Husein-beg Gradaščević, leader of the Bosnian Autonomy Movement of 1831-32

Husein-beg Gradaščević, leader of the Bosnian Autonomy Movement of 1831-32

One of the major nineteenth century figures of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Husein-beg Gradaščević, captain of the Gradačac captaincy and leader of the Bosnian Autonomy Movement of 1831-32. The destiny of Husein-kapetan (‘Captain Husein’) was determined by his origins and wealth, the standing and reputation of his forebears, and his own abilities and good sense. He succeeded his brother, the distinguished and highly-regarded Murat-kapetan, to the post of captain in Gradačac at the unusually young age of eighteen – still a mere boy, by today’s standards. Thanks to his solid educational grounding (he is known to have been taught to write by the distinguished Mula Mestivca, his brother’s personal scribe), his Muslim upbringing, and the moral qualities that grace the typical Bosnian, and despite his extreme youth, Husein-kapetan quickly showed himself to be a worthy successor to his father and brother. The political situation in Bosnia in the first half of the nineteenth century was all to the advantage of the youthful Bosnian captain, who dedicated the first year of his captaincy to developing Gradačac and putting things in order in the area under his jurisdiction. A number of notable buildings date back to this period; that these include the Husejnija mosque, the fort, the clock-tower, the Catholic church and school and the Orthodox church, is evidence of his fine Bosnian spirit. His family life was a model of good conduct: he had no harem, he married very young and his son was born at the very start of his captaincy, while his daughter was born while he was in exile in Osijek.

As fate would have it, both Husein-beg and his daughter, born in exile, would die far from their home town, in a foreign land.

A number of crucial events marked the life of Husein-kapetan Gradašćević; above all, the brutal murder of his brother Murat-kapetan by the Bosnian provincial governor Dželaludin-paša, in 1820. This was followed by the abolition of the institution of the Janissaries in 1826, the murder of the nakibul-ešraf (Ar. naqib al-ashraf, leader of the descendants of the Prophet) in Sarajevo in early 1827, and Husein-kapetan’s own relationship with the Bosnian provincial governor Abdurahim-paša.

In 1826, after the proclamation of the ferman abolishing the Janissaries in Bosnia, Husein-kapetan took the Janissaries’ part, announcing that he ‘had available three or four thousand guns and that he would raze anyone who opposed the Bosnian Janissaries to the ground’. The murder of the nakibul-ešraf, Nurudin effendi Šerifović, by the Sarajevo Janissaries on 6 January 1827 threw the support of the Janissaries from other regions of Bosnia into doubt, since the murder was seen as a serious crime; Husein-kapetan, too, distanced himself from the Sarajevo Janissaries after this, and conducted himself as a loyal subject of the Bosnian provincial governor Abdurahim-paša, whose appointment brought him to Bosnia in early 1827. On several occasions from late 1827 onwards, during the preparations for the Turko-Russian war, Husein-Kapetan stayed with Abdurahim-paša in Sarajevo. Some hold the view that Abdurahim-paša regarded Husein-kapetan as his adviser on military call-up issues ; and certainly Husein-kapetan was appointed as commanding officer of the army that was to effect the call-up in the area extending between the Drina and the Vrbas rivers. ‘Spies have reported that Husein-kapetan has orders from the provincial governor to raise an army of twenty thousand men.’ In mid June 1828, Husein-kapetan again came to Sarajevo, at the vizier’s invitation; but there was an uprising in the Sarajevo camp, and Husein-beg had to return to Gradačac, reaching there on 26 June 1828. He wrote a detailed account of these events for Prince Metternich following the collapse of the Movement, but the reasons for his leaving Sarajevo should be taken with a pinch of salt. Gradaščević claims that there was an uprising in Sarajevo, and that after the people discovered that Husein-kapetan was a supporter of the vizier, they attacked him and ‘killed one of my horses, while I barely managed to save my own life and to escape with my men whom I had with me, back to my own region and my Nahija (district) and home in Gradačac’. There can be no doubt, however, that Abdurahim-paša, after being forced to leave Sarajevo, took refuge in north-eastern Bosnia, and with Husein-kapetan at that. Some scholars believe that Husein-kapetan’s offering the governor shelter had nothing to do with his previous contacts with the vizier, but was simply due to the fact that, as a man of means, he was able to maintain Abdurahim-paša and ‘enable him to leave Bosnia, but he did not do so, to the detriment of the other Bosniacs’. Husein-kapetan’s relationship with Abdurahim-paša is interesting in a number of respects. Historians who have made a particular study of the Autonomy Movement of 1831 have avoided going into this period of Husein-beg’s life, clearly regarding his collaboration with the provincial governor as incompatible with the aims of his Movement. There can be no doubt, however, that during 1827 and 1828, Husein-kapetan was on the side of the Bosnian provincial governor, Abdurahim-paša, and that he raised a Bosnian army, switching to the movement after the Ottoman Empire agreed to sever some nahijas from Bosnia and make them part of Serbia. Husein-kapetan was also with the new Bosnian provincial governor, Namik-paša, in 1828 and 1829, when the governor, addressing Bosnian leaders, spoke of the dangers facing the Ottoman Empire because of the war with Russia: ‘but the Porte was not even sure how Serbia would behave’, so certain Bosnian military units were charged with reinforcing the Ottoman garrisons in Belgrade, Šabac, Užice and Zvornik. Husein-kapetan was charged with assembling a force of five thousand men and taking them to Šabac. Though it cannot be known for certain whether Husein-kapetan and his troops reached Šabac, it is known that there were Bosnian soldiers there, because the Bosnian eyalet (province) was required to raise funds to maintain troops sent not only to Šabac, but also to Belgrade, Soko and Užice.

