Istanbul, Topkapı Sarayı Kütüphanesi, E.H. 1438, ff. 281b-296a
After a short autobiography, Nuhbetü’l-emel fî tenkîhi’l-fesâdi ve’l-halel (“Selected wishes for the emendation of mischief and disorder”) describes the disturbances caused from the war with Russia on “what is like the four elements, namely the viziers, the soldiers, the peasants and the Sultanic treasury” (282b: ‘anâsır-ı erba’a mesâbesinde olan vüzerâ vu ricâl u re’ayâ vu hazîne-i saltanat). He begins with an Introduction (283a-286a), where he attributes the glory of the Ottoman state (devlet-i aliyye-i osmaniyye) to its following the Sharia. Dürrî notes that Ottomans had constant military success for more than two-hundred and fifty years; however, it is a necessity of the divine wisdom that, just like the human individual (efrâd-ı nev’-i beşer) has three ages, that of growth, of standstill and of physical decline (nümüv, vukuf, inhitat), so do states (devletler) as well. The Ottoman state has reached the age of standstill, which in the individual corresponds to the age from 33 to 45 and which is the age of splendor. However, because the Ottoman Empire is the greatest among its peers in magnitude, wealth and power, the experts in history did not discern the signs of its entering this age and thus failed to give the appropriate counsel. The Ottoman state began in H.700 (1300/1) and passed through the “three ages” (kurûn-ı selâse) in H.950 (1543/44), 980 (1572/3) and 1000 (1591/2); these ages constitute the “times of the soldiers” (284b: ricâlinin evkâtı) and, being the “age of growth” (senn-i nümûv), were full of wars and victories. Afterwards, however, comes the “age of standstill” (senn-i vukuf), when people wish peace and welfare (asayiş ve refah) rather than war and glory. This explains why from then on Ottoman wars ended both in victories and defeats. From H.1000 onwards, there had been some efforts to take the convenient measures, but did not bring great results; they only had some effect in keeping the realm intact. Furthermore, the continuous warfare brought severe damage to the treasury and the army, although wise officials kept perceiving the problem and explaining it to the Grand Viziers, who occasionally managed to take some measures. When the war with Russia started, it brought great damages to the peasants, the army, and the treasury; so peace was concluded in order for the state to have the time and ease to mend its shortcomings (tedâbir-i nizâm). Dürrî stresses that the imperial treasury, which is the stomach of the state (mi’de-i devlet), must be looked after in priority, even if this requires time.
Then Dürrî proceeds to his main arguments, which are organized in seven “manners” (vech). The first section (286a-286b) deals with the treasury, emphasizing that its income should not be provided by sinfully extracting money from the peasants; all revenues should be collected along the Sharia lines and without oppression. The expenses, in their turn, should not be vain and extravagant. All financial administrators must be honest, and whoever takes bribes or oppresses the people must be removed; the Sultan should look personally into these affairs.
In the second section (286b-289b), Dürrî argues that the salaries of the soldiers and the stipends of the reciters of prayers (du’a-guyân) have surpassed any moderate level (hadd-ı i’tidâli mütecâvız) and that they must be brought back to order. First and foremost, they should be given only to those properly entitled. Dürrî describes in length the selling and buying of pay-rolls and how in the last war the registered janissaries and other infantry were far too many, while few of them were present at battle. He stresses that measures should be taken “according to the old law” and more particularly to Suleyman’s regulations. Moreover, he sets the qualifications for the agha of the janissaries (for instance, he should take no presents, such as the ‘ubudiyet, which are not specified “in the old law”). Another proposal is that differentiated uniforms (288a: tenvî’-i libâs) should be used to distinguish janissaries and other soldiers from peasants and artisans. Dürrî gives special emphasis in the administration of vacancies (mahlûlât) in the pay-rolls, proposing that half of the payment for such a position should be given to the new appointee, while the other half should stay in the treasury; the same advice is given concerning the du’a-guyân. With the present system, Dürrî claims, most of the people have left their jobs and are fed from the janissary rolls, the mukata’a and toll revenues etc., as kullukçu, ortakçı and “other idlers” (sa’ir battalîn zümreleri), who are completely useless for war.
