1395) Armenians In The Social And Economic Life Of Bursa Until The Tanzimat Period

Dr. Ali İhsan KARATAŞ
Uludag University Faculty of Theology Dept. of History of Islam and Islamic Arts / Bursa

Bursa is an important point of departure in examining the relationships of Armenians, as well as other non-Muslims, with the State, and their connections with Muslims within their community throughout Ottoman history. Therefore the role of Armenians in socioeconomic life will be discussed with Bursa as the center.

The residents of Bursa consisted of Greeks before the Ottoman conquest.

With people who came from other regions and settled after the conquest, Bursa became an important city in a short time with a Muslim majority and non-Muslim minority. The non-Muslims in the city were composed of Jews and Christians. Christians were mostly Greeks and Armenians. The foreign travelers who visited Bursa in different periods observed that the vast majority of the populace of Bursa were Muslims, but Jews, Greeks and Armenians had always lived there.1 . .

1 Simeon, Tarihte Ermeniler, Çiviyazıları Yayınevi, İstanbul 1999, p. 40;, Rıza Akdemir, “Carsten Niebuhr ve Seyahatnamesi”, Milli Kültür, no. 64, p. 100;
Gülgün Üçel Aybet, Avrupalı Seyyahların Gözünden Osmanlı Dünyası ve İnsanları (1530-1699), İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul 2003, p. 540; Heath W. Lowry, Ottoman Bursa in Travel Accounts, Indiana University Ottoman and Modern Turkish


People from different races and religions who have lived together
for centuries have day-to-day relations with each other in many areas. As
a matter of fact, it is clearly seen in Sharia records that people from all
religions and nations were often in contact with each other, sometimes
due to disputes between each other and sometimes due to reasons like
commerce, testimony, surety, borrowing or lending, and conducting
joint business activities.

1-First Armenians in Bursa and Armenian Neighborhoods

It is stated that the first Armenians that came to the city were a group who was invited to the city from Kütahya by Orhan Gazi. Kamil Kepecioğlu, who is an important researcher on the history of Bursa, states that Çelebi Sultan Mehmet brought ten Armenian households when the Green Mosque was being built to have them serve Muslims who came to the Mosque in winter. He settled them near the mosque allocating them fodla (bread) from the Green Almshouse.2 The number of Armenian neighborhoods increased in the following years. Such that, according to Evliya Çelebi, there were in total 23 non-Muslim neighborhoods in Bursa in the 17th century, 7 of which were Armenian, 9 were Greek, 6 were Jewish, and 1 was Copt.3 Armenians in Bursa spread to several neighborhoods in the city but concentrated in the Setbaşı, Mollaarap, Çobanbey, Namazgah, Karaağaç and Kurdoğlu neighborhoods.4 The Setbaşı neighborhood was the Armenian center.

The Armenians who came to Bursa as a group of ten households in the era of Çelebi Mehmet grew in a short time so that they could form Studies Publications, Bloomington 2003, p. 35; Robert Walsh, “Bursa, Uludağ ve Emirsultan”, (Süha Sertabiboğlu), Bir Masaldı Bursa, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, İstanbul 1996, p. 349.

2 Kamil Kepecioğlu, Bursa Kütüğü, II, 41.
3 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, (Haz: Z. Kurşun, S. A. Kahraman, Y. Dağlı), İstanbul 1999, II, 11.
4 Osman Çetin, Sicillere Göre Bursa’da İhtida Hareketleri ve Sosyal Sonuçları (1472-1909), Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, Ankara 1994, p. 26; Raif Kaplanoğlu, Bursa Yer Adları Ansiklopedisi, Bursa Ticaret Borsası Kültür Yayınları, İstanbul 1996, p. 33.

a few neighborhoods belonging to them. The most important reason for their preference to settle in Bursa was, of course, its being a city where they could live in peace. There was an established administrative system.

