Author's note: I wish to thank His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, who in January of 2017 granted me access to the digitized archive of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Dayr al-Zaʿfaran (Dayro d-Kurkmo), near Mardin. Thanks to George Kiraz for arranging my meeting with the patriarch and for his efforts in digitizing the documents over the past dozen years, as well as for the guidance and insight he has provided throughout my research. Thank you to Alan Mikhail, Kathryn Lofton, Peter Conroy, Baki Tezcan, Masayuki Ueno, Madoka Morita, and the participants of the Western Ottomanists’ Workshop at Portland State University in March, 2018, for their invaluable feedback on different versions of this article. Finally, many thanks to the anonymous reviewers of IJMES for their enormously helpful critiques and insights.
1 In this article, the Turkish term Süryani refers to the Ottoman-era adherents of the church known variously as the Syriac Orthodox Church (no relation to the Greek Orthodox Church), the Syrian Orthodox Church, and (pejoratively) the Jacobite Church. Today, the descendants of the Ottoman Süryani identify in different ways: as Süryani, Syriac, Assyrian, Aramaean, some combination of these, or otherwise. I have chosen to use the Turkish term Süryani, derived from the Arabic, because that is the term most often used in the documents I have consulted for this article. Throughout Ottoman times, the Süryani were sometimes referred to as Ya ʿ ḳūbī Süryani (Jacobite Süryani) and, later, as Süryani-i kadim (Old Süryani) to distinguish them from the Catholic and Protestant Süryani. For a detailed discussion on terminology, see Trigona-Harany, Benjamin, The Ottoman Süryani from 1908 to 1914 (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2009), 4–9.
2 The record suggests that the contents of the closet are not relevant to the dispute. The contents were most likely liturgical materials, but the Arabic word, al-māl, simply indicates that it was property. The dispute seems focused on Süryani access to an exclusive space within the church.
3 These Ottoman offices were in all likelihood held by Muslims, though Christians continued to serve at various levels of Ottoman administration in this period. See Philliou, Christine, Biography of an Empire: Governing Ottomans in an Age of Revolutions (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2010). Due to the frequency of intra-Christian conflict over holy places in Jerusalem, the Ottomans apparently looked to Muslims to arbitrate, such as when the Ottomans entrusted the keys of the Holy Sepulchre to a Muslim family. One therefore expects that the Ottoman provincial authorities involved would have been Muslim. See Ousterhout, Robert, “Is Nothing Sacred? A Modernist Encounter with the Holy Sepulchre,” in On Location: Heritage Cities and Sites, ed. Fairchild, D. Ruggles (New York: Springer, 2012), 131–50.
4 The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Archive of Dayr al-Zaʿfaran (Dayro d-Kurkmo), near Mardin, Turkey: K05-0025, 0026, 31 January 1882. Per the archive's system, hereafter “K,” as in Kurkmo, will denote the archive, followed by the document number (<year of digitization>-<file number>). The digital archive is held at Beth Mardutho: the Syriac Institute in Piscataway, N.J. The document is written in Arabic Garshuni, or Syro-Arabic—Arabic written in the Syriac script. All translations are mine. These documents are for the most part colloquial in syntax, vocabulary, and tone. To show this I have provided ample transliterations. It should be noted that transliteration from Garshuni to traditional Arabic is not a one-to-one process, and the proper transliteration is often ambiguous. This is especially true of the internal voweling.
5 Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (hereafter BOA), Y.MTV, 75/144/2/1 and BOA, Y.MTV, 75/144/2/2. 30 January 1893.
6 On broader Ottoman attempts to “know” the empire's population in this period, see Karpat, Kemal, Ottoman Population 1830–1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Rogan, Eugene, Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850–1921 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Schull, Kent, Prisons in the Late Ottoman Empire: Microcosms of Modernity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014); and Yosmaoğlu, İpek, Blood Ties: Religion, Violence, and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia, 1878–1908 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2014).
7 Yosmaoğlu, İpek, “Counting Bodies, Shaping Souls: The 1903 Census and National Identity in Ottoman Macedonia,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 38 (2006): 55–77.
8 Seyfeli, Canan, “Millet Sistemi ve-Osmanlı Devlet Salnamelerinde Süryani Kadim Patrikliği (1847–1918),” Sosyal Bilimler Araştırma Dergisi 15 (2017): 17–45.
