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Janissaries - Decline 1443-1826

At first a source of strength to Turkey as being the only well organized and disciplined force in the country, the janissaries soon became its banc, thanks to their lawlessness and exactions. One frequent means of exhibiting their discontent was to set fire to Constantinople; 140 such fires are said to have been caused during the 28 years of Ahmed III's reign. The janissaries were at all times distinguished for their want of respect towards the sultans; their outbreaks were never due to a real desire for reforms of abuses or of misgovernment, but were solely caused to obtain the downfall of some obnoxious minister.

The first recorded revolt of the janissaries is in 1443, on the occasion of the second accession of Mahommed II, when they broke into rebellion at Adrianoplc. A similar revolt happened at his death, when Bajazed II was forced to yield to their demands and thus the custom of the accession-bakshish was established; at the end of his reign it was the janissaries who forced Bayazid to summon Prince Selim and to hand over the reins of power to him. During the Persian campaign of Selim I they mutinied more than once. Under Osman II their disorders reached their greatest height and led to the dethronement and murder of the sultan.

The Sultans and their personal influence degenerating, the Janissaries proceeded to emulate the Praetorian Guards, became wielders of power, regarding the Sultan as a tyrant and a mere puppet to be placed and kept on the throne as long as convenient to them. Their numbers were now enormous, and in the seventeenth century are said to have reached 100,000. Some twelve Sultans were deposed and mostly murdered by them. It would be tedious to recall all their acts of insubordination. Throughout Turkish history they were made use of as instruments by unscrupulous and ambitious statesmen, and in the 17th century they had become a praetorian guard in the worst sense of the word.

Sultan Selim III in despair endeavored to organize a properly drilled and disciplined force, under the name of nizam-i-jedid, to take their place; for some ¦time the janissaries regarded this attempt in sullen silence; a curious detail is that Napoleon's ambassador Scbastiani strongly dissuaded the sultan from'taking this step. Again serving as tools, the janissaries dethroned Selim III and obtained the abolition of the nizam-i-jedid. But after the successful revolution of Bairakdar Pasha of Widdin the new troops were reestablished and drilled: the resentment of the janissaries rose to such a height that they attacked the grand vizier's house, and after destroying it marched against the sultan's palace. They were repulsed by cannon, losing 600 men in the affair (1806). But such was the excitement and alarm caused at Constantinople that the nizam-i-jedid, or sekbens as they were now called, had to be suppressed. During the next 20 years the misdeeds and turbulence of the janissaries knew no bounds.

Such a state of affairs could not last for ever, and the appearance of a strong Sultan (Mahmoud II) was the signal for the final struggle. Mahmoud, after some vain repressive measures, realized that the sword alone could cure the violence of the Janissaries. Sultan Mahmud II., powerfully impressed by their violence and lawlessness at his accession, and with the example of Mehemet Ali's method of suppressing the Mamlukes before his eyes, determined to rid the state of this scourge; long biding his time, in 1825 he decided to form a corps of regular drilled troops known as eshkenjis. A fetwa was obtained from the Sheikh-ul-Islam to the effect that it was the duty of Moslems to acquire military science. The imperial decree announcing the formation of the new troops was promulgated at a grand council, and the high dignitaries present (including certain of the principal officers of the janissaries who concurred) undertook to comply with its provisions.

But the janissaries rose in revolt, and on the 10th of June 1826 began to collect on the Et Meidan square at Constantinople; at midnight they attacked the house of the aga of janissaries, and, finding he had made good his escape, proceeded to overturn the caldrons of as many ortas as they could find, thus forcing the troops of those ortas to join the insurrection. Then they pillaged and robbed throughout the town. Meanwhile the government was collecting its forces; the ulema, consulted by the sultan, gave the following fetva: "If unjust and violent men attack their brethren, fight against the aggressors and send them before their natural judge!"

On this the sacred standard of the prophet was unfurled, and war was formally declared against these disturbers of order. Cannon were brought against the Et Meidan, which was surrounded by troops. Ibrahim Aga, known as Kara Johennum, the commander of the artillery, made a last appeal to the janissaries to surrender; they refused, and fire was opened upon them, which left 15,000 on the ground. Such as escaped were shot down as they fled; the barracks where many found refuge were burnt; those who were taken prisoner were brought before the grand vizier and hanged. The next day the corps were abolished, and the Janissaries, after an existence of five hundred years, ceased to exist; some 7000 Janissaries being killed and 15,000 exiled. The janissaries, the glory of Turkey's early days and the scourge of the country for the last two centuries, had passed for ever from the page of her history.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:53 ZULU