The subject of the third section (289b-290a) is the messengers (ulak); Dürrî argues that in both Anadolu and Rumili this institution is misused by voyvodas, tax-farmers, servants of the local notables (ayan ademleri) and the like, to the great detriment of peasants. As for the fourth section (290a-290b), it concerns the unjustified extraordinary taxes (tekâlîf-i şakka). Dürrî remarks that already the tax burden of the peasants (including mukata’as, fiefs, and the poll-tax) is increased every year because of tax-farming. The three-year leasing system leaves the peasants destitute and drives them out of their villages to towns and cities, where they become servants or idlers. If the extraordinary taxes are abolished, peasants will prosper again and the treasury will be eventually benefitted. In a similar vein, the fifth section (290b-292a) begins with the remark that in the Ottoman lands, the term “taxable peasant” (ra’iyet) is restricted to the non-Muslims (memâlik-i mahrûsede ra’iyyet nutkı hemen ehl-i zimmete hısr olunmak), since the taxes (tekâlif) of any given district are extracted only from the non-Muslims, who thus get impoverished and destitute. The reason is that in the provinces every single Muslim has claim to a fief (dirlik); whenever a tax is demanded, they all claim to be janissaries, cebeci, sipahis and so forth. They managed to get exempted, while they never are present as such in times of campaign. Dürrî stresses that the state should take action to diminish the number of fiefs; janissary officers must inspect the pay-rolls and wipe out the names of those who do not take part in campaigns. Furthermore, soldiers (askerî) and non-soldiers must be distinguished with the use of cloth differentiation (291b: tenvî’-i libâslarıyla). Soldiers should be trained regularly and all troops must serve some time in the border, again “according to the old law”. Dürrî proposes a three-year probing period for soldiers.
In the sixth section (292a-294a), Dürrî suggests that the expenses of those benefitting from the public treasury should be gradually reduced. Scribes and other officials, he says, are used to buying luxury goods in foreign coinage; they got addicted to luxury and pomp, and they imitate each other in spending more and more. Since the statesmen (ricâl ve ümerâ ve vüzerâ) are the unifying nerve of the state (292b: devlet-i ‘aliyyenin ‘asabiyeti mesâbesinde olmağla), this situation turns back to the detriment of state: in time of war, they are all left with no money and unable to contribute to victory. On the contrary, Dürrî argues, everybody should dress and spend according to their place (haddine göre). Officials of different ranks should be warned not to imitate their superiors; all this reordering (tanzîm) of the lifestyle of each class should be imposed to all classes by imperial order. If it is imposed effectively in times of peace (hazarda), soldiers and statesmen will also be free from foolish expenditure in times of war as well, and thus they will only think of war affairs. When the enemy countries see this, Dürrî notes, they will consent “according to the custom of the European countries” and stop raising rebels and inciting war.
The seventh section (294a-294b) focuses in the provincial armies (eyâlet askerleri) and the need to be restored back to their old order. Dürrî remarks that around H.1110 (1698/99) these troops were highly orderly: according to “the old law”, whenever a fief became vacant it was given to a soldier on the condition that he stayed in the province under the commands of the local governor; strangers (ecnebi) were not given fiefs. As long as this order (nizam) was kept, there was no need for irregular troops (levendât) for thirty or fourty years.
In his epilogue (294b-296a), Dürrî concentrates on peace. Although Russia seems to have had success in the war, the Ottoman Empire may still benefit from the peace concluded: if the measures proposed above are to be taken, or if there is care for the arsenal, the cannon foundry, the border fortresses etc., as well as justice, Russia will eventually stop coveting the Muslim territories and especially the Crimea. For this, however, there must be absolutely no war in the near future. If, “as is the natural custom of the states” (295a: ‘adet-i tebâ’î-i düvel üzre), Russia or some other neighbor shows again greediness for a region, the Ottomans should not wage war unless they have been preparing for at least five years; if they are not ready, they should feign friendship and even capitulate to some enemy demands. Likewise, when at the time of the crusaders the Frenks arrived to the Syrian coast and captured Jerusalem, Salahaddin acted according to the Sharia and first corrected all mischief and disorder (appointing worthy persons in all posts, reducing luxury and pomp, and securing the public treasury for those in need) before launching war; therefore he managed to take back the lost territory in ten years time.
Atik, K., “Kayserili devlet adamı Dürri Mehmed Efendi ve layihası”, Ali Aktan – Ayhan Öztürk (eds), II. Kayseri ve yöresi tarih sempozyumu bildirileri (16-17 Nisan 1998), Kayseri 1998, 69-74.