16 June 2009

2886) Survey Of Life Of Armenians In Ottoman City Of Kayseri In 17th Century ( Kayseri Sharia Court Records)

Assist Prof Dr. Hava SELÇUK
Erciyes University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Department of History / Kayseri

Throughout the Ottoman age, Kayseri maintained its significance as a city where culturally and racially different communities co-existed peacefully for centuries. During the 17th century, the population included Muslim-Turks, Armenians and Greeks. The fact that these “nations” lived together in the same surrounding resulted in an intense interaction between them. The social and cultural interactions of the Turks and Armenians can be better understood by examining the records in Sharia court. In this paper, we will deal with the legal aspect of Turkish-Armenians . . relations in Kayseri. Therefore, the Sharia Court Records in Kayseri will be the main source of this study.

Referring to the records in the registry books to have been numbered from 13 to 104, we obtained some idea about Armenian life. We looked into a total of 58 court registers and determined records related to Armenians1. In this paper, first of all, we have identified the mahalle (quarter) and the villages in the area of Kayseri in which Armenians

1 We used to this paper on 13, 15/2, 18, 20, 25, 27, 42, 55, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 74, 75, 81, 84, 88, 89/I, 90, 91, 92, 96, 104, Numbered Sharia Court Record of Kayseri and mikrofilmi (56, 57, 58, 64, 71, 73, 76, 78,

lived2. Because Armenians and Greeks were classified as zimmi (i.e., a non-Muslim subject) based on the Ottoman law system, the government did not register these people by their religion rather than their ethnicity. The zimmi population of Kayseri in the 17th century consisted of Armenian Gregorian Christians and Greek Orthodox Christians. However, Muslims and non-Muslims lived together side by side in some quarters of Kayseri city.

It is known that Sharia law allowed the non-Muslims in a Muslim state to act in accordance with their own legal codes, but when they wished they could also apply to the Islamic courts. As it is known, non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire had the right to solve their problems related to religious and family affairs under the supervision of their religious leaders. Besides this, there was no obstacle for applying to the Ottoman court for any problem. Greeks and Armenians had applied to Ottoman courts without any force and preferred to be treated according to Islamic law for many problems concerning family laws, such as marriage, divorce, alimony and inheritance3. For example, the estates (tereke) of Armenians have been recorded to the documents of Kayseri Sharia Courts of 17th century. Thus, the social and cultural circumstances of the Armenians can be better understood.

Since Islamic law carried out a fair judgment for everyone, Armenians had applied to Ottoman courts without any force and preferred to be treated according to Islamic law. If a zimmi took their domestic problems to the Sharia court, the judgment was made in terms of Sharia law rather than Christian law. For example, some Armenians quitted the Armenian religion and adopted the Greek religion. Likewise, some Greeks quitted their religion and adopted the Armenian religion. This was allowed by principle of Hanefi doctrine, a particular school of Islamic 79, 80, 82, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 93, 94, 95, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 106 Numbered Sharia Court Record of Kayseri

2 Mustafa Keskin, Kayseri Nüfus Müfredat Defteri 1831-1861, Kayseri Büyük şehir Belediyesi yayınları, Kayseri 2000; Mehmet İnbaşı, XVI.yy Başlarında Kayseri, İl Kültür Müdürlüğü Yayınları Kayseri 1992.
3 Kemal Çiçek, “ Cemaat Mahkemesinden Kadı Mahkemesine Zimmîlerin Yargı Tercihi”, Pax Ottoman, Ankara 2001, pp.48-49.

law4. In another example, zimmis sought fetwas and used them in court in the same way as Muslims did. Zimmis used fetwas in those controversies which they had with Muslims as well as with each other5.


Christian law did not allow marriage between Armenians and Greeks. However, we found out some records relating to the marriage of Armenians and Greeks. These records simply say the following:

“Our vain religion does not customarily allow the marriage between Greeks and Armenians but Hanefi law allowed this kind of marriage. We have a fetwa indicating that the marriage was valid”6.

“Having reached at the age of discretion, Meryem has quitted the Greek religion and has adopted the Armenian religion. She has been married with Şehruz, who is a Greek, for three years”7.

