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Avret Pazarları

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Avret Pazarları[lb 1] (Ottoman Turkish: پازار‎ [Avret Pazarları]) or simply Esir Bazar[4] was a market of women slaves located in Istanbul, in then Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) between the mid 15th-century and the early 20th-century.[nb 1][5] Many households owned female slaves were women, including many as domestic servants. Constantinople became the capital of forced captive slaves that included women. The slave market was under the supervision of the Ottoman state, which taxed every transaction of slaves.

Women were captured from various African, Asian, and European territories and sold in Istanbul markets. Unlike their male counterparts, women slaves were permitted to be exploited sexually, and their sexuality was deemed to be the personal property of their owners. Female slaves would have few possibilities, depending upon physical attributes such as beauty and natural skills of pleasure and entertaining of male counterparts with cajoling words and gestures,[6] to be selected by elite men as slaves or concubines.

Commoner and imperial palace slaves were marketed. Turkish television drama usually tend to ignore non-elite-commoner-women slavery and focuses more on privileged female slavery in elite Ottoman imperial palaces. In descriptions of Ottoman times, non-elite-commoner-women slavery are found in some of the then contemporary slave narrative accounts, traveler's accounts, folk songs, late ottoman times Turkish novels, twentieth century poems.

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History and context

The general slave trade of men and women was referred to as Esir Pazari.[7][8][9][10][11] According to Jane Hathaway, a sizable majority of the slaves traded in the Arab slave trade were often women; every substantial household and many less substantial households owned female slaves, including many as domestic servants. In history as well as in conventional scholarship on Ottoman historiography, non-elite slaves and women are far underrepresented.[12]

The Aurut Bazaar, or Slave Market - Walsh Robert & Allom Thomas - 1836
William Allan (1782-1850) - The Slave Market, Constantinople - NG 2400 - National Galleries of Scotland

According to Ehud R. Toledano, the Ottoman Empire followed the same path of enslavement as other enslavers in general and their predecessor Islamic states in particular, especially the Caliphates of Al-Mu'tasim and Mamluk Sultanate.[1] Toledano says that while various Muslim societies had developed their own brand of slavery, the legal essence was very much derived from Islamic law.[1] Toledano says harem slavery was a central component of early modern Ottoman imperial and elite households.[1]

Slave import from the Crimean Khanate in about 1600 (political map). Note that the areas marked Poland and especially Muscovy were claimed rather than administered and were thinly populated.
Contemporary Black Sea map

In 1453 AD, Constantinople (Istanbul) became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Over the centuries, it became the capital of forced captive slaves that included women.[9] According to Toledano, during the 15th through 18th centuries, a large pool of women captives were brought in as loot of the war from various war fronts, including Greeks and Balkans from northeast shores of Mediterranean seas and also southeastern European lands lying north of the Black Sea i.e. Georgia and Circassia. These captives became forced labor including the concubinage of elite and royal harems of Ottoman sultans.[1] According to Toledano, in contrast to the Atlantic slave trade where the male-female ratio was 2:1 or 3:1, the Arab slave trade usually had a higher female:male ratio instead, suggesting a general preference for female slaves. Concubinage and reproduction served as incentives for importing female slaves (often European), although many were also imported mainly for performing household tasks.[13]

According to Robert C. Davis, in the 16th century, Avret Pazary was in full swing and doing strong business. Davis estimates demand and market of female slaves capturing and enslavement figure above a thousand per year, in the Ottoman Empire. The slave women market used to be filled with women captured from Corsairs, Tartars and miscellaneous slave dealers.

According to Toledano, slaves usually would not come on record unless reported by their masters, usually for absconding, so while knowing the exact number and composition of slaves remains difficult, analysis of 16th-century absconders presented by Yvonne Seng from Ottoman records shows that some were captured in Ottoman war campaigns in the Balkans, while many others were captured from Russia and Poland by the Crimean Khanate incursions there. Among absconding slaves, 39 percent were Russians, Serbs-Croats 31 percent, Bosnians 11 percent, and the remaining 19 percent from Hungary Bulgaria and Walachia.[14]

According to Davis, Ottaviano Bon, an early 17th-century Italian ambassador, made observations about Avret Pizary of Istanbul:

For such a purpose, there is an enclosed public market in Constantinople in which an open auction each Wednesday female slaves of every sort are bought and sold, and everybody freely goes there to buy them...

— Ottaviano Bon, Attributed in Davis, Robert C. (2009-07-01). Holy War and Human Bondage: Tales of Christian-Muslim Slavery in the Early-Modern Mediterranean: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-06540-8.

