Almanacs Diaries of an empire

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Almanacs were like the notebooks or diaries of state and cities, recording events and developments as they occurred, so that readers of these documents are carried back in time and re-experience those events. As reliable sources of information for the 19th and 20th centuries when they were produced, these documents are among the first to which historians refer. Almanacs or yearbooks were known in Turkish as 'salname', a compound word consisting of the Persian words 'sal' meaning year and 'name' meaning letter. These publications comprising a summary of all the notable events each year, can be divided into four categories: those issued by the state, provinces, public departments or organisations, and private publishers. When the Ottoman grand vezir Reþid Paþa saw the Almanach de Gotha that had been published annually at Gotha in Germany since 1763 (and after 1871 was also published in French under the name Almanac de Gotha), he is said to have decided that a similar Turkish almanac should be published.

Thus the Salname-i Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmaniyye (Almanac of the Imperial Ottoman State) came into being. The first edition was published in 1847, written jointly by Hayrullah Efendi, a historian, Ahmet Vefik Efendi and Ahmet Cevdet Paþa. The almanac was published regularly, expanding steadily in size every year, until 1918. The first 35 editions were printed by lithography, and subsequent editions by letterpress, making a total of 68. The Ottoman almanacs are a remarkable source of information about politics, demographics and the public administrators of the time. In the early period of the Turkish Republic three almanacs were published for the years 1925-26, 1926-27 and 1927-28. At intervals of around two decades a further two were published in 1945 and 1968, followed by one published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic in 1973. To return to the Ottoman period, almanacs were also published by individual government departments.

The Military Almanac published by the Ministry of Defence, the Educational Almanac published by the Ministry of Education and the Naval Almanac published by the Naval Office are two examples. In addition individual provinces began to produce almanacs in 1866, and as this custom spread, 527 Ottoman provinces had soon produced such almanacs, a tradition which continued in some provinces until 1918. These provincial almanacs are a crucial source of information about the economic and social structure of Ottoman cities. The 19th century was a time when the Ottoman state launched an ambitious programme of new institutions and projects designed to improve economic prosperity throughout the empire. For this purpose, detailed information was collected concerning natural resources, forests, agriculture, animal husbandry, manufacturing, population, schools, hospitals and roads in each province, and published in the almanacs. Since they were published annually, the give a detailed picture of developments and changes over the years.

During the period covered by the almanacs the Ottoman Empire extended over three continents, and these publications provide historic, geographic, social and other data about Ottoman territories totalling nearly 20 million square kilometres that today are part of nearly thirty countries. In an empire where so many different peoples coexisted, the almanacs give insight into the achievements and weaknesses of the Ottoman government where ruling such a multicultural society was concerned, and lessons that are still relevant today are to be learnt from them. While some provinces produced just one almanac, others maintained the practice for up to thirty-five years or more. Often they were written in two languages, so we find some in both Turkish and Arabic, Turkish and Greek or Turkish and Bosnian, and even some in Arabic alone. Hasan Duman's bibliography and catalogue is an essential reference source for scholars wishing to study these provincial almanacs.

The first unofficial almanac, entitled Turkiye, was published by Ali Suavi in Paris in 1871, and there followed an increasing number of such private publications, most of them focusing on literature, history, geography and biography. Those published by Ebuzziya Tevfik are of particular note for their superb quality printing. Among the almanacs were some entitled 'nevsal', a Persian word meaning new year, containing general information. Regrettably very few of these almanacs have been transcribed into modern Turkish. The decreasing number of people able to read Ottoman Turkish and the dispersal of the almanacs amongst different libraries are serious obstacles to accessing these sources for research. A comprehensive and detailed study of the almanacs would certainly throw new light on the last two centuries of our history.

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