Many Turkish and Arab research institutions show an increasing interest in the Ottoman archives related to Palestine, and this interest has witnessed in recent years a remarkable increase that can be monitored in several aspects, the most important of which is the emergence of large numbers of research centers and institutions specialized in the Ottoman archives in Turkey and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Several projects have been launched to preserve the Ottoman archive, digitize parts of it, and create mechanisms to facilitate the access of scholars and researchers to its data, and the remarkable expansion of awareness activities in the Ottoman archive and the tools for dealing with it and the realization of its manuscripts is noted.
Experts and specialists in the investigation of the Ottoman archive agree on its importance that goes beyond the preservation of the Palestinian heritage, but many of them consider it a portal for highly accurate and organized information on the political, social, economic and demographic history of Palestine.
Tens of thousands of documents
Some sources estimate the volume of documents related to Palestine in the Ottoman Archives preserved in Istanbul at 140,000 pages, while experts believe that the number is much higher.
Palestine entered under Ottoman rule during the reign of Sultan Selim I “Yawuz Selim” in 1516, and soon the Ottomans began organizing its data in a comprehensive documentation process that is likely to have started in 1520.
The researcher specializing in the Ottoman Archives, Kamal Khoja, says that the long period of time Palestine lived under the rule of the Ottoman Empire made this period of its history a part of Ottoman history.
It should be noted that the Turkish government handed over to the Palestinian side, last year, an electronic copy of the Ottoman archive for the (land ownership) records, “Tabu”, consisting of 36 thousand pages in 288 records, which include thousands of data on registering Palestinian lands since the time of the Ottoman Empire.
Khoja, who translated more than 50,000 Ottoman documents into Arabic, notes that the Ottoman archive provides a picture of all aspects of life in Palestine, showing some examples of those documents, one of which talks about the efforts of embassies and their positions on the Palestinian issue and the immigration of Jews.
The archive contains other documents proving the innocence of the Palestinians from the “libel” of selling their lands to the Jews, as these papers document that what was leaked from the lands that were mainly sold by some influential parties in the region and feudalists despite the resistance of the real people of the land to these diversions.
The documents include the labor law that was in effect in the Al-Quds Al-Sharif District and the Gaza District, but rather clarifies the distribution of fees on crops, especially turkey olives and oil, nuts, palms, berries, figs and other fruits between farmers and owners, and shows the prices of each.
The documents show the nature of the commercial movement and how the fabrics used to enter Gaza from Egypt, how the feudal families used to collect the goods of some villages and impose an exit that the peasants and workers in their lands could not tolerate, and how the Ottoman law prohibited the activities of those feudal lords and prevented them from entering the villages during harvest times.
It also clarifies the value of government levy on livestock and herds, tax amounts on shops, “property” and craft workshops such as mills, and specifies tax-exempt goods and the amount of amnesty for each of them in precise, measurable details.
Among the documents that Khoja presented were documents that accurately prove the names and families of the “noble neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” meaning residents of the city of other religions, and a document on land registration in the Khaqani notebook, which is the same as the real estate registry in our modern era.
According to Khoja, there are documents that record the villages of Jerusalem, the number of its inhabitants, their homes, their religions, and the number of males and females in them, meaning that it is truly an organized database and an accurate census record that was prepared prior to the First World War.
Prove the truth
Khoja – who spoke at a seminar organized by the Tradition Foundation for Palestinian Culture and Heritage in Istanbul – says that these documents can be used to support the legal claim of the Palestinian people’s historical right to their land.
Khoja cites the issue of “the Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem”, which he says is mainly an endowment land that was rented by the Jews because they did not own a cemetery for their dead, but the argument for its ownership is still registered by the Islamic endowments to this day.
He says that the Ottoman Archives confirms the clear Palestinian right to Palestine, and believes that the great lack of specialists who are able to translate documents from the Ottoman language into Arabic represents a real challenge that limits the benefit from this archive and the discovery of its treasures.
Back to the light
And if these appearances are sufficient to lead us to the assumption of a growing interest in the Ottoman archives related to Palestine, then important questions must be addressed in this context, the most important of which are related to timing, the knowledge revolution, changes in the Arab and Turkish political and cultural environment, and the need for Palestinians and Turks alike to dig deeply into the archive. Ottoman.
The Palestinian academic and researcher specializing in history, Marwan al-Aqra, believes that the interest in the Ottoman archive is due to the scarcity of historical material related to the Arab countries, especially in the last three centuries of the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The Palestinian expert says that the Ottoman archives represent a suitable source for enriching the historical material because the Ottoman state was very interested in codifying and exchanging correspondence between the states and the capital or between the brigades and the different states.
According to al-Aqra, who is the founder of the Palestinian History Center and the site of the Encyclopedia of Palestine Events, the reason for the emergence of interest in the Ottoman archive at these times is precisely because Turkey has sorted and preserved the archive and made it available to researchers. The archive includes thousands of real estate registration documents in the lands of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Palestine the years between 1516-1917.
Shifts of the times
In an interview on Al-Jazeera Net, Al-Aqra said that Arab culture in its relationship with Turkey was built on a legacy of propaganda instilled by colonial countries, and orientalists contributed to defining its features, and Turkish and Arab nationalist parties contributed to its consecration by pushing for confrontation and disharmony between Turks and Arabs through school curricula.
But he saw that returning to the Ottoman documents clearly clarifies the nature of the real relationship that united the Arabs and the Ottoman Empire, which is “a relationship of brotherhood, in which the Arabs’ affiliation to the Ottoman state is no less than that of the Turks, and the evidence is the regularity of Arabs in the higher positions of the state and the Ottoman army.”
He believes that there is a Palestinian public and academic interest in the history of the Ottoman Empire, which is reflected in many books on the existential struggle with the occupation, based on the Ottoman legacy.
In addition to the physically preserved documents in Turkey, the Foundation for the Revival of Islamic Heritage and Research – Beit Al-Maqdis (Meethaq) maintains an electronic copy of the archive in Abu Dis, east of occupied Jerusalem.
The Palestinian interest in the Ottoman archive – written in the Ottoman language – is also attributed to the keenness to connect lineage and kinship through the archive, as the records of Sharia courts and souls books are rich in the names of residents.
Al-Aqra ‘says that after the issuance of the Land Law in 1858, the Ottoman Empire paid attention to the ownership of land and worked to distribute it to its workers, and this contributed to registering all lands in Palestine in the name of their owners.
He points out that there is a great interest from the Palestinians in this matter, as the Turkish state has handed over a copy of the archive related to the lands to the Palestinian Authority for use in confronting settlements, saying that cases brought against the Israeli occupation government in its courts depend on the Ottoman archive as a source of information and asserting rights.