Language

Ottoman literacies

Here is an interesting artefact of historical literacy that I encountered, during a brief stay in Cyprus last year as a visiting lecturer. In a visit to the Hala Sultan Tekke and surrounding salt lake, one of my favourite places on the island, I saw this compilation from the Ottoman Archives on an office shelf.

The Ottoman’s kept meticulous records of almost everything and this freshly printed volume is but one compilation of Ottoman rulings, or fatawa, which covers a mere 15 years of the 300 years of the Ottoman rule of Cyprus. The other decades are being compiled and also translated, and the level of detail is tremendous. They’re pretty hefty tomes.

They consist of scans of original scripts thematically arranged with some modern Turkish commentary alongside in select places. While looking through with expert Imam Shakir Alemdar, I saw that issues complied range from disputes between Greeks and Ottoman soldiers to property and marriage problems. Quite mundane, but an authentic snapshot of what Ottoman rule would have looked like during that period.

Beyond my interest in literacy, perhaps this would be useful for writers looking for inspiration from authentic material, or historians seeking deeper and more grounded accounts of life during the Ottoman period. Imam Shakir Alemdar, the Imam at the Tekke, tells me he will keep me posted on more volumes as they get compiled.

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