9 BOA, HR.ID 1597/53/1. 25 October 1874.
10 On the proliferation of millets in the 19th century, see Deringil, Selim, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
12 See Makdisi, Ussama, The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000), 60–65, 95.
13 See Braude, Benjamin, “Foundation Myths of the Millet System,” in Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society, vol. 1, ed. Braude, Benjamin and Lewis, Bernard (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1982), 69–90; Hacker, Joseph, “Jewish Autonomy in the Ottoman Empire: Its Scope and Limits. Jewish Courts from the 16th to the 18th Centuries,” in The Jews of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Levy, Avigdor (Princeton, N.J.: Darwin Press, 1994), 153–202; Goffman, Daniel, “Ottoman Millets in the Early Seventeenth Century,” New Perspectives on Turkey 11 (1994): 135–58; Inalcik, Halil, “The Status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch under the Ottomans,” Turcica 23 (1991): 407–36; Konortas, Paraskevas, “From Taʾife to Millet: Ottoman Terms for the Ottoman Greek Orthodox Community,” in Ottoman Greeks in the Age of Nationalism: Politics, Economy, and Society in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Gondicas, Dimitri and Issawi, Charles (Princeton, N.J.: Darwin Press, 1999), 169–80; Masters, Bruce, Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Arab World: The Roots of Sectarianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Laiou, Sophia, “Christian Women in an Ottoman World: Interpersonal and Family Cases Brought Before the Shariʿa Courts during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cases Involving the Greek Community),” in Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History, ed. Buturovic, Amila and Schick, Irvin Cemil (London: I.B.Tauris, 2007), 243–72; and Barkey, Karen and Gavrilis, George, “The Ottoman Millet System: Non-Territorial Autonomy and Its Contemporary Legacy,” Ethnopolitics 15 (2016): 24–42.
14 Davison, Roderic, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856–1876 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963); Findley, Carter V., Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 1789–1922 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), and Findley, Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity: A History, 1789–2007 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010).
15 Ueno, Masayuki, “‘For the Fatherland and the State’: Armenians Negotiate the Tanzimat Reforms,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45 (2013): 93–109; Petrov, Milen, “Everyday Forms of Compliance: Subaltern Commentaries on Ottoman Reform, 1864–1868,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (2004): 730–59; Milen Petrov, “Tanzimat for the Countryside: Midhat Paşa and the Vilayet of Danube, 1864–1868” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2006); Köksal, Yonca, “Imperial Center and Local Groups: Tanzimat Reforms in the Provinces of Edirne and Ankara,” New Perspectives on Turkey 27 (2002): 107–38.
16 Deringil, Selim, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire: 1876–1909 (London: I.B.Tauris, 1999).
17 Brinkley Messick, for instance, has argued that the Ottoman Mecelle, the civil code implemented in the late nineteenth century, transformed a formerly open and interpretive shariʿa into something more like codified law; Messick, , The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996).
18 Fleischer, Cornell, Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman Empire: The Historian Mustafa Ali (1541–1600) (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986); Şahin, Kaya, Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
19 Ferguson, Heather, The Proper Order of Things: Language, Power, and Law in Ottoman Administrative Discourses (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2018).
20 Halil İnalcık, “Şikayet Hakkı: ʿArz-ı Hal ve ʿArz-ı Mahzar'lar,” Osmanlı Araştırmaları 7–8 (1988): 33–54.
21 Gara, Eleni, Kabadayı, M. Erdem, and Neumann, Christoph K., eds., Popular Protest and Political Participation in the Ottoman Empire: Studies in Honor of Suraiya Faroqhi (Istanbul: Istanbul Bilgi University Press, 2011); Faroqhi, Suraiya, “Political Activity Among Ottoman Taxpayers and the Problem of Sultanic Legitimation (1570–1650),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 35 (1992): 1–39; Yaycioglu, Ali, Partners of the Empire: The Crisis of the Ottoman Order in the Age of Revolutions (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016), 117–56. For the republican period in Turkey and a helpful historiographical review, see Akin, Yiğit, “Reconsidering State, Party, and Society in Early Republican Turkey: Politics of Petitioning,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39 (2007): 435–57.
22 On the Nizamiye courts and the relationship between new and old forms of legal recourse in the late Ottoman Empire, see Rubin, Avi, Ottoman Nizamiye Courts: Law and Modernity (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).
23 Ben-Bassat, Yuval, Petitioning the Sultan: Protests and Justice in Late Ottoman Palestine (London: I.B.Tauris, 2014), 35.
26 Hanssen, Jens, Fin de Siècle Beirut: The Making of an Ottoman Provincial Capital (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 53. One historian of early modern England has similarly argued that the combination of petitioning practices and commercial printing gave rise to a democratic political culture. See Zaret, David, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000).
27 Doumani, Beshara, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700–1900 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1995), 180.
