Archives of Memories: Presentations of the History of Novi Bečej through Anecdotes, Photographs and Untold Stories

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History of Two Cities or the Fallacy of Historical Science

History of Two Cities or the Fallacy of Historical Science

History of Two Cities or the Fallacy of Historical Science

When preparations were underway for the celebration of the 900th anniversary of our city, there was a small dilemma regarding the question: should this be celebrated as 900 years of existence or 900 years since the first mention of the name "BEČEJ" in history? We opted for the latter. We believe that this is a better solution for several reasons. We will mention just two:

  • This solution justifies the celebration of 900 years by both the cities of Bečej and Novi Bečej.
  • It may happen that a future researcher establishes an earlier date concerning the mention of the name "Bečej." There is evidence on this matter, and we will revisit it shortly.

When we cast a glance back today, we must admit that the citizens of Novi Bečej were not interested in the history of their city for a long time. We won't delve into the reasons for such behavior, but it is essential to emphasize that our neighbors from Bečej have a significantly different approach to this question. Not only were they more interested in the matter, but they presented certain events in the history of Bečej exclusively as the history of their city. This led to a series of publications after World War II where historical data related to Novi Bečej were freely used.

The first person who emerged in our public sphere during that time was Professor Radoslav Stojšin. Later, we learned that Lazar Mečkić was also involved in collecting historical material about the past of Novi Bečej. He published this in 1989 in his book "NOVI BEČEJ I VRANJEVO KROZ ISTORIJU."

Now we know that our fellow citizen, Magister Aleksandar Kašaš, who lives and works in Novi Sad, is interested in the history of our city. We hope that he will be another fellow citizen to complement what we have known so far.

Lazar Mečkić's book seems to have stirred interest among the citizens of Novi Bečej. All 500 copies of the book were quickly sold out, and the citizens' interest in the history of Novi Bečej has not waned. Those who have read Lazar Mečkić's book could see that he leaves no room for doubt that he is referring to our city. This is further supported by excerpts from the book "ISTORIJA PAROHIJE ČANADSKE BISKUPIJE" by Dr. Jene Sentklaraij, as well as other sources.

In contrast, today in Bečej, there are quite a few people, mostly authors, who tend to believe what Géza Dérffi stated in the footnote of his book "ISTORIJSKA GEOGRAFIJA MAĐARSKE IZ VREMENA ARPADVIĆA - (second edition, Academy of Sciences - Budapest 1987)." He wrote that this refers to "VICUS ÓBECSE" (Old Bečej) in Bačka. We do not intend to engage in a debate with these authors, but we emphasize that this information does not date back to 1987. To support this, we cite an example from the book "VOJVODINA ZNAMENITOSTI I LEPOTE - (Publisher 'Književne novine' - Belgrade 1968)." On page 480 of the book, it is mentioned that BEČEJ is first mentioned in 1238, in a donation charter of the Hungarian King BÉLA IV, where he grants the estate "BEČEJ" ("Willa Wechey") to the crusaders from Stolni Beograd (Szèkes fehèrvár). They, as further stated, built a fortress on the Tisza River, 6 km away from Bečej, in the immediate vicinity of Novi Bečej. This would be somewhat like saying that the dam on the Bezdanski-Bеčеј canal is located 6 km from Novi Bečej, nearby, or in the immediate vicinity of Bečej.

In the mentioned book, after describing the fate of the fortress on page 481, it is stated: "The Bečej fortress was under their rule for a full 136 years (until 1687.) (Referring to the Turks - Ed. Note). The Turks left a strong garrison in the fortress, which constantly raided the population and forced them to move out. A good part of the population settled on the right bank of the Tisza and founded a new settlement KOVINAČKO, actually today's Bečej (near today's Pivara). Turkish defters of the Szeged district do not mention Bečej, although they record all nearby places around it."

Before we delve into the analysis of that text, it's worth noting that on two old maps, the place marked as KОVINАCKО is indeed at the location of present-day Bečej. These maps are the "Nova karta ugarskog rata u Srbiji i Temišvarskom Banatu, Nürnberg - around 1718" and "Karta u slavu Požarevačkog mira - Augsburg - around 1718."

Returning to the quoted text, it can be easily inferred that the settlement KОVINАCKО, later named "RÀCZ BECSE" or "SRPSKI BEČEJ," was founded by the inhabitants of Bečej (Ottoman), who fled from the Ottoman oppression, likely after the year 1551. Another clear fact is that, alongside the fortress of Bečej, there were inhabitants who were Serbs, but after the arrival of the Turks, Muslims also settled in Bečej. In the existing conditions at that time, it is evident that the Turks did not exert any pressure on the Muslim settlers; rather, they targeted the remaining Serbian population, prompting them to relocate to the right bank of the Tisza River. Therefore, it is plausible that Kоvinаckо, later called "RÀCZ BECSE" or "SRPSKI BEČEJ," was founded by Serbs from Banat.

Evidence that Bečej was populated during the Ottoman era can be found in the travelogue of Evliya Çelebi, who visited Bečej in 1665. In his description of the "beautiful city of Bečej," he not only provides details about the fortress but also lists what can be found at the harbor and in the settlement adjacent to the fortress.

