The State Ottoman Archives of Turkey and Macedonia are launching a joint project to catalogue, digitalise and share Ottoman archives.
By Biljana Lajmanovska and Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Skopje and Istanbul -- 24/12/12
Macedonia contains some of the richest Ottoman archives outside Turkey. [Menekse Tokyay/SETimes]
Turkey and Macedonia are launching a joint project to catalogue, digitalise and share Ottoman archive documents as part of a pilot project that the Turkish National Archives hopes to implement in nearly 40 other countries.
The project aims to further transparent historical research and make the detailed Ottoman archives more accessible to researchers and historians to better understand the social, political and economic life of territories formerly under Ottoman rule.
Macedonia, as a centre of Ottoman rule in the Balkans for over five centuries, contains some of the richest Ottoman archives outside Turkey, including land registers, court documents (kadı) and other detailed documents from the Ottoman period.
But Mustafa Budak, the deputy director of the Prime Ministerial State Archives in Turkey, told SETimes that to date there has been a lack of comprehensive cataloguing and digital processing of the Ottoman archives available in Macedonia.
"We can provide Macedonian authorities with necessary training on archives, with all additional expert staff and equipment," he said, adding that after the one year project the experience gains in Macedonia would then be applied to Albania and eventually other countries in the Balkans.
In Macedonia, one aim of the initiative is to increase knowledge about Ottoman history and culture for both Turkish and Macedonian researchers while overcoming prejudices within Macedonian society about Ottoman history.
Budak noted that "archives are the bureaucratic memory of a state as well as the main memory tool among the nation and the state."
The project could shed light not only on the history of Macedonia, but also provide details about the political and social life of cities like Bitola, known in Turkish as Monastir, which holds a special place for Macedonians and Turks alike.
As the political, economic and cultural centre of the Balkans in the Ottoman era, Pllumi Veliu, the Mufti of Bitola, says documents in the archives will shed light on life in the region and overcome historical inaccuracies that have been created by historians, educational and scientific institutions in Macedonia.
"This project will end all taboos, the entire invented history of Bitola and will reveal the true life of the citizens of this town during Ottoman rule," Veliu told SETimes, noting the city was a "diplomatic metropolis where Islam, Christianity and Judaism crossed its paths."
"Islam was the state religion, but followers of other religions could live in Bitola in peace and tranquility, with no restraints. It is the town where the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk finished his military education," said Veliu, explaining why Ottoman heritage is important to citizens of Bitola and Turks.