“Gülcihan bint-i Safir living in the quarter of Sarkiyan has expressed that she and her husband have divorced8.”

“Sultan bint-i Sefer sets forth a claim to the court: ‘I have reached puberty (baliga ve akıle). I will not accept the marriage that my mother has arranged. I am putting an end to it’. However, Anasdas veled-i Simon has claimed when she married she had already reached puberty with two witnesses confirming his testimony. He expresses that he has a fetwa that says the marriage is valid9.

4 Mehmet Akif Erdoğru, “XVI-XVII. Yüzyılda Kayseri Zimmîleri”, I. Kayseri ve Yöresi Tarih Sempozyumu Bildirileri (11-12 Nisan), Kayseri 1996, p.74
5 55, p.93, Document: 248, 55, p.56, Document: 144; 55, p.126, Document: 334; 60, p.9, Document:30; 60, p.4, Document:12; Ertuğrul Düzdağ, Şeyhülislam Ebu Sûud Efendi Fetvaları Işığında 16. Asır Türk Hayatı, Enderun Kitabevi, İstanbul 1972., pp. 89-107
6 80, p.10, Document: 16
7 13, p.18, Document: 147
8 63; p.57, Document: 214
9 63, p.61, Document: 168

“Zanik bint-i Kirkor has become a Muslim. I have given her the name Zeynep. Zeynep is registered as a Muslim. She has married a Muslim man”10.


The conversion of Armenians to Islam who married with Muslim man has been recorded in the sicils (registers). Registering the conversion at the court must have been required, for it was essential to transfer the convert’s name from the list of zimmi taxpayers to that of Muslim. In the process, they abandoned their names and received suitable Muslim names.

Armenians Living in or near Kayseri who Converted to Islam in the 17th Century Quarter of kaySeri number of PerSonS ViLLage near kaySeri number of PerSonS

Bektaş quarter
Emir Sultan quarter
Fırıncı quarter
Harput quarter
Karabet quarter
Köyyıkan quarter
Merkebçi quarter
Oduncu quarter
Sınıkçı quarter
Şehreküstü quarter
Tavukçu quarter
Tutak quarter
Tutor quarter

The list above shows the number of Armenians from the quarters of Kayseri and nearby villages who converted to Islam. There were 36 Armenians living in Kayseri and 27 Armenians living in a village near Kayseri who converted to Islam. A resulting problem was the distribution of an inheritance. Hanefi law did not allow Muslims to inherit from zimmis or vice versa.

10 65, p.61, Document: 168


There is a considerable uncertainty about the precise functions of the şuhudu’l-hal (witnessing) at a Sharia court. The fact that the names of the witnesses at a hearing were recorded at the end of the documents summarizing the cases was something essential for the “validity” of the legal proceedings. They were a selected group of men from the different religions11. Because a case could not be considered as valid without being witnessed by a number of men together with the kadı (a judge), the şuhdu’l-hal changed for almost every case. When Armenians brought their legal conflicts to the Sharia court, they were appointed to a şuhudu’lhal for their case. The şuhudu’l-hal usually consisted of either 3 Muslims and 4 Armenians or 5 Muslims and 5 Armenians.12

Also, Sefer veled-i Cansız of Oduncu quarter, an expert in charge of the problems about the building, was appointed to court as meremmetçi13 (a master craftsman who was employed at the court). The non-Muslims were employed as expert at the Islamic court.

Like Muslims, Armenians were allowed to take oaths of innocence when faced with a charge which the accuser could not prove. The oath of innocence formally absolved the accused of any guilt. Armenians took oath in churches according to a special formula: “Bil’llâhi’llezî enzele’l-İncîle alâ aheyhi’s-selam”14. (Non-Muslims have take an oath upon Gospel).

The non-Muslims are observed to have played an active role in the field of health in Kayseri. An Armenian could apply to the Sharia court in order to take medicine because the Ottoman State was lawful state.