In the book "Vojvodina - Znamenitosti i Lepote" (page 621), where Novi Bečej is discussed, it is mentioned that it was first recorded in 1332. Furthermore, there is no mention of the fortress, which is located in the narrower construction area of Novi Bečej. No one from Novi Bečej reacts to this at the time, and things continue as usual. The authors of the text do not question why the inhabitants of Bečej would build a fortress 6 km away from the settlement, or vice versa: why would a settlement be established 6 km away from the fortress when fortresses at that time served to protect the population from enemies.

It is worth mentioning what Dr. Dušan Popović writes about the Bečej lordship in his work "Srbi u Banatu do kraja XVIII veka." On page 27, he lists the following settlements belonging to the Bečej lordship, besides Bečej itself: Aradac, Arača, Bašaid, Bečkerek, Vеgenje, Gospođinci, Еčejhida, Irmеš (or Temneš), Njilas, Sеnt-Еndrеd, Sеnt-Pеtеr, Ujfal and Čongrad. Gospođinci, mentioned here, were located in Banat, not in Bačka. It is a locality in the Elеmire district today. Sent-Endred has been mistakenly replaced with Sentandreo in some historical writings. This settlement was located between Bečej and the former settlement of Borđoš (nowadays called "Gruntovi" - on the edge of Bereka - note by R.P.). Sent-Peter was recorded in the 18th century as a pasture. Novo Selo might be the present-day Novo Selo located south of Kikinda. Čongrad is a locality today in the field of Orlovat. The locations of Vegеnjе, Irmеš, and Nјilаs are unknown. It is highly probable that the Bečej lordship had Bečej on the Bačka side within its possession, and perhaps some other settlements.

On the same page, Dr. D. Popović expresses the idea: "That Bečej and the one on the Bačka and the one on the Banat side constituted one whole is evident from the fact that the fortress or town of Bečej did not lie either in Banat or in Bačka but on the island between Bačka and Banat."

Dr. Popović explains this by the fact that in times when rivers represented the main transportation routes, and when one of the feudal lord's rights was the collection of tolls, settlements on both riverbanks usually constituted a single administrative unit.

A few years ago, farmer Emil Knežev from Novi Bečej told the author of these lines that in 1952, during low water levels of the Tisza, near a place in Ljutovo called "Šumaherov salaš," closer to the Bačka side of the river, he saw low pillars made of brick or stone. This can still be verified. Otherwise, it is a serious person's statement. Remains were observed from the former beach located on the Banat side.

Dr. Popović's opinion can be contested in that the fortress was located on the left bank of the main flow of the Tisza, as seen on all old maps published in 1990 by the National Library of Serbia and NIP "Jugoslavija." This is best seen on Map No. 21, which relates to the year 1700. On other maps in that book, Bečej is always on the left bank of the Tisza. On its western side is the main flow of the Tisza, and on the eastern side, a branch of the Tisza can be seen somewhere. When looking at the terrain of the current Local Community Novi Bečej (I mesna zajednica), it can be seen that this branch definitely followed the course of the "Venecija" swamp, then in the middle of the settlement, merged with the "Jatov" ridge, which is, in fact, an alluvial plain leaning on the forest terrace "Berek."

On page 35 of his book "Novi Bečej i Vranjevo kroz istoriju," Lazar Mečkić mentions that according to the list of contributors to the endowment for the monastery in Peć, it can be seen what each Serb wrote as their contribution. The monks from Peć visited Bečej and Arača in 1660. All this is presented to allow readers to judge whether those who believe that life in Bečej (the Turkish part) was not interrupted even during the Ottoman period are correct. On the other hand, our neighbors from Bečej will have a difficult task if they continue to think that everything recorded about Bečej is their history.

This humble contribution has no other purpose than to draw the attention of our fellow citizens so that they become more interested in the history of our city.

In the end, when one day the cellars in the center of Novi Bečej are examined, it will be seen that there might have been something there, besides the fortress and settlement, perhaps even before 1091. Roman bricks in the foundations of the fortress remains may confirm this.

Perhaps part of the answer to the question of where the first settlement associated with the fortress, (town) Bečej, emerged can be found in the changing names of Novi Bečej and Stari Bečej in the 19th century. In the book "Geographical-Historical Lexicon of Settlements in Vojvodina" by Milica Marković, published in 1966 in Novi Sad, changes in names can be traced from 1853. On page 130, data for Novi Bečej is given, showing only two names: Turkish Bečej and Novi Bečej. On page 37, where data for Stari Bečej is provided, it can be seen that it had several names: Srpski Bečej, Gornji Bečej, Stari Bečej (since 1896), and Bečej (since 1947). If we consider Srpski Bečej as the name before the renaming to Novi Bečej, it becomes apparent that the names Srpski and Gornji Bečej might signify that the settlement was founded by Serbs. Additionally, it suggests that it became "Donji" Bečej, not as a name but as a reason for the other Bečej to be called "Gornji."

We believe that the misunderstanding actually arose when many returned after the expulsion of the Turks, who had given it the name "Novi Bečej," perhaps thinking of Bečej before the arrival of the Turks, not Srpski Bečej. Maybe they wanted to eliminate a name that reminded them of the Turks.

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