Davis further quotes Bon as saying that slave girls in Istanbul were bought and sold like animals – ascertaining their country of origin, plus examining their bodies all over thoroughly to confirm that their buyer did not feel swindled. Virgin and beautiful girls used to get higher prices, and traders used to be held guilty if the slave girl did not turn out to be a virgin after promising so. While Turkish free women i.e. Muslim women could not be enslaved and Muslim Turkish women had some level of legal prerogative against sexual exploitation through slavery, the same prerogative was not available to slaves against their masters buying and selling them for sexual whims, and such sexual exploitation of female slaves could not be punished legally. According to Davis, by 1717, Lady Mary, wife of a British ambassador to Istanbul, reported in her later published letter that the women slave market of Istanbul was somewhat dwindling.

The slave market was under the supervision of the Ottoman state, which taxed every transaction of slaves. The official control of the slave market was executed by an official called esirci emini. A standard fee or the 1/40th of the value of the slave was imposed as tax. A guild of slave merchants existed (esirci esnafi), headed by a sheikh (esirci seyhi). He was elected by the members of the guild (esnaf) and was appointed by a sultanic decree. Apart from Muslims, Jews were also involved in the slave market, but it is not known whether they were organized in guilds (Sarris, 1990: 336, 337). As per Elviya Celebi memoir, slave traders' guild esirci esnafi had around 2000 members, and their shops had slave rooms.[15]

Limitations of enslaved women

According to Robert C. Davis, although women slaves were mainly taken from war zones, referring to them as captives or prisoners of war was blatantly incorrect. It is significant to note that the women's religion was not the same as that of their captors, and most of them were not active combatants but were taken while going about their normal business as civilians, despite any sign of hostility.[7][16] The women were captured from various African, Asian, and European territories and sold in Istanbul markets. Madeline Zilfi maintains that, like male slaves, female slaves were considered the personal property of their owners. However, unlike their male counterparts, women slaves were permitted to be exploited sexually, and their sexuality was deemed to be the personal property of their owners.[10][17] Although using female slaves for prostitution was technically illegal, selling a slave woman to another man for sex was permissible, and slave women had no legal protection over their sexuality.[18] Zilfi explains that while slaves could seek recourse to Islamic Sharia courts for any other physical injury, the sexuality of women slaves was not their own to lose. As a result, they were unable to appeal to Sharia courts or Sultans.[10] Under systemic biases introduced under the Ottoman judicial system, enslaved women, most of whom were non-Muslims, were barred from testifying as witnesses against Muslims.[19] The loss of a slave's virginity was not a matter for herself but rather for her owner, unlike physical injuries to a woman slave by a non-owner, for example, to the arm, leg, eye, or other part of the body.[10] For instance, in the winter of 1817 AD, a female slave owner received compensation through the courts from a man who had raped her slave because the woman's virginity had been compromised, and it would no longer be possible for her owner to sell her as a highly priced virgin.[10]

According to Zilfi, the literature on slavery-related Fatwa, covering Ottoman legal commentaries, is full of discussions about past, present, and future access to female slaves' sexuality. Queries were asked and answered about disputed paternity, prostitution, adultery, joint ownership of slaves, childbirth, marriage, violation of woman slaves by those other than the owner, and sexual relations with a wife's slave woman without the wife's consent.[10] Muftis used to hold special authority as religious opinion givers, given that the interface between a slave's condition and the domestic household was problematic.[10][nb 2]

While some intellectuals dispute whether those deemed slaves would have been considered as such under our understanding of western slavery, Ehud R. Toledano, Liat Kozma, and Suraiya Faroqhi reveal that there were cases in which enslaved women were abused and deprived of legal protection and their rights. Faroqhi explains that while some historians attempt to contest contrasting law and society, law depends on society, and Islamic law and culture include provisions for the enslaved, facilitating their societal absorption over the generations. Nevertheless, although application and practice may not be universal, those in power impose legal systems to obtain significant advantage for themselves. When viewed from the perspective of disadvantaged slaves, it is reasonable to assume that a legal system is being imposed from outside on the micro-society of the enslaved.[6]

Finally, in the case of Ottoman Legal System in regards to slavery, individual rights to choice and consent were severely restrained. Abuse and limitations were frequent, and female slaves were reduced to the level of material possessions, to be listed in inheritance registers alongside household utensils or livestock, or given such physical descriptions in court.[17] Nineteenth century European women visitors reported that slave women had an astonishingly large amount of leisure time and freedom of speech and action inside the harem. They saw the slaves’ lives as preferable to those of domestic servants in the West.[21]

As Suraiya Faroqhi says, female slaves would have few possibilities, depending upon physical attributes such as beauty and natural skills of pleasure and entertaining of male counterparts with cajoling words and gestures,[6] to be selected by elite men as slaves or concubines. Few would be selected as slaves for the imperial harem, a few of them would be gifted to other elite men, a few more physically attractive ones would get selected for royal males, then few attractive ones would be reserved for the pleasure of the Sultan himself, a few of them will be selected as concubines of the Sultan. Those who would issue a male child from the Sultan will receive some extra facilities, but if the slave lady does not convert to Islam then she will be bereft of her child and the child would be raised separately as a Muslim. A rare few of the concubines would have a chance to be selected as an official wife of the Sultan, and rarer would have a chance of being a beloved wife, then rarer among them if her child gets selected as Sultan, would have the best possible honor of being Walide (Mother) of the Sultan.[7][11]

