Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Devshirme: A Muslim Scourge on Christians

Below is the latest of an occasional series of essays by Anestos Canelides. The current piece concerns the barbaric Turkish institution of devshirme, which was practiced for centuries by the Ottomans against the conquered people of the Balkans.


Devshirme: A Muslim Scourge on Christians
by Anestos Canelides

We as a people, whether in Greece or the USA, should not forget our history, especially when it comes to Islam.

About year ago, in the name of political correctness Greek textbooks referred to the Ottoman occupation of the Greeks as the “Ottoman administration”. The reference was quickly retracted after a loud uproar from many Greeks, because the Ottoman interlude was much more than an administration, and the occupation brought upon the Christian Greeks centuries of cruel oppression.

One institution of such oppression practiced by the Turks was called Devshirme, or the practice of recruiting the best and brightest children, usually males, from Christian families, and forcing them to convert to Islam. These children were trained in the Sultan’s civil service, or they become part of an elite fighting force known as the Janissaries. From very inception of this institution the Christian population grievously resented the abduction of their children.

The great historian Leopold Von Ranke wrote that the first heroic song by Christos Melionis rang out throughout the mountains in Greece only after the traumatic practice of Devshirme was ended, and it was only long after it was over that it brought about revolt throughout the Balkans. 1

The Sultan inducted into his service children who had fallen into his hands either by purchase, or by outright abduction by recruiters from their families. Author Andre Gerolymatos writes about the barbaric practice of Devshirme in The Balkan Wars:

The cruel practice in what today can be called brain cleansing of the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire is perhaps the most inhuman Turkish legacy. The advantage gained by those chosen for conversion and a better life in Constantinople cannot militate against the odium of taking children away from their parents. 2

The Ottomans would send agents into villages to exact this tribute, thus depriving these villages of their strongest and most intelligent children, and making the Devshirme agents the most hated manifestation of Turkish rule. “The memory of these men continues to stigmatize the Turks in the Balkans.” 3

It is easy to understand the traumatic tone in surviving Greek literature from that period. For the parents this was a heartbreaking loss, and the complete transformation of their children, who were forced to turn away from their Christian faith, was devastating. The Tubingen manuscript written by Andre Argyros and John Tholoites in the 16th century vividly reveals the trauma that the parents went through.

You understand my lords and Christian gentlemen, what sorrow the Greeks bear, the fathers and mothers who are separated from their children at the prime of life. Think ye of the heart-rending sorrow! How many mothers scratch their out their cheeks! How many father beat their breasts with stones! What grief these Christians experience on account of their children who are separated from them while alive and how many mothers say, “It would be better to see them dead and buried in our church, rather than to take them alive in order to become Turks and abjure our faith. Better that you had died. 4

The sad fact is that while many Janissaries were Greek, their conversion and adherence to Islam forever severed them from any Hellenic consciousness or connection with Greek society. 5 The Christian population throughout the Balkans, resented the recruitment of the children and it was often carried out by force. Those who would not submit and surrender the most healthiest, the most handsome, and the most intelligent children faced stiff penalties. Parents who refused were immediately put to death by hanging.

Since there was no way to escape this recruitment, some Christians fled their villages to certain cities which enjoyed exemption from this tax. They also fled to Venetian-held territories to seek a safe haven, and this resulted in the depopulation of the countryside. Families often sent their children to hide in the mountains or in the homes of Turkish officials friendly to Greeks. Some children ran away on their own initiative, but when they found out their parents had been arrested and were being tortured, they quickly returned and surrendered themselves to the authorities.

In some cases Greek parents would exchange their children for Turkish children. Since only Christian children could be recruited, this gave Turkish families the hope that their child would attain a successful career as either a Janissary or in civil service. 6 A few Christian families also saw this as an opportunity for their children, but vast majority resisted the theft of their offspring.

Why Devshirme?

Greeks and other people of the Balkans usually resisted the conquest of their lands, and therefore faced the fate of the conquered, which was determined according to the principles of the Qur’an. This meant they were either killed, compelled to convert to Islam or required to pay the so-called protection tax. If they paid the protection tax (also called the jizya), they could keep their faith but were relegated to the status of a second-class citizens. If the population willfully surrendered they were granted selected privileges. 7 “The fact that the Ottomans, in the case of voluntary surrender, conceded certain privileges, one of which was exemption from this heavy burden, indicates that its measure was understood as a penalization for the resistance of the population and the devshirme was an expression of the perpetuation of the state of war between the conqueror and the conquered.” 8

Selim IThe recruitment of children took place every three to four years and at times even annually, according to the needs of the Sultan. The largest loss of children coincided with the peak of Ottoman expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries under the rule of Selim I and Suleyman the Magnificent.

This brutal abduction of Christian children continued into the seventeenth century, but it lost its importance. Occasional recruitment took place until the rebellion of 1705, and perhaps even later, but it had a lasting effect on the Christian population for many years beyond its time. “Finally, though a final consideration of the total losses is impossible, there is no doubt that this heavy burden was one of the hardest tribulations of the Christian population.” 9 In time Muslim Turks were recruited in place of Christian children. Even after this institution ended, the anger continued to seethe, and eventually led to the revolution which gave Greece its independence in 1821.

While most modern Turks would be appalled at this inhuman treatment of Christians today, it must not be forgotten or covered up out of political correctness. With the threat of the Islamization of Europe and the Americas, it is a lesson that must not be overlooked.

