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Capitulations

CAPITULATIONS

term derived from capitula (chapter or paragraph, in italian) that refers to the clauses of an international treaty, particularly between a muslim state and a european state.

The term capitulation was originally a "privilege" given by a powerful Middle East government, such as the Ottoman Empire, to a weaker government in Europe. An early Ottoman treaty of this type was negotiated between Sultan Selim I and Venice in 1517. Formerly, Venice had enjoyed exclusive trade privileges with Mamluk Egypt in order to expedite the profitable spice trade. There is a similarity between this type of privilege (and the accompanying attitude) and the type of privileges the Chinese emperors accorded to lesser lands of Asia that wished to trade with China. The traditional attitude might be stated as follows: "Our realm is self-sufficient and superior; thus we have no need to trade with you. But because we are a civilized people, we show our beneficence in this manner."

Next consider the types of privileges accorded by such treaties. The most important clause dealt with mutual trade relations. Both governments agreed to provide, in their respective countries, a place for warehousing items to be traded; protection for those goods from theft or damage; and on the amount of tariff to be charged ad valorem for each item. Protection was also accorded to the vessels delivering the merchandise, and the flag under which these vessels could enter territorial waters was carefully controlled. For example, France obtained an imtiyaz (capitulation) early in the sixteenth century; thereafter, until Britain received its own imtiyaz about 1580, British ships entering Ottoman waters had to fly the flag of France (and doubtless pay for the privilege). In case of shipwreck, the capitulation provided for protection, docking, and repair.

To these general commercial clauses were gradually added legal clauses dealing with the right of extraterritoriality, protection of foreign personnel working in the trade facility, and specification of the court that held primary jurisdiction in case of a dispute. Generally speaking, if the trading company was established in a country where a diplomatic representative of its home country was in residence, the primary jurisdiction over, say, a foreign merchant committing a crime in the host country would be the merchant's own consular court. Often, however, in the case of a capital crime, such as the rape or murder of a Muslim subject, the primary jurisdiction would be the Muslim court.

These were provisions of what might be called the ordinary capitulation-type treaty. This arrangement underwent important changes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as certain European countries, and the United States, grew much more powerful than their counterparts in the Middle East. First, foreign businesses selling their goods in the Middle East, as a means to save costs, often sought out local Muslims, Christians, or Jews to assist in their transactions: interpreters and expediters to speed wares through customs, long-shoremen, workers, secretaries, managers, agents, and sales personnel. Gradually these persons were placed officially under the protection of the company or the foreign government consular service by a device known as a berat (minor government decree). A bearer of such protection was known as beratli (bearer of a privilege). At first these berats were issued under the auspices of the grand vizier or his subordinates. Later, some embassies issued berats from their own chanceries.

Because the Muslim populations often were more interested in learning Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, it fell to the Christian and Jewish minorities to learn the languages of western Europe. Hence, many minority families came to be closely associated with Western firms and their governments. Often this relationship proved very advantageous financially. These subject people's beratli status extended to them, and often to their relatives and family, the privileges of extraterritoriality and the protection of a powerful foreign country; thus, in the nineteenth century, Muslim government officials began to harbor doubts about their loyalty. The beratli held a kind of dual citizenship. Thus, capitulations, originally straightforward trade agreements, became intertwined with issues of national sovereignty for Muslim governments, and for powerful governments of Europe, with the protection of their property, trade agreements, missionaries, and "beratli agents" for powerful governments of Europe. For some members of minority communities, the berat had become a cover for illegal activities. In the case of outright disagreement, the governments of Europe and the United States often resorted to gunboat diplomacy or "showing the flag" to coerce states of the Middle East. If this did not have the desired effect, such states as imperial Russia often resorted to open warfare. Thus, the Ottoman government and other states of the Middle East in the nineteenth century could not protect locally made crafts or manufactures from cheap imports because foreign powers blocked the raising of tariffs, nor could they directly punish violations of law within their own borders.

Various states of the Middle East, in the twentieth century, sought to abolish these trade treaties that had been turned into major tools of imperialist intervention and control by foreign powers. Ottoman Turkey, upon entering World War I on the side of Germany in 1914, announced the abolition of the capitulation agreements, a move that was not fully approved by Germany. The capitulations had become so burdensome that they constituted grounds for nations of the Middle East to join with a friendly power such as Germany against the exploiting states of Europe. True to their own attitudes toward weaker states, when the Allied powers of Europe won the war, they quickly declared the capitulations once again in full force. Only after Turkey's war of independence (19191922) were they forced to accept the end of these lopsided trade treaties under the terms of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. At the Cairo Conference in 1921, establishing the semi-independence of Egypt from Britain, the powers of Europe agreed to lift most clauses of the capitulations, but the mixed courts, where foreign litigation had taken place, were left in place.

see also cairo conference (1921); lausanne, treaty of (1923).

C. Max Kortepeter

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