THE TURKISH INVASIONS
This little state was bordered by powerful enemies. To the north lay Poland, anxious for an outlet to the sea. East were the Cossacks, who constantly raided Moldavian territory. Alexander fortified strongly Hotin, Kilia and Akkerman. But a more formidable foe attacked from the south. The Turks had already, in 1389, defeated the Serbs in the Battle of Kossovo; in 1393 they conquered Bulgaria. Bajazid turned north to punish Mircea for his presumption in aiding the Serbs; but Mircea routed him at the gates of Craiova (1394). Bajazid got his revenge two pears later, at the Battle of Nicopolis, and Mircea had to cede him Silistra and the coast of the Dobrudja. Then the Turks turned their attention to Moldavia, and attacked Akkerman. Alexander repulsed them; but while he was feverishly strengthening his border cities, the Hungarians and the Poles came to an agreement to divide Moldavia between them. Poland was to have Bessarabia, Hungary Moldavia proper, with Kilia. Luckily this early partition of Moldavia never was carried out. To judge by the testimony of a French traveler, Guillebert de Lannoy, who came to Akkerman in 1420 from Poland, Bessarabia had a good police system. De Lannoy was robbed on the highway not far from Akkerman; within eight hours, the authorities had discovered the robbers, obtained de Lannoy's belongings, and brought the robbers before him all bound for execution.
After Alexander's death, several incompetent rulers frittered away their inheritance; one of them, Peter Aaron, in 1456, three years after the fall of Constantinople, began paying tribute to the Sultan, of 2000 gold pieces a year. Hotin had been ceded to the Poles, and Kilia to the Hungarians. But in 1457 there came to the throne the most energetic of all the Moldavian monarchs-Stephen the Great. His first achievement (1459) was the recovery of Hotin from the Poles. He paid his vassals who assisted him, with large grants of land in the desolate but fertile interior plains of Bessarabia; we have, e. g., notice of a grant to a certain Bilau, and the chief village on this tract is still called Bilava or Bilautzi. The map of Bessarabia is covered with place names with such endings (or names in -eshti or -eni), which commemorate similar land grants through the centuries. Our own Southwest was parceled out by the Spanish monarchs after much the same fashion. Stephen next turned his attention to Kilia, which was now in Wallachian and Hungarian hands. His first attack, in 1462, was repulsed; but early in 146 he succeeded in taking it, and in gratitude founded the famous monastery of Putna, in the Bucovina, which recalls today the magnificence of the Moldavian court. The Hungarians tried to recover Kilia, and Matthias Corvinus led his army well into Moldavia; but Stephen drove him back, and the Moldavian archers thrice shot Matthias himself, who bore the arrow-scars to his dying dap. Meanwhile the Tartars had crossed the Dniester (1469) and were ravaging Bessarabia. Stephen fell upon them and captured their commander, brother of their Khan; and few were the survivors who succeeded in returning to the Ukraine. Deciding that he needed other fortresses on the Dniester between Hotin and Akkerman, Stephen built the stronghold of Orhei, on the Raut, a few miles from the Dniester; and as the crossing of Soroca was unprotected, he fortified that town also.
While he was thus busied, the Wallachian prince Ralph the Handsome (Radu-cel-Frumos) raised an army to recapture Kilia. Stephen anticipated him by a rapid march, scattered his forces, and entered Bucharest, his capital, in triumph, in 1473, setting another prince, a Basarab, on the Wallachian throne. Ralph appealed to the Porte, and a great Turkish army, under Soleyman Pasha the Eunuch, invaded Moldavia. Stephen drew them on to the edge of the great forest at Vaslui; his troops rushed out of the woods, threw the Turks into confusion, and drove them back over the Danube, enslaving great numbers of them (Jan. 10, 1475).
Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, vowed vengeance, and sent a Turkish fleet and Tartar army against Kilia and Akkerman; the fortifications of the latter were hurriedly strengthened and to this day one can read the inscription of 1476, commemorating the raising of the "Great Gate," with the Moldavian ox and star upon it. Stephen sought aid even from the Pest; the Genoese star had set, their traders having already been driven out by the Turks from Theodosia; he appealed to the Doge of Venice, in a letter which says: "I am certain that the Turks will again come against me this summer, to get my two cities Kilia and Akkerman . . . . Meanwhile I desire to be aided today, for the time is short, and does not allow us to make more extensive preparations. And Your Highness can consider that these two towns are the whole of Moldavia, that these two fortresses are a bulwark for Hungary and for Poland." Mohammed himself remarked: "So long as Moldavia is master of Kilia and Akkerman, and Hungary of Belgrade, we shall not subdue the infidel."
In the spring of 1476 Mohammed's preparations were finished; he crossed the Danube on a bridge of boats, and pressed forward into Moldavia. Stephen followed the same tactics as before; he led the enemy on to the edge of the forests; finally, on July 26, he gave battle, at a place called Vale Alba (White Valley) or Rasboieni. Mohammed won the day, captured Suceava, the capital of Moldavia, and burned it. But the plague broke out in his army, which was short of provisions; Hotin held out and his Tartar allies were driven across the Dniester; so he compromised with Stephen, leaving him undisturbed in his possessions, but receiving the tribute agreed upon with Peter Aaron, which Stephen had not been paying. Stephen continued to pay this tribute all his reign; but he immediately set about restoring his fortifications; we possess another inscription at Akkerman commemorating his restorations in about 1480.
And now the Wallachians again attempted to capture Kilia, both in 1481 and 1483, but without success. In 1483, Mohammed died; his successor, Bajazid II, expressed his conviction that "Kilia is the key and the gate to the whole of Moldavia and Wallachia, while Akkerman is the key and the gate to all Poland, Tartary and the Black Sea." He immediately set on foot a powerful expedition; on July 14, 1484, Kilia capitulated, after a week's ferocious bombardment; Akkerman fell the 4th of August, and of all that flourishing commercial city, there remained only 200 families of fishermen. The Black Sea was now a Turkish lake; the Turks held these two cities until late in the eighteenth century, when they again returned for a few decades into Moldavian possession.
The Turks contented themselves with a narrow strip of territory around these cities-the Sanjak of Kilia and the Sanjak of Akkerman-as they did with the cities they wrested from the Wallachians along the Danube-Orshova, Severin, Giurgiu, Braila and Ismail-and their later acquisitions from Moldavia of Bender (1538) and Hotin (1713 ). But they otherwise interfered little with the administration of the Roumanian principalities, which maintained their independence. Indeed, the treaties drawn with the Turks at this time expressly forbid them to build mosques or own property in Roumanian territory, or to marry Roumanian womena. No Turkish pashas ever ruled in Wallachia or Moldavia, as they did in Hungary. But they did have complete possession of these border cities which they had conquered, and of the adjacent sanjaks; these latter were however cultivated by Roumanian peasants, whom the Turks left undisturbed in their language and religion.
Bessarabia, then, never formed an integral part of the Turkish Empire. Except for these border sanjaks, Bessarabia remained part of Moldavia, which the Ports recognized as a sovereign state. This point is so important, as affecting historic claims upon Bessarabia, that we must glance at the treaties just referred to-remembering that during this same period, Hungary was a Turkish pashalik for a century and a half, in which Mohammedan pashas governed, and Turks had every right and privilege, including that of building mosques and worshiping according to the forms of their religion. But by the terms of the treaties with the Roumanian Principalities, the Turks bound themselves to respect the independence of their colleagues, rather than vassals. (I use the text printed in Hamangiuls General Code of Roumania. ) The earliest, of 1393, between Mircea I and the Sultan Bajazid Ilderim, provides (§ 1) that the Principality "shall be administered according to its own laws, and that the Voyevode of Roumania shall have full power of making war with his neighbors and of concluding bonds of alliance with them, whensoever he may desire; and finally that he shall be master, for life and death, over his subjects.... 4. The Princes, Christians, shall be elected to the Metropolitan and the boyars (great land-owners)." It was not even necessary that the Porte should sanction this election-a practice which grew up in the eighteenth century, and developed into appointment by the Porte, but always of a Christian.