The events that followed led to the Bosnian Autonomy Movement, led by Husein-kapetan Gradaščević. After the Turko-Russian war, the Ottoman Empire was compelled to make a great many concessions, including ceding to Serbia some of the nahijas that had until then belonged to the Bosnian eyalet. This move by the Porte, along with other measures that undermined the position of the Bosnian elite, led to the Autonomy Movement. Preparations began in late 1830; between 20 and 31 December an inaugural meeting was held in the konaks (hostels) of Husein-kapetan Gradaščević in Gradačac of some of the prominent Bosnians who would lead the Movement. This was followed, between 20 January and 5 February 1831, by an ‘extensive preparatory meeting’ in Tuzla ‘of all the representatives of Bosnia’, from which there went out a ‘general call to the Bosnian people to rise up in the defence of Bosnia’, and an invitation to assemble in Travnik on 29 March 1831 was issued. The Tuzla meeting resolved that ‘Husein-kapetan Gradaščević would manage all the affairs on behalf of the Bosniacs, although he had received no official call’. Following the Travnik meeting in late March 1831, and the flight of the Bosnian provincial governor Namik-paša, Husein-kapetan de facto became the supreme authority in Bosnia. Namik-paša fled on 21 May 1831, and a document dated 31 May 1831 is signed by Husein-kapetan as Al-muhakkem Kapudan Husein Serasker-i Bosna, that is as military commander of Bosnia by the will of the people, from which it can be concluded that Husein-kapetan was not only the country’s seniormost military but also its leading civilian authority.

Military confrontations between Husein-kapetan’s Bosnian army and regular Ottoman troops continued throughout most of 1831, a year in which Husein-kapetan enjoyed a number of military victories, some of them quite brilliant, and became de facto Bosnian vizier. The most important of these battles was in Kosovo, near Štimja in the Lipljana region, on or around 18 July 1831. After this battle, Bosnia’s military commanders met in Priština on or about 10 August, and after discussing the situation in Bosnia, decided that it would be best to nominate Husein-kapetan Gradaščević as Bosnia’s provincial governor. He was officially appointed as vizier at the Assembly in Sarajevo on 12 September 1831, but never received confirmation of his appointment from Istanbul. Husein-kapetan established all the necessary government authorities in Bosnia, assessed and collected taxes, and conducted diplomatic correspondence. For all that, in 1832 the Sultan committed a large military force, supported by certain leading Bosnian figures, Ali-paša Rizvanbegović and Smail-aga Čengić, which succeeded in defeating Husein-kapetan’s army. The principal battles were waged on the Glasinačka plateau; here Husein-kapetan’s army was defeated in late May 1832, and retreated towards Sarajevo. The final battle took place on 4 June 1832 at Stup (on the Sarajevo to Ilidža road). Husein-kapetan had already succeeded in defeating the Sultan’s army when there appeared on his flank Ali-paša Rizvanbegović and Smail-aga Čengić, who had marched from Herzegovina to Trnovo and then breached the lateral defences of Husein-kapetan’s army at Crna Rijeka to join the principal affray at Stup. This resulted in the defeat of Husein-kapetan’s army, which withdrew back into the city. Husein-kapetan pitched camp at Bakija, but after judging that he was no longer in a position to mount an armed defence against the Ottoman troops, he disbanded his own troops and set off for Gradačac. It was a decisive military defeat for him.

