W218: after the Russian war in 1768 (1182), confusion prevails “from that time to this, a space of near forty years”, i.e. ca. 1807/8 (H. 1222). However, he refers to “the previous year, H. 1217” (1802) (W264, omitting the adjective; “Koca Sekbanbaşı”, TDVİA); this and other references point to an earlier dating, ca. 1804, which also is more concomittant to the biographical details the author gives in his text (W239).
In his Hulasat ül-kelam fi redd ül-avamm (“The summary of the discourse to refute the rabble”), known as well as Koca Sekbanbaşı risalesi, Koca Sekbanbaşı starts stating that God has created “an Emperor of the world, to administer with justice the affairs of the whole company of his servants, and to protect them from their enemies”; He also has “subjected the earth to government in such a manner that it is divided into many regions, each of them should have its own Sovereign”, while each sovereign protects his country and “the servants of God whom [it] contain[s]” from hostile neighbours. It is in human nature that the strong are superior to the weak and seek to destroy them, and thus those states that take no precautions end in being dependent upon others. Now, in the long period of peace between H. 1150 (1737/38) and 1182 (1768) most experienced warriors have died and most inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire lived in ease and confort; as a result, when war with Russia began there was lack of discipline and subsequent “corruption and disorder” which lasts nearly forty years now. Furthermore, the rabble that gathers in the coffee-houses and taverns discuss and criticize the measures taken by the government; they are not punished immediately, as it happened for instance in the times of Suleyman the Magnificent, because “the force of necessity obliges the government to overlook their faults” (W221). Sekbanbaşı was summoned “from the highest quarter” to write a simple-styled essay rebuting the calumnies circulated by such people.
In the first section of the treatise (W221-227), which is structured as an imaginary account of a discussion with calumniators, the author answers the claims that it is the Nizam-i Cedid that caused disturbances in the world order and, more particularly, the rebellious acts of the robbers of the mountains of Rumili. Sekbanbaşı shows that in the contrary, before the institution of the Nizam-i Cedid similar troubles did exist in Anatolia, Egypt and other provincees, in periods stretching from the Celali revolts to the defeats inflicted upon the Ottomans in the recent war. Even in the present time, France is ravaged by disturbances which have turned the country “into a slaughter-house for swine”, and similar troubles are observed in India, China and even the new world; Anatolia, on the other hand, has remained undisturbed for the time being, which shows that all these troubles stem “from the decrees of Providence”. Showing thus that the troubles of the world cannot be attributed to the new institutions, Sekbanbaşı claims that he managed to persuade a lot of well-wishing dissenters.
In the second section (W227-239), Sekbanbaşı narrates the birth of the Nizam-i Cedid: he claims that in 1792 it became known that a former Ottoman Christian subject had given counsel to the Russians, to the effect that capturing Istanbul would be very easy since the Anatolian troops were “employed in cultivating the land, and smoking their pipes”, while those who inhabit Istanbul were “either busy in carrying on various trades, or at least not subject to any good discipline”. If a naval campaign from Crimea would destroy the water reservoirs bringing water to Istanbul, and with the help of Russia’s “zealous partisans of the Greek nation” (W230), revolts and pillages would ensue and no soldier would remain to defend the capital. In front of this danger, the only possible method was keeping a body of infantry always ready for service in the capital; moreover, these troops could not be composed by sellers of pastry, boatmen, fishermen, and other tradesmen but of trained and disciplined men. A first attempt to recruit them from among the janissaries was fruitless because “our bravoes who are engaged in the thirty-two trades” were unwilling to submit themselves into a daily program of drill and thus lose their caring for their private affairs. The government then had to recruit some bostancıs and settle them in camps day and night, where they would drill daily and in good discipline. With such measures the Russian threat was considerably weakened; and it is to be hoped that if this force becomes more numerous all the infidel enemies will step back in fear.
To show that the janissary troops are no more capable of defeating the enemy, Sekbanbaşı lists his experience and proceeds in the third section (W240-246) to say that the quick use of artillery and the introduction of military exercise was a novelty of Suleyman’s time, hitherto unknown to the Europeans; he even states that it was Suleyman who first created a regular army, i.e. the janissaries. As it happens with Nizam-i Cedid, in that time too older soldiers (sekban) found the janissaries attire ridiculous and their institution useless, discouraging thus the new recruits. To deal with this problem, Suleyman decided to bring Hacı Bektaş, “the polar star of the times”, from Anatolia and make him pray for the recruits; the latter stopped deserting and started fighting in supreme discipline and effectiveness. To cope with this, the European rulers adopted the Ottoman systems, namely the prohibition of soldiers engaging in other trades and the constant military drilling, and managed to make their own armies invincible due to their keeping compact lines and the superiority of their rapid-fire artillery. Sekbanbaşı claims that he had undertaken to write a description of the new troops of Nizam-i Cedid in H. 1206 (1791/2), but he thinks he is too old now to be able to finish it.