In the treaty of 1460 between Vlad V of Roumania and the Sultan Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, § 1 provides that "the Turks shall never interfere in the affairs of the country, nor govern it, nor enter the country, except that one single Imperial Commissioner shall go in, but even he only with the Prince's permission." § 2 repeats § 1 of the Treaty of 1393. The Roumanians were to pay 10,000 gold pieces as tribute to the Sultan, in return for military protection; that however did not make them Turkish subjects, nor bring them within the Turkish Empire; for pears the United States paid a larger sum to the Bey of Barbary, for security against the pirates; that did not however make us his subjects. § 6 provides that when a Mohammedan has a lawsuit with a Roumanian, it shall be tried before the Divan (Court) of the Prince, and the judge's decision shall be enforced. § 8 forbids Turks to hire Roumanian man-servants or maidservants or to have any place of worship. The Treaty of 1511, between Bogdan and the Sultan Bajazid II, whose face we know through Gentile Bellini's wonderful portrait, in § 1, states: "The Porte recognizes Moldavia as a free and independent country," and goes on to confirm Moldavian rights in detail. § 7 reads: "The Moldavians shall be able to buy and hold a house in Constantinople as the residence of their ambassadors, and in it they may also build a church. 8. The Turks shall not be able to buy or own land in Moldavia, nor settle in the country, nor have or build any kind of mosque." Here the Roumanians have rights superior to the Turks-and this only 15 years before the Battle of Mohacs, which plunged Hungary into servitude to Turkey.
Still more striking is the Treaty of 1634, between Basil Lupu, Prince of Moldavia, and the Sultan Mohammed IV. In 1634, Turkish Pashas had ruled Hungary from Buda for over a century; the Pasha of Temeshvar governed the Banat; prayers rose to Allah from mosques all over the Hungarian plain; Roumania was almost entirely encircled by Turkish territory; yet this treaty also begins: "The Porte recognizes Moldavia as a free and independent country. 2. The people of Moldavia shall enjoy, as in the past, all their liberties." The treaty specifically forbids any interference by the Turks in internal affairs, safeguards the "laws, customs, rights and privileges of this country"; in § 5, guarantees that "the frontiers of Moldavia shall be preserved untouched in all their extent. 6. Mohammedan religious services shall be forbidden on all Moldavian territory .... 9. Moldavia shall keep the title of an independent country. This title shall be reproduced in all communications addressed by the Ottoman Porte to the Prince." These provisions still governed Turkish-Moldavian relations in 1812, when Russia seized Bessarabia-from Turkey, according to M. Rakovsky, and our own State Department.
But even the Treaty of Paris, of March 30, 1856, recognized Bessarabia as formerly Moldavian. § 21 provides: "The territory ceded by Russia (i. e., the three southern counties .of Bessarabia) shall be annexed to the Principality of Moldavia, under the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte. The inhabitants of this territory shall enjoy the rights and privileges assured to the Principalities .... 22. The Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia shall continue to enjoy, under the suzerainty of the Porte and under the guarantee of the Contracting Powers, the privileges and immunities of which they are in possession .... There shall be no special right of interference in their internal affairs. 23. The Sublime Porte engages to maintain for the aforesaid Principalities an independent and national administration." That is, this treaty repeats and confirms what had been commonplaces of Turkish-Moldavian relations for centuries. Furthermore, the Convention of Paris, of Aug. 7, 1858, reaffirms the privileges of the Principalities, "on the basis of the capitulations issued by the Sultans Bajazid I, Mohammed II, Selim I and Soleyman II, which established their autonomy, regulating their relations with the Sublime Porte."
