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23 Eylül 2020

18th Century Istanbul, the home of Albanians and other migrants

Throughout the Ottomans’ six hundred years history, Istanbul has been the house of hundreds and thousands migrants. Ottomans were known for their hospitality and friendliness to every different community. Being a Muslim Empire, they were ordered by the Holy Qur’an that everyone is equal to God and no one is better except those who were the most devoted. Ottomans were true believers of God, that’s why they started to conquer many lands in order to notify them about the Islamic religion. One of the most important duties of a Muslim is to deliver the sacred message of the Holy Qur’an. Ottoman started this mission in the 13th century and conquered many places. Many theories have been said about the conversion to Islam of many people because of the Ottomans. Historians from Balkans with their nationalist background suggest that the conversion of the Balkan population was done by force, against their will. They say that at the time when Balkan nations were conquered, the first thing done by the Ottomans was the conversion of the population to Islam by asking if they wanted the ‘sword’ or become Muslim. While others suggest that there were many factors contributing to the acceptance of Islam by people. There are many cases in the Ottoman history presenting the conversion to Islam by believing that Islam was the true religion. Other cases suggest that economic, social and cultural aspects also contributed to the conversion. According to archival facts there is evidence that people have started converting to Islam only after 50-100 years by the time they were conquered by the Ottomans. Ottomans throughout their 500 years of existence, managed to become one of the most powerful empires of the time. Their historical capital, Istanbul became one of the most important economic, social, and cultural centers of the time. It was the home to many different communities. Throughout centuries migrants came to Istanbul for different reasons. Many would come to reside and become a resident of the city. Many others would come to the capital because the administration was there and the official matters would only be solved in the capital. An important number of people went to the capital to do business since Istanbul was a trade center to three continents. Many goods would be sent to the high porte, many would be for the consumption of the capital’s population and many would be only for trade. Istanbul of the 18th century, would house all the type of migration but many of them would have been migrants in search for work. Istanbul was the city of opportunity where everyone could find a job, and everyone could live in. Albanians constituted an important part of the migrants in the capital. According to the research conducted, in the 18th century around 12.000 Albanians were in the town dealing with different things. As we cited above, migrants would migrate to the capital of the Ottomans for different reasons. Albanians were no exception. In some cases they would migrate to the capital to get education and to have a career. This may be explained with the fact that 20-30 viziers and grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire were of Albanian origin and they would need many time and effort to get in the positions they got. Many managed to get a good position in a military rank while others in religious ranks. Living in a community, every time would bring different problems. Even though people tried to solve their problems with each other with the local administration, there were cases when problems could not be solved locally so they had to travel and present their cases to the capital. Cases would be of different nature, for example two people would not agree on a money lending issue, so the case would firstly be sent to the local judge, if one of the persons wouldn’t be content, the case would be sent to Istanbul. Despite that, many cases concerned the local officials’ abuse with their duty. They would either collect more taxes than the regulations asked or would suppress them. If no solution was provided, people would send petition to the high porte and complain about the cases. In response they would get orders send to the local officials to intervene and bring justice. Many Albanian migrants would come to Istanbul in search of work, they would leave their families in their hometowns. Different kinds of jobs were available in the capital, which was so big that it needed huge numbers of workers. Gardening was one of the most common workplace to the Albanians. In some cases compiled in the judge registers of Istanbul courts we see many cases concerning Albanian migrants working in gardens of Istanbul. Bakers, bath attendants, millers, path wavers, stand sellers, liver sellers, oil sellers were some of the occupations Albanians had in the eighteenth century.  Some of them were only workers, residing in their workplaces. Some were the owners of the shops they worked in, while some were owners of some part of the business. Many migrants, including Albanians, worked as seasonal workers in the capital, they made an amount of money, and they went back to their place of origin and started a business. Istanbul was the home of migrants for many centuries. Migrants would find many opportunities in the city, in living and working. Migrants would come to the capital not being disturbed if they were acting by the laws. No one would ask them whether they were Albanians or Greeks, Arabs or Turks, Muslims or non-Muslims. Anyone could come and get the business done to the capital. We can even say that Istanbul was the home of migrants where migrants made themselves home and didn’t feel as foreigners. All this was realized because of the Islamic mindset of the Ottomans in general and Turks in particular.

Elham Jashari

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