Tag Archives: Louise Corvasier

From Paper Mill to Archives: The Jerusalem documents in the National Library of Bulgaria

by Orlin Sabev

After two prospections missions conducted at the National Library of Bulgaria (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.

The prevailing number of documents related 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 “Sts Cyril and Methodius” (Sofia, 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 funds organized according to the place with which the documents are related to.

As part of the documents preserved in Sofia are originating from the Bulgarian lands that were under Ottoman rule from the late fourteenth 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 –  known for their rejection of the Sultan’s rule and the Ottoman legacy – sold large amount of Ottoman documents (being charged in several wagons) to a Bulgarian paper mill in order to be recycled for paper production. When the first wagons arrived the factory owners noticed that the cargo is consisted of Ottoman documents and asked expertise by the Oriental Department. After confirming their historical and archival value all the survived documents were transferred to Sofia to be preserved in the Oriental Department. Since the documents were sent from Constantinople and mostly from the depositories of the former Ottoman ministry of finances they deal mainly with financial issues and are related to all the former Ottoman provinces (in 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, Bulgaria.


Another point is the process of the organization of these documents into archival funds formed according to the previously existing Ottoman provinces. The organization was executed in two stages: at the first stage over 1,000 topographical funds have been organized in alphabetical order, while at the second stage funds with similar enumeration with attached “A” have been added, respectively. These funds 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 key word 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 Constantinople, 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 province of Jerusalem such as Jaffa, Hebron, Bethlehem, etc. Some documents are mistakenly distributed to the Jerusalem funds 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 of Rumi are mentioned.


The documents of fonds 283A are distributed in 469 archival units (that is, folders), put in 7 boxes. Most of the folders contain just one document, but some contain two to three, in rare cases even more documents. Some of the documents are torn and therefore they are just fragments simply because the initial purpose of their transportation to Bulgaria was to be recycled in a paper mill as said above. Some other documents are in a poor condition, the edges being rotten and the text partly illegible. Therefore during the exploration of the fonds 283A some damaged documents had been already taken out for chemical restoration and hence I was unable to include them in the inventory.
The documents of fonds 283A are dating from the mid-16th to the early 20th century. The earliest document is dating from 1550 (fragment of a register of zeamets in the district of Doha), while the latest one is from 1908 (related to revenue collection), respectively. The 19th-century documents prevail, however 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 transfer of waqf posts with the respective salary from one holder (mostly because of his death) to another holder. Having this in mind, the documents of fonds “Jerusalem” preserved in the National Library in Sofia could be useful for studying the socio-economic history of Jerusalem and its province during the Ottoman period.

Bibliography
www.nationallibrary.bg/wp/?page_id=258 (only Bulgarian version is available)
İsmet Binark and Seyit Ali Kahraman, eds., Bulgaristan’daki Osmanlı Evrakı (İstanbul: T.C. Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü, 1994).