Saddened and disillusioned, Husein-kapetan left Bosnia to live in exile. On 16 June 1832 he crossed over from Bosnia into Slavonia by the border watchtower of Podrun, not far from Županja, where he spent two days before being moved to Slavonski Brod; here he was held in quarantine from 18 June to 4 July 1832. He was then transferred to Osijek, where he found lodgings in Alojz Šmit’s house, paying 1030 forints a month in rent for himself and the one hundred and seven people with him, while his family (wife, son and domestic servants) lodged in the widow Delimanić’s house in Donji Grad. He was despondent and homesick, but also proud and arrogant, and some say he lived as luxurious a life as a true vizier, spending large sums of money. Juraj Strassmayer, who was still at grammar school at the time, later told Brother Grge Martić that the schoolboys would go and watch Husein-kapetan and his friends ‘jousting on horseback’. Although he got on well with the people of Osijek, the Austrian authorities, yielding to constant pressure from the Ottoman government, tried to move Husein-kapetan as far away from the Bosnian borders, and as quickly as possible. Under pressure from the Austrian authorities, in late September 1832 he decided to return to the Ottoman Empire, leaving Osijek on 4 October 1832 with a small Austrian military escort. He travelled via Vukovar, Tovarnik, Kukujevci, Redanci and Golubinci to Zemun, where the Sultan’s ferman of pardon was read to him. The terms of the ferman came as a shock to Husein-kapetan; he was not only forbidden to stay in Bosnia, but ordered not to remain anywhere in the European region of the Ottoman Empire; it was decreed that he must go to Anatolia. Though unhappy with these terms, he decided to set off for the Ottoman Empire, and made for Belgrade, which he entered on 14 October with great ceremony on a horse ‘all decked out in silver and gold’. He stayed for about two months in Belgrade. The Belgrade vizier, Husein-paša, though he might justifiably have felt insulted by Husein-kapetan Gradaščević’s refusal to pay his respects to him on entering Belgrade, held Husein-kapetan’s heroism in high regard, and indeed every Muslim in Belgrade showed him the greatest respect. ‘During his stay in Belgrade, they would continually demonstrate their admiration for him. Husein-paša showered him with the attention and respect his misfortunate courage deserved’. He had already begun to show signs of illness, however, and in Belgrade his health deteriorated still further. He was treated by Dr. Bartolomeo Kunibert, who wrote that Husein-kapetan had fallen ill ‘in consequence of sorrow and concern for the future’. In Belgrade he received the Sultan’s ferman ordering him and his wife to come to Istanbul, where he would ‘live at peace and without cares under the wing of the imperial mercy’. He set off for Istanbul from Belgrade in December 1832; because of ill health, and having a small child to care for, his wife remained in Belgrade until March or April 1833, when she left to join her husband in Istanbul.

Husein-kapetan spent his last days in Istanbul. One account is that he lived with his family, but another is that he lived in the former Janissaries’ barracks in Atmejdan (Hippodrome Square), while his family had lodgings in a rented house nearby. This second version is the more likely. Husein-kapetan was able to visit his family every day. He refused the Sultan’s offer to make him a two-stripe pasha in the Nizami armed forces, saying that he would ‘rather die in the costume of his forebears than wear the nizam-uniform of a pasha!’ He died on 17 August 1834, and is buried in Eyyub, far from the Gradačac and Bosnia to which he belonged.

(Husnija Kamberović, Husein-kapetan Gradaščević (1802-1834), Biografija, pp 103-108, Gradačac 2002).

Husnija Kamberović

12.09.2021

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