In the next section (W246-254) Sekbanbaşı asks in his turn the janissaries how they can explain their routing in front of the Russian troops in the 1768-1774 war and even whether they may prove “that at any time, or in any place, [they] have rendered the least service” to the Sultan; he blames them for losing the war, for the odious treaty that was imposed to the Ottomans, for the loss of the Crimea. Mahmud I was about to institute regular exercises, using a treatise entitled “The origin of the institution of discipline”, but he died before he could impose these reforms. Sekbanbaşı then presents some janissaries admitting that what they really are afraid of is that they will lose their pay if the Nizam-i Cedid troops increase in numbers; on the other hand, others understand that if the Nizam-i Cedid is abolished the infidels will be able to impose more and more humiliating conditions to the Sultan, whereas if the new institution is strengthened and multiplied the safety of the Empire will be guaranteed. Sekbanbaşı brings here the example of a ship, which will be undoubtedly sink if its crew are inexperienced and ignorant and vice versa. He cites examples where the Nizam-i Cedid troops were much more effective against the French invaders of Egypt than the more numerous undisciplined janissary forces, and cites the authority of Cezzar Pasha; furthermore, he claims that he had heard how much the infidels prefer to fight against the undisciplined Ottoman soldiers, when he was their captive himself, and gives example of the inability of these troops to cope with modern weapons.
The fifth section (W254-278) deals again with the lamentable situation of the old janissary infantry: after praising the discipline and effectiveness of the corps during Suleyman’s time, Sekbanbaşı argues that the infidels found ways to introduce their own spies into the janissaries’ ranks to corrupt them. These spies incited the soldiers to seek their confort and to care only for their salaries; with time janissaries started to pillage the Ottoman territories during campaigns, while whenever the enemy comes near these spies inspire panic with false rumours and incite desertion and flight. Sekbanbaşı illustrates this uselessness of janissaries in battle with several examples from the recent wars with Russia, citing among others the Maçin petition in 1791 (where the janissaries themselves admitted their inability to fight the fewer but more disciplined and well-trained enemy troops), the consequent creation of the first modern military bodies and their outstanding performance at Cairo and Acre (as well as their less outstanding use against the ayans of Thrace). Sekbanbaşı praises the discipline of the Nizam-i Cedid, their organization which excludes any possibility of intrusion of enemy spies, their steadiness and mastery of military stratagems in battle (showing that such stratagems are not at all incompatible with the Muslim tradition), and the use of uniforms and passwords (where one recognizes the echo of Müteferrika’s descriptions). The ignorance, inexperience, greediness and uselessness of the old troops, on the other hand, can only bring harm to the fortunes of the Ottoman armies.
In the sixth section (W279-280) Sekbanbaşı relates his alleged discussions with Russian officers during his captivity: they explained to him how Peter the Great “subjected the Russians, whether they would or no, to the restraints of discipline” and thus he and his successors managed to capture Ottoman territories one after another. The next section (W280-286) explains the damage done by foreign spies and how easily they can introduce themselves into a bunch of undisciplined soldiers, with no uniforms or organization. Finally, in the eighth section (W287-294) Sekbanbaşı deals with the special revenues reserved for the new army. He first describes the provisions laid for the janissaries by Suleyman the Magnificent, and how he allocated part of the tax revenues for their sustension, in times of both peace and war. With time, need for more revenues arose, as new troops were needed to be levied and the prices were constantly rising; this is how the practice of paying in arrears was created. The rise of prices and the constant warfare, however, made this practice all the more harmful for the treasury. To sum up, Sekbanbaşı concludes, the old revenues were calculated for the old expense (W291-292):
...and as two hundred and forty-five years have elapsed since the publication of the canon, the expense having constantly increased whilst the revenue was never augmented, His Higness, the Emperor, has looked out for some remedy in such difficult circumstances, and has laboured to establish a revenue proportioned to the amount of expenditure of these times. But that the requisite funds might neither be taken by violence, nor derived from casual contingency, it was thought proper to draw them from the peculiar possessions of the government and the sources dependent thereon.
Then, Sekbanbaşı describes the practice of life-long tax-farming (malikâne) as instituted in Suleyman’s time (sic.) and argues that thus the profits of the treasury were not augmented; the new necessary arrangement is that whenever an impost falls vacant the revenue is no more farmed out, but managed by the government instead with the income going to the Nizam-i Cedid needs.
Refers to Müteferrika’s Usûlü’l-hikem (without naming the author; as a treatise requested by Mahmud I: W245) and ‘Âli’’s Fusul-ı hall ü akd (W217, 232 [omitting the name of the author and misinterpreting the title]). See Aksan 1993, 61 and 68 fn. 73.