by Antonina Zhelyazkova

Ottoman colonisation and establishment of the new administration

Nearly a century - from the first clashes of the ak?nc?s with Avlona in 1383 up to Skanderbeg's death in January 1468, and even as late as 1478, when his rebels submitted the stronghold of Kruja, the Ottoman conquerors were forced to overcome the resistance of the Albanian squads. The slow and difficult establishment of their power over the Albanian territories, along with the prevailing difficult terrain there, were the prerequisites for the strikingly specific ways of withholding the Albanian identity, particularly the singularities of colonisation and the ethnic and religious transformations in these quarters. 

Sultan Murad II (1421-1444 and 1446-1451) concluded Mehmed I's campaigns strengthening the feudal order in part of the Albanian lands. The territories of Central and Southern Albania, stretching between the Mat River to the north and Çameria [modern Tsameria, Greece] to the south, were included in a single sancak known from the records and historical works as Arvanid. In 1431 the central authorities decreed that rural and urban households and their property be registered, as well as an inventory of the land holdings in all ten districts of the sancak of Arvanid be completed.34

The feudal cadastre of the sancak of Arvanid, which was completed in 1432, contains data on the Ottoman migrants from Anatolia to Albania. In short, those are the earliest records of the colonisation and the penetration of a new ethnic component into this part of the Balkans. It consisted of only a limited number of people from the provinces of Saruhan, Konya, and Canik, whose task was to assume the management of some of the timars. The situation in the Albanian territories was complicated and dangerous, the authority - still shaky, and, therefore, among the belligerent Arbëreshes to be granted a feud was in fact an exile rather than a reward for wartime deserts and loyalty to the sultan. Timars in the Albanian lands were allocated predominantly to rebellious Anatolians with the purpose of sending them away from the central parts of the Empire, and, on the other hand, of forming in the turbulent regions the first Muslim nuclei intended to represent the sultan's power and, subsequently, defend the imperial interests. 

As evidenced by the records in the Arvanid register, a great number of the feuds were left as hereditary estates of the local families, others were distributed to members of the Albanian military who had joined the new administration.35  Some of the native people, striving to keep their feudal estates or to be quickly promoted in the Ottoman military hierarchy, adopted Islam outright. Others stuck to their Christian faith, but not for long, for they were integrated into the Ottoman military-feudal class and with time if not they themselves then their sons converted to the dominant religion. At this early stage, all village and town dwellers listed in the cadastre were still Christian.

From the second half of the 15th century dates an important fact bearing on colonisation. That is the building of the city of Elbasan: "Then the Master built in the middle of the vilâyet of Arnavud a fortress and called it Ilbasan. He filled it with gazis to fight for the faith with the infidels around."36

It is a long-standing claim of the Turkish historiography that the population in the new towns founded by the Ottoman sultans in the Balkan provinces of the Empire was exclusively Muslim. The settlement of colonists from Anatolia, as well as the Islamisation of the local inhabitants is assumed to have begun with the placement of garrisons and administrative officers there.37  In this way, owing to the new architectural appearance and the Muslim population, these towns became strongholds of the Ottoman power and Islam.