To return to our narrative. At first, Stephen had dreams of recovering his lost Bessarabian cities with Polish help, and even accepted Polish over-lordship ; but as he discovered that King Casimir was treating with Turkey behind his back, he broke his new alliance, and raided the Polish territory of Pocutia. Casimir's successor, John Albert, set out to chastise Stephen, and annex Moldavia; but instead Stephen defeated the Poles in his last great battle (Dumbrava-Roshie, in 1497), and annexed Pocutia to Moldavia, with the cities of Kolomea, Sniatyn and Halicz. Stephen was also anxious to be on good terms with the rising power of Russia, and gave his daughter Ileana (Helen) to the Russian Crown Prince, Demetrius, son of Ivan III.
Stephen the Great died in 1504. Although he had lost Kilia and Akkerman to the Turks, he had done much for Bessarabia, and a number of its settlements date from his time. His successors fought among themselves for their inheritance; and one of them, Peter Raresh, had to meet in 1538 an overwhelming combination-the Poles attacking Hotin, the Tartars crossing the Dniester, and Soleyman the Magnificent, with a hundred heavy cannon, crossing the Danube and ascending the Pruth. Peter was deserted by his vassals, the boyars (landed proprietors) ; the Sultan entered Suceava and set up a rival prince of Moldavia, while Peter took refuge in Transylvania. Soleyman next sent his janissaries to capture Bender-then, as today, called Tighina; after its capture, Soleyman built over its fortress, and called it in Turkish Bender-The Gate. Then Soleyman succeeded in annexing also the Budjak; the boundary line of this district begins at Salcutza in the Botna Valley, runs due west, cutting the Cogalnic below Gradishte, and reaches the Ialpug above Javgur (Javhur), following the Ialpug down to the border of the Sanjak of Kilia.
The Turks had now succeeded in appropriating the eastern border of Bessarabia (except Hotin), and the southern strip-Kilia and the Budjak. But they seem to have had little influence on the life of most of Bessarabia, and even the Roumanian peasants in their sanjaks. Conversions to Mohammedanism, frequent in Bosnia, Albania and Bulgaria, seem to have been rare here, and religious persecution almost unheard-of. Paul of Aleppo, writing of the life of the Christians in these sanjaks, and especially about Ismail, remarks that it is "agreeable, both because the inhabitants can enjoy law and order, and because the taxes, except for the harach, are insignificant." They even had their own Christian hierarchy, separate from that of Moldavia; and their metropolitan-of Proilavia and Ismail-held sway also over a number of Roumanian churches in the Ukraine, of which the most important was Balta, till recently seat of the Soviet Moldavian Republic. A number of Roumanian documents connected with the ordination of priests in these Ukrainian towns have been preserved, and some are published in vol. xxxi (1913) of the Memoirs of the Historical Society of Odessa. The Turkish Bey of Bender, in 1580, writing to the Polish Starost of Ryshkoff, uses Roumanian!
Up to this point, we have heard merely of the border cities of Bessarabia. Not till 1436 have we any documentary evidence of the village of Kishineff, today its chief city. It was founded by a certain Vlaicu, uncle of Stephen the Great, and governor of Hotin, Orhei and Akkerman. In 1576, his great-granddaughter sold her rights to Kishineff to a certain Dragosh for 500 Tartar zlotys. Dragosh's wife sold her claims to Kishineff in 1617 to Constantine Roshca for 180 gold-pieces; and we learn from a document of 1641 that Basil Lupu of Moldavia granted the monks of the monasteries of St. Vineri of Jassy and of Balicai in Jassy, that they should receive tithes "of all the bread and the vegetables and flag and hemp and revenues of Kishineff." The next year, Kishineff is spoken of as a "sat"-an incorporated village; and in 1666, it had progressed to the dignity of "targ"-"market-town." But Demetrius Cantemir, in his history of Moldavia (1717), refers to it as a "small market-town of slight importance," with a population "of Christians, Armenians and Jews." The original settlement was down by the stream; and in a document of 1748, the merchants of Kishineff refer to the burning of the town by the Russians, in their expedition against Hotin, and the rebuilding on land higher up, belonging to the monastery of Galata, in Jassy.Next Chapter Previous Chapter
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