Omar Pasha Latas (Turkish: Ömer Paşa, Serbian: Омер-паша Латас/Omer-paša Latas; 1806–1871) was an Ottoman field marshal and governor. He was born in Austrian territory, to Serbian Orthodox Christian parents, and was initially an Austrian soldier. When faced with charges of embezzlement, he fled to Ottoman Bosnia and converted to Islam, and then joined the Ottoman army where he quickly climbed in ranks. Latas crushed several rebellions throughout the Empire, and was a commander in the Crimean War, where he won some outstanding victories at Silistra and Eupatoria and participated in the siege of Sevastopol.
Omar Pasha in his early days
Omar Pasha was born Mihajlo Latas (Serbian: Михајло Латас), an ethnic Serb and Orthodox Christian, in Janja Gora, at the time part of the Croatian Military Frontier of the Austrian Empire (in modern Plaški, Lika region, Croatia).
His father Petar served in the Austrian Army and in time was appointed lieutenant-governor of the Ogulin district. His uncle was an Orthodox priest. Mihajlo was an intelligent and lively child, if rather sickly. He developed a passion for the military, and on leaving school in Gospić, he went to a military school in Zadar and was accepted as a cadet in his father's Ogulin Regiment on the frontier. He had beautiful handwriting, and was assigned to clerical duties. There he might have languished, if his father had not upset someone along the corruption line and suffered a conviction for misappropriation. Mihajlo escaped charges of embezzlement, having stolen 180 florins from the military safe, by fleeing to the Ottoman Bosnia Eyalet in 1823.
Omar Pasha on a horse, unknown date.
After escaping to Bosnia and living rough for a time, Latas was offered a position as tutor to the children of a Turkish merchant, on condition that he converted from Christianity to Islam and was circumcised. After his conversion he took the new name Omar. A necessary condition to fulfill in order to get off the streets, it was a huge cultural step that led naturally to his decision that his future lay with the Ottomans. The big break came for the newly named Omar when the family moved to Constantinople. By astute networking and doubtless exploiting his curiosity value as an ex-European military man, he was appointed lecturer at the Turkish Military Academy. With this exposure he shone enough to be snapped up as aide-de-camp to the Polish–Ottoman General Wojciech Chrzanowski, who was engaged in the re-organization of the Ottoman Army after the defeat of the Janissaries.
Now a major, Omar completed a mapping assignment in Bulgaria and the Danube territories, gaining detailed knowledge of the ground which was to serve him well in the future. Chrzanowski also milked his ideas for re-organizing the Army; in return he smoothed the way for Omar's introduction into Turkish society. He thereby met and married a rich heiress Adviye Hanım (daughter of Çerkes Hafız Pasha), the start of his meteoric rise in Ottoman military circles. There is no doubt that Omar's marriage opened all the right doors for him, but equally no doubt that he proved equal to the challenges of high command which resulted. He became writing-master to the Ottoman heir, Abd-ul-Medjid, and on the succession of the latter in 1839 was made a colonel. He was shortly afterwards appointed Military Governor of Constantinople. His only daughter, Saffet Hanım, married Mustafa Celalettin Pasha.
Lord Raglan, Omar Pasha and Marshal Pelissier during the Crimean War, 1854–1856, photographed by Roger Fenton.
In 1840-41 he led a successful expedition to quell a revolt in Syria, and in 1842 was Governor of the Tripoli Eyalet (Lebanon). He won distinction in suppressing the Albanian Revolt of 1843–44, led by local Muslim aristocrats. There followed the expedition to Kurdistan following the Massacres of Badr Khan (1846). After the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Omar Pasha was put in command of the Ottoman forces in Moldavia and Wallachia. His firm and effective handling of a powder keg situation involving potential confrontation with the Russian and Austrian armies demonstrated that he possessed considerable diplomatic skills. There followed his command in Bosnia (1850) where he executed Ali-paša Rizvanbegović of Stolac, who had defended Ottoman power during an earlier revolt but then started to build up an independent power base. Omar Pasha executed, plundered and abolished the respected historical aristocracy of Muslim faith, in the interest of buttressing Ottoman central power. This was followed by a command in the Principality of Montenegro (1852). His chief services were rendered when the Crimean War broke out. In 1853 he successfully defended Kalafat. In 1854 he entered Bucharest, and the next year defeated 40,000 Russians at Eupatoria in the Crimea. A later achievement was his capture of Cetinje, Montenegro, during the Montenegrin–Ottoman War (1861–62), considered a difficult feat.
A clear and precise military thinker, Omar Pasha took bold decisions and relentlessly followed them through. Although he had a reputation as a strict and ruthless disciplinarian, he was revered and respected by his men. A true professional, while the other allies struggled to come to grips with local campaigning conditions, he had seen it all too often before. Perhaps for that reason the allied troops found his expression cold and uninterested when seated on his horse plodding round their lines.
Tutor in the household of Hussein Pasha, Governor of Widdin.
1834 - Writing master in a military school at Constantinople.
Instructor to Abd ul Medjid, heir apparent to the throne.
1842 - Appointed Governor of Lebanon.
1843 - Repressed insurrection in Albania.
1846 - Repressed insurrection in Kurdistan.
1850 - executed Ali-paša Rizvanbegović of Stolac, plundered and abolished the respected historical aristocracy of the Bosniaks.
1852 - defeated the Montenegrins under Prince Danilo
1853 - Defeated the Russians at Olteniţa.
1854 - Successfully defended Silistria against Russians, gaining possession of Bucharest.
1855 - Repulsed the Russians at Eupatoria, Crimea and captured Sukhumi in Caucasus.
1857-59 - Governor of Baghdad.
1862 - Defeated Montenegrin army and took possession of Cetinje.