According to Lidia Zhigunova, during the Ottoman period, women in the Caucasus had to face a multiplicity of colonizing agents, the westerners' and Russians' narratives focused on stereotypes of beauty and sexuality of elite Circassian slave women and their perceived emancipation and attempted to ignore their agency and other facets like their voices, resistance and diversity. Zhigunova quotes Tlostanova to describe possibilities of agencies for Ottoman women slaves. They (Zhigunova, Tlostanova) say that (unlike western slavery) slave status of Ottomans did not rob rights and humanity of the slaves, absorbed and integrated into the society better, there was a chance of change of status from non-elite to elite, for women slaves it was easier through possibilities of marriage. An enslaved woman impregnated by her owner could not be easily resold, her children were considered free, and if the owner accepted they were his children, the same inheritance rights applied as if children were from a legitimate marriage. So over next several generations of slaves were easily absorbed and integrated into the society like other earlier similarly integrated members. Moreover, female slaves would become free after the death of their owners through mechanism known as tedbir, a declaration wherein a slave owner would promise to manumit slave prior to his death to avail religious points of good behavior. At times in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state encouraged Mukatebe contracts wherein slaves could save to buy their own manumission.[22] However, Zhigunova notes that there used to be repeated instances of women slave abuse, too. According to one example cited by Ehud Toledano, on 30 June 1854 a Circassian slave woman of poor background, named Shemsigul, recorded her testimony with Cairo police. According to her testimony, she was first trafficked from her native village in Circassia to Istanbul where she was purchased by a slave trader named Deli Mehmet, who on the way to Cairo sexually forced himself on her and subsequently, despite her getting pregnant from him, the trader sold her to a son of Egypt's then-Governor Mehmet Ali Pasha and subsequently was resold many times during her pregnancy itself, and even attempted to abort her. But eventually she gave birth to a child and the child was adopted by the wife of Deli Mehmet and she was resold to another dealer—even while the reselling of a slave mother was illegal even by Islamic standards—so the persecuting dealer Deli Mehmet was duly convicted. Toledano's study further says that the trafficking of Circassian women was well established by the nineteenth century, getting an additional dimension when, from the 1850s onwards, Russians expelled Circassians en masse from their own territories. The Circasians sought refuge with the Ottomans at the cost of being slaves. When rates of white slave women went down, black slave women were dumped. Sudden dumping or sudden manumission without any other recourse could lead to slave women's further destitution.[23][24]

Suraiya Faroqhi compares agency to slaves of Ottoman in comparison to contemporary slaves of Mughal empire in South Asia. According to Faroqhi, no doubt, slave women of the Ottoman Empire had better chances of agency if they chanced upon elite masters, whereas in an attempt to ensure better life for own daughters, elites of Mughal empire used to precondition marriage contracts so that legally wedded wives had rights to dispose of husband's slave women and concubine as and when they wanted and add that amount to own kitty. Thus, they could get rid of any eventual competition from any concubine. Whereas Ottoman women did not take as much recourse to this strategy, they used to end up in familial jealousy wars and risked being dumped by husbands if any slave woman or concubine found better favor. So in Ottoman times, agency, if any, of any slave woman used to be achieved at the cost of other women's agency.[6] Faroqhi says that, whether any other law or Sharia, in slave holding society, for slaves, capacity to show initiative and gain any agency remains limited by law or otherwise.[6] For example, the mechanism of tedbir could prove riskier in achieving meaningful liberation on death of the owner, since the owner could not dispose of his two-thirds property which would get divided among decedent's inheritors, who could claim that (property) value of the slave was too high which owner could not dispose of in full so inheritors continue to have ownership rights over the slave.[6]

Rather than imposing a binary whether Ottoman slaves were slaves or not, Faroqhi prefers to categorize them in a larger spectrum, wherein few of the elite male slaves growing through their military or administrative careers, enjoying most of practical life full of freedoms, wealth and power may not necessarily be called as slaves at all in the western sense but just next to them elite harem women slaves might have shared wealth and even power in some cases but considerable freedoms were alluding from them, too. But non-elite, i.e. menial slaves suffered the most from legal disabilities and reduced life chances that we associate with slavery.[6] Faroqhi further points out that Farhat Yasa's study of 16th-18th Centuries fatwas claims under certain circumstances that slave owners could kill their slaves without worrying about being punishment while alive in living world, meaning thereby when one focuses on agency availed by few privileged ones, one ought to acknowledge most female slaves could show their agency only in very narrow limits, if at all. Some female slaves could turn out to be mere facade and slave users using them to face court punishments against their own crimes, too. So under the same spectrum talking of any agency of mere helpless victim female slaves would not remain relevant at all.[6]

