows the descent of the original Daco-Roman population from the Carpathians.
Hungarian nationalists say instead that the Romanians of 1247 are remnant Dacians
who fled south and survived for a millenium as herdspeople in Serbia and northern
Greece before migrating north again. A Romanian-speaking Vlach ethnic group
does live by herding in the southern Balkans. In the Magyar view, the Dacians
who remained behind were wiped out. By implication, Romania thereby loses any
claim to Transylvania.
Western scholars tend to accept the Romanian interpretation. The linguistic evidence supports the Romanian position: Romanian lacks Greek loan words for religious or pastoral terms, which should have come into use if Romanians spent such a long time in a Balkan exile. Romanian includes many Turkish and Slavic loanwords, but its basic grammar and vocabulary are recognizable as based on Latin.
Twenty million ethnic Romanians live in the Romanian state. Outside the state, there are nearly 3 million "Moldovans" in that part of the former Soviet Union. Romania in turn has substantial minorities within its own borders: some one and a half million Hungarians in Transylvania and at least half a million Gypsies. There is a distinct Romanian Orthodox Church, but there are other religions present, especially in Transylvania.
Migrating Slavs reached
the Balkans during the waves of "barbarian" invasions at the end of the Roman
Empire. Many groups entering at that time left no mark. The South Slavs, as
well as the non-Slavic Magyars, concern us here.
The South Slav (Yugo-Slav) groups that became the Slovenes, Croatians, Serbians and Bulgarians entered the Balkans from the north between 500 and 700 AD. They settled in an arc stretching from the head of the Adriatic in the north, southward and eastward to the Black Sea. These groups were divided into tribes before they arrived, but there was little variation between one group and its neighbors. The hard and fast distinctions among them, especially in languages, are largely a product of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ethnic maps that draw neat lines around these groups tend to oversimplify.
The Slovenes arrived first, in the 500s AD. Slovene resembles Slovak in some ways, and is quite distinct from Serbo-Croatian. Some 1.7 million Slovenes live in the northwest corner of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Austrian and Italian influences have created a Central European culture and Slovenes are chiefly Roman Catholic.
The other south Slavic peoples arrived in the 600s AD. Slavs probably occupied parts of the Hungarian plain and Greece as well, but those Slavs later were absorbed into other cultures.
The south Slavic Croatians reached the Balkans in the late 500s and early 600s AD (arriving at the same time as the Serbs). In the 800s, they fell under the nominal control of Charlemagne and his heirs. The chief result was not political, but religious. Western Frankish missionaries followed and began the process by which Croatia became a Catholic country (while the Serbs became Orthodox). In 879 AD a Croatian state was recognized by the Pope. The acceptance of Christianity by the Balkan nations tends to follow similar patterns, worth pointing out here. South Slav tribes lacked anything like a strong king: they were organized into smaller units under warlords or village chiefs, who evolved into a nobility. A strong central figure like a king generally arose when the tribe united in response to some outside military threat. Once that threat receded, the nobles ceased to obey the control of the central authority. The early kings adopted Christianity because in return for leading mass conversions, the pope (or the patriarch) would grant a stamp of religious authority to the monarch of the country. Thus conversion to Catholicism or Orthodoxy tended to take place at the same time as the creation of an enduring monarchy.
Croatia reached its medieval pinnacle under Tomislav in the 900s, but the kings were still weak relative to the nobility. In 1102 AD a coalition of nobles made a deal with the Hungarian king, whose remote power was more attractive than the nearby king's authority. In return for Magyar recognition of their control of local administrative and judicial affairs, the nobles pledged their military service, and the Hungarian king also gained the right to approve all the laws of the Croatian Diet of nobles. Thereafter Croatia existed as a feudal state under the kings of Hungary.
Today, some three and a half million Croatians or Croats live within the traditional borders of the Croatian state, with perhaps 700,000 others in nearby Slovenia and Bosnia. Croatian culture has Central European and Roman Catholic features. The Croatian language, made up of several distinct dialects, overlaps with Serbian; in the former Yugoslavia a combined Serbo-Croatian was an official language. The most obvious difference is the use of the Roman alphabet for Croatian, and the Cyrillic for Serbian. There are also distinctions in vocabulary (for example, the Croation use of listopad or "leaf-fall" for the month of October, vs. the Serbian use of oktobar).
