by Antonina Zhelyazkova

The Islamisation of the Albanians and its impact on the Albanian religious identity... (5)

One finds records of the local feudal lords converted to Islam even in the earliest Albanian timar registers. In the defter of the sancak of Arvanid of 1432, over 50 per cent of the recorded spahis were Islamised Albanian aristocrats, sultan's and bey's slaves.62  In the sancak of Shkodra among the dozens of feud-holders in 1485 there was one convert to Islam, Zaim Ayas Bey, son of Kuke. In the same year, out of 107 timar-holders in this sancak, eight were Muslims of Albanian origin - H?z?r Jovan, Hasan Arnaut, Mustafa Hrac, Hasan Marin, etc.63 . In 1467, the local lords converted to Islam accounted for eight per cent of the timar-holders in the sancak of Debar.64  Even in the fortress of Dergoz at least half of the garrison offices in the regular Ottoman occupation troops were filled by local people who had adopted Islam.65  In the vilâyet of Akçahisar (modern Krujë, Kruja), along with the five Christian spahis who shared the holding of two timars, in 1467 there were two new Muslims - Ilyas and Dogan.66

The Albanians were greatly valued as soldiers by the Ottoman military system and provided recruits for some of the elite corps of the Ottoman army. Levends (sailors) were generally recruited from among the Turkish youths and were given special training. Ottoman records, however, reveal that the Albanians were subject to regular enlistment in the levend forces. 

Correspondence from 1693 evidences of the directions issued by the central authorities requiring the mobilisation of 1000 Arnauts in the mentioned year from the sancaks of Avlona and Delvin (today's Delvina) as recruits for the levend troops. In compensation, there came an order that the households of the conscripts should be exempted from the avariz and nüzul taxes. Enclosed were the lists of the locations and number of households obligated to provide the levend enrolment. For example, 54 households in the town of Avlona had to send 27 recruits, while 333 households in the town of Delvin were levied with providing 166 men, etc.67

The sultan's guards, too, were predominantly recruited from among the Albanians. Though isolated from their compatriots, the Albanians never lost awareness of their ethnic and clan identity. They were referred to by the administration and entered in the official records as Arnauts, which was a mark of their origin. This was largely due to the fact that no matter how loyal champions of the Ottoman state they were, they never became fanatic Muslims, and in their value system the sense of affiliation to the Albanian North or South, or to a particular family, as well as the soldier's duties stood higher than religious beliefs. In this sense, the description given by Lady Mary Montagu in the first years of the 18th century is illustrative and accurate: "But of all the religions I have seen, the Arnaut seems to me the most particular. They are natives of Arnaoutlich, the ancient Macedonia, and still retain something of the courage and hardiness, though they have lost the name, of Macedonians, being the best militia in the Turkish empire, and they only check upon the janissaries. They are foot soldiers; we had a guard of them, relieved in every considerable town we passed: they are all clothed and armed at their own expense, generally lusty young fellows, dressed in clean white coarse cloth, carrying guns of a prodigious length, which they run with on their shoulders as if they did not feel the weight of them, the leader singing a sort of rude tune, not unpleasant, and the rest making up the chorus. These people, living between Christians and Mahometans, and not being skilled in controversy, declare that they are utterly unable to judge which religion is best; but, to be certain of not entirely rejecting the truth, they very prudently follow both and go to the mosques on Fridays and the church on Sundays, saying for their excuse, that at the day of judgement they are sure of protection from the true prophet; but which that is, they are not able to determine in this world. I believe there is no other race of mankind have so modest an opinion of their own capacity. These are the remarks I have made on the diversity of religions I have seen…”68

62 Inalcik, H. Hicri 835 Tarihli…, s. 1-120.
63 Le cadastre de l'an 1485…, pp. 5-388.
64 Lufta shqiptaro - Turke n? Shekullin XV, Tiran?, 1968, pp. 326-375
65 Le cadastre de l'an 1485…, p. 354-363.
66 Inalcik, H. Les r?gions de Kruja et de la Dibra autour de 1467 d'apr?s les documents ottomans, In: Studia Albanica, 1968, No 2, p. 237. 
68 Letters from the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1709 to 1762. Ed. By Ernest Rhys, Everyman's Library, Essays. London etc.1925, p. 109.