According to Kate Fleet, female slaves had more likelihood of access to public spaces as compared to non-slave Ottoman Muslim women. In fact, elite women usually had to take their female slaves along with them if a close male relative was not there to accompany them in public spaces. At times female slaves used to get some amount of agency as informant or spies.[17] More often than not, access to public spaces for female slaves was not dignified.[17]

Fleet says the visibility of a female slave was always meant to be fluid, since she would quickly move from one level of visibility to another, from being a protected possession to an exposed commodity without any choice over the levels to which they could be displayed to public gaze, could be handled naked by customers in the slave market, or from household servant to prostitute at the whim of their owners.[17]

Geographies, locations and economics

East European Crimean Khanate had the largest share in conducting raids, captivating and indulging in exporting East European slaves and fulfilling the demands of Ottoman Empire and beyond.[25] The slave trade and enslaving and ransoming had become an important source of tax revenue for Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire both. On one hand, the Islamic tradition of frequent religious manumission used to set a large number of slaves free but on the other hand, the same culture used to create new continued demand for slaves.[25][26] As with Islam, Jewish slave traders used to have their own religious restrictions wherein once a slave owner has sexual relations with his female slave, he either had to sell the slave or manumit them—again the trader would be adding to new demand for the slaves.[25] This Ottoman practice at times used to increase population leading to economic pressure—even leading to revolts though they were successfully suppressed. Large numbers of manumitted slaves used to end up in begging or giving back in slavery due to non-availability of any other recourse.

The Circassians, Syrians, and Nubians were the three primary races of females who were sold as sex slaves (Cariye) in the Ottoman Empire. Circassian girls were described as fair and light-skinned and were frequently enslaved by Crimean Tatars then sold to Ottoman Empire to live and serve in a harem. They were the most expensive, reaching up to 500 pounds sterling, and the most popular with the Turks. Second in popularity were Syrian girls, with their dark eyes, dark hair, and light brown skin, and came largely from coastal regions in Anatolia. Their price could reach up to 30 pounds sterling. They were described as having "good figures when young". Nubian girls were the cheapest and least popular, fetching up to 20 pounds sterling.[27] Sex roles and symbolism in Ottoman society functioned as a normal action of power. The palace harem excluded enslaved women from the rest of society.[28]

The Ottomans' slave trade to South Asia was to and fro in both directions, but by comparison with the South Asia Uzbec slave trade, it was marginal—still catering demand of white female slaves in elite South Asian harems on the other hand South Asian markets used to fulfill the demand of non-Muslim female slaves.

Avret Pazari of Istanbul at Forum of Arcadius

Map of Byzantine (Pre Ottoman) Constantinople. The locations of Forum of Arcadius near Ese Kapi Mosque, which is located at the corner between the Walls of Constantine and the southern branch of the Mese, in the southwestern part of the city near seventh hill

Avret Pazari of Istanbul was located near the Forum of Arcadius.[29] A small mosque to the west of Avret Bazaar bears the name Isa Kapoussi Mesdjidi, while the adjoining street is called Isa Kapoussi Sokaki.[30] The journey Hobhouse describes took place in 1809–10, and so the "last rebellion" must refer to the Ottoman coups of 1807–08, in particular Kabakçı Mustafa's rebellion of 1807. Apparently the "Aurat-Bazar" that Hobhouse reported to have been burnt down before 1810 was rebuilt on the same spot, as we can deduce from the 1839 book Constantinople and the Scenery of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. It describes the "Aurut Bazaar" as standing "near the burnt column".[1] That this refers to the Column of Arcadius is clear from an earlier book by Walsh (who was an abolitionist), A Residence at Constantinople.[31] The same book specifically identifies the "Aurut Bazaar" as "[t]he usual place where Circassian slaves are sold".[32] The English novellist Julia Pardoe described the Istanbul slave market in her 1837 visit as, a square court three of whose side are built round with low stone rooms, or cells beyond which projects a wooden peristyle.[33]

Other locations

There is a street in Gaziantep that is named Avrat Pazarı, the street name of the narrow street where the Old Municipality and Şıra Inn are located, north of İnönü Street, which runs parallel to the street starting right across the west-facing door of Kemikli Bedestens, and opens to Şıhcan Street.[34] Other Ottoman cities, such as Belgrade, Sophia, Damascus, Aleppo also had slave markets.[35]

Captures, retrievals, escapes and flights

George of Hungary

George of Hungary (c. 1422–1502)[36] was an Ottoman slave taken prisoner and sold into slavery when the Ottoman Turks invaded the town of Mühlbach (now Sebeș) in 1438. George escaped and reverted from Islam to Christianity, writing afterwards about his experiences.[37]

