Armenian boys recruited to fight for Islam – Janissaries (Yanichars)

Armenian Janissaries

Armenian boys recruited to fight for Islam – Armenian Janissaries (Yanichars)

Sultan Murad I
Sultan Murad I

It was Sultan Murad (Murat) I (1359-1389) during the latter part of the Fourteenth century who transformed the Turkish army from mere plunderers into a regimented military organization. To bolster his army’s strength Murad initiated a program to recruit young boys from Armenian and Greek families and developed them into a well trained, highly disciplined and coordinated militia and called it Janissaries (new soldiers).  

Each Armenian family was required to give its brightest son to be enlisted as a Janissary for the services of the Sultan, similar to the conscription of the Memluks from the Caucasus centuries earlier. The Janissaries were brought up as Moslems imbued with an unquestioned loyalty to the Sultan and became members of a privileged military elite. As fighters by avocation they lived their lives with uncompromising devotion to the cause of Islam. In times of peace they kept order and guarded the imperial palaces. In times of war their ferocious brutality proved to be vital for the conduct of the war.

Armenian Janissary – Armenian origin

It isn’t known how large the purely Armenian element was in the Janissary multitudes. Over many generations, the most promising representatives of the Armenian people were removed from their national surroundings and served in the name of the victory of a foreign nation and religion. There were individuals in the Janissary Corps of Armenian origin that were able to attain positions of high rank in the Ottoman military and government due to their bravery and skills.

Ottoman commander and political statesman Ermeni Suleyman Pasha (1605-1680) had Armenian origin. He was able to rise from the ranks of a common soldier and become Grand Vizier and one of the most renowned figures in Ottoman history. Suleyman Pasha wasn’t the first Armenian forcibly converted to Islam nor the last. However, he was perhaps the only one who never hid his national roots and he always used the term Ermeni (Armenian) in his official rank, even while Grand Vizier.

YearNumber of Janissaries in Ottoman Empire




















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