::Roundtable:: When Ottoman Land Law became Greek Law: The case of a land sale in Attica

By Fatma Gül Karagöz*

In 1831, Halil Bey and his brothers sold a plot of land in Attica to Count Baggiari, an Italian, therefore at that time a subject of the Austrian Empire. The sellers claimed that the land was inherited from their grandmother Fatma Hanım, the mother of Kamil Bey, killed at Korinthos Castle in 1822. This land was referenced as “Les biens/propriété de Monomatti[1] (properties of Monomatti) or “half of the village of Monomatti.”[2] reference made me think that this could be a çiftlik, a large, plantation-based estate. Moreover, Kamil Bey was described by the traveler F.C.H.L. Pouqueville as a voyvoda, a title that implies both military and economic power through local tax collection. Pouqueville wrote that Kamil Bey’s family controlled the Korinthian region for a hundred years.[3] While this connection might be useful for future research, it could be irrelevant to this case since the inheritance came through Fatma Hanım, who died in 1825. However, Baggiari could not use this property till the end of 1839 because the Greek Ministry of Finances rejected the validity of the sale because of the absence of specific proof of ownership since the land in question was miri (state land).

The background of this sale allows me to explore the interpretation and implementation of Ottoman land law in post-war Greece. This land sale is just one among many stories in the Foreign Affairs and Joint Commission (La Commission Mixte) sections of the General State Archives of Greece that houses many petitions written by Greek bureaucrats on the appointments, claims, law proposals, and other subjects concerning the administration of “Turkish Properties”[4] after the War of Independence (1821-1830). I will use the documents in French[5] from these archives to discuss how the Greek government interpreted and applied the Ottoman land law for this sale and what this interpretation meant. The interaction between the Greek and Ottoman administrations, their opposing claims about land problems can also be used as a key to understand the 19th-century transformation of Ottoman land law.

For Greece, one of the major issues during and after the war was to solve the cumulative problems between the 17th and 19th centuries inherited from the Ottoman land regime, e.g., çiftlik ownership, landless peasants, and tax control. During the war period, the First National Assembly accepted miri and waqf land together with vacant (mahlul) properties as “national” property belonging to the state.[6] Two international agreements shaped the post-war land regime. The London Protocol (1830) addressed the principle of reciprocity on property in articles five and six. The fifth article allowed the Muslims who would like to stay in Greece to “keep their properties and enjoy them with their families in perfect security.”[7] The sixth article gave a year to those who would like to sell their land and leave. The seventh article of the second agreement, the Treaty of Constantinople (1832), gave 18 months to Muslims living in the ceded lands to sell their estates after the demarcation of frontiers between the two countries. This article recognized also the same advantages for the Muslims living in Euboea, Attica, and Thebes (Boeotia) if their district was occupied by Ottomans at the date of the Ottoman assent to the London Protocol.[8]

The transfer process had already begun before this arrangement and went far beyond. Some of the problems appeared during the war, when the Greek government decided in February of 1826 to allow the sale of the national lands (including arable land, vineries, olive and/or fruit gardens) for financial reasons. Babis Alivizatos observed problems like misappropriation and abuse, which did not contribute to the economy, and thus, still in 1826, the sales were annulled by the National Assembly. Moreover, a commission was established for supervision.[9] That commission seems to be the antecedent of the post-war regime: The seventh article of the Treaty of Constantinople (1832) envisioned an arbitral commission to oversee the implementation of the sales in the ceded lands. Ottoman and Greek bureaucrats, appointed as commissioners, surveyed the transfer of “customary waqfs”[10] and miri land with a fair price and verified the authenticity and the translation of the documents like huccets (document issued by sharī‘a court verifying a right) and tapus (document demonstrating the usufruct right on land) proving the land ownership.[11] This process of bilateral verification was followed by an additional approval by the ministries of finances and foreign affairs. In case of their disagreement concerning land ownership, the king would have the final word.[12] As such, the post-war regime introduced a more bureaucratic system of sale. Moreover, the permission by the king for all sales of national land became a requirement on February 6, 1833, likely because of the problems experienced during the war.[13] A specific jurisdiction was established for the affairs of property between Muslims and Greeks under the Joint Commission (from Greek and Ottoman members) in 1836.[14]

In the case of “Monomatti,” Halil Bey and his brothers could not demonstrate a tapu. Despite that, the “Commission of the Turkish Properties” (La Commission des Les Bien Turcs, the “Commission”) approved the sale. Both ministries noticed the same problems in the sale: Since this land was miri, its usufruct could not be directly inherited from a grandmother according to Ottoman law. It could be transferred to grandsons only by the payment of a resm-i tapu/title deed. In a protocol previously sent to the commissioner of the Ottoman Empire by his Greek counterpart, it was underlined that Greek authorities would consider the usufruct ownership valid if it was proven through a document, and explained that Greeks would accept Kanunname, the Ottoman codification, as a guide for examining the documents.[15] The question remains, how realistic would it be to expect from the usufruct owners the possession of such a document?