Can history repeat itself? Yes, it can. And, unless Islam reforms, it will.

Anestos Canelides has a master’s degree in history from Eastern Washington University, and lives in Arizona.


1 Papaloulia, Vasiliki. The Legacy of Jihad —The Impact of Devshirme on Greek Society. Prometheus Books.
2 Gerolymatos, Andre. The Balkan Wars. Basic books, New York, p 63
3 Ibid., p 63
4 Papaloulia, Vasiliki. The Legacy of Jihad —The Impact of Devshirme on Greek Society. Prometheus Books
5 Gerolymatos, Andre. The Balkan Wars. Basic books, New York, p 63
6 Papaloulia, Vasiliki. The Legacy of Jihad —The Impact of Devshirme on Greek Society. Prometheus Books
7 Ibid., p 560-561
8 Ibid., p 560-561
9 Ibid., p 560-561

Previous posts by Anestos Canelides:

2010 May 29 The Last Empire
  Jun 18 The Muslim Devastation of India
  Aug 20 Are They Lying to Us?


gspencer said...

Baron, you write, "While most modern Turks would be appalled at this inhuman treatment of Christians today, it must not be forgotten or covered up out of political correctness. With the threat of the Islamization of Europe and the Americas, it is a lesson that must not be overlooked."

You are way too excusing of Muslims and their attitudes. If given half the chance, Muslim Turks would start this again in a heartbeat.

Want proof? Just look at the direction in which Turkey is being taken with Erdogan in charge: more Islam more of the time. And recent polls, confirming old polls, show that while most UK Muslims would not carry out suicide or other terrorist attacks themselves, they are highly sympathetic with those who do.

Islam is evil through and through.

Baron Bodissey said...

gspencer --

Look more closely at the byline at the top of the piece: it was written by Anestos Canelides, and not me (and no, he's not a sock puppet).

As I have often said, I like to post a variety of points of view and opinions here at Gates of Vienna. Any guests whose essays appear here are people with whom I am broad agreement, but I may not always agree precisely with everything they say.

I don't quite see your point in this, but I'll let Mr. Canelides address the issue if he wants to.

For future reference: you can tell that a particular piece is my own opinion when it appears solely under my byline, and is not part of a block quote or other quoted reference.

In all other cases, it is the opinion of the author to whom it is credited.

Nick said...

Indeed, the janissaries fought at Malta in 1565 as part of the force assembled by Suleyman the not-so-Magnificent.
The Knights of St. John had a nasty surprise for these fellas though, as they charged St. Elmo's fort - fiery hoops, which they set alight & threw down on top of them. Never mind Johnny Cash, this was an actual ring of fire; the Janissaries couldn't escape, their Muslim garb, aka blankets wrapped around them so their dangly bits felt all fresh and breezy, caught fire and they were, as they say, up a certain creek without a paddle.
Ah, how times have changed ...

Anonymous said...

And later, ironically, I have heard it asserted that it was descendents of the Janisarries who became the core of the "modern/western/secular" Turkish movement, and that Kemal Ataturk himself was thus of European heritage, not Turkish. Some interesting conjectures might be made there about certain genetic dispositions and the ethnic heritage of those now running Turkey, running it backwards into another Mohammedam totalitarian theocracy.

CubuCoko said...

For an example of what Devshirme did to people, check out the story of Hurshid Ahmed-Pasha, a notable Ottoman general from the early 1800s. Son of a Christian priest from the Caucasus, he became the ruthless suppressor of rebellions (Christian or otherwise) throughout the Empire. In 1809, his troops won a costly victory against the Serb insurgents near Nish. He ordered the Serb dead decapitated, stuffed their heads and sent them as trophies to the Sultan, and used the skulls to make a tower outside the town. The tower still stands.

Anonymous said...

"If given half the chance, Muslim Turks would start this again in a heartbeat."

I complete agree with this. But one doesn't have to see Erdogan in Turkey, just observe the Turks in Germany! It's NOt the govement, but the xcivilians that indicate what it's all about. In other words, the Turks don't need the gov. to tell them how to behave.

EscapeVelocity said...

When are the Turkish Muslims going to start issuing apologies and acknowledging their history of crimes against humanity?

laine said...

Since Islam was spread mainly by invasion and force, the irony is that most Muslim populations today, at least those conquered by Arabs and Turks are descended from ancestors who were slain or abused by the ideology/religion their unwitting descendants now embrace. Islam is an iron mantel. Once descended, it is not shrugged off by younger generations resentful of what was done to their forefathers.

Unknown said...

It's awfully annoying to read historical posts by people who not only don't know history but don't care to know it either. Nationalism and blind hate for anything different of foreign is what drives most of you to make these comments. Compared to you those Turks you are commenting negatively here are the epiphany of "lawful", "humane" and "modern".

Homophobic Horse said...

I see "Jelena" is imitating my style of trolling.

Anonymous said...

Saudi Arabia is using a 21st Century form of Devshirme....Barack Obama bowed to the Saudi King for a reason: The Saudis run his administration, and have had TREMENDOUS influence in all administrations for decades. Our military and intelligence agencies have been taken from their Homeland and used by the Muslim Brotherhood/Saudis to establish the "United States of Islam"....and later the Caliphate.