Minorities did not feel pressure from the administration or the majority in this system; instead, they felt their support. They had a comfortable daily life; they could conduct their own business and their religious rituals and ceremonies without any difficulty. They were neighbors of Muslims, they traded with them, and they could buy or rent houses from each other. Moreover, Armenians who were impressed by Muslims as a result of these relationships used names like Murad, Yakub, Hızır, Sefer, İskender, and Bâlî, which are commonly used by Turks.5

2-The Ottoman Courts and Armenians

Courts were the most important places where Armenians in Bursa had extensive relationships with Muslims regarding the practices of daily life like sociability and trade. The Ottoman courts were not only places where disputes were solved but also places where transactions that were made on almost every issue that interests society took place, such as the selling and buying of property, marriage agreements, and approval of declarations of trust. Therefore, Armenians frequently turned to the courts headed by a qadi6 to be treated in accordance with the Islamic law. They did this even though they were not obliged to do so. In fact, Armenians had the opportunity to solve these issues under the supervision of their own religious officials and in accordance with the provisions of their own religions. However, they could resort to Ottoman courts on almost every kind of issue and often chose to do so. Provisions of the Islamic law were applied to the non-Muslims who resorted to Ottoman courts.

When we look at the Sharia records, it is seen that despite the opposition of non-Muslim religious officials, and their going against their own community, thousands of non-Muslims, some of which were Armenians, applied to Islamic courts to solve many issues. This took place mostly regarding family law issues, such as marriage, divorce, allowance and hereditary shares. One significant reason for Armenians

5 Kepecioğlu, op.cit, II, 41.
6 Qadi is a judge of the Canon law of Islam.

to get married or divorced in Islamic courts was that both sides wanted to benefit from the rights granted by the parties in Islamic law. Armenians who got married in Islamic courts paid less marriage taxes than they paid to the church.7 Moreover, Armenian women wanted to benefit from the mehir practice which was a requirement of money or goods promised to a woman. There was no mehir practice in Christianity and Judaism. Another reason to prefer Islamic courts for marriage was that archbishops did not exist everywhere. Therefore, it took a long time to obtain the necessary permission to get married and marriage turned into a costly affair.8 Similar things can be said about divorce. As it is known, divorce was difficult according to church laws. Therefore, Christians benefited from the possibilities in divorce like talâq (divorce of a wife by her husband) and muhâla‘a (divorcing one’s wife at her desire, for a valuable consideration) by applying to the Islamic courts. Making it easier to get married again after divorce and to obtain the allowance necessary to raise children were other reasons for preference of Islamic courts by non-Muslims.9

The main problem that Armenians experienced with marriage was the case of people who wanted to engage in polygamy. There is no polygamy in Christianity. However there were Armenians who engaged in polygamy directly opposing the provisions of their religion. Armenians who wanted to engage in polygamy had their marriage agreement overseen by an imam. The Armenian Patriarch Zakarya presented a petition to the Imperial Court to solve problems related to marriage, especially the 7 The amount of this tax paid to the church changed according to the first, second or third marriage of the person. For example bishops taxed non-Muslim marriages 80 akce for the first, 160 akce for the second, and 240 akce for the third marriage. See: Rossitsa Gradeva, “Orthodox Christians in the Kadı Courts: The Practice of the Sofia Sheriat Court, Seventeenth century”, Islamic Law and Society, E. J. Brill, Leiden 1997, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 58. Yavuz Ercan, Osmanlı Yönetiminde Gayrimüslimler, Turhan Kitabevi, Ankara 2001, p. 206.

8 Gradeva, op.cit., p. 58.
9 See Gradeva, op.cit, p. 62 for reasons of non-muslims to prefer Ottoman courts in marriage and divorce. See also Ali İhsan Karataş and Osman Çetin, “Marriages Of Non-Muslims In A Muslim Community: A Case Study of the 18th Century Bursa in the Ottoman State According To the Sharîah Records”, The Islamic Quarterly, Volüme 51, Issue 3, 2007, s. 215-236.

increased numbers engaged in polygamy. Upon receiving this petition Sultan Padişah III Selim sent an edict to the qadis of different cities in 1792. The edict stated that the Patriarch complained about Armenians who engaged in polygamy as opposed to their religion, and he wanted measures to be taken about this issue.10