28 Abou-El-Hajj, Rifaʿat, Formation of the Modern State: The Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2005); Khoury, Dina, State and Provincial Society in the Ottoman Empire: Mosul, 1540–1834 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Yaycioglu, Partners of the Empire; Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine.
29 Makdisi, The Culture of Sectarianism; Weiss, Max, In the Shadow of Sectarianism: Law, Shiʿism, and the Making of Modern Lebanon (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); Karpat, Kemal, “The Ottoman Ethnic and Confessional Legacy in the Middle East,” in Studies on Ottoman Social and Political History: Selected Articles and Essays (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 739; Masters, Christians and Jews, 193.
30 For work on the millet system and the Christians and Jews of the empire, see Braude, Benjamin and Lewis, Bernard, eds., Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society, 2 vols. (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1982); and Kenanoğlu, Macit, Osmanlı Millet Sistemi: Mit ve Gerçek (Istanbul: Klasik, 2004). For earlier takes on the millet system, see Berkes, Niyazi, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964); and Lewis, Bernard, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1961). On millets and the question of legal autonomy, see Joseph Hacker, “Jewish Autonomy in the Ottoman Empire.”
31 For work on relations between non-Muslims and the Ottoman state, see Philliou, Biography of an Empire; and Kafadar, Cemal, Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996). For work on minorities and the state in the modern Middle East, see White, Benjamin, The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: The Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011); Mahmood, Saba, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016); and Robson, Laura, ed., Minorities and the Modern Arab World: New Perspectives (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2016).
32 In his exposition of the myth of the millet system, Benjamin Braude wrote, “[the millet system] was not an institution or even a group of institutions, but rather it was a set of arrangements, largely local, with considerable variation over time and place”; Braude, “Foundation Myths,” 74. M.O.H. Ursinus, while somewhat critical of Braude, holds nonetheless that “It rather looks as if the individual religious communities, which, on the local level, had to live under conditions which were varying according to place and time, in the perspective of the central government were seen as parts of religious and juridical communities which, under the leadership of their (ecclesiastical) heads, ideally had an empire-wide dimension”; “Millet,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition., edited by M.O.H. Ursinus, accessed 9 January 2019, https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/millet-COM_0741?s.num=0&s.f.s2_parent=s.f.book.encyclopaedia-of-islam-2&s.q=Millet.
33 The only reference in English-language scholarship to yamaklık I have come across is in Cohen, Raymond, Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue Their Holiest Shrine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9. Turkish-language treatments of the concept can be found in:Kenanoğlu, Osmanlı Millet Sistemi; and Canan Seyfeli, “Osmanlı Devleti'nde Gayrimüslimlerin İdari Yapısı: Süryani Kadim Kilisesi Örneği,” in Süryaniler ve Süryanilik, comp. Ahmet Taşğın, Eyyüp Tanrıverdi, and Canan Seyfeli (Ankara: Orient Yayınları, 2005), 251–67.
35 For an account of Coptic Christians (yamak to the Armenians) in Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire, see Armanios, Febe, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
36 Sanjian, Avedis K., The Armenian Communities in Syria under Ottoman Dominion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965), 96.
37 Canan Seyfeli, “Osmanlı Devleti'nde Gayrimüslimlerin İdari Yapısı,” 255–57.
38 Turkish original: “içeride ve taşrada vaki olan kiliseleri ve manastırları ve sair ziyaretgahları ve kendilere tabi hem-milletleri ve yamakları Habeş ve Kıpti ve Süryani milletleri ayinleri üzere zabt ve tasarruf eyleye.” This firman was reproduced in Ercan, Yavuz, Kudüs Ermeni Patrikhanesi (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1988), 33–34.
39 Seyfeli, “Osmanlı Devleti'nde Gayrimüslimlerin İdari Yapısı,” 257.
40 Kenanoğlu, Osmanlı Millet Sistemi, 112.
42 Kenanoğlu makes this claim on the basis of two documents from h. 1146 and 1171. See Kenanoğlu, Osmanlı Millet Sistemi, 116–17.
43 BOA, A.DVN.NMH 3/16/1/1. 1255 hijri (1839–1840 A.D.).
44 Akyüz, P. Gabriyel, Osmanlı Devleti'nde Süryani Kilisesi (Copyright: P. Gabriyel Akyüz, 2001), 49.
45 Kevork B. Bardakjian, “The Rise of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople,” in Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, 90n40.
