A new urban history: Ottoman Pazardijk (Boykov)

posted by istanbul on 2009/01/18 11:30

[ Books ]

Monographic treatments of Balkan city histories are quite a rarity, and it is with this shortcoming in mind that I would like to highlight a new book on Pazardjik by Grigor Boykov. He was kind enough to send me a review copy of his Татар Пазарджик, от основаването на града до края на ХVІІ век (Tatar Pazardjik, from the foundation of the town until the end of the 17th century), published by Amicitia (Sofia) just a couple of weeks ago. For more on the contents of this book, click here to expand.

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At the core of Boykov’s argument is the following historical problem: Up to now, it has been believed that Pazardjik was an Ottoman foundation of the 1480s, coinciding with sultan Beyazit II’s forced resettlement of Tatars following his
Black Sea campaign. (That it wasn’t a pre-Ottoman foundation was in this [rare] case undisputed, perhaps not least to the name of the town, Tatar Pazarcık translating as “the small Tatar market”.) Boykov manages to produce evidence that suggests the emergence of a settlement - yet a military camp rather than a full-fledged town - to have taken place almost a century earlier, hence shortly after the Ottoman conquest of the area. It was following the discovery of an Ottoman register dating already to 1472 and recording a fairly developed settlement that had him pursue further the inquiry into the town’s mysterious early history.

While by the 19th century Pazardjik had acquired a Bulgarian/Christian majority, the 15th-century town was still an exclusively Muslim affair.[1] On the basis of the inhabitants’ names and religious infrastructure, however, Boykov questions their commitment to the Orthodox Sunni Islam staunchly promoted by the Ottoman centre in the 16th-century age of Süleyman the Magnificent. In his interpretation, Pazardjik emerges as a bastion of “heterodox” believers patronized not by the sultan but by the akıncı warlords (in this case, the Mihaloğulları), who in the early period were not always the submissive military commanders as which they are sometimes represented. Pazardjik was so not an outpost of the Ottoman “centre”, but quite the opposite. Thus the transformation during the 16th century is explained: It is only by 1530 that a kadi is sent to Pazardjik from Istanbul. That it is only in the last third of the 16th century that we see the first Christian quarter (then coming to account for 11-13% of the population) is similarly taken by Boykov as a sign of the town’s projected “Ottomanization”. By that time also the old Turkic, “pagan”, and/or rather Shiite names disappear from the registers at the expense of “proper Muslim” ones, making the transformation complete.


The book is divided into two parts, the first of which being the analytic part and the second presenting the documents discussed. Part I is divided into three sub-chapters: Chapter 1 discusses the foundation of Pazardjik at the end of the 14th century and the various agents involved in the consolidation of the settlement (Black Sea Tatars, nomads from
Anatolia) until the mid-15th century. Chapter 2 discusses the period from the mid-15th to the early 17th century, and therewith what Boykov interprets as the transformation “from akıncı center to Ottoman town”, as the first sub-chapter (1472-1570) is called. In the next sub-chapter, treating the he period 1570-1614, he already portrays Pazardjik as an “Ottoman town”. Chapter 3 then features a closer analysis of the 17th-century urban make-up through the avariz and cizye (“head tax”) registers available for the 1620s, ‘40s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. The period of the long 16th century, by contrast, is analyzed largely through data found in the tapu tahrirs, of which he produces a considerable number (for the years 1516, 1525, 1530, 1570, 1596, and 1614). No such official censuses are available for the earliest period, which Boykov mainly seeks to reconstruct through narrative accounts.

Based largely on hitherto unexplored Ottoman sources (drawn in most cases from the archives at Istanbul), the reproduction of which in facsimili and transcriptions accounts for two thirds of the book, the ridiculous price of 12 Leva (around 6 euros) for its 354 pages makes it just as interesting for Ottomanists with no knowledge of Bulgarian. The book, which can be ordered here, is a valuable addition to the program of the Amicitia publishing house, which has been quite active in recent years in making available translations of Balkan and Ottoman history classics by authors of the like of Halil Inalcik, Fikret Adanir, Machiel Kiel, Colin Imber, and Bernard Lory.



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[1] On this point, see also the authoritative studies by Machiel Kiel: “Tatar Pazarcık, A Turkish town in the heart of Bulgaria, some brief remarks on its demographic development 1485-1874”, in: X. Türk Tarih Kongresi (Ankara 22-26 Eylül 1986), Vol. 5., (1994), pp. 2567-2581, and “Tatar Pazarcık: The development of an Ottoman town in Central-Bulgaria or the story of how the Bulgarians conquered Upper Thrace without firing a shot”, in: Das osmanische Reich in seinen Archivalien und Chroniken, Nejat Göyünç zu Ehren. Klaus Kreiser, Christoph Neumann. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1997, pp. 31-67
















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