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Hans Weigel depiction of a janissary.
Photo credit: —Wikimedia Commons

Janissaries of the West

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

Archaeologists and historians will use the Spanish word genizaro or describe some communities, such as Abiquiu and Tome, as genizaro communities. Often the term is not defined or if it is, the term is used passively to refer to Christian Native Americans. However, the concept of genizaro and its use by the Spanish speaking peoples of Northern New Mexico has an incredibly dark and shocking history.

The equivalent of genizaro in English is janissary. Both terms derive from the Turkish word yeniceri. The concept of yeniceri rose with the Ottoman Turks. At the time of New Mexico’s colonization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire was at its height. The Turks threatened all of Europe and were the primary enemies of Hapsburg Spain. The Turks raided Spanish holdings in the Mediterranean and marched on German strongholds, such as Vienna.

At the front of these Turkish armies was the Yeniceri, or hereafter referred to as Janissary Corps. The Janissary Corps were the best of the best, serving as the frontline between the Islamic Empire and its Christian enemies. Yet, the Corps did not consist of Turkish subjects in the traditional sense. It comprised exclusively of former Christians.

Under a tradition known as devsirme, the Turkish nobility required conquered Christian settlements to supply a set number of young boys for janissary service. These boys, ripped from subjugated families, were then enslaved and indoctrinated into Islam. They were taught full obedience before Allah and the Sultan. Then, in following modern radical Islamic practice, were given arms and drilled in the defense of their faith.

When a Christian uprising occurred or a European force took up arms against the Ottoman Empire, they were met on the field by the Janissary Corps. It was horrific and brutally effective tactic. To kill the Ottomans was not to do righteous slaughter against the Turk, but rather meant killing your own. Fathers and brothers met their own sons and siblings on the field of battle. Even if you knew no one, the idea of blonde-haired and blue-eyed young men rushing the battlefield yelling Islamic war cries was enough to cause pause. Should you overcome this horde, casualties suffered by the Ottoman Empire were inconsequential. All the European army would have accomplished was ridding the Empire of what were perceived as undesirables.

The Spanish knew the Turk well from campaigns in Africa and Italy. Yet how and why the concept of the Janissary Corps was applied to the New Mexico frontier remains something of a mystery. It does not appear to have been as formalized a policy as implemented by the Ottomans, but existed nonetheless.

As early as the founding of Santa Fe in 1610, the Spanish appear to have at least nominally implemented the concept of the janissary into New Mexico with the establishment of the Barrio de Analco on the south side of the Santa Fe River. The community existed as a buffer settlement of Christianized Native Americans centered on San Miguel Church. Initially, these genizaros may have been Nahautl speaking Mesoamericans from the south, but soon included Pueblo and Apache peoples.

The concept of genizaro in New Mexico was eerily similar to the Turkish practice. Under the policy, Native American youths were gathered together by the Spanish settlers. Sometimes these youth were bought as slaves, but more often than not they were orphans or children ripped from the Pueblo villages to serve the Spanish villas. Raised by a Spanish family, the genizaros were forced to do hard labor and indoctrinated into Spanish Catholicism and culture until no memory of their former existence remained. Then of adult age, they were armed and sent out to frontier communities to serve as human shields against their more aggressive pagan brethren.

If an Apache or even Pueblo raid occurred, the war party would first meet the genizaros. Their fury would result in Native American on Native American violence and left the ruling Spanish elite unmolested. This not only protected true Spanish settlements, but had the added effect of removing what were viewed as undesirables from the landscape.

The policy was so successful that many of the old “Spanish” communities which exist today were founded as genizaro villages. The inhabitants, nowadays, view themselves as Spanish and see their lifeways as the proper Hispanic culture of Rio Grande. Yet, this lies in stark contrast with the realities of history and the fact that they themselves are likely more genetically related to the Pueblo and Apache peoples that surround them than the Spanish elite of Santa Fe.

Villages like San Miguel del Vado, Abiquiu, Ranchos de Taos, Tome, and Atrisco are all genizaro settlements founded by Christianized Native American peoples. Largely removed from their indigenous culture, they were the stalwart defenders of the Spanish ruling elite in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They are a Turkish practice realized on New Mexico soil. They are the janissaries of the West.


The Peaceable Kingdom concert to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior

The New Mexico Symphonic Chorus will be joined by the Evening of Elegance Ensemble and featured soloists to present a special concert, The Peaceable Kingdom, at 3:00 p.m. on January 17, at the First United Methodist Church in Albuquerque (314 Lead Avenue, SW).

Featuring American favorites, including Amazing Grace, Some of These Mornin’s, Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, and Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom, this concert promises to be a stirring tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The New Mexico Symphonic Chorus will be directed by Roger Melone. The Evening of Elegance Ensemble is directed by Dr. Stevie Springer. Featured gospel soloists will be Rosalind Sanders Jones and Toni Morgan.

General admission tickets are $25 dollars (for regular seating) and $45 dollars (for premium seating) at nmschorus.org and from Brown Paper Tickets, open 24 hours a day, at 800 838-3006. Student tickets are $15 dollars each. Discount of twenty percent for groups of 15 or more. There is free parking nearby.


Pueblo of Cochiti to develop green infrastructure projects

—Joe Hubbard

As different areas of the country become drier and hotter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pueblo of Cochiti are developing green infrastructure projects that address water needs. The EPA initiative focuses resources from multiple federal agencies to help meet economic, environmental, and community needs identified by tribal leaders. EPA is also providing assistance with drinking water sources and brownfields evaluation.

“EPA is committed to helping our tribal partners take action to reduce our environmental footprint,” said Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “We will continue to engage these important communities and tribal leadership who are working every day to build a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous future.”

EPA is working to make a visible difference in communities across the country. The Pueblo of Cochiti has identified several challenges including flooding, drainage, and drinking water systems where EPA can offer assistance. As part of this effort, EPA is leveraging support from other organizations and federal agencies to find sustainable solutions to address environmental challenges.

EPA regularly works with communities to advance environmental justice, initiate sustainable practices for local industry, and incorporate green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage storm water and create healthier urban environments. By improving the environment and preserving open space, green infrastructure supports sustainable
 
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