The south Slavic Serbians arrived at the same time as the Croatians, with an essentially identical culture and language. The Serbs were closer to Byzantium so Serbian culture took on Byzantine features (just as Croatian culture came to resemble that of the Franks) with Eastern Orthodox missionaries at work (rather than Catholic ones) and a central state modelled on Byzantine forms. Serbian feudalism also followed Byzantine patterns. All land was owned by the ruler, parcelled out as "usufruct fiefs" (which were not heritable) for the support of feudal vassals, churches and monasteries. The chief impetus for state-building was protection from the Bulgarians. The Serbian medieval state peaked in the 1300s under Stefan Dushan. When Serbia was conquered by the Turks in the 1400s, the impact of the Ottoman conquest was reduced for most peasants because the Ottomans had already accepted and preserved the same Byzantine practices being used by the Serbs. Serbs not only survived physically, but were able to preserve much of their culture as well as their lives.
The 1981 Yugoslav census counted 9 million Serbs, some 7 million of them concentrated in the Serbian Republic and Montenegro, but with important communities in Bosnia and Croatia (many of them subsequently displaced by civil war during the 1990s). There is a separate Serbian Orthodox Church which has always helped define Serbian ethnic identity.
"Bosnia" is a geographic, not an ethnic or linguistic entity. Medieval Bosnia was a border zone between Croatia and Serbia, just as it is today. The chief ethnic marker of the so-called "Bosnians" today is their Islamic faith, and this came about only later. In terms of language and descent, the modern Bosnians are of the same origin as Croats and Serbs.
The south Slavs who became the Bulgarians also reached the Balkans in the early 600s AD. The Turkic and nomadic "Bulgars" later conquered the area. They were few in numbers and after a few centuries the more numerous Slavs absorbed them in terms of culture and language. In 886 AD the missionary saints Methodius and Cyril (for whom the Cyrillic alphabet is named) converted tsar Boris to Orthodox Christianity. In the 900s, Tsar Symeon's First Bulgarian Empire defeated Byzantine and Serbian armies. The Second Bulgarian Empire was a rival of Byzantium around 1200 AD, but Bulgaria absorbed and adopted Byzantine culture, law, land use patterns and political organization. Today some six and a half million Bulgarians live in the Bulgarian state. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been a leading factor in national identity.
There are also 1.4 million Macedonians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which achieved independence after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1989. These South Slavs reached Macedonia in the 600s AD. Citing historical, cultural or linguistic grounds, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria often have advanced claims to Macedonia in terms of both territory and ethnic affiliation with the population. Macedonian history illustrates the complicated relationship between ethnic identity, language and national independence.
The Hungarians or Magyars
came to Europe in 895 AD, crossing the Carpathians from the Ukraine and conquering
the Slavs who lived in the Pannonian basin (and thereby dividing the south Slavs
from the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles). Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, the
only one in the Balkans, with connections to Turkish and the languages of Central
Asia. For many years, the Magyar cavalry raided Europe but in 955 it was decisively
defeated. Believing that their "luck" had ended, superstitious Magyar rulers
accepted Christian missionaries and in 1000 AD King Stephen converted to Catholicism.
In return, the Pope recognized Hungarian rule over the so-called "lands of the
Crown of St. Stephen." This term now stands for the maximum geographic possessions
of the Hungarian state, including Slovakia, Transylvania and Croatia.
More than 10 million people live in Hungary. Hungary has a smaller proportion of ethnic minorities than most of the Balkan states, with over 90% of the population consisting of ethnic Magyars (the largest minority is half a million Roma or Gypsies). One and a half million Magyars live in Romanian Transylvania, with several hundred thousand in Slovakia and several hundred thousand in the Vojvodina region of Serbia. The separation of these populations is the legacy of backing the losing side in two consecutive world wars. Hungary shares in much of Central European culture, and two thirds of Hungarians are Roman Catholic, the other third mostly Protestant.
Most of the ethnic groups
mentioned are identified with states (the Macedonians and Bosnians being exceptions
until recently). A few other groups have had a presence since medieval times
which has not lead to enduring political entities. They are nevertheless important.