"..There they are examined and stripped...the private parts of men and women are handled and openly shown before everyone. Naked, they are compelled to go before everyone, to run, walk, and jump, so that it may be plainly apparent whether they are sick or healthy, male or female, old or young, virgin or corrupt"... "There the son is sold while the grieving mother looks on. There the mother is bought to the confusion and humiliation of the son. There the wife is mocked as a harlot and is handed over to another man, while her husband blushes. There is a little one snatched from the bosom of his mother while she is sold off, with every deep emotion shaken." ~ Reference: Brother George of Hungary, Treatise on the Customs, Living Conditions and Wickedness of the Turks, ~ David Ryan Stevenson (Atlanta, Department of Classics), p. 20.

Emily Ruete

There is a lack of (non-elite) slave narratives or folk literature of Circassian women. Emily Ruete's description of kidnapping and enslavement of her mother 'Jilfidan' is one of the closest available testimonies about a captive female slave. Until Ruete's mother was sold to her father, she was a common (non-elite) slave but when purchased by Ruete's father she became an elite slave, i.e. a concubine. Ruete wrote about the captivity of her mother 'Jilfidan':

...My mother was a Circassian by birth, who in early youth had been torn away from her home. Her father had been a farmer, and she had always lived peacefully with her parents and her little brother and sister. War broke out suddenly, and the country was overrun by marauding bands ; on their approach the family fled into an underground place, as my mother called it — she probably meant a cellar, which is not known in Zanzibar. Their place of refuge was, however, invaded by a merciless horde, the parents were slain, and the children carried off by three mounted Arnauts. One of these, with her elder brother, soon disappeared out of sight; the other two, with my mother and her little sister, three years old, crying bitterly for her mother, kept together until evening, when they too parted, and my mother never heard any more of the lost ones as long as she lived.
She came into my father's possession when quite a child, probably at the tender age of seven or eight years, as she cast her first tooth in our house...[38]

Margaret Himfi

The Hungarian noblewoman Margaret Himfi was abducted and enslaved by Ottoman marauders at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. She later became a slave mistress of a wealthy Venetian citizen of Crete, with whom she had two daughters. Margaret was able to return to Hungary in 1405.[39]

During one of the first Ottoman incursions at the borderland of the Kingdom of Hungary, Margaret was abducted from the family seat, the village of Egerszeg in Temes County (today part of Vermeș in Romania).[40] As Margaret was found by 1405 and she had two underage children. Sometimes before 1405, Margaret was sold in Crete which then was an overseas colony of the Republic of Venice under the name Kingdom of Candia. She became a slave mistress of a wealthy citizen, Giorgio Darvasio, who came from a Venetian merchant family. Margaret had two daughters from his slave master; Marieta and Iacoba, who were still minors in 1405 and even in 1408. According to that charter which narrated Margaret's story, the lady was well treated by his slave master and lover Darvasio during her captivity. Thus he was possibly attached to her emotionally.[41] Despite her relative good fate in Darvasio's estate, Margaret never gave up her intention to return to Hungary. On 1 July 1405, a charter was issued on Crete in the case of the noblewoman. Darvasio agreed to release her without any ransom and also took an escort for her mistress. Initially he wanted one of their daughters to stay on Crete, but later his only condition was occasional visit opportunity to Hungary to see her former slave and their two children.[42] In the charter, Marcali expressed his intention to return to Crete for Margaret and the two children.[43] Darvasio transferred Margaret and their daughters to Venice in order to travel to Hungary. There he hand them over to Margaret's alleged brother-in-law John of Redel, and also covered her travel expenses. Margaret was able to return to Hungary after lengthy years and resided in Buda with her children.[42]

Other examples

In 1460s Ilona from Garai, wife of Tamas who was taken captive could only escape at an opportune moment but when recaptured she was eventually resold by Serbs five times before she managed to escape successfully again. Similarly in 1471, one Anna Nagy escaped from captivity, but these are exceptions. Several women could not be found again even where families or the state was able to arrange for ransom and most could not afford ransom.[39]

Travelers' descriptions

1592: Lorenzo Bernardo, Venetian Ambassador:[44][45]

"...Turkey is bordering with Adyghas and Mingrelians, who represent something like slave mine, whom they take to Constantinople like cattle and sell them in auctions..."

Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682) was 17th century Ottoman traveler who him self participated in some raids and taking captives, writes from his travels from Crimean Khanate (one of largest slave captivator and suppliers to Ottomans):

"...A man who had not seen this market, had not seen anything in this world. A mother is severed from her son and daughter there, a son—from his father and brother, and they are sold amongst lamentations, cries of help, weeping and sorrow..."[46]

Robert Walsh, a writer of Irish descent who in his later career campaigned against slavery, was the chaplain to the British Embassy at Istanbul from roughly from 1820 to 1827 witnessed and described condition of then fresh enslavement of Sciote (Chios) post the 1822 Chios massacre from nearby Greek majority island by Ottomans.[47][48]

1822AD "...The first news of these events was brought to Constantinople by the caiquegees, hummals, and other adventurers of the rabble, who returned with boats full of plunder and slaves. The Oriental manner of making slaves, and securing a property in them, is this. Any fellows who join an expedition as volunteers for plunder of this kind enter a house, and after setting fire to it, and killing generally the adult males, they carry off the property, with the females and boys.

They then proceed to the next custom-house, and having paid twenty piasters, or about ten shillings, they take out a teskerai, or ticket, which certifies the slavery, and then the persons of the unfortunate family become the property of the captors for ever, with all their posterity! If any of them is disposed to sell the whole or part, he gives up with them their teskerai, which transfers the property to the purchaser in perpetuity. Forty-one thousand teskerais were granted in this way for Sciote slaves up to the 1st of May, of which five thousand had been taken out for those proceeding to Constantinople alone, and generally by fellows in the lowest grade of society. The usual place where Circassian slaves are sold is the Aurut Bazaar, or Women's Market, in the vicinity of the Burnt Column. Here decorum is no further violated than in the act of sale. It consists of a quadrangular building, with an open court in the middle. Round this arc raised platforms, on which black slaves sit: behind are latticed windows lighting apartments, where the white and more costly women are shut up till they are sold, and there is a certain decency and propriety observed in the purchase. But the glut of unfortunate Sciotes were as such, that they were exhibited for sale in any public place, even the streets. The most usual was the Baluk Bazaar, or Fish-market. Here the first exposure was a number of poor girls, of the age of twelve or fourteen, who were sold like cattle at an English fair. Several of them were without trousers, or the necessary articles of dress. Terror and anxiety had so affected them, that they exhibited the most deplorable picture of human suffering I ever beheld, and such as cannot be described; yet they were treated by the Turks with a contemptuous freedom, as if they did not think they ought to show them the courtesies of decorum which a sense of modesty generally induces a Turk to show to any other female. They were taken and handled with the roughness of butchers examining young cattle, and generally sold at the rate of one hundred piastres, or 3/. a head. Five hundred were disposed of here in this way, and Turkish men and women were everywhere seen leading young Christian slaves to their houses.

The next day, June the 16th, was Sunday, and a slave market was established in Pera Street, leading to our palace. A number of captives had been brought up the day before, and some of them exposed for sale in that place,..."[49]

1828: "...this woman had come over to Chesme, and bargained with the Turk for her liberation. He asked the sum of twelve hundred piastres; they could scarcely raise twelve;—but they applied to the Franks who had come to Chesm £, and through their subscriptions, added to those of the captain and officers of the English brig-of-war, the " Jasper," and what I gave, they collected eight hundred piastres, which, at the intercession of my friend, Mr. W-, the Turk agreed to take. The poor Sciote had just received the liberating paper, signed and sealed by the Mollah and her old master, and had come to thank me for the part I had taken in restoring her to the blessings of freedom ...Charles Macfarlane[50]

1830s: Admiral Sir Adolphus Slade CB (1804 – 13 November 1877) was a British admiral who became an admiral in the Ottoman Navy.[51][52]

Occasionally, I will not deny, heart rending scenes occur, in the case of captives of war, or victims of revolt, wrenched suddenly from all that is dear, but these are rare occurrences. The Circassians and Georgians, who form the trade supply, are only victims of custom, willing victims; being brought up by their mercenary parents for the merchants....they look for the moment of going to Anapa or Poti whence they are shipped for stamboul, ...In the markets they are lodged in separate apartments, carefully secluded, where in the hour of business between nine and twelve they may be visited by aspirants for possessing such delicate ware. i need not draw a veil over what follows. decorum prevails. The would be purchaser may fix his eyes on the lady's face, and his hands may receive evidence of her bust. The waltz allows nearly as much liberty before hundreds of eyes. Of course merchant gives his warranty, on which, and the preceding data, the bargain is closed. the common price for tolerable looking girl is 100/. some fetch hundreds...such are generally singled out by Kislar Aga. a coarser article from Nubia and Abysinia is exposed publicly on platforms, beneath verandahs, before the cribs of white china. A more white toothed, plump cheeked, ... with a smile and gibe for everyone, and often an audible 'buy me'. they are sold easily and without trouble. Ladies are usual purchasers for domestics . a slight inspection suffices The girl gets up off the ground, gathers her coarse cloth round her loins, bids her companions adieu, and trips gaily, bare footed and bare headed, after her new mistress, who immediately dresses her la Turque and hides her ebony with white veils. (price of one is about 16/. Males are sold in a different place always young. Boys fetch a much higher price than girls for evident reasons: in the east, unhappily, they are also subservient to pleasures, and when grown up are farther useful in many ways, if clever may arrive at higher employments; where as woman is only a toy with orientals, and like toy when discarded, useless.