One of the problems apparent in the records is that Armenians who had zimmi (non-Muslim subject of the Ottoman Empire or a Muslim state) status wanted to get married to people who were not Ottoman subjects. The Ottoman State did not allow non-Muslims who were its subjects to get married to foreigners, especially those who were European and described as Efrenç taifesi. Armenian religious officials also supported this prohibition. The related records show that there were people who married foreigners despite these prohibitions. The Armenian Patriarch presented a petition to the Imperial Court in 1822 in which he stated that although intermarriage with Efrenç taifesi was prohibited, a person called Nikofos, who resided in Bursa, wanted to get married to a girl who does not belong to his own community but to Efrenç taifesi. He believed this situation might cause several problems and wanted Nikofos to be stopped. Then the Imperial Court gave to the Patriarch an edict which prohibits this type of marriage.11

The records in Bursa show that the settlement of inheritance shares of Armenians were mostly done by the qadi, and Armenians generally solved their problems regarding these issues in Islamic courts. Disputes emerged frequently among successors on inheritance issues. According to the records, in most of the cases, successors claimed that either one of the successors unjustly took more of the property or some of the successors hid some of the property that should be shared. For example, the wealth of Karabet veled-i Melkon, who died while living in the Hocatayyib neighborhood, was inherited by his wife Merre, his brother Avanıs, and his sister Sofi. After sharing the inheritance, Avanıs resorted to the court 10 B.Ş.S., B80/102a (Busa Şer’iyye Sicilleri-Bursa Sharia Court Records) (Henceforth BŞS). For further information about this issue see, Karataş and Çetin, op. cit., pp. 227-229.

11 In the imperial decree, non-Muslims, as Ottoman people, daily life relations like residing with foreigners, renting their houses were also included. B.Ş.S., B358/61a.

and claimed that he took his share in the inheritance of Karabet from Merre but Merre had hidden one thousand piastres of cash and a house and left them out of the inheritance. A dispute emerged between them when he demanded his share. They made peace when intermediaries intervened, and Merre gave eighty-four piastres of cash, a golden watch, his share in an approximately 1000 square meters of a vineyard in Misi Village and a quarter of their receivables of one hundred and five piastres to Avanıs. As is seen in the content of this document, Merre later admitted that she hid some of the commodities and agreed to share the hidden commodities.12

3-Religious Freedom
Armenians in Bursa were totally unlimited in terms of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. After the conquest of Istanbul, non-Muslims were classified according to the millet system whereby religious minority groups were legally protected and were allowed to rule themselves (in cases not involving any Muslim) with fairly little interference from the Ottoman government. A patriarchate was established for the Armenians who were considered to be a separate millet in 1461. Ovakim, the Patriarch of Bursa, was appointed as the patriarch of this millet. The same rights granted to the Greek patriarchate were granted to the Armenian patriarchate. The Armenian patriarchate was responsible for the Armenian community living in and around Bursa. Appointments and dismissals of Armenian religious officials in Bursa were made by the Armenian patriarch and were approved by the Sultan.

Records indicate that some of the Armenian religious officials in Bursa were dismissed or punished for various reasons. Some of the officials could not get on well with the religious community they administered.13 Some could not work since they were ill or old. Some acted against their religion, or did not go to their duty site. In fact, the Armenian Patriarch Kirkor resorted to the Imperial Court in 1773 and claimed that the managing director of the Bursa region, who was a priest called Samuel,

12 Hacer Balcı, B171/347 Nolu Bursa Mahkeme Sicili, Uludağ Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü. (Unpublished MA dissertation) Bursa 2000, p. 79.
13 B.Ş.S., C21/35b.

should be dismissed since he could not fulfill his executive duties since he was ill, old, and not strong enough to direct the rituals of the community. Therefore he demanded the appointment of a priest called Artin to the post.14

