Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Novi Bečej under the Turks

Historians find it quite challenging to study the conditions and life of our people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially when it comes to a relatively broader area, such as the Banat region. It becomes even more difficult when the focus is narrowed down to a small territory, to a smaller place like Novi Bečej.

The only sources for studying the Banat region are travelogues, and even in these sources, Bečej is often overlooked. The primary or global roads have always led along the Danube and near the Danube. As Banat is predominantly along the Tisa, where vast swamps stretched, travelogues contain the least information about it and its population. Published Turkish documents in Banat, issued by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, mention Serbian settlements on both sides of the Moriš and even further north. Serbian settlements stand out here because there were no others in Banat at that time.
The only accounts of the conditions in the then Bečej (Novi Bečej) come from the travelogue of Evliya Çelebi and the manuscript of the Peć Patriarchate, known as the katastih. General assessments of Banat as a whole were made based on the study of Turkish registers, which provide information about administrative and military administration.
After the conquest of Temišvar in 1552, the Turks established the Temišvar vilayet in Banat, with its headquarters in Temišvar. The vilayet was divided into sanjaks: Temišvar, Čanad, Bečkerek, Čakovo, Pančevo, Novi Moldova, and Oršava. Serbs represented the majority of the population in both villages and towns, and in towns, they were also the main part of the Turkish garrison. Accustomed to military service and warfare, and tied to Banat by property and families, they replaced Christian military service with Turkish service.
After conquering Banat, the Turks, in addition to the existing population, brought Serbs from previously conquered territories, settling several new Serbian families in almost every village. They did not require Serbs, taken as soldiers, to convert to Islam when joining the Turkish army, as they did with other nations. The Turks' attitude towards the Serbs is very illustrative of the construction of Serbian monasteries in the areas north of the Danube and Sava rivers and the restoration of the Peć Patriarchate.
According to Muslim laws, all conquered land, along with its property and population, belonged to the sultan. There was a certain right of ownership, different for Muslims and Christians, even more favorable for Christians, which is also evidence of the Ottoman Empire's tolerant attitude toward conquered peoples.
Although the right of ownership for the Christian population was more favorable than for the Muslim population, their social position was difficult. They had many obligations to the state, provincial authorities, and landowners.
Despite the Ottoman Empire's efforts to organize, the economic situation of the people in the occupied lands became increasingly difficult over the years. Ottoman justice and order probably gave way to violence and disorder over time. Their subjects, Muslims from other nations (Arabs, Tatars, etc.), especially committed atrocities. The well-known "blood tax" was particularly hard to bear. Every fifth year, the Turks took one in ten Christian children aged ten to twelve, choosing the most beautiful and robust, and took them to Turkey for Janissaries.
Over time, the life of the Serbs in Banat under the Turks became much more difficult than that of their compatriots in Transylvania and Habsburg Hungary at the same time. The services that the Serbs provided to Mehmed-pasha were quickly forgotten, and they had to endure all the violence, just like other Christian commoners in other occupied areas.
While the Austro-Turkish truce was in effect, the Serbs had to accept and endure such conditions. However, as soon as relations between the two powers escalated, the Serbs in Banat were the first to rise up against the Turks in the occupied territory in 1594.
Temišvar's Hasan-pasha could not get help because the Turks were busy fighting around Belgrade, and he was unable to take appropriate measures to suppress the uprising with his units. At the end of May, the insurgents captured Bečkerek, attacked Bečej, took it, and besieged the fortress with about fifty to sixty Turkish soldiers.
After suppressing the uprising, the Turks imposed severe terror, and later, they treated the Serbs more strictly than before the uprising.
Turkish travel writer Evliya Çelebi described the "Beautiful town of Bečej" in 1665, but his descriptions do not provide a true picture of life or depict the land and people; rather, he sought to captivate readers and elicit admiration. Nevertheless, what Evliya recorded has value, especially since he was well-informed and accurate in some details. Here is his description of Novi Bečej:

Description of the beautiful town of Bečej
This town was founded by the Transylvanian king Juna Stefan. The Ottomans took it several times until it was finally conquered by Koca Mehmed-pasha in the year 958 (1551) during the reign of Suleiman Khan.
It is now a duchy in the territory of the Čanad sanjak. God knows best, and it is a waqf (endowment) of Mehmed-pasha the Grand Vizier. It is an outpost (niyabet) of the Bečkerek kadiluk. It has its muhtesib and forty young men in the city garrison, a market overseer, a serdar of the janissaries, a customs commissioner who issues seven loads of akçes for the Temišvar financial administration, and also a market overseer of the baždar and a tax commissioner.
The fortress is located on the banks of the Tisa River (meaning not on an island — note by L. M.). It is a small but nicely fortified town, built of brick. It encompasses a total of five hundred steps in circumference. The Tisa River flows through the city moat. It has one gate leading to the port and another leading to the road. There is an inn, fifty warehouses, a good mosque converted from a church, a madrasa, three elementary schools, the only tekke, a hammam, forty shops, and about a hundred huts covered with reed and straw. Thanks to the large port, the inhabitants are mostly traders in salt and fish. They are very wealthy and hospitable people and friends of strangers. Mostly, they are pilgrims. All wear frontier caps and clothing. It is a very pleasant and prosperous town. There are many vineyards and gardens.
After collecting fees for inspecting the fortress there, I headed east and, traveling for six hours through fields and rich villages, I arrived in Bečkerek.

When comparing only these travel notes of Evliya Çelebi about the "Beautiful town of Bečej" and the "Description of the Great waqf, Palanka, Bečkerek," a significant difference in favor of Bečkerek can be seen. According to this description, Bečkerek was a town with developed economy and rich population, which is barely suggested for Bečej.

Probably, the resistance that the Bečej garrison offered to the Turks during the conquest of Banat did not go unpunished, not only during the conquest but also in the post-war period.
The Turkish population mostly lived in towns and palankas, and only in exceptional cases in villages and in small numbers. According to Evliya Çelebi, they held power and constituted the main population in towns. These were Muslims from various parts of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as Ottoman Turks, Tatars, Kurds, Arabs, and other Muslims of various origins and languages. They lived in towns and palankas, and only some larger settlements carried their names (Odžak, Kula, Alibunar).
According to the list of contributors to the alms for the monastery in Peć, recorded by Peć monks during their first trip to Banat in 1660, they visited Bečej and Arača. From this list, it is evident that in addition to the Muslim population, there were also Serbs in Bečej. The register for the town of Bečej says: 'Pop Laza came to us, wrote a general list for himself, and for the district of Kati, pro, remained; to Father Hieromonk Savatije 40 thalers, and to Mother Petruša 40 thalers, remained. Veša wrote a general list for himself for 40 thalers, to Father Marko 40 thalers, and to Mother Divna 40 thalers, and to the district of Stana 40 thalers.'
The census takers of the register recorded the following in Arača (1660): 'Jovan who had spoken with the priest Kosta (further empty). The head of the household Vujica and Mirosav (added above the first) said the prayer. Boža Jovan wrote a general list for himself, Vaso remained. Prince Petar wrote a general list for himself, remained. Dmitar wrote a general list for himself, and for Mother Kati 40 ducats. Ognjan wrote a general list for himself and paid. - - pko 40 ducats. And Princess Dafina wrote 40 ducats. Petr Stojanović wrote a horse for blessing, a general list for himself.'

Dr. Šamu Borovski writes about the life and population of Novi Bečej that the bazaar in Bečej was run by the indigenous population, that Serbs, together with Turks, engaged in trade and fishing, and that they were in constant contact with the Turks.

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