Mamluks and Janissaries
My father’s paternal family history traces back to the era of the Crusades in the 13th century. Because of the Crusades and Mongol invasions of this time period, the ruling sultanate of the Middle East sought to bolster its military by purchasing slaves from Crimea. These government-owned people were converted to Islam and received extensive military training, and came to be called “mamluks.” The mamluks were used not just on the battlefied but also in an intricate espionage network. The Sultan Baybars, who was born in Solhat, Crimea, developed a secret postal system (based modelsl common in Central Asia), where he employed the use of the “Qussad” (which is my family surname). Qussad literally means “couriers,” and were the secret messengers and spies of the sultan. The Qussad were able to infiltrate enemy territory, oftentimes blending in, to retrieve and deliver valuable information across the territories.
Y-DNA analysis reveals that our paternal line haplogroup is: R1a1a, more specifically, R1a1a1h1a, according to ISOGG. According to current data, our closest Y relatives are the R1a1 Ashkenazi Levites and the Tatars. Most mamluks of the 13th century were originally Kipchak Turks (of present day Ukraine), and they appear to have been related to the Khazars and other northwestern Turkic groups.
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My father’s mother’s family history traces back to the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. For a few centuries they were landlords in a part of the Galilee of Palestine. They collected rents and taxes from the tenants on the lands they administered, and sent most of the moneys to the Imperial Treasury. They were able to attain such a position because one of the patriarchs of the family was a janissary. Janissaries were Christian boys from the Balkans that were taken from their homes through the “devshirme” system implemented by Sultan Murad I. These boys were converted to Islam and given extensive education and training to become the fighting arm of the Ottoman Empire. Those who demonstrated exemplary service were often granted prestigious retirements later in life, which included administering large tracts of land.
My grandmother also used to tell me about her grandmother who was the daughter of a powerful man who went by the name of Omer Pasha (or Omer Aga), who was from the Balkans.
Y-DNA analysis of this branch of the family reveals the haplogroup: J2b1, which has a concentration in Albania, and spreads out in small percentages across the lands of the former Yugoslavia.
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My father’s father’s mother came from the Zidan family, which was an Arab tribe from the Galilee in Palestine. They were prominent in Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, and one of the patriarchs was Daher Umar Zidan, who led local insurgencies against Ottoman rule. There is a mosque in Tiberias called the Zidani mosque. We have no Y-DNA analysis of this branch of the family.