Letter: Ottoman `freedom'

Ottoman `freedom'

Sir: Sinan Akinal (letter, 30 December) asks us to remember the "degree of tolerance and religious freedom that existed within the Ottoman Empire", adding that "things ... started to go wrong in the Balkans towards the end of the 19th century".

He might care to reflect on the decree of Sultan Omar II. In the period before 1878, this formed the basis of Ottoman rule, imposed in Bosnia over a mainly Orthodox Christian populace. The decree concerned "Christians and Jews" and imposed 23 restrictions, among which it was decreed that Christians and Jews: "Are not permitted to build their own cloisters and churches" (1); "Are forbidden to ride a horse with a saddle" (13); "Are forbidden to have crosses or Bibles in public" (18); "Within a house may sing only softly" (20); "Are permitted to pray softly when someone dies" (21).

It would appear that in this region at least, any tolerance that existed was on the part of the Empire's Christian and Jewish subjects.


London SW3