It was forbidden to convert zimmis into Muslims by coercion in the Ottoman society. Even though there was some individual coercion, there was no systematic Muslimization by the state. However, non-Muslims were encouraged to convert. Furthermore, the non-Muslims who converted to Islam with their consent got aid and were protected from the pressures from their previous religion. There was a significant number of Armenians among these people. In fact, it is seen in Osman Çetin’s study on the people who converted between 1472 and 1909 in Bursa that 145 (33%) of the 439 people who converted in this period were Armenians.15

d-The Armenian Churchs
A church was built for the Armenians who came to Bursa after the Ottoman conquest. This church remained in existence until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It is mentioned in the literary works of travelers who visited Bursa that there was one church which belonged to the Armenians until the end of the 17th century. The second church of the Armenians was established by the allocation of an unoccupied building that previously belonged to Catholic Armenians, who were recognized as a separate millet in 1831. The requests of Catholic Armenians in Bursa to the Imperial Court for a place that was ruined and was not used as a church before to be repaired and used as a church was approved.16 Non-Muslims in the Ottoman State were not allowed to build new sanctuaries; however, they were allowed to repair churches and continue to use them. Sharia records show that Armenians in Bursa also repaired their churches. Although Armenians in Bursa repaired their sanctuaries without facing problems, after obtaining the required permission17 they

14 B.Ş.S., B203/29b.
15 Çetin, op.cit, p.45.
16 B.Ş.S., B347/9a.
17 B.Ş.S., B242/59b

sometimes had conflicts with Muslims. Occasionally, some Muslims tried to prevent repair work, or they destroyed churches due to misunderstanding or provocation. However, the State investigated the issue in such cases and if the investigations proved that zimmis were repairing the church with the permission of authorities, the State prohibited any attack against them or their church. Furthermore, people who intervened unjustly and caused disorder were punished, even if they were Muslims.

In fact, an incident exemplifying this issue occurred in Bursa. At the end of the 18th century, Armenians in Bursa applied to the Imperial Court and demanded permission to repair the church which had belonged to them for many years. It was in such a state of disrepair, they could no longer worship in it. Upon request, they earned permission.

The Armenians who obtained the required permission began repairing their church. However, when the repair was about to finish, about one thousand Muslim women and fifty men attacked and burned the church as well as a few Armenian houses around the church, injuring some Armenians.18

After the incident, in the letter sent by the former nâib (regent) of Bursa to the Imperial Court it was stated that the women did not act on their own. Cabizade Mustafa, Müderris Nizameddin and his assistants asked for bribes during the repair but since they were not given, they provoked the women into this assault.19 In another letter, it was stated that the former nâib and an a’yân (a chief man in a city or town) took bribes, and since they condoned the building of the church, a group of people, mostly composed of women, attacked the church.

Another claim about this same incident relates to the architecture of the church. Armenians repaired the church in the shape of a six vaulted mosque, which was different from its original shape. This caused unrest among Muslims. The following April, heavy rains fell in Bursa and were interpreted as a punishment from God. Then, women in Bursa attacked the church saying that “as men cannot solve this issue, let us solve it.”20

18 B.Ş.S., B251/3a.
19 B.Ş.S., B251/56b.
20 Kepecioğlu, op.cit, II, 359.

Since the claims were different from each other, a bailiff was sent from Istanbul to investigate the real reason for the incident. After the bailiff investigated the issue, it was understood that the former regent and A’yan Es’ad Efendi examined the permission given for the repair of the church but they did not inform the community. Therefore, people who were not informed about the permission responded angrily thinking that the authorized people allowed the repair of the church without required permission since they had taken bribes.21 Consequently, in accordance with the court decision, the church was rebuilt as it was before. Because of their negligent and intentional acts, among the people who were responsible in the incident, the former regent was dismissed; the notable did not leave his farm for a while; Müderris Nizamzade Nizameddin, İmam Cabizade Mustafa and Deli Molla were sent to exile.22

It is seen that State administrators were very sensitive in protecting the rights of Armenians. In fact, in the case reviewed above, it is clear they were very cautious in choosing a trustworthy inspector to send to Bursa. The bailiff was reminded that he should investigate the incident very carefully and he would be punished severely if he made a mistake.23

