The New York Times, October 11, 1876 p.2:|
THE LAND OF BOSNIA.INFORMATION FROM A STRANGE COUNTRY.
SAILING ON THE SAVE--AN INSTRUCTIVE FELLOW-TRAVELER--A DEFENSE OF THE TURKS--
NEARING THE SEAT OF WAR--GEOGRAPHY OF THE COUNTRY--
ITS POPULATION AND RESOURCES--CURIOUS SECTS.
From our Special Correspondent.
In ordinary circumstances I should have entered Bosnia from its eastern frontier by one of the many caravan roads leading to its capital. But in these troubled times this line of travel would scarcely be prudent, and so I elected for a passage on the Semlin steam-boat up the Save to Alt-Gradiska, and thence by road to Banialouka, which in any case must be my starting point on Moslem ground.
Wednesday, Sept. 13, 1876.
There is another way to get there; up the Danube to Mohacs, from there by sail through Agram to Szisek, then to Novi and Doberlin, and finally, by another railway, to Banialouka. But this is terribly roundabout, and would take fully six days, whereas, by my selection, I could accomplish the entire distance in about half of that time.
So I turned a deaf ear to the warnings of my friends, who bade me farewell with many dismal forebodings of evil upon their faces, and the clearly expressed opinion that I was quite mad. For my part, I could scarcely see the force of their reasonings in favor of the Agram line.
Once across the boundary of Islam every traveler is to a certain extent in peril. There were Bashi-Bazouks certainly on the post-road, but so there were along the railroad, and the latest accounts told of violence committed by these marauders at Priedor and other stations, and between being murdered in a first-class carriage, or being "gobbled up" on the highway, the distinction was too subtle for my comprehension.
I think, also, that there is a tendency to exaggerate the ferocity of this gentry, by whom no foreigner will be molested, provided he be provided with the proper papers, that he lay aside the abhorred Frankish hat and that he abstains from everything which will wound their national or religious susceptibilities and prejudices. For my part I felt no apprehensions whatever; I spoke their language, and I remembered that in years gone by I had lived for six weeks in a doorless hut in Anatolia, among a band of Kurdish cut-throats from Diarkekir, and had not lost so much as a shoe-string from my saddle-bags, although they stood open day and night. Besides, I had a letter to a great man in the country, and, in short, felt quite reassured as to my treatment, at least by the Moslem element.
ON THE SAVE.
The first part of my journey was not particularly interesting. The Save, a large and noble river, is, like the Danube, dull and muddy, bordered on both sides with marshes leading back to plains more or less under cultivation. As we ascended the stream the banks became more elevated and more densely wooded, but at no place was there aught of the grand or picturesque.
Before the war the steamer used to take up and discharge passengers and merchandise at many of the villages which we passed, but since the episode of the Radetzky and Bulgarian volunteers last June these visits have been restricted exclusively to the Austrian settlements, which, although probably only whited sepulchres within, bear some external resemblence to the habitations of human beings, whereas those on the right bank look like assemblages of irregular haystacks, a faint smoke now and then and an occasional minaret stone showing that they are inhabited.
A succession of martello towers on the one side, and of karauls--guard-houses--on the other, mark the line of the old military frontier, of nearly nine hundred miles, which was made in the sixteenth century by the Austrians, as a barrier to the Infidel. But Islam is no longer an invading power, and so these martello towers and karauls have fallen to ruin or have become stations for Custom-house officials.
I had but one fellow passenger at the outset of my journey, in the stuffy cabin of this very dirty little steamer. He was a very nice man, this Mr. Schräm. a Jewish merchant, of Temeswär; not so careful of her personal appearance as might be desired, for one's intimate friend, but exceedingly intelligent, and, like most of his compatriots, a good linguist. I thought him officious at first, but it was thanks to him that the Steward was induced to go through certain operations with water and insecticide powder, without which our vermin-ridden room would have been untenantable.
Speaking Italian with great fluency, he soon found out who I was, where I was going, and what were my sympathies. I more than suspect that he was a Turkish agent, from his intimacy with certain officials--this was the case with many of his coreligionists in the East--but he was quite impartial in his judgement of the present difficulty, and gave me much valuable information, and still more valuable assistance, without which, indeed, I should have found my path beset with obstacles.
You will find it a rough place, he said, and its people, whatever be their faith, all equally cruel and savage. But you must not believe all the stories told about unprovoked massacres. There are grevious faults on both sides, but, until about a twelvemonth ago, the chief quarrels were between the Moslem land-owners and the Government, which wanted to introduce certain reforms in the local administration. Then, however, Panslavist emissaries came over from Belgrade and Prague and Moscow and stirred up the Rayahs, and since then there had been peace for no man.
He did not live in the country, and would be very sorry to live there, but he paid two annual visits to buy peltries, and meant to go oftener now, as there was such a good opportunity of purchasing cheaply a great many valuable articles bought from the interior by the Bashi-Bazouks. The idea of inquiring into the question of original ownership had never struck him, and he aired his sentiments on this point quite freely before his fellow passengers, many of whom being bound on a similar errand gave him their entire approval.
APPROACHING THE SEAT OF WAR.
