Conscription in the Ottoman Empire

1389 forward

In 1389 a system of conscription was introduced in the Ottoman military. In times of need every town, quarter, and village should present a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office. The new force of irregular infantrymen was called Azabs and it was used in a number of different ways. They supported the supplies to the front-line, they dug roads and built bridges. On rare occasions they were used as cannon fodder
Cannon fodder
Cannon fodder is an informal, derogatory term for military personnel who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire. The term is generally used in situations where soldiers are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds in an effort to achieve a strategic goal...

 to slow down enemy advance. A branch of the Azabs were the bashi-bazouk
A bashi-bazouk or bashibazouk was an irregular soldier of the Ottoman army...

 (başıbozuk). These were specialized in close combat and were sometimes mounted. They became notorious for being brutal and undisciplined and were recruited from homeless, vagrants and criminals.

1908 forward

With the Young Turk Revolution
Young Turk Revolution
The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 reversed the suspension of the Ottoman parliament by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, marking the onset of the Second Constitutional Era...

 a new military conscription law was prepared by the Ministry of War in October 1908. According to the draft, all subjects between ages of twenty and forty five were to fulfill a mandatory military service.

In July 1909 military service law passed that made it compulsory for all Ottoman subjects. The law was opposed by Muslim as the Muslim students in religious colleges who had failed their exams, Muslims of the capital city lost their exempt status. The opposition also come from non-Muslim ottoman citizens. The spokesmen of the Greek, Syrian, Armenian and Bulgarian
communities agreed for the military service on the paper. The practice was totally different. In practice each member wanted to serve in separate. They wanted to keep their own military structure, rather than uniting under single flag. They demanded to have ethnically designed uniforms so that they would be separated from each other. These units, if achieved to be established, officered by Christian commanders. The Bulgarian non-Muslims did not want to serve non-European provinces. Armenians separated by their partisan attachments. These practices was simply opposite of Ottomanism
Ottomanism was a concept which developed prior to the First Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire. Its proponents believed that it could solve the social issues that the empire was facing. Ottomanism was highly affected by thinkers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau and the French Revolution. It...

. The government who thought that keeping the Ottoman Empire as a single entity could not accept an army who could decline to go war because of their ethnic assignments. They claimed an army on a national, or religious base only serve the rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire
Rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire
The rise of the Western notion of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire eventually caused the break-down of the Ottoman millet concept...


In October 1909, the recruitment of conscripts irrespective of religion was ordered for the first time. Beginning with the 1910, Balkan Wars
Balkan Wars
The Balkan Wars were two conflicts that took place in the Balkans in south-eastern Europe in 1912 and 1913.By the early 20th century, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, the countries of the Balkan League, had achieved their independence from the Ottoman Empire, but large parts of their ethnic...

, and extending to World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, at grassroots level, many young ottoman Christian men, especially Greeks, who could afford it and who had the overseas connections, opted to leave the country or hide as a draft dodger
Draft dodger
Draft evasion is a term that refers to an intentional failure to comply with the military conscription policies of the nation to which he or she is subject...


World War One

On 12 May 1914, The Ottoman Empire established a new recruitment law. This new law lowered the conscription age from 20 to 18 and abolished the “redif” or reserve system. Active duty lengths were set at 2 years for the infantry, 3 years for other branches of the Army and 5 years for the Navy. These measures remained largely theoretical during the World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The ottoman Empire in 1914 could only drafted 70.000 or about .35 per cent of the population. In Bulgaria the ratio at the same time was .75 per cent. Fully mobilized, as in early 1915, only 4 per cent of the population was under arms and on active duty, compared with, for instance, 10 per cent in France.

Bedel-i nakdī

The system of exemptions through the bedel-i nakdī and the bedel-i askerī meant that the burden never fell equally on all Ottoman subjects. The riches evaded the military burdens. The socio-economic distribution of the Ottoman Empire was not even, the non-Muslim members of the Ottoman Society had the highest income level. Even at the end, the Ottoman army remained an army of Anatolian Muslim peasants.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.