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The First Serbian Uprising


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The First Serbian Uprising

Background

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Turkish-Austrian war of 1791, Serbs living under Turkey began to realise that an uprising against Turkey might be successful.

Seeing the growing displeasure, the Turkish sultan proclaimed fermans in 1793 and 1796 which gave more rights to Serbs. Among other things, taxes were now collected by local Serbian rulers (knezes), freedom of trade and religion was granted, and, most important of all, the Janissary had to leave Belgrade Pashaluk.

But on January 30, 1799, the Turkish court allowed the Janissary to return. They and their leaders, the dahias, showed little or no respect to any authority--even the central Turkish government. After they killed Belgrade vizier Hadzi-Mustafa in 1801, they started to rule Serbia on their own. Recently-granted rights were suspended, and dahias exerted unlimited rule over Belgrade Pashaluk. Taxes were drastically increased, land taken away, forced labour (citlucenje) introduced, and many citizens fled the Janissary in fear.

The Uprising Begins

Serb leaders then began to conspire about starting an uprising against the dahias. When dahias found out about this, they captured and killed many of the Serbian leaders on February 4th, 1804. This event, known today as Seča knezova (beheading of knezes) incited the uprising. In retrospect, it is seen as a huge mistake by the Janissary: it angered the people and the leaders now had nothing to lose. On February 14th, 1804, in the small Šumadija village of Orašac, the Serbs gathered and decided to raise an uprising. Đorđe Petrović (Karadjordje) was elected as the leader of the uprising.

The uprising started immediately. That same afternoon, a Turkish khan (caravansarai) in Orašac was burned, and its residents fled or were killed. Similar actions were undertaken in surrounding villages and then spread even further. Soon the cities Valjevo and Požarevac were liberated, and the siege of Belgrade started.

When he was informed about the uprising, the Turkish Sultan started to negotiate with the rebels. Dahias escaped from Belgrade, but they were captured and killed on the island of Ada Kale in the Danube. Eventually the negotiations failed, and the Sultan organised a military campaign against the uprising.

The first major battle of the uprising was the Battle of Ivankovac in 1805, where Karadjordje defeated the Turkish army and forced it to retreat toward Niš. The second major battle of the uprising was Battle of Misar in 1806. There, rebels faced an army sent from Bosnia, led by Kulin Captain; they were again victorious. At the same time, another army was sent from the southeast. This army was faced in the battle of Deligrad by the rebels who, led by Petar Dobrnjac, were successful again. In December of the same year, the rebels besieged Belgrade, which was finally liberated in the beginning of 1807.

The Outcome

Even while the combat continued, there was a visible need for governing Serbia and in 1805, a basic government was organised. The rule was divided between Narodna Skupstina (People's assembly), Praviteljstvujusci Sovjet (Ruling Council) and Karadjordje himself. Land was given back, there was no more forced labour, and taxes were reduced. The young state was modernised and already in 1808, the first high school was opened in Belgrade.

Some of the leaders of the uprising later abused their privileges for personal gain, even to the point that forced labour was reintroduced at some places. Also, there was dissent between Karadjordje and other leaders; Karadjordje wanted absolute power, while his vojvodas wanted to limit it. After its war with Russia was over, Turkey exploited these circumstances and reconquered Serbia in 1813.

Though ultimately unsuccessful, this first Serbian Uprising paved the way for the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, which eventually succeeded in liberating Serbia.

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