Bureau of Translation

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ottoman agency (bab-i ali tercüme odasi) that also served as a training ground for diplomats and government officials.

Having long employed Greeks as translators, in 1821 the Ottoman Empire reacted to the Greek war of independence (18211830) by dismissing the last Greek translator of the Imperial Divan, appointing a Bulgarian convert to Islam to replace him. In 1821, Mahmut II created the translation office, which led an obscure existence for the next twelve yearsserving more as a school than as a translation bureau, because few Muslims then knew European languages well enough to translate. Upgraded during the OttomanEgyptian diplomatic crisis of 1832 and 1833 (during which Muhammad Ali of Egypt demanded all Syria as a reward for his aid in Greece), the translation office assumed an important role in preparing young men to serve abroad as embassy secretaries; some of these later became ambassadors, foreign ministers, even grand viziers. Primarily a diplomatic translation bureau, the office became part of the Foreign Ministry (Hariciye Nezareti) when it was organized in 1836.

For a generation, the translation office was one of the best sources of Western education in Istanbul, and men trained there dominated the ranks of reforming statesmen, Westernizing intellectuals, and opposition ideologues. Patterns of bureaucratic mobility changed within the Ottoman civil service, but this office kept its prestige as a place to begin a career, and it continued to function until the end of the empire (1922).

see also greek war of independence; mahmud ii; muhammad ali; ottoman empire: civil service.


Findley, Carter Vaughn. Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 17891922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Findley, Carter Vaughn. Ottoman Civil Officialdom: A Social History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Carter V. Findley

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