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Interpreters of the Court in the Ottoman Empire as seen from the Sharia Court Records of Cyprus

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Although the question of interpreters (tercüman) in the Ottoman empire has been a popular subject in recent writing on Ottoman history, the interpreters of the courts of the qadi (mahkeme tercümanlarι) have remained a mystery. Pioneering researchers of the sijills have mentioned their presence in court, but have been unable to establish their existence or explain the silence of the records about their position. In this essay, I analyse documents found in the sijills of the province of Nicosia, Cyprus, in order to explore the work of the translators who were charged with helping people on trial who did not know Ottoman Turkish. The court interpreters assisted the qadi and played an important role in the administration of justice, especially with regard to non-Muslims. The presence of interpreters in the qadi court of Nicosia helped the qadi to administer justice among dhimmis and gain their confidence, which may explain the frequency of references to them. Based on some berats (documents issued by the diwans) recorded in the sijills, I examine the identity, appointment, and the legal status of court interpreters.


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