Nicholas J. Battassis from the Ministry of Finances wrote a detailed report on the affair that summarized the events and the motivation of the examining parties.[16] The Commission emphasized the absence of authority before and during the revolution in Attica for tapu issuing and suggested the witness evidence be utilized for proving the loss of the document. The Ministry of Finances rejected the validity of the transfer from Halil Bey to Baggiari by underlining the Ottoman regulations of inheritance and land ownership, stating that Attica was under Ottoman control until 1826, thus there was an authority. Battassis especially underlined that Halil Bey and his brothers did not make any claims of tapu after the end of the war until April 12, 1830, the assent of the Sultan to the London Protocol.[17] He repeated that any vacant property became the property of Sultan and was at the disposition of his representatives, which should be interpreted, after the assent, as the national property of Greece. His main concern was the illegal sales of vacant property that would produce a financial deficit to the state. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs acted pragmatically. Their main concern was to terminate the sale process of Turkish properties as early as possible. They explained that the Joint Commission condemned Baggiari to pay an amount and thus, if his claim was rejected, that could set an example for the annulment of previous sales. Battassis, however, objected to this by stating that the Joint Commission did not consider the status of the land in this decision and that a sale approved (by the two ministries) could not be annulled.[18] He also explained the different functions: While the Joint Commission had judiciary authority, the Commission on the Turkish Properties examined and verified the documents.[19]

I have not yet found in the French documents the reason why exactly the affair was brought before the Joint Commission, but it is certain that they condemned Baggiari to pay a significant amount of money.[20] Likewise, it is also certain that from 1837 to 1839, Baggiari wrote some petitions directly to King Otto of Greece. His claims were also defended by others. He seemed to know how to pull the necessary strings. In 1839, Wallenburg, mentioned as chargé d’office for Austria,[21] complained to the King on behalf of Baggiari.[22] Another supporter of Baggiari was Konstantinos Zographos, the first ambassador of Greece in Istanbul after 1833,[23] who wrote that Baggiari could take legal action against the Ottoman Porte and explained that the Ottomans were also expecting a decision in favor of Baggiari. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by accepting the sale in 1837, might have wanted to prevent this type of problem. Zographos defined the absence of tapu as a formality. His position was probably motivated by the fact that he was one of the people who benefited from the sale of properties in Attica.[24] In any case, Baggiari claimed that his case was an exception among many sales approved without a tapu or even witness testimony.[25] If his claim was correct, I have yet to find an explanation for why his case was an exception.

The usufruct ownership was verified in the Ottoman law by oral or/and written proofs, depending on the case. In the 18th-century sharī‘a court of Amid (today’s Diyarbakır), Yavuz Aykan observed that the authenticity of written documents like tapu was approved by the testimony of the people (sahib-i arz, administrators of the land) who had issued them.[26] In Vidin, there was at least one case where the court accepted an ownership claim based on tapu,[27] but it was more likely that the qāḍī made an investigation to verify the documents, which would be expected from him. Investigations like this were in some cases explained in court records by a simple “nazar olundu” (literally, “the document was seen”). In the matter of Halil Bey and his brothers, the Ministry of Finances did not accept oral testimony on the existence and loss of tapu by reasoning that since Halil Bey and his brothers never had the tapu in the first place, they could not claim, through testimony, that they once had it.[28]

G. W. Colton, Colton's Atlas of the World Illustrating Physical and Political Geography, Vol 2, New York, 1855 (First Edition). The link is: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1855_Colton_Map_of_Greece_-_Geographicus_-_Greece-colton-1855.jpg#file
G. W. Colton, Colton’s Atlas of the World Illustrating Physical and Political Geography, Vol 2 (New York, 1855) (First Edition), available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1855_Colton_Map_of_Greece_-_Geographicus_-_Greece-colton-1855.jpg#file

The illegal sale of vacant properties created an extra problem for the economy of Greece which was already damaged because of the war. The national lands were used as a guarantee for international loans especially during the war.[29] It is known that many of the Turkish properties in Attica, Boeotia, and Phtiotide were purchased by strangers and Greek bureaucrats for insignificant prices. These purchases also worried the government because they risked creating a new kind of feudalism.[30] On the other hand, the allied powers, England, France, and Russia, seemed to encourage Greece to recognize alternative ways of demonstrating usufruct ownership other than tapu,[31] which can explain the position of the Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I don’t know if, in the end, Baggiari obtained the usufruct or the property rights of the land. However, the details from this case still give us many clues about the situation of the property regime that Greece embraced after its independence. In this case, I believe, the Ministry of Finances wanted to apply the Ottoman land law in a strict way, by rejecting any proof of ownership except documentation. Kostas P. Kostis has already argued that what Greece wanted was to establish control of arable land, an attempt that fell short of complete success, with many miri and waqf properties sold illegally by usufruct owners.[32] Many fake documents and testimonies were very likely produced during the process. What this story in Greece tells us about the Ottoman land system is once more to be very careful about qualifying the miri land as a legal fiction: this fiction might very well be used by an administration that wants to control the revenues from the land property.


