The Nizam-i Djedid (Ottoman Turkish: نظام جديد, Niẓām-ı Cedīd; "New Order") was a series of reforms carried out by the Ottoman Sultan Selim III during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in a drive to catch up militarily and politically with the Western Powers. The New Order regime was launched by Selim III and a coalition of reformers. The central objective was the creation of a professional army along European lines and a private treasury to finance military spending, as well as other administrative reforms. The age of the New Order can be generally said to have lasted from 1789 to 1807, ending with the deposition of Selim III by a Janissary coup.
While the term “New Order” eventually came to encompass all of Selim III’s reforms, the name was used contemporaneously to refer only to the reform’s central innovation: the New Order Army. While that army was largely a failure in its own time, it reflects an important step in the stages of Ottoman attempts at reform in the Modern period. Selim III’s desire for an army necessitated far-reaching changes in the bureaucracy and structure of the Ottoman Empire, and profoundly reorganized contemporary Ottoman politics.
The New Order, writes historian Stanford Shaw, reflects a profound shift in Ottoman thinking on how to confront the West; where hitherto Ottomans had conceived of beating the West by returning to the glory days of the 16th century, the Nizam-i Djedid reforms were premised on the idea that Western ideas and processes had to be adopted in order to restore Ottoman global prestige.
Nizam and cedid are loanwords from Arabic in Turkish. The equivalent phrase in Arabic would be النظام الجدید, An-Niẓām Al-Jadīd, meaning "new order". Instead, the adjective phrase is constructed using Persian rules, as is common in Ottoman Turkish.
Selim III’s forces were designed to be a new force to counterbalance the Janissaries, which were regularly accused of being both ineffectual and of holding too much political power. The irony, however, was that yenicheri, the Turkish word for Janissaries, also means “new army” - thus leading to the designation of Nizam-i Cedid, “New Order,” forces instead.
The mid-to-late 18th century witnessed increasing great power competition as new empires - most notably Britain and France - arose and consolidated their respective dominions. The Ottoman Empire increasingly seemed to be falling behind their rivals - especially Russia and Austria, who had each dealt the Ottoman regime several defeats since the 1760s.
The most notable of these was the 1774 Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which resulted in the loss of the Crimea to Russia. Russia also was given major concessions: for its ships to sail freely in the Black Sea, access to the Mediterranean, as well as consulates and an embassy in Ottoman territory.
In 1774, Sultan Mustafa summed up the atmosphere of the time in verse: “The world is in decay, do not think it will be right with us; The state has declined into meanness and vulgarity, Everyone at the court is concerned with pleasure; Nothing remains for us but divine mercy”. He died shortly thereafter. While his successor and brother Abdulhamid I initiated a second war in an attempt to reclaim what had been lost in Crimea, it was a disaster.
A decisive battle in 1789 became a show of Ottoman military weakness: 120,000 Janissaries were defeated by 8,000 Russian troops on the shores of the Danube. New Order reformers argued that the Janissary corps had grown from a hardened fighting force into an entrenched interest group with little interest in training and fighting.
In 1789, Selim III inherited the throne from his uncle Abdulhamid at the age of 28. He also inherited the Second Russian-Turkish War, which resulted in a humiliating loss for the empire and reinforcement of the disaster of Küçük Kaynarca at the Treaty of Jassy in 1792. Selim headed a coalition of reformers and quickly convened a consultative assembly to advance tajdid, or renewal.
While Selim III often receives credit for the military reforms, he was hardly the sole instigator. Ideas for reform - especially of military reform - had preoccupied the Ottoman political class for nearly a century before Selim III took the throne. The first Western-style military training in the Ottoman world was done without the Sultan’s knowledge. In 1790, as Stanford Shaw documents, Koca Yusuf Pasha organized a separate corps to drill a select core of soldiers in the midst of the Second Russian-Turkish War (Shaw 294).
The primary focus on the New Order reforms - for which all others were named - was military reform. Selim III, having seen his armies easily routed by European forces, brought foreign lecturers to serve as military advisers and organized two colleges - for Naval and Army Engineering, respectively - along European lines, with French as the language of instruction. Selim also embarked on an institutional reorganization of the Armed Forces, bringing Artillery and Transportation into the same department. The investment quickly paid results - several hundred New Order forces widely outperformed conventional Ottoman troops in the 1799 defense of Acre against Napoleon Bonaparte.
The greatest threat to the New Order remained the Janissaries. Indeed, “[the Janissaries’] shortcomings were simply indicative of deeper financial, organizational and disciplinary problems affecting the Ottoman state". In its initial stages, the whole reform had to be hidden in order to avoid provoking them by embedding the New Order Troops within another unit.
While in theory, the Janissaries were also subject to reform and training according to the European style, they would resist it in practice. While some of the more radical reformers urged Selim to abolish the Janissaries, this proved a major political problem in practice. There were also attempts to co-opt the Janissaries: the Sublime Porte issued decrees praising the Janissaries’ role in Ottoman history as well as assuring them that their salaries would continue.
The military reforms, however, also entailed a whole host of economic reforms. The new military demanded new forms of taxation and the uprooting of entrenched elite groups - the “New Order Army” had to be financed by a “New Treasury” - Irad-i Cedid. Absentee or irresponsible timar holders would find their licenses cancelled and seized by the government.New taxes were levied, and old taxes were re-appropriated to fund the New Treasury- including taxes on alcohol and wool. Ottomans also embarked on broader reforms of the tariffs system. While non-Muslims had previously enjoyed special privileges by manipulating the concessions, administrators strove to crack down on this loss of state rent.
Selim III also reorganized the provinces from an administrative standpoint. In 1795, Selim III proposed new governance structures in an attempt to reverse the trend of the empire towards decentralization. The government lacked military or financial resources to carry out their policy, however, making centralization an “unattainable ideal”.
While these reformers called for revamping the Ottoman system and Europeanization of the military, they were by no means antagonistic to Islam. In many cases, the call for reform saw Islamic renewal and military-administrative-economic renewal as intertwined and mutually dependent. Military discipline often entailed the memorization of religious texts.
End of the New Order
The reform coalition with which Selim came to power was not stable. Different members of the bureaucracy used the New Order discourse as a way to secure personal advancement, switching sides on the question of reform depending on personal interests. Few local notables were pleased with new tax arrangements for that New Order Army, for example, since they undermined old tax-farming rent sources. Money for the “New Revenue” system which was raised by reclaiming vacant tax-farms for the state (Finkel 2005). The accumulation of capital had enabled local elites to challenge the center, and they had no interest in giving up their power willingly. While some notables benefited from the reform, others - such as Tayyar Pasha, were excluded.
The Janissaries became increasingly aware of the threats posed by the New Order to their privileges. In 1806, during the famous Edirne incident, local janissaries and notables joined to lynch a qadi who had come to recite an imperial decree announcing the deployment of New Order troops to the region. Janissaries also exploited general resentment over Westernization and higher taxes to fund the New Order in order to gain popular support for the rebellion that would bring an end to the New Order in 1807.
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- Yaycioglu, Ali (2016). Partners of the empire: The crisis of the Ottoman order in the age of revolutions. Stanford University Press.
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