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen visited Istanbul in April 1841, and wrote:

"...Not far from great bazaar, we come to place surrounded by wooden buildings, forming an open gallery; the jutting roof is supported by rough beams; inside along the gallery, are small chambers where trader stow their goods, and these goods are human beings, black and white female slaves.[nb 3]

We are now in the square, sun shines, rush mats are spread over under the green trees, and there sit and lie Asia's daughters. A young mother gives the breast to her child, and they will separate these two. On the stairs leading to the gallery sits a young negress not more than fourteen years of age; she is almost naked; an old Turk regards her. He has taken one of her legs in hand; she laughs and shows her shining white teeth.

Do not veil the beautiful white women, thou hideous old wretch; it is these we wish to see; drive them not into the cage; we shall not, as thou thinkest, abash them with bold eyes.

See! a young Turk with fiery looks; four slaves follow him; two old Jewesses are trading with him. Some charming Tscherkasier girls have come; he will see them dance, hear them sing, and then choose and buy! He could give us a description of the slave market, such as we are not able to offer..."

A Poet's Bazaar. Hans Christian Andersen · 1871 [53]

Cultural depictions

Reflection in folk songs

Many Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish folk songs from Ottoman Empire era reflect the impact of the raids on common people in Eastern Europe and Black sea regions.[25]

The fires are burning behind the river—
The Tatars are dividing their captives
Our village is burnt and our property plundered.
Old mother is sabred
And my dear is taken into captivity.

 ~ A Ukrainian folk song

In Claude Fauriel's Greek folk songs collection, published in 1824–25, there are some songs mentioning Greeks slaves of the Turks, or the danger of one becoming a slave and fighting to avoid it. These songs refer to pre-revolution events (before 1821), mainly the wars of Souli against Ali Pasha of Jannina and Albanian Muslims. Despo, the wife of Souliote chieftain Tzavellas, is one of the heroines of the songs, committing an honor suicide with other women before they all get captives and slaves. When women and children got surrounded by the enemy in a small fortress, with no chance of escape, Despo sets fire to the gun-powder keg:[54] The original Greek with French translation can be found in Fauriel work.[55]

"... 'O come, my children, come with me,
We shall not live as slaves of Turks.'
She touched the powder with the torch
— Engulfing flames consumed them all."


The return from captivity by Leopold Loeffler

Literary depiction of female slavery issues as such begins in 19th-century Ottoman Turkish novels.[56] According to Elif Aksit, while Samipaşazade Sezai, Ahmet Mithat and Halit Ziya elaborate the tragic lives of passive slave girls, Fatma Aliye focuses empowerment even from slavery. The approaches of the first three authors indicates a choice to depict tragicized and caricatured situations to create strong emotional appeal to then prevailing change public opinion.[56] A 1877 novel 'Aşk-ıVatan' (Love of Country) talking about homesickness of a female slave written by Zafer Hanım is supposed to be first novel by first Turkish female writer.[57]

In Namık Kemal's first (1876) novel İntibah (Awakening), a woman named Fatma buys a slave girl Dilaşub, to distract her son Ali from another woman Mahpeyker. When the slave girl Dilaşub fulfils her duty of distraction, Fatma the owner resales her at the slightest doubt of her taking an interest in another man. Aksit says, Dilaşub is depicted as a good in character but weak submissive slave girl, who pays the price for the weaknesses of others, since Fatma manipulates her own son's plus slave girls life by buying and selling at her own convenience.[56] Aksit maintains the early Ottoman male novel writers' focused on themes sympathizing with slave girls depicting their lives from childhood to their transformation in their womanhood, like wise Ahmet Mithat's depiction of his protagonist Rakım goes on to educate his slave girl Canan and marries her.[56] Author Halit Ziya, in his (1886–1887) novel Sefile (The Miserable) describes an adventurous slave girl Mazlume (feminine name for 'Oppressed') who gets sold and resold to good as well as bad people but fails to overcome her fate being a slave girl.[56]

In Samipaşazade Sezai's 1888 novel Sergüzeşt ("Life story" or "Adventure") the slave girl named Dilber is also bought and resold from one family to another, and over a period of time Dilber grows to become an attractive young woman from weak young girl. Aksit says, ironically, while being weak and girly largely protects Dilber from wanted and unwanted sexual advances, her beauty and passage to womanhood prove to be a fatal recipe in combination with slavery, in one of the owner's house where she arrives as an attractive young woman, the young man first ignores and mocks her and then begins painting her picture, manipulating her like his toy. She revolts and cries and he sees that she is in fact a human being. Later they fall in love. However, his mother, the lady of the house, sells Dilber in the market to prevent the love between a slave and a lord, and her love draws her to step of suicide.[56]

