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Posted by on Jan 10, 2016 in News | 0 comments

The Ottoman Influence In Macedonia

The Ottoman Influence In Macedonia

An essay by Gordana Netkovska

Among his other duties, Nasrettin Hoca served as a judge once, during which time a man came to him complaining about a quarrel he had had with another man. He explained the situation and the arguments of his complaint. Having listened to his story intently, Hoca said to him:

‘You are right.’

The man against whom the complaint was launched followed with his defensive explication. In the end, Hoca said to him:

‘You are right.’

Hoca’s wife was present at this trial, and all confused said to her husband:

‘Hoca, I can’t make anything out of this. How is it that both men are right? It can’t be!’

In the same neutral manner, Hoca replied to her:

‘You are right, too.

Nasrettin Hoca is part of the rich Ottoman heritage in Macedonia. The legacy of the five-century long rule in the Balkans has left deep traces in its life and mentality. The first and most obvious indication of this can be found in the language, which abounds with Ottoman Turkish lexical items, phrases and expressions, proverbs and stories. They do not merely illustrate a linguistic interference, so common for the Balkans, but are a vivid reflection of people’s mentality, way of thinking, outlook and lifestyle, customs and traditions.

Despite its turbulent and frequently oppressive history, Macedonia has the rare privilege of having been able to preserve its identity during all its excessive ordeals. Taking into account the outcome, that what has become of Macedonia after all those ordeals, Macedonia can be proud of its own past and could say: “History neither destroyed me, nor did it crush my spirits! It made me realise who I am and how I may become better and nobler: as good and noble as one can be!” Macedonia, therefore, does not need to look upon its history with feelings of inferiority, like a victim, but rather proudly, as a winner. In spite of all the socially imposed violence and tremendous linguistic, religious, educational, and institutional assimilation pressures, Macedonia never gave up the basic qualities with which it identified itself from the very beginning.

History has always subjected tiny Macedonia to radically different ideologies and policies. This clash has culminated in the centuries-long parallel existence of the Islamic model, represented by the political, military, and economic authority of Turkey, on the one hand, and the defeated, suppressed Christian model, on the other. Today the two models exist in symbiosis and tolerance in Macedonia, after as many as 550 years of unlimited supremacy of one over the other. Whatever the explanation, it would be incomplete unless an essential point is emphasised: the power and the domination were extremely great in theory, but not in practice. The Ottoman Empire, which conquered the strongest fortresses from Baghdad to Vienna and occupied Thessaloniki three times, while holding it under its reign for almost 400 years, could have easily and in no time destroyed the churches and monasteries across Macedonia. But it didn’t.

Even amidst the constantly burning issue of ethnic intolerance, which has haunted the Balkans and Macedonia for centuries, the churches dating from the time before the Turks, as well as those built and often renovated during the Turkish occupation, were preserved by a state order and financially aided by the state. St. Joakim Osogovski, for instance, which was seriously damaged in a fire in the end of the 19th century, received financial aid for its reconstruction by the government of Sultan Abdul Hamit. This indicates that construction and humanism prevailed over destruction and pathological xenophobia — at least in Macedonia. After the withdrawal of the Turkish Empire, only Macedonia made an effort to preserve the plethora of holy Islamic buildings left behind. According to Turkish sources, out of approximately 450 mosques in Budapest and about 400 in Belgrade, there is only one in each city today. Quite a self-explanatory fact if compared with corresponding facts about Macedonia (with at least a dozen of mosques in its capital alone, in addition to numerous Turkish baths, tombs, inns, clock towers, and other facilities). [1][1]

Language, on the other hand, was more accommodating of the Ottoman Turkish influence. It showed a flexible attitude. Like it or not, people started, albeit unconsciously or unwillingly in the beginning, to use borrowed words from the language of the oppressor. Macedonian, like Bosnian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, Albanian, Romanian, and Hungarian, was heavily affected by this very different non-Slavonic language. For Macedonian, Turkish was the most important source of vocabulary during the Ottoman rule. Most Turkish words that were adopted into and adapted to the Macedonian language are a natural and inseparable part of the colloquial and regional speech of the population today. In the Ottoman period, unlike today, these words were not only readily accepted in everyday speech, but were also incorporated and sanctioned in the literary and learned language of religious and other written texts. The majority of these words are archaic or dialectal forms in the standard Macedonian language today. Before turning to specific examples, I would like to point out the fact that a large number of the Turkish loan-words in Macedonian, believed to be over 3,000, have entered the language through Ottoman Turkish, but are in fact Arabic or Persian in origin. Obviously, Turkish has borrowed heavily, mainly through the expansion of Islam, and also as a result of geographic proximity and cultural contact.

The expansion of the Ottoman domination was a great deal about spreading Islam. It is precisely Islam that has a lot to account for shaping the Macedonian mentality through the centuries. Being a religion of peace and surrender, it explains such attributes often used to describe Macedonians as ‘peaceful,’ ‘peace-loving,’ and ‘docile’ (although history holds records of a more violent and rebellious kind of Macedonians, as well). Related to these are ‘passive,’ ‘laid back,’ ‘care-free,’ and ‘slow,’ all integrated in the Turkish borrowing javasluk(slowness), which in addition is used to denote the administrative bureaucratic inefficiency, a remnant of “the sick man of Europe”.  Although not a Turkish word, utre (tomorrow, mañana), so often used in everyday speech, demonstrates that easy-going attitude of Macedonians, i.e. if something is not done today, it will be done tomorrow.


1. Akdikmen, Resuhi (1992), Langenscheidt’s Pocket Turkish Dictionary, Berlin and München: Langenscheidt KG

2. Balabanov, Kosta (1994), Stara Skopska Caršija, Skopje: Turisticki sojuz na Makedonija

3. Comrie, B. and Corbett, G. (ed.) (1993), The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge 

4. Hengirmen, Mehmet (1993), Türkçe ögreniyoruz 3, Ankara: Nurol Matbaacilik A.S.

5. Muhic, Ferid (1994), Macedonia: Clasp of the World, Skopje: Tabernakul

6.  Penušliski, Kiril (1965), Crven se bajrak razveva: narodni borbeni pesni, Skopje: Kultura

7. Stoneman, Richard (1993), A Traveller’s History of Turkey, Gloucestershire: The Windrush Press

8. Swallow, Charles (1973), The Sick Man of Europe: Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic 1789-1923, London & Tonbridge: Ernest Benn Ltd.

9. Škaljic, Abdulah (1979), Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku, Sarajevo: Svjetlost

[1][1] Ferid Muhic, Macedonia: Clasp of the World, Skopje: Tabernakul, 1994, p.103

[2][2] Insallah would never be used with this meaning in Turkish

[3][3] Kiril Penušliski, Crven se bajrak razveva: narodni borbeni pesni, Skopje: Kultura, 1965, p. 31

[4][4] Ibid., p. 165

[5][5] Ibid., p. 126

[6][6] Patlican in Turkish means aubergine

[7][7] B. Comrie and G. Corbett (editors), The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 296


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