It was just after nightfall on Monday that we first saw anything to remind us that we were within a few miles of the seat of war and desolation. Heavy columns of smoke were rolling up along the horizon, and as the darkness set in the lurid glow of flames showed that some devil's work was on foot. Who were the incendiaries became at once the theme of conjecture and discussion, and, according as the speakers sympathies were Turkish or Sclavonic, it was the insurgents of Despotovics who were on a raid, or it was the accursed heathen, who were again burning a Christian village and slaughtering the defenseless Ravah.
Then came tales of Turkish atrocities, whose victims had been chased on to Austrian territory, where once even shots had been exchanged between their pursuers and the Austrian frontier guards. Government buildings had been burned at Starosolo Bielovinics, and Veliga Vranovitza had been visited by Bahshi Bazouks, and the guests of Topusko, the fashionable watering-place of Southern Croatia, had fled to Glina, and even there did not think themselves in safety.
On the other hand, equal horrors were related of the doings of Despotovics, who killed every Mussulman, male of female, whom he met, and did not hesitate to burn all the Christian villages whose inhabitants refused to join his bands.
Mr. Schräm shook his head and said it was doubtless all true, but that, although perhaps a mere accident, neither Jews nor Roman Catholics had been molested by the Turks in Bosnia since the outbreak of the insurrection, and that no one of either of these religions had been willing to league with the rebels. We have just as much cause for complaint against Turkish extortion and injustice as the other Rayahs, he added, but we prefer the Osmanli to the Greeks, for we know that beneath their rule our lot would be infinitely more unbearable than as vassals of the Sultan.
Almost incomprehensible as it is to those who have never seen them in their own land, the Christians of Bosnia owe to their own bigoted intolerance their original subjugation and present servitude. With the exception of a few thousand Jews, Tsiganes, and foreign Osmanlim, the entire population of the Illyrian Alps is of Slavonic race, and their country is the classic home of those picsmas, or popular ballads, which for the Southern Slavs are the sacred repository of their national traditions. But if they are ethnographically united, they are religiously divided, and the common sufferings of centuries have not yet served to weld together the discordant elements.
THE LAND OF THE BOSNIAN.
Far removed from the Imperial capital, with a country traversed throughout by branches of the Diarnic Alps, some of whose peaks rise to an elevation of 7,000 feet above the sea, Bosnia may be compared to a vast citadel, of which the highest wall towers along the southern front, as though to defend it against the Osmanli. This rampart scaled, the invader must force the defile of every river, and toil painfully across constantly recurring mountain crests where, in a thousand places, a handful of men could stop the march of an army.
The very climate is a barrier to invasion. Unlike the rest of the Peninsula, the hill slopes all inclined northward, and the Alpine chains which shut out the warm atmospheric currents from the Adriatic have given it a temperature by many degrees colder than would appear to be warranted from its altitude.
And yet, in spite of advantages of soil and climate, every attempt at revolt against the Turkish power has been a disastrous failure.
By turns a Roman colony, a Servian province, and a Banat of Hungary, Bosnia became, in the fourteenth century, an independent kingdom, whose monarchs ruled over Croatia, Western Servia, a great parat of Dalmatia and the Herzegovine, during a period of more than one hundred years.
The Greeks were the most numerous, the Roman Catholics the dominant sect, and both united for the extirpation of the heretical Paternians, who first made their appearance about the year 1355, A.D. These people, an offshoot of the Manicheans, called themselves Bogon-Mili--"the elect of God." They disappear from history in the succeeding century, having been absorbed by the Mohammedans, and very little is known of their manners and customs, which, however, could not have been very edifying, to judge from those of their cousins, the Yezidli, or "devil-worshipers," who are still to be found on the confines of Anatolia, where they are called by the Osmanli "the people without a book," the only one against which Mohammed has positively preached extermination.
Some enthusiastic, but not well informed, writers have thought to find among those Bogon-Mili the germs of the great Reformation; but it is doubtful whether the pious Puritans, to whom they have been compared, would have cared for the parentage of a sect whose tenets were based upon the rejection of the sacraments and of all forms of priesthood, and upon the positive denial of revelation and of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Resurrection.
Persecuted alike by Greeks and Latins, the Bogon-Mili called upon the Turks for assistance and a Moslem army invaded the Kingdom. One by one the conquests of King Tomastko were were wrested from from his successors, during a struggle of fourteen years, and in 1444, Thomas II, the lastof the Bosnian monarchs, who had assassinated his own father to mount upon the throne, surrendered to Mohammed II, who was besieging him in the fortress of Kloutch.
The conqueror promised life and liberty to all the prisoners in exchange for an oath of fealty and an annual tribute to be paid at Constantinople, but these were after the surrender coupled with the condition of embracing isolationism. The King and the majority of his nobles refused, whereupon they were flayed alive and then shot to death with arrows, and Bosnia became a Turkish Pashalik.
The present Mohammedan population are the descendents of those who preferred apostasy and property to poverty and martyrdom, and count among their ancestors many famous freebooters who did not hesitate to abjure their faith in order to continue their profession. Their apostasy increased their power, and the hate of caste, added to the zeal of the convert, soon caused them to outvie in fanaticism the Mohammedans of the rest of the Empire, unlike whom they proudly claim for themselves the name of "Turks," which elsewhere is considered to be an epithet of opprobrium.
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