While novelist Fatma Aliye (1862 – 1936), progressive for her times, viewed sexual slavery (along with polytheism) as forms of exploitation, according to Zeynep Direk, still Aliye's response is insufficient from feminist point of view due to Aliye's focus on defending Ottomanism and Islamism since Aliye plays down coercion, servitude, oppression, and sexual exploitation aspects of female slavery and talks about female slavery in idyllic and romantic terms and does not support abolishing of institution of slavery even though legally abolished before Fatma Aliye's birth in 1847, though it was still in vogue in practice.[57] Still boundaries of female slavery in Aliyes novels are fluid, in one novel Muhadarat, for example, a non-slave woman even though married to a wealthy man sales herself into slavery to flee from the husband, in another novel Enin family wants their son to marry their female slave but the son is in love with someone else so declines to marry with their female slave, in one another novel Dar'ul Muallimat, character Refet, a daughter of a poor female slave, attends school (Dar'ul Muallimat) to become a teacher.[57]

According to Seteney Nil Dogan, the second generation of nationalist Circassian diaspora of 1970s explored and criticized Circassians and Turks for human sale, arranged and involuntary marriages through their periodicals and activism. In 1975 in Circassian magazine Yamçı a circassian female author Karden D., expressed her hope that emancipation of Circassian woman from image as of a commodity and a product that is being sold with the maximum price is not very distant.[58] Kanuko Cemil's following poem authored in the same magazine in 1976 is an example of the often themes of forced marriage and human sale in the periodicals published by the Circassian diaspora nationalists in the 1970s:[58]

" ...Far away... In the East
Circassian girl is in the arm of the foreigner
In the spring of her life
Circassian girl is 19 years old
When she is sold viciously
The foreigner takes the girl, he is sixty years old
It is sad but its reflection is true
[...] The master is on the mirror of shame.

~ Kanuko Cemil' 1976 poem in Circassian magazine Yamçı[58]

Dogan and Toledano say that post 2000 discourse in descendants of slavery is of assimilation within Turkish identity with space for cultural diversity.[58]


Turkish television drama usually tend to ignore non-elite-commoner-women slavery and focuses more on privileged female slavery in elite Ottoman imperial palaces. Turkish television drama series, such as Abad Kejayaan, get exported to various Muslim countries, most of which mainly focus on elite part of Ottoman slavery; new generation audience is unaware of forms pre-20th-century Islamic sexual slavery as, in spite of clearances from Islamic clergy, conservative audiences lobby to demand showcasing of sanitized versions without any depiction of slave women in Ottoman times and life.[59]


  1. ^ Old→New place names quick rough guide:
    Ottomans→Turkey; Istanbul→Constantinople;Smyrna→Izmir; Caliphates of Al-Mu'tasim→The Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in modern-day Iraq; Mamluk Sultanate → a medieval realm spanning Egypt, the Levant and Hejazc; Crimean Khanate → Areas taken over by Russia from Ukraine; Circassia→ areas neighboring Georgia taken over by Russia; Muscovy→Russia; Wallachia; region of Romania;
  2. ^ Ottoman Islamic laws were usually governed according to Hanafi school (Madhhab); See also Islamic schools and branches[20]
  3. ^ While Hans Christian Andersen description matches for Istanbul but Turkish translator of Hans Christian Andersen book uses term "Kızlarağası Hanı" (which means something like "Girls' Master Lodge"), but place known as "Kızlarağası Hanı" is in Izmir

Linguistics notes

  1. ^ *In (Ottoman) Turkish the word avret was used more for common married or adult women, whereas the word hatun was used for more respected women.[1][2] In Ottoman times any unmarried adolescent girl was called kiz but they were mobility wise freer and less controlled until marriage but once married and considered avret their mobility and sexuality came under drastic social control so as they would not engage in adultery to preserve male right of linage and patriarchal honor.[1] In modern Turkish since the 20th century use of word avret was limited to intimate body parts.[1]
    *Pazarları is the plural of Pazari, which comes from Persian-language word Bazaar, meaning market
    Word Esir means Slave
    surriyya in Arabic means Concubine[3]
    * Mukateb A type of Islamic slave manumission where in Slave convinces Owner for a contract where slave earns and saves money for self manumission


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  2. ^ Flemming, Barbara (2018). Essays on Turkish literature and history. Leiden: Brill. p. 362. ISBN 978-90-04-29310-6.
  3. ^ "surriyya". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Glossary and Index of Terms. May 1, 2012 – via
  4. ^ Bulgaru, M. -M. Alexandrescu-Dersca (2010). "49. The role of slaves in fifteenth-century Turkish Romania". In Bostom, Andrew G., M. D. (ed.). The Legacy of Jihad : Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus. p. 568. ISBN 978-1-61592-017-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
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