“Praise be to God for this humble servant’s long life and praise to Him for continued good health through all the years that enabled such productivity. And thanks to the Creator for the many talents bestowed on this wretched slave and for the ability to share them with the Empire. Thinking back to 1512, that chance came on the wind those many years ago when I, Sinan, was only a young man of 23. The day started like any other, only it was considerably mild for a summer day, in fact, there was a cooling breeze. That is what brought it to our attention, my father’s and mine, the incredible dust cloud off in the plain below picked up by that little breeze. From our vantage point on a second story roof, we could see it moving closer.
The roof topped an almost completed house in our small village of Agirnas located in the Karaman province of central Anatolia. The structure was not of the usual mud brick but of more durable stone, and rather large for our town, constructed by my father with my assistance. He was a good teacher, praise be to Allah. All I knew about dressing stone and carpentry was learned from this good man. Side by side we worked hard on many structures in our village but Allah willing, I would learn even more. Little did I know that fateful day as the blowing dust advanced, that I would learn nothing more from my father, and would not even be there to help finish the lovely house.
The dusty cloud told us a great deal. It was too large to be a local on his donkey returning from a journey to Kayseri, our closest city. The size could only be from many men and horses, but why would they come to our small village? Unbeknownst to us, the devsirme was about to reach us. Over the years the devsirme had developed into a periodic collecting of the fittest Christian youth throughout the Empire to serve in the Sultan’s army, the Yeni Ceri. As we sat on the unfinished roof watching their arrival, we speculated about the meaning of such a group of what looked like children mixed with soldiers.
Now, as I look back on my life and compile my recollections in this year of our lord, 1588, I am amazed how that summer day changed me in ways unimaginable to a simple villager. The Sultan’s men were looking for youths of fifteen or so, not yet set in their ways, young ones able to be molded into the best fighting force anywhere.
When the dust finally materialized into the Jannisary Corps, the Yeni Ceri, a call went out for all the boys to assemble in the town square. Not knowing just who was wanted, I stayed on the roof with my father, watching the excitement below. Only the strongest, fittest, and smartest were desired, ones with social skills and talents. That day it was determined that all young men should report to the square due to the lack of boys to fill the quota. To my surprise the call included me, so I reluctantly descended and joined the gathering. Families crowded into the square with their sons, hoping for the best. For the poor, the best was a future with the Yeni Ceri, where food, money, and a chance, if the boy were clever, for advancement were in the offing, insallah. For me as an apprentice stonemason from a long line of men who worked in stone, the Tascioglu and Dugenci families, I already had a good livelihood and saw no future as a soldier. The inspections began with those obviously sick and slow being immediately rejected. Some time passed as teeth were checked, eyes inspected, bodies poked and prodded. While questions were asked and answered, the best were slowly discovered and called forward. I was one of them.”
Sinan awaits, let’s go to Istanbul!