There were professionals of many different occupations among the non-Muslims. Even though we do not have the opportunity to find out in which occupations all of the Armenians in Bursa engaged during the Ottoman period, there are some documents that shed light on this issue. For example, there is a list which showed the amount of taxes that should be paid by non-Muslims for alcoholic beverages (wine and raki) they produced using grapes that they planted in their own vineyards in Bursa. The names and occupations of 90 Armenians, 107 Greeks, and 10 Jews were stated on the list in which 233 Armenians, 215 Greeks and

34 Jews, totaling 479 people, were registered.24
21 B.Ş.S., B251/56b.
22 B.Ş.S., B251/56b.
23 B.Ş.S., B251/3a.
24 B.Ş.S., B266/104a.

This list shows that zimmis in Bursa were mostly jewelers, dyers, locksmiths, textile craftsmen, grocers, tailors, and furriers. Armenians were especially active in occupations like the clothing trade, making or selling yarn, making furs, tailoring, selling jewelry and locksmith work.

Muslims were dominant in the economy of Bursa at the beginning of the 19th century. A list of social order taxes that showed the number of artisans in Bursa and the amount of tax they should pay was prepared in 1827. The religion and name of the artisan was shown in this list. According to this list, 3,829 (83.84%) of 4,567 people who were obliged to pay social order taxes were Muslims, 78 were Jewish, 660 were Armenians and Greeks. That means 738 (16.15%) of 4,567 people were non-Muslims.25 When these figures are taken into consideration, it is clear that Muslims had a distinct dominance over the economic life of Bursa compared to non-Muslims. However, the effect of the size of the Muslim population should not be ignored.

Taking these lists and other documents into consideration, it is evident that Armenians engaged in occupations related to all fields of life with other non-Muslims in Bursa.

2-A Branch of Business Special to non-Muslims:
Alcoholic Beverage Production

Non-Muslims, who had the right to engage in any occupation that Muslims could engage in, sometimes worked in branches of business that were special to non-Muslims. For example, they processed grapes that they planted in their own vineyards to produce alcoholic beverages.26 After allocating some for their own use, they sold the remaining part. The part they sold was subject to a tax called zecriye tax. Related records

25 B.Ş.S., B312/46a
26 Brewing alcoholic drinks were prohibited for Muslims. According to the Islamic Law, trade positions of Muslims and non-Muslims were differing according to the trade good in question. For example it was prohibited to brew and sell alcoholic drinks for Muslims. Even if a non-Muslim borrowed a Muslim’s wine and then ruined it, he was not supposed to pay for the loss of the Muslim. As a matter of fact wine was not considered as a trade good for Muslims. But when the situation is vice-versa, then the Muslim must pay for the loss of non-Muslim. See Molla Hüsrev, Düreru’l-Hükkâm fî Şerhi Gurari’l-Ahkâm, Dersaadet, no date, II, 252.

show that among the non-Muslims in Bursa, Armenians produced most of the alcoholic beverages. According to a document dated 1797, 230 Armenians produced 33,638 kıyye,27 215 Greeks produced 19,015 kıyye and 34 Jews produced 4,533 kıyye. Totally 479 non-Muslims produced 57,286 kıyye of beverages in Bursa.28 These figures show the amount of beverages that are sold, excluding the amount they allocated for themselves. The list of 479 people also represents the same number of families. Accordingly, it can be said that at least 479 families engaged in beverage production in Bursa in 1797. As the figures show, Armenians produced more beverages than the total production of Greeks and Jews.

3-Taxes and Problems
Non-Muslims paid a tax called jizya in the Ottoman State. According to the Islamic Law, non-Muslims who resided in the lands conquered by Muslims gained zimmi status by signing a zimmet agreement and were granted the right to reside on their land in return for paying a certain amount of jizya.29 Non-Muslims were exempted from military service in return for the jizya they paid. Furthermore, Muslim administrators were responsible for the security and property of zimmis. Moreover, zimmis who could not be provided with security did not have to pay jizya.30 Women, children, and the ill and disabled people who could not work did not have to pay jizya.31 Armenians in Bursa paid jizya in accordance with the Islamic law.

