Еничарите в българските земи

Цветана Георгиева


(The Janissaries in the Bulgarian lands)

(Tsvetana Georgieva)





The Janissary Corps is an object of lasting interest for the historians of the Ottoman empire. Its formation and role in the military expansion of the Ottomans and in the home policy of the Empire as well as the long process of its decline are invariably present in all general studies in Ottoman history. The specialized researches on its development or special aspects of this development are not scarce too. With few exceptions, however, they study it as a military formation, an element of the mechanism of Ottoman centralism. The researches till now, however, deal quite insufficiently with the role of Janissaries in the life of the Ottoman provinces.


The present work is focused on the creation, development and the role of the Janissaries in the provinces, and is based mainly on the information for the territories inhabited by Bulgarian people. This determines our major task — to find out and analyse the participation of Janissaries in the economic, social and political life of the Bulgarians and to show the effect of this participation in the evolution of the Bulgarian people. The basis of our research are the achievements of the European and Turkish historiography concerning this institution and the analysis of numerous, and various sources — Turkish and European narratives, documents of the central Ottoman administration and of kadi from different Bulgarian settlements. We have used the information from domestic written sources as well as from the folklore.


The study of the Janissaries in the provinces is invariably linked with the development of the Janissary Corps as a whole. A careful analysis of the sources shows that its formation is not the result of a single act as it is represented by the Ottoman chronicles, but a long process forced by the restructuring of the Ottoman society in the second half of the 14th c. and by the peculiarities of the social and political situation in Asia Minor and on the Balkans during the first stage of the Ottoman conquest. The first Janissary detachments were formed during the reign of Murad I (1362—1389), but the Janissary Corps achieved its final form during the reign of Suleiman I (1520—1566). Some of the chief characteristics of the development of the military organisation of the Oghuz and of the Near Eastern Medieval Muslim states are to be observed in the process of its formation but they are modified by the specific political circumstances in the Ottoman territories. The structure of the Janissary Corps and the stages





of its formation as well as the extension of its functions not only in the military organization but also in the establishment of the Ottomans in the newly-conquered territories reveal its role as a tool of the central authority against the separatist tendencies in the Ottoman society. The process of development of the feudal relations since the end of the 16th c. results in the constant decline of the institution expressed in the sharp numerical rise and the gradual weakening of its fighting capacity which is replaced by an intensive interference in the political life of the country.


The first problem in the study of the role of the Janissary Corps in the life of the Bulgarian people is the devşirme . Analysing the reasons for the introduction of forced levy of children from the non-Muslim subjects as a legalized obligatory duty and the factors which stimulated its imposition, we come to the conclusion that this is a specific continuation of the slave institutions in the Muslim world which is due to the unusual for the Middle Ages cohabitation of heterogeneous population of different confessions in the Ottoman state. Its introduction dates from the end of the 16th c. The last information about collecting of boys dates from the beginning of the 18th c (1705). This gives us the grounds to affirm that for more than three centuries the devşirme tore away a significant part of the rising masculine generation. The analysis of the frequency of levies and the share of boys taken proves that it affected every demographic generation. The study of the recruitments organized by all elements of the governmental system and directly realised by the Janissary Corps itself reveal a very well developed system for psychological brainwashing which made possible the transformation of Bulgarian lads into an instrument of the Ottoman policy. The analysis of the struggle against the devşirme  makes it clear that though having little importance for the reduction of the ethnic losses it plays a significant role in the consolidation and preservation of the Bulgarian nationality during the Ottoman rule because of the extreme character of the legally imposed violence.


The formation and the role provincial Janissary groups in Bulgarian lands is a central problem in the study. There are two major ways of stationing the troops of the Ottoman paid infantry in the provinces — by sending them to fortresses which began in the middle of the 15th c. and gradually replacing the Mustahfiz garrisons, and by settling of pensioners and dismissed soldiers in order to reduce the contingent in the capital. From the middle of the 16th c. the Janissaries form a constant element of the Bulgarian settlements showing at first more affinity for the towns. The great social, juridical and economic privileges of Janisaries strengthen the aspirations of a large part of the Muslim population to enlist in the ocak which led to a multiple growth of the number of the Janissaries in Bulgarian lands. Since the middle





of the 17th c. many local Muslims succeeded in enlisting as Janissaries without being active soldiers. This is the time when Janissaries turned from a military unit into a broad social stratum. The soldiers from the garrisons are organized as elements of the Ottoman military machine while the members of the ocak scattered in towns and villages were united on territorial principle and commanded by a local serdar. These territorial organizations coincide with the kaza. They have various functions, mainly police, and gradually accumulate a great part of the local authority. This presupposes their role in the formation of the ayan institution and in the process of decentralisation which culminated in the ayan disturbances at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th c. The provincial Janissaries are the core of the dagli bands and the provincial (eyaletlü) armies. Being a tool of the central authority the provincial Janissaries turn into the main factor iniithe struggle against it. That is why the reformation period in the Ottoman empire starts with the liquidation of the Janissary Corps and the physical extermination of Janissaries in 1826.


The Janissaries play an important role in the economic system in Bulgarian lands. The timar registers prove the existence of Janissary timars in the middle of the 15th c. They grow more and more in number and of various types. By the middle of the 16th c. the conditional nature of the timar holdings made it a not very much desired object of landownership. Being freed from taxpaying the Janissaries begin to set up on their timars unconditional private land estates called çiftliks. The name itself shows that they draw their origin from the personal land estate of the Muslim peasants but they grow bigger by accumulating uncultivated lands, by taking on lease waqf lands and integrating by purchase, through coercion or usury peasants plots. In Bulgarian lands the Janissaries form the social stratum which carried out the mobilization of land and which stimulated the development of feudalism to the stage of maturity. They are the social layer which attacked the timar system and gave rise to the provincial landowning aristocracy. They participate actively in other profitable social spheres too — trade and money-lending. This meant a sharp rise of the feudal rente for the exploited people and led to their depriving of land. The çiftlik and malikane by which the Janissaries realized the mobilisation of land caused the sharp rise of the contradictions between exploiters and exploited which became dear during the anarchy in the end of the 18th and the beginning of 19th c.


Another aspect of the Janissaries presence in Bulgarian lands is their participation in the apparatus for non-economic coercion. Being a provincial armed force designed to support the Ottoman authority over the Bulgarian people they fulfil all kinds of police functions. Their special legal status which took them out of the





control of the representatives of the local authorities made them not only the headsmen over all the rest social and ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire but also the chief bearer of arbitrary rule, corruption and social disorganization. Being executioners of state coercion they turn into oppressors over the local representatives of the state authority itself. As for the non-Muslim population, as the numerous state documents indicate, they are a political and social scourge. Their role in the life of the Bulgarian society is definitely negative.


And in the end we must stress their active participation in the islamisation of the Bulgarian people. The Janissaries created an atmosphere of coercion in everyday life which incited not a few people towards conversion of religion although this only lessened but did not abolish the absence of rights for them. The Janissary Corps as an institution, the Janissaries as a social group and as individuals are a main factor in the functioning of the Ottoman authority in Bulgarian lands from the beginning of the 15th c. until the third decade of the 19th c.


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