11 Nasi Aslan, İslâm Yargılama Hukukunda “Şühûdü’l-hal” Jüri Osmanlı Devri Uygulaması, Beyan yayınları, İstanbul 1999, pp.52-54

12 66/II; p.144, Document: 37; 91/2, p.196, Document: 389; 91/2, p.170, Document: 349; 84, p.107, Document: 228
13 55/II, p.224, Document: 547.
14 Ali Aktan, “Osmanlı Documentlerine Göre Kayseri’deki Gayrimüslim Tebaanın Durumu”, III. Kayseri ve Yöresi Tarih Sempozyumu Bildirileri, Kayseri 2000, p.22.

For instance, according to the Ottoman law codes, in case a man buying medicine with his own consent dies due to this medicine, he has to approve at the court that his inheritors will not be a claimant from the doctor. Here are some other examples:

“Keşiş veled-i Ohan in the village of Efkere applied to the Sharia court to buy medicine which cost 8.5 esedi kurush. If Ohan veled-i Keşiş died, his inheritors would not claim doctors”15.

“Ali bin El-Hac Halid of Çırgalan village applied to court. If he died, his inheritor would not claim Dimi veled-i Totorî”16.


Simeon of Poland travelled through a vast area between 1608 and 1619 by visiting Istanbul, Venice, Roma, Cairo and Jerusalem, as well as Anatolia. In 1618, Simeon reached at Kayseri, where he stayed a month.

He describes the city as generally in ruins, although the city had hans (covered markets), shops, and bazaars. He found that the Armenians experienced terrible hardship,17 but at the same time Muslims did not live any better than Armenians. However, the Armenians were busy with handicrafts and trade in Anatolian towns or with farming in villages where they were free from military obligations as other non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. Because of this, they increased in numbers and richened in the course of time and soon became a prosperous elite. The Armenians in Kayseri were able to accumulate more property than the Muslims.

For example, a Muslim of Hacı Klıç Quarter had a house of 50 esedi kurush, and at the same time an Armenian of Karakiçili Quarter had a house of 315 esedi kurush.. A Muslim of Yenice had a menzil (menzil /a house with a garden) of 45 esedi kurush while an Armenian of Elsem Paşa Quarter had a menzil of 500 esedi kurush18.

15 87; p.171, Document: 456
16 87, p.37, Document: 165
17 Hrand D. Andreasyan, Polonyalı Siemon’un Seyahatnâmesi (1608-1619), Baha matbaası, İstanbul 1964, pp.158-162.
18 55/1-55/2, Documents: 13, 130, 217, 442


Just following the conquest of Istanbul, Mehmed II had the Armenian spiritual leader brought from Bursa to Istanbul. The establishment of the Armenian Patriachate in Istanbul, that it was assigned as the religious leader of all Armenians, and was granted to it the power to take action in the community’s religious and some social affairs are evidence of the closeness, tolerance, and confidence that Ottoman State felt toward the Armenians19.

The Ottoman State gave permission to repair their churches, but not to build new churches. Some examples of church reconstruction from the documents are as follows:

“Manastır church was in the village of Nize. It is ruined. This church needs to be repaired”20.

“Serkis Church is ruined”21.

“A wakf is established by Armenians for Meryem Ana Church.”22.

“Kadem bint-i İskender made a 225 kurush wakf for the poor of Mütevelli church”23.

“A çeşme (a fountain) is established by Demirci Budak in the quarter of Sisliyan. Mihail veled-i Bogos made a wakf from the income obtained from the rent of property at Sisliyan. The money is to be spent on the repair of çeşme24.”

The Muslims and Armenians of Kayseri did not live isolated from one another in the 17th century. Zimmis came to court daily. Their cases were so intermixed with those of Muslims that there could not be any calendar restricting them to particular days, times of day, or district courts.

19 Otoman Archives, Yıldız Collection, The Ermenian Qestions-3, İstanbul 1989.
20 106, p.24, Document: 65
21 91/I, p.147, Document: 310
22 82 p.8, Document: 18
23 98, p.128, Document: 315.
24 60/I, p.17, Document: 60

Islamic law protected their lives, property and freedom, and with some restrictions, granted them also the right to practice their religion.


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