Healing the Ethnic Wounds – The Turks

As I have announced earlier, I will write about reconciliations between nations, including only the cases closer to me, as I was born and grew in Romania.

For most of its history, Romanian fought the Turks. They were our fierce and feared enemies.

Our grievances

After the Ottoman empire moved in Europe (finally conquering Constantinople) it also set its eyes on the Christian provinces north of Danube, Walachia and Moldova. Starting at that time, and through the following centuries, the Turks continually invaded the Romanian provinces. These were never incorporated in the Ottoman empire, but eventually became vassals. There were wars and battles, and many of our kings fought against the Turks, among them Mircea the Great (also known as the Elder), Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), Michael the Brave and Stephan the Great.

Outside of these wars, Wallachia and Moldova had to pay tribute and had to contribute to the empire in many other ways, including with troops in case of foreign wars. One of the most onerous aspects was the fact that part of the tribute had to be paid in children – young boys who were taken to the empire,  reared as Muslims and made into Turkish Janissaries. During the Phanariot period, the thrones of the two provinces were open for bidding and each rich Greek who won stayed but for a short time, in which he milked the provinces and extracted as much as possible from them. When the Romanians rebelled, Turkish troops invaded, burned and looted and killed.

The Phanariot period ended in 1821, as a result of the rebellion of Tudor Vladimirescu. In 1856, Wallachia and Moldova united in a single country, now called Romania. This was done in spite of the Turkish opposition, in 1977 Romania won its independence, during the Russian Turkish war.

Their grievances

While we were obviously the injured party, the Turks may have had their own grievances. Recognizing the fact that some of the atrocities were part of the medieval world, the Turks were not the worst possible masters. From what I read, they were quite correct in the rules and agreements made with the Romanian provinces. Most of the time, it was the Romanians who broke them, in rebellion after rebellion. Moreover, many times the Romanians secretly allied themselves with other powers, in what the Turks may have called backstabbing.

Reconciliation

It is a wonderful thing that today there are no resentments against the Turks among the Romanians. They form a small minority in Romania and suffer no discrimination. In the Romanian literature the local Turks are even treated with affection.

In New York I once encountered at work a Turkish engineer. We joked about our past, which was a testimony of the absence of any resentments. I told him, “As I grew up, I have learned a lot in school about our past wars. It seemed that we won most of the time.” He laughed and responded, “So did I learn about our wars with you, but in our version, we won most of the time.” We were good friends.

Here is the most amazing episode, which always impresses me.

At the conclusion of the battles in the war for independence in 1877, the Turkish general in charge was taken prisoner. He was treated with the utmost respect. But this was not all.

Concerned about the feelings of the Turkish small minority in Romania at the conclusion of the war, the Romanian king Carol I took an unusual step. He instituted a royal guard, which was formed exclusively by young Turks. By this, he showed that they are not despised, nor oppressed, nor second citizens, but hold in the highest respect. In 1910 he built a large mosque for the Turks in the Black Sea pot of Constanta. They called it the mosque Carol I, perhaps the only Muslim mosque in the world to bear the name of a Christian king.

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