The Slave, the Governor, and the Judge: An Ottoman Socio-Legal Drama from the Late Nineteenth Century

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Judge Ali Eşref Efendi, the respected president of the court of first instance in the Ottoman town of Ayvalık, may or may not have been surprised when the gendarmes came to arrest him on Wednesday, November 4, 1885. Forced to spend the next four months in prison, waiting for his trial to commence, he had plenty of time to ask himself over and over again whether his sacrifice on behalf of the female slave Bezmihal was justified. To be sure, his intentions were humane by every moral standard. A year earlier, a female slave (cariye) named Bezmihal had approached a judge’s wife with a plea for immediate help. Her situation was rather complicated, since she had been in the service of the local governor of the county, Emin Bey, for the previous twelve years. Bezmihal told the judge’s wife that her master, the governor, after formally manumitting her, had changed his mind and decided to sell her. She also complained about the brutality with which she had been treated. Why did Bezemihal appeal to the wife rather than the judge? The details that unfolded during the trial strongly suggest that her decision to approach the judge through his wife was a calculated move, one in a series of moves intended to fulfill the universal desire of slaves for freedom.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSociety, Law, and Culture in the Middle East
Subtitle of host publication"Modernities" in the Making
EditorsDror Ze’evi , Ehud R. Toledano
PublisherWalter de Gruyter GmbH
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783110439755
ISBN (Print)9783110439748
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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