The "Gypsies" or Roma, a nomadic people traditionally employed as itinerant entertainers and metalworkers, entered the Balkans in the 1300s AD, spreading from Asia Minor west into Europe. Scholars identify their language as related to Indian languages like Sanskrit. Thanks to widespread discrimination, most Balkan censuses tend to undercount the Roma minority, but an estimated one million Roma live in the former Yugoslav areas, up to one million in Romania, and about one million more scattered elsewhere in the Balkans, a total of three million or more.
There was never a Jewish state in the Balkans, but the area had a large Jewish population until the Second World War. There have been Jewish communities in the Balkans since Roman times. The Ottoman conquest of the area actually made the region more attractive than Western Europe for Jews, because of Ottoman policies of religious toleration. From 1200-1500 AD, many Jews expelled from Western European countries made their way to the Turkish Balkans. After the Spanish expelled the Moors from Spain in 1492, they also expelled 200,000 Jews, most of whom went to Salonika and Istanbul. The Jewish population of Hungary and Romania dates from the 1700s, mostly consisting of Jews who moved south from Poland. On the eve of the Holocaust, there were over one and a half million Jews in the Balkan countries, mostly in Romania and Hungary. About half were murdered and most of the survivors emigrated after 1945. The present Jewish population of the Balkans is about 100,000, mostly living in Hungary. The Jewish populations of the Balkans typically spoke the languages of the country in which they lived, although the Sephardic Jews of Greece spoke Ladino, a dialect of Spanish.
Until the end of the Second World War, there were important colonies of Germans in east central European cities, including Hungary and Transylvania. Craftsmen and miners were invited to the region for economic purposes by medieval rulers. These Volksdeutsch spoke German and maintained separate communities. Accused of collaboration with the Nazis, most fled or were expelled after 1945.
Finally, the Turks now have possession of only a small corner of the Balkans, but at one time ruled much of it, and there were large Turkish populations in many areas, especially the cities. The Turks entered Anatolia from Central Asia around 1240 as tribal nomads converted to Islam. Turkish warriors were granted possession of any land that they could conquer as "ghazis" along the borders of the growing Islamic world. The Ottomans, named for their leader Osman, were the most successful of many tribal groups. The Byzantines hired them as soldiers for pay but soon lost control over them. The Ottoman Turks crossed into Europe in 1352 AD as mercenaries hired to defend a Byzantine fortress at Gallipoli on the Western side of the Straits of the Dardanelles; they never left and the place became a springboard for conquest. The Ottomans soon overran Thrace and Bulgaria. In 1389 at the battlefield of Kosovo, they destroyed the Serbian army, an event of legendary importance in Serbian national memory.
The Turks were able to capture
Constantinople in 1453 AD, attacking a Byzantine state weakened by injuries
inflicted by its Christian rivals. The Bulgarian and Serbian medieval states
had taken away many of its Balkan provinces. The Western "Franks" earlier dealt
the greatest single blow to Byzantine power, while Western European kings and
knights were in the Balkans as "crusaders" headed for Palestine. Thirty thousand
soldiers of the Fourth Crusade camped outside Constantinople in 1203-1204. The
Byzantines and the Crusader leaders disagreed about who would pay for ships
to take them on to the Holy Land, and the Venetians then exploited the situation
to make an attack on their Byzantine trading rivals. The Crusaders sacked Constantinople
and divided the Byzantine Empire among themselves. While Byzantium eventually
reemerged, the outer provinces remained separate as miniature kingdoms that
were easy pickings for the Turks. There was little or no Western aid when the
Ottoman challenge appeared, and the Byzantine Orthodox Greeks regarded the Western
Catholic Franks with hatred, further preventing any cooperation against the
Ottomans. In 1453 the Turks took Constantinople by siege. In 1526 at Mohacs
they destroyed the Hungarian army, killing the king and most of the Hungarian
nobles. This was their high water mark, although they were still strong enough
to besiege to Vienna in 1683. The story of their gradual withdrawal from "Rumeli"
or Europe is a major part of this course.
In 1831, about a third of the population of the Balkans was "Muslim," including Turks and Albanians. The present population of Turkey is over sixty million, but only about seven million Turks live in European Turkey, around Istanbul. 700,000 Turks form a prominent minority in Bulgaria, despite efforts since the early 1980s to Slavicize their names and pressure them to leave the country.
Turks have historically been Sunni Muslims, although in the 20th century the modern Turkish Republic is secular. Turkish is a Turkic language, and thus related to other Altaic languages of central Asia.
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