Formerly, non-Muslim religious officials did not pay jizya. In 1661 some Armenian religious officials in Bursa complained to the Sultan that

27 Kıyye: A weight measure equal to 1, 282 kilogram.
28 B.Ş.S., B266/104a.
29 Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen, Hukuk-i İslâmiyye ve Istılahat-ı Fıkhiyye Kamusu, Bilmen Basım ve Yayınevi, İstanbul no date, IV, 98.
30 Abdü’l-Kerim Zeydan, “İslam Hukukuna Göre Zimmiler”, (Trans: Hasan Güleç), Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, İzmir 1994, no.VIII, p. 436; Mehmet Erkal, “Cizye”, Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, VIII, 42.
31 Ali b. Ebi Bekir Merginani, el-Hidaye Şerhu Bidayeti’l-Mübtedi, Mısır ts., II, 190; İbn Kayyim el-Cevziyye, Ahkamu Ehl-i Zimme, Beyrut 1983, I, 48.; C.H. Becker, “Cizye”, İslam Ansiklopedisi, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1977, III, 200; “…children, elderly people, patients and injured won’t pay tribute …” B.Ş.S., B121/6b.

they were asked to pay jizya, while they had not been required to in the past. The protection account books in the treasury were checked and when it was seen that priests and monks who lived in the Ottoman borders were not previously taxed, it was decided to repeal the tax on Armenian religious officials in Bursa.32 However, it is seen in the records that zimmi religious officials paid jizya in the following years.33 So, all zimmi religious officials, except disabled ones, had to pay jizya after 1691.34 Non-Muslims had the obligation to contribute to expenditures made by local administrators for the city besides legal taxes and civil taxes assessed by the central administration. Expenditures of this type were also shared in proportion to their populations. One share of the expenditures of Bursa which corresponded to non-Muslims was divided into one hundred and four shares, forty of which was paid by Greeks, fifty by Armenians and fourteen by Jews. These proportions caused disputes among non-Muslims from time to time. In 1806, Greeks in Bursa applied to the Imperial Court and declared that their shops, along with the goods inside them, had been burned in several fires that had taken place in the last years. They stated that they could not afford to pay the forty shares of tax that corresponded to them unless a reduction was made, or else they would leave the country. Furthermore, they wanted the Armenians to cover the reduction by an increase in their payments.

Upon this demand, the representatives of the Armenians were called to the court and the situation was explained to them. However, the Armenians claimed that the expenditures were divided in the same way for eighty years and they had not demanded such things from each other before. They were unwilling to pay the extra cost. They asserted that the demands of Greeks were against the millet order, and, furthermore, the claims of the Greeks that they were destitute due to fires were deceitful. After an investigation, it was concluded that the claims of the Greeks were groundless and an edict was sent to the Qadi of Bursa that the distribution of taxes among the communities would remain as before.35

32 Kepecioğlu, op.cit., II, 43.
33 B.Ş.S., B168/61a.
34 Halil İnalcık, “Cizye”, Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, VIII, 46.
35 B.Ş.S., B303/70b.


The Armenians, who settled in Bursa since the early times of the Ottoman Empire, increased in population over time. They took their places in all spheres of the social and economic life of the city and maintained their relationships with Muslims at the highest level. The administrators did not discriminate based on race and religion in the implementation of laws. The Muslims, who composed the majority of Bursa’s community, adopted a tolerant approach when relating to their non-Muslim neighbors.

In fact, the records show that the disputes between Muslims and Armenians were solved fairly, without discrimination based on race and religion. Within the framework of existing law and principles of justice, judgments were made in favor of the Armenians in many cases.

Even though the Ottoman State is criticized that its granting a wide range of rights to the non-Muslims laid the groundwork for the problems it faced, especially after the second half of the 19th century, it is fair to say that it fulfilled the requirements of a large state in a fair and just way. It accomplished what cannot be achieved by many countries today. Having an understanding of the administration and laws of the Ottoman State and taking the values of the Ottoman community as a model would be important in understanding how different religious and ethnic groups can live together, a goal which everyone can accept has increased in importance in the current world.


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