46 Joseph, John, Muslim–Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1983), 48.
47 On the Ottoman idea that unbelief constitutes one nation, see Masters, Christians and Jews, 81.
48 Karpat, “The Ottoman Ethnic and Confessional Legacy in the Middle East,” 736.
50 Braude, “Foundation Myths,” 74.
51 Molly Greene, “The Ottoman Experience,” Daedalus (2005): 88–99. In the context of 15th-century Limnos, Heath Lowry argued that the transition from Byzantine to Ottoman rule was one of continuity rather than rupture. This was due to the Ottoman policy of istimalet, or accommodation, which served to garner the support of local Christian communities; Lowry, , Fifteenth Century Ottoman Realities: Christian Peasant Life on the Aegean Island of Limnos (Istanbul: Eren Press, 2002), 1.
52 K05-0025, 0026. 31 January 1882.
54 Carter Findley treats the curious history of this office, including its evolution from “Minister of Justice” to “Minister of Religious Sects and Justice” in Findley, Bureaucratic Reform, 184–86.
55 For detailed information on these particular administrative reforms, see Roderic H. Davison, “Provincial Government: Midhat Paşa and the Vilayet System of 1864 and 1867,” in Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 136–71; and Mardin, Şerif, “Some Explanatory Notes on the Origins of the ‘Mecelle’ (Medjelle),” The Muslim World 51 (1961): 189–96.
56 BOA, BEO 101/7570/6/1. 5 September 1892.
57 BOA, BEO 17/1225/1/2. 7 June 1892.
58 BOA, BEO 101/7570/3/1. 8 October 1892.
59 Seyfeli, “Millet Sistemi,” 20.
60 BOA, BEO 208/15557/2/1. 17 May 1893.
61 BOA, BEO 208/15557/3/1. 17 May 1893.
62 BOA, Y.MTV 49/108/2/1. 17 April 1891.
63 BOA, Y.MTV 49/108/1/1 and BOA, Y.MTV 49/108/1/2. 23 April 1891.
64 BOA, BEO 208/15557/5/1 and BEO 208/15557/5/2. 2 February 1893.
65 BOA, Y.MTV 75/144/2/1 and BOA, Y.MTV 75/144/2/2. 30 January 1893.
66 In which they mention “muʿteberān”: BOA, BEO 17/1225/21. 18 June 1893.
67 The document reads: “Süryani kabristanına Ermeniler'in taʿarrużātından şikāyeti hāvī mahāl-ı muhtelefede muḳīm Süryani cemaatı taraflarından vurūd etmekde olan şikāyet-nāmeler…” BOA, BEO 241/18015/1/2. 19 July 1893. For another document in which the Ottomans took note of the petitions’ multiple places of origin, see BOA, BEO 208/15557/3/1. 17 May 1893.
68 Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 130.
70 Lionel George Archer Cust, The Status Quo in the Holy Places (Jerusalem: Ariel Publishing House, 1980), 26.
71 Seyfeli, “Millet Sistemi.” See also Özcoşar, İbrahim, Bir Yüzyıl Bir Sancak Bir Cemaat: 19. Yüzyılda Mardin Süryanileri (Istanbul: Beyan Yayınları, 2008), 62–66.
74 Carter Findley notes that ministers without portfolio would sometimes serve on the Council of Ministers, though this practice declined in the late 19th century with Cevdet Pasha being the final person to have done so. Findley, Bureaucratic Reform, 246.
75 BOA, Y.MTV 75/144/1/1 and Y.MTV 75/144/1/2. 8 March 1893.
76 Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 8.
77 On the muhtar system, see “Muhtar,” in Islam Ansiklopedisi., ed. Ali Akyıldız, Islam Araştırmaları Merkezi, accessed 7 May 2019, https://islamansiklopedisi.org.tr/muhtar; Mehmet Güneş, Osmanlı Döneminde Muhtarlık ve İhtiyar Meclisi (1829-1871) (İstanbul: Kitabevi Yayınları, 2014); Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 147.
78 On this point, see Kechriotis, Vangelis, “The Modernization of the Empire and the Community ‘Privileges’: Greek Orthodox Responses to the Young Turk Policies,” in The State and the Subaltern: Society and Politics in Turkey and Iran, ed. Atabaki, Touraj (London: I.B.Tauris, 2007), 53–70.
79 Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 147.
80 Assyrian nationalism did not develop amongst the Ottoman Süryani until much later. See Trigona-Harany, The Ottoman Süryani.
81 Campos, Michelle, “Between ‘Beloved Ottomania’ and ‘The Land of Israel’: The Struggle over Ottomanism and Zionism among Palestine's Sephardi Jews, 1908–13,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37 (2005): 461–83.
82 Canan Seyfeli, “Millet Sistemi,” 23.
83 For an account of the schism, see Karakasidou, Anastasia N., Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870–1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 77–107. For an historiographical review of Bulgarian nationalism, see Daskalov, Roumen, The Making of a Nation in the Balkans: Historiography of the Bulgarian Revival (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004).