|We gratefully acknowledge this picture contribution from Pat Andjelković|
Mankind's history is full of wars, killing and destruction. There are always powerful countries and greedy leaders who want more. In their pursuit for land, gold and slaves, they create chaos wherever they go. Before they are banished back to their home country, they leave behind proof of their cruelty.
In 1389 in Kosovo, the Serbians tried to stop the Ottoman Empire from invading their land even knowing their plan would be futile. The Ottoman Empire had the largest and cruelest army of its time. The Serbians had the initial advantage after their first charge and later killed the Turkish Sultan Murat. When the first news of the Battle of Kosovo came into Western Europe, telling of the victorious Serbian army against the Ottoman Turks, the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris rang out joyously in celebration. Actually by that time the battle had already been lost by the Serbians. The Turkish army later re-grouped and overpowered the Serbians. They captured the Serbian army commander Prince Lazar alive then beheaded him. The whole Kosovo Field was littered with dead bodies from both sides and the victory of course went to the army with the most warriors.
The Serbian medieval “Golden Age” was destroyed on Kosovo Field and started the Ottoman rule, with all of its horrors. During almost five centuries under Turkish tyranny, Serbians lived as second-class citizens in their own country. The Serbian population was heavily taxed to support the Turkish imperial machinery. The most tragic was the blood tax. Serbian families were forced to give up some male children to be taken to Turkey, converted to Islam and raised to be Turkish soldiers.
During the Ottoman era, my hometown of Niš was the seat of the military and administrative authorities for this part of the Balkans. The first time the Liberation of Niš was attempted was 1809 and it was part of the First Serbian Uprising. The most prominent trench was on Čegar Hill and under the command of Stevan Sindelic. When it came under attack by hundreds of Ottoman soldiers, Stevan realized that his brigade had no hope of staving off the offensive. He devised a plan to fire his pistol into a pile of gunpowder kegs. When the Ottomans swarmed the trench from all sides and approached him, Stevan squeezed the trigger. The ensuing explosion killed everyone in the trench.
After this battle the Turkish commander ordered that the heads of the killed Serbs be mounted on a tower beside the road to Constantinople to serve as a warning. In the years immediately following the building of the tower, the families of the deceased rebels have chiseled away some of the skulls in order to give them proper burials. From the original 952 skulls , today only 58 skulls remain on the tower. Serbs rebelled again in 1815 and this time were successful. This tower is very unique and known as the Skull Tower (Ćele Kula). In 1892 the Serbian authorities built a chapel around the tower to preserve this monument and its representation to the nation's bravery and endless sufferings.
I was born in 1962 and our family house is near to this monument. This is my son Emilijan in front of the Skull Tower when he was a child. He is wearing “opanci” (traditional Serbian shoes) and it looks like he is praying that something like this never happens again.
It makes me think about what could have happened to him during the Ottoman Era. He would have been the age where he could have been taken from the only family he knew. He would have his language, his religion and his culture stripped from him. They could have made him a Turkish soldier and would be trained to fight against his own birth country someday. It is important that the children of Serbian know what sacrifices had to be made to be a free country.