Islamic History Sourcebook:
Dr. Cyrus Hamlin:
Turkish Bread, 1907
[Tappan Introduction] Natives who became Christians were put out of
their guilds, and therefore it became almost impossible for them to find work. Many were
reduced to poverty, even to beggary. Dr. Hamlin, the President of Robert College,
discovered that when Mahomet II took Constantinople, in I453, the act of capitulation
declared that every foreign nation located in that city might have the privilege of
establishing a mill and bakery. "Americans have never claimed this right," said
Dr. Hamlin, "and I can therefore claim it." The first step was to obtain the
firman, or formal permit, from the Government.
THERE was some curious experience connected with the firman, which so
well illustrates "the way things go" in Constantinople, and in the East
generally, that I will narrate it. The Government readily promised the firman; and, had no
opposition occurred, would have given it. But one of the great pashas was a very extensive
owner of mills and bakeries. The mills were all horse-mills then, and he evidently feared
that the small steam-mill proposed would grow. He knew what usually comes of giving
foreigners an entering wedge. He had the immense guild, also, whose interests were one
with his. The promise of the firman was not performed. No Government on earth was ever so
skillful in putting off a thing as the Turkish. At length, I began to build, on the faith
of the promise. We had not proceeded far, before engineers from the Porte came to examine
and take a plan of our works. I knew that foretold an interdict, and counseled all to shut
the gate, if they saw an officer approaching. By treaty right, no one could thus enter
without an officer accompanying him from our embassy; and I was sure they would not even
apply for one, but hope to carry the point irregularly, and to arrest and imprison all the
men found working.
One day, at noon recess, the officer came, and Demetri, whom he wished
first of all to arrest, was standing in the street, eating bread and olives. "Where
is Demetri Calfa?" said he to Demetri himself. "I just saw him at the
wine-shop," was the cool reply. "Turn round the corner to your right, at the
foot of the street." The officer soon returned; the workmen were all in the attic,
the students and I were below. "Who is the master-workman here?" "I am,
sir." "I want the rayah master." "There is no such man here."
"I arrest you all, young men, and make 'pydos' interdict." "Keep to work,
boys! You are students, and can't be arrested in this way." "But these are
workmen " "No, sir; they are all my students! " An unwary workman in the
attic had, in the mean time, thrust out his head; and the officer saw him. "Ho! you
skulker, you are a workman! Come down here, you will go with me!" "I am one of
Mr. Hamlin's scholars!" was the cool reply. "You a scholar! Let me hear you
read!" The man, who was a good carpenter and a great wag, and belonged to no
particular faith, turned round, found a New Testament in Armeno-Turkish, and began to read
appropriate passages. The officer was confounded. I then put my hand upon his shoulder,
told him he was violating treaty rights, that he could reign on the other side of the
wall, but I, within, until he should come in a legal manner; and so I led him out and shut
the gate. He sat down upon a stone, and began to soliloquize. "Such an interdict
never saw I! The master-workman is a foreign hodja; the workmen are all his
students! I am breaking the treaty! My soul! what reply shall I carry back?" I went
out and comforted him, and told him to say that if the Porte should violate the treaty
again, I should accuse it to the embassy and the American Government. And, as the right
was included in the ACapitulations,@ I should inform other embassies of the act. It can
enter this establishment again only through our embassy.
The Turkish Government had placed itself in a false position. It must
now apply to the embassy and ignore its oft-repeated promise; or it must give the firman.
It wisely chose the latter; and the interdict became the amusement of the village, and the
chagrin of the pasha and bakers who had instigated it. A very slight matter secured a
large patronage to the bakery. Our bread was made a little over weight, instead of
following the example of the bakers, who always make it a little under weight. As often as
the examiners tried our bread, they said "Mashallah!" and passed on.
The people soon learned the fact; and the amount of time that they
would spend to obtain this bread would exceed in value fourfold the difference of weight
they would thus gain. The truth is, all men like to be treated well in a bargain, and do
not so much mind the amount. We had introduced another improvement. Attempts had been made
to bring into market yeast bread, but had failed. The bread of the country is universally
leavened bread; and no one but foreigners knew anything about making bread with hop yeast.
Having first mastered the art of making good hop yeast, the bread we produced became known
as "Protestant bread" and commanded a good sale at an advanced price.
From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World=s
Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1914), Vol. VI: Russia, Austria-Hungary, The Balkan States, and Turkey, pp.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
Note: Many Western sources about Islamic countries exhibit what has
come to be known as orientalism. The terms used ("Mohammedan" for
instance rather than "Muslim"), and the attitudes exhibited by the writers need
to be questioned by modern readers.
This text is part of the Internet
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© Paul Halsall, November1998