By Orlin Sabev
After two prospecting missions conducted at the National Library of Bulgaria (NLB) in Sofia by Louise Corvasier, Vincent Lemire and Yann Potin (December 2016; June 2017) and with the help and support of Milena Koleva-Zvancharova, head of the Oriental Collections Department of the NLB, Open Jerusalem research collaborators Orlin Sabev and Stoyanka Kenderova completed the archival description of the two important fonds (283 and 283A) for the history of Ottoman Jerusalem.
Most of the documents relate to the history of Jerusalem in the Ottoman period, preserved at present in the Oriental Department of the National Library of Jerusalem in the Ottoman period, preserved at present in the Oriental Department of the National Library of Bulgaria, established in 1878, are organized in two archival fonds: no. 283 (comprising 7 archival units) and no. 283A (comprising 469 archival units). The Oriental Department houses about 500,000 archival units (comprising about 1 million folios) dating from the Ottoman period. They are organized in several collections, the biggest of which is the collection of topographic fonds organized according to the place with which the documents are related to.
As part of the documents preserved in Sofia originate from the Bulgarian lands that were under Ottoman rule from the late 14th century to 1878, the history of most of the documents dates back to the early 1930s, when the authorities of the recently proclaimed Republic of Turkey – which rejected the sultanic and Ottoman legacy – sold large amounts of Ottoman documents (which were transported in several wagons) to a Bulgarian paper mill in order to be recycled into paper. When the first wagons arrived, factory owners noticed that the cargo consisted of Ottoman documents and requested the expertise of the Oriental Department. After confirming their historical and archival value, all the survived documents were transferred to Sofia to be preserved by the Oriental Department. Since the documents came from Istanbul and mostly from the depositories of the former Ottoman ministry of finance, they deal mainly with financial issues in all the former Ottoman provinces (the Balkans, Anatolia, the Arabian peninsula and North Africa). This explains why documents related to Ottoman Jerusalem (mainly dealing with financial issues) are now to be found in Sofia.
Another point is the process of organizing these documents into archival fonds based on former Ottoman provinces. The organization was executed in two stages: in the first stage, over 1,000 topographical fonds were arranged in alphabetical order, while in the second stage, fonds with similar enumeration were suffixed with an “A,” respectively. These fonds include mainly documents written in Ottoman Turkish, while those in Arabic have been separated in a special collection of Arabic documents. Hence fonds 283 and 283A contain documents related to Ottoman Jerusalem. Since the keyword used by the archivists in the distribution of the documents was the place name appearing in them, the fonds include both documents sent from Jerusalem to the Ottoman capital as well as drafts of documents sent from Constantinople to the local authorities in Jerusalem. Although most of the documents deal directly with Jerusalem proper, some documents are related to other places located within the Jerusalem province, such as Jaffa, Hebron and Bethlehem. Some documents were mistakenly distributed to the Jerusalem fonds because of the similarity between the Arabic/Ottoman name of Jerusalem – Kuds/Kudüs, and the expression “Kuddise Sırruh” (“May God bless him”) used for the famous mystic Jalal ad-din Rumi (1207–1273), whose tomb is in Konya, central Anatolia. The same is true also for some other documents in which the mosques and waqfs named after Rumi are mentioned. The documents of fonds 283A are distributed in 469 archival units (that is, folders), held in 7 boxes. Most of the folders contain just one document, but some contain two to three and, in rare cases, even more documents. Some of the documents are torn; others are just fragments. Other documents are in poor condition: the edges have decayed and the text partly illegible. Therefore, during the exploration of the fonds 283A, it became clear that some damaged documents had been taken out for chemical restoration and hence they could not be included in the inventory. The documents of fonds 283A date from the mid-16th to the early 20th centuries. The earliest document is dated 1550 (a fragment of a register of zeamets in the district of Doha), while the most recent one is from 1908 (relating to revenue collection), respectively. While the 19th-century documents form the majority of documents, the number of the 17th- and 18th-century documents is also considerable. In terms of content, almost all of them deal with financial issues, related mostly to incomes from taxes, expenses for the officers who guarded the fortress of Jerusalem, as well as some other minor fortresses in the region, and the transfer of waqf positions with the respective salary from one holder (mostly because of his death) to another. Bearing this in mind, the documents of the Jerusalem fonds preserved in the National Library in Sofia could be useful for studying the socioeconomic history of Jerusalem city and province during the Ottoman period.
www.nationallibrary.bg/wp/?page_id=258 (in Bulgarian only)
İsmet Binark and Seyit Ali Kahraman, eds. Bulgaristan’daki Osmanlı Evrakı. Istanbul: T.C. Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü, 1994.