* Fatma Gül Karagöz is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Program in Islamic Law supported by the Turkish Fulbright Commission.

[1] In the texts the place is written as Monomatti/Manomati in the Attica region. I assume this might be a “frenchified” version of “Mavromati” but I cannot yet verify this. There are many villages called Mavromati in modern Greece but the one in Attica is the name of a street.

[2] General State Archives of Greece (From now on referenced by: GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00), GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000064_00061, available at http://arxeiomnimon.gak.gr/browse/resource.html?tab=01&id=594001.

[3] F.C.H.L. Pouqueville, Voyage de la Grèce vol. 4 (2. éd., rev., cor. et augm.) (Firmin Didot, père et fils, 1826), 451, 468; Machiel Kiel, “Gördüs,” TDV İA 14 (1996): 154–56.

[4] In the documents that I used, both “Turkish” and “Muslim” are used interchangeably to mean Muslims living in Greece.

[5] I used only the documents in French but the archive is trilingual, including Greek and German documents or translations.

[6] Kostas P. Kostis, History’s Spoiled Children: The Formation of the Modern Greek State, trans. Jacob Moe, (London: Oxford University Press, 2018), 129; GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00060.

[7] The same liberty was recognized for Greeks staying in Ottoman lands. For the text in French, see “Major International Treaties Concerning Greece,” Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed December 11, 2023, https://www.mfa.gr/en/the-ministry/international-conventions/major-international-treaties-concerning-greece.html.

[8] For the text in English, see ibid.

[9]  Babis B. Alivizatos, La réforme agraire en Grèce: au point de vue economique et social. (Paris: Les presses modernes, 1932), 109.

[10] A terminology that existed neither in Islamic nor in Ottoman law but invented by Mouradgea D’Ohsson for idjareteyn, and used in Greek and Ottoman documents of this period.

[11] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000060_00138/00139.

[12] GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000064_00058.

[13]  Alivizatos, La réforme agraire en Grèce, 109.

[14] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000062_00107-114.

[15]  GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000060_000133.

[16]  GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00057/00068.

[17] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00062/00063.

[18]  GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00065.

[19] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00065. For the regulations of the procedure in Joint Commission, see GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000062_000190-198.

[20] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000064_00089-91.

[21] He was the secretary of the Austrian legation. Lucien J. Frary, Russia and the making of modern Greek identity, 1821-1844. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 191.

[22]  GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000064_00087-00088.

[23] See “Greece Liberated,” Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed January 16, 2024, https://200years.mfa.gr/en/diplomatic-consular-relations-en/ottoman-empire. Also, he is mentioned as the envoy of Greece in Barbara Jelavich, Russia and Greece during the Regency of King Othon 1832-1835: Russian Documents on the First Years of Greek Independence (Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1962), 94.

[24] Kostis, History’s Spoiled Children, 130–31.

[25] GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000064_00125-00130.

[26] Yavuz Aykan, Rendre la justice à Amid: Procédures, acteurs et doctrines dans le contexte ottoman du XVIIIème siècle (Brill, 2016), 111.

[27] Fatma Gül Karagöz, “Women, land, and usufruct in the eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire: A case study of Vidin and Antakya,” in Gender, Law and Material Culture, ed. Annette C. Cremer (New York: Routledge, 2020), 156–57.

[28] GRGSA-CSA_PAO008.00_000064_00063.

[29] Thomas W. Gallant, Modern Greece: From the war of independence to the present (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016), 62.

[30] Alivizatos, 115; Kostis, History’s Spoiled Children, 130–31.

[31] GRGSA-CSA_PASO008.00_000060_00094: “. . . même que ces terrains étaient rigoureusement propriété inaliénable de L’Etat, le gouvernement Grec doit donc reconnaître et autoriser les ventes faites et à faire de ces dits bien, toutes les fois que les propriétaires établiront leur droits soit par des titres soit par tous les moyens qui servent à constater la propriété.”

[32] It was an effective control mechanism but did not terminate the legal problems. Kostas P. Kostis, “The formation of the state in Greece, 1830–1914,” in Disrupting and reshaping: early stages of nation-building in the Balkans, eds. Guido Franzinetti and Marco Dogo (Ravenna: Longo, 2002), 57.

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Fatma Gül Karagöz, When Ottoman Land Law became Greek Law: The case of a land sale in Attica, Islamic Law Blog (Feb. 6, 2024), https://islamiclaw.blog/2024/02/06/roundtable-when-ottoman-land-law-became-greek-law-the-case-of-a-land-sale-in-attica/)

(Suggested Chicago citation: Fatma Gül Karagöz, “When Ottoman Land Law became Greek Law: The case of a land sale in Attica,” Islamic Law Blog, February 6, 2024, https://islamiclaw.blog/2024/02/06/roundtable-when-ottoman-land-law-became-greek-law-the-case-of-a-land-sale-in-attica/)

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