SICILSouthern Indiana Center for Independent Living (Bedford, IN)
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Why would contracting parties want their agreements recorded in the sicils and, thus, seek the court's involvement in their private affairs?
What about the functions of the thousands of volumes of sicils that the Ottoman courts produced over several centuries?
I agree with Agmon that sicils were instrumental to the functioning of Cankiri and Kastamonu courts in that they provided these bodies with information regarding past disputes and transactions.
I should emphasize that many documents found in sicils are non-judicial in nature, as the official functions of the Ottoman court were not limited to judicial activities.
The point in presenting this information is to demonstrate the great variety of documentation in Ottoman sicils and to draw attention to the possibility that different kinds of documents "ensured the legal work" of the court--which, obviously, was not restricted to its judicial operations--in various ways.
While these claims may seem counter-intuitive to most Ottomanists, a careful examination of court proceedings as well as of copies of documents found in the sicils demonstrates that written documents instead complemented the claims and allegations made by the litigants in court and that these texts were designed to make space for the oral performance of the participants in the court process.
But it remains true that there is still much to learn from the sicils about Ottoman legal history, and we are not even close to utilizing these sources to their full potential.
Indeed, in his study of seventeenth-century Bursa sicils Nurcan Abaci mentions several cases in which written documents constituted the only source of evidence (1999: 117-22).
It is not clear why judges would not be legally permitted to refer to the sicils in disputes like the one between Huseyin Celebi and Himmet's heirs where the source and the nature of the contention remained exactly the same in successive litigations, although, technically, each one of these litigations was considered to be separate from the others, as one or more of their elements were different.
Admittedly, both Beshara Doumani and Leslie Peirce mention in their studies on eighteenth-century Nablus and sixteenth-century 'Aintab a few litigations in which the sicils were consulted for legal documentation in support of specific claims made during the litigation (Doumani 2003: 179-92; Peirce 2003: 282).