Ottoman Turk Documents

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The principal Ottoman Turk Documents, the Firman, also Fermân, and Berât, were used by the Ottoman Sultan to control the Patriarch of Constantinople, as ethnarch of the Orthodox Christian nation, the other hierarchs, and the Orthodox Church as a whole within the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Their use continued until the dissolution of the empire in the early twentieth century.

Through the use of these Ottoman Turk Diplomatic Documents, the rulers of the Ottoman empire kept the Orthodox Church within the empire as functionaries of the government and made the Patriarch of Constantinople responsible for the actions of the Orthodox Christian "nation". The main documents issued by the sultan to establish this relationship were the Fermân and Berât. By these documents the sultan approved the election of the patriarchs and authorized their holding that position and specified the responsibilities of the office.

The Fermân and Berât were documents that fell under the wider term Hükm, meaning an order or decree, within Ottoman diplomatic documentation. While seemingly interchangeable in use and in format, the Fermân and Berât differed in the implementation of their direction. The berât was addressed to any official in the third person narrative, while the fermân addressed the official directly.

The Fermân is a word derived from the Persian root “farmûdan” which means an order, decree, or command. In Ottoman diplomatic use, it was an order of the sultan about an issue, in appropriate language and carried the sultan’s tuğrâ, a calligraphic seal or signature of an Ottoman sultan. The important point in the use of a Fermân was the order itself and its execution. For this reason in many fermâns the names of the addressed officials were not recorded. Fermâns were not addressed to individuals but to their office. Fermâns, also, carried orders and regulations on more restricted and temporary issues.
The Berât was a decree drawn up in the name of the sultan that gave certain powers or privileges, or established exploitation or property rights over state property to individuals or organizations including orders that third parties acknowledge and honor these powers and privileges. The berât was a document of privilege and authorization wherein the primary emphasis was not on the order but on the recipient of the berât, that is the owner of the berât. Berâts were not documents that address someone directly to do something but were addressed as if “to whom it may concern.” Berâts were more permanent and continuous, and restricted the authority of future sultans to a certain degree. For that reason, when a new sultan was enthroned, all berâts were usually renewed.

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