Ottoman Decree Regarding Protestants, 1850
This imperial decree, or firman, was translated from Ottoman Turkish to English by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Ottoman Sultan Abulmecid I emphasized his compassion for all classes of his subjects, but here specifically prescribed that Protestant subjects in the Ottoman Empire should be recognized as a religious community, or millet, separate from the Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities, and that they should enjoy the full and free exercise of their religion. In 1846 the first Protestant church in the Ottoman Empire, an Armenian Protestant church, was established at Istanbul. It recognized the difficulties Protestants had encountered because they lacked a special jurisdiction. It recognized that the Armenian patriarch was unable to superintend the Protestants’ affairs, and called for the Protestant community to elect a representative, who was responsible for registering individuals’ names with the police for tax purposes, issuance of passports, and recording of, births, deaths, and marriages. Protestant sources reported that two British diplomats, Sir Stratford Canning and Lord Henry R. C. Wellesley Cowley, had worked to negotiate this recognition. Lord Cowley in reply praised the missionaries’ zeal, prudence, and patience. At the time the number of Protestant churches in the Empire was steadily increasing, although some former Muslims continued to face threats as serious as execution for those converting to Christianity. This 1850 decree was followed by a broader edict of 1856.
To my Vizier Mohammed Pasha, Minister of Police at my Capital, the honorable Minister and glorious Counsellor, the Model of the world, and Regulator of the affairs of the Community, who, directing the public interests with sublime prudence, consolidating the structure of the empire with wisdom, and strengthening the columns of its prosperity and renown, is the recipient of every grace from the most High. May God prolong his glory…. Whereas, hitherto those of my Christian subjects who have embraced the Protestant faith have suffered inconvenience and difficulties, in consequence of not being placed under a separate and special jurisdiction…. And whereas, in necessary accordance with my Imperial compassion, which extends to all classes of my subjects, it is contrary to my Imperial pleasure that any one class of them should be exposed to trouble; …Let then, a respectable and trustworthy person…chosen by themselves, from among their own number, be appointed with the title of “Agent of the Protestants,” who shall be attached to the Minister of Police…. The Agent shall cause to be registered therein all births and deaths in the community…. and see that like the other communities of the Empire, in all their affairs and in all matters pertaining to their cemeteries, and places of worship, they should have every facility and needed assistance. You will not permit that any of the other communities should in any way interfere with…any of their affairs, secular or religious…. And in case of necessity, they are permitted to make representations regarding their affairs through their Agent to the Sublime Porte…. Written in the holy month of Moharrem A. H. 1267 (Nov. 1850). Given in the protected city of Constantinople.
Amerikan Bord Heyeti (American Board). “Document, Translation of the Ferman of his Imperial Majesty Sultan Abd Ul Medjid, granted in favor of his Protestant subjects.” November 1850. SALT Research. https://archives.saltresearch.org/handle/123456789/43664. Accessed June 4, 2021.