Each day, we are faced with sad news about how various psychologically unstable people perpetrate violence against their spouses in the home.
Looking back, we can see that during Ottoman times, those who used violence against their spouses were severely punished, regardless of their position.
Ahmet Uçar, known for various interesting studies, noted a case in point in one article regarding a 19th-century prodigal "paşazade" (son of a pasha), who was hanged for abusing his wife.
Kapıcıbaşı Celal Bey, son of Alaeddin Paşa, was a troublesome member of his house. He had already started to squander his family’s fortune while his father was still alive and was famed for his habitually debauched behavior, causing great pain to his wife, Safiye.
In addition to cheating on Safiye, he also tyrannized and abused her. At nights, he would beat and torture his wife with knives and sticks, slapping and kicking her. Locked in a room, Safiye was not allowed to see even female servants, let alone relatives. Celal Bey’s anger also raged against other family members and employees too numerous to count.
Having been married for 12 years, the last two were particularly tortuous for Safiye, as the death of her parents left her more vulnerable than ever.
One day, in despair, Safiye found an opportunity to slip through an open door and fled to a nearby house. With the help of neighbors and relatives, she was put under protection in the harem of Abbas Pasha, governor of Sivas. Seeing fractures in the young woman’s arm and swellings over her body, the pasha understood that their marriage could not continue under such conditions and decided to present the issue to the sultan. In 1849, with the involvement of the Sivas provincial council, Sultan Abdülmecid was informed about every single act of Celal Bey. The sultan was enraged and demanded he divorce his wife before ordering him to be jailed for his misdeeds. If he was to refuse the divorce, his wife would be placed with a relative and receive alimony from Celal Bey’s estate. It was decided in the end to exile the brutal husband to a faraway place, and he was sent to Tokat until the edict came and the investigation was concluded. However, Tokat was only 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Sivas, and the paşazade had no intention of giving up. Indeed, Celal Bey stubbornly insisted he would accept death but would not divorce his wife.
Paşazade Celal Bey was infuriated by Sultan Abdülmecid’s intervention in the affair and the resulting exile. But he was in no position to object to the sultan. Repressing his rage, he moved to Tokat, where he would spend his exile. Blaming his wife for what befell him, he launched a smear campaign against her.
Safiye stayed at the mansion of Sivas Governor Abbas Pasha for about six months. When the governor was later replaced, she was put under the protection of Münib Pasha, the new one. Meanwhile, Celal Bey spread the rumor that his wife had engaged in prostitution at the mansion of the pasha and even hired five hitmen to kill her. He would pay them 2,000 kuruş if they succeeded. But this was a huge mistake. Since his notoriety had awoken the distrust of the assassins, the hitmen received part of the payment in cash and took a bill for the rest of the money.
The paşazade thought that everything was going smoothly and that he could finally get revenge on his wife. But Safiye, still under the protection of the governor, along with Governor Münib Pasha, heard about the rumors and prepared accordingly. When the hitmen arrived in Sivas and found the mansion, one of them scaled the garden wall with a ladder to enter. While searching for Safiye inside the mansion – knife in hand – he was discovered and ran away. All of the assassins were eventually caught. Following this incident, relatives of Celal Bey submitted a petition detailing his misdeeds and stated that they also felt in danger.
Paşazade Celal Bey’s henchmen were tried in Sivas on charges of attempted murder. While some of the conspirators confessed, others denied the charges. When the truth came out, however, they were sentenced to death. Celal Bey was taken into custody in Tokat and brought to Sivas. Münib Pasha sent the captured bills and written confessions to Sultan Abdülmecid so that he would approve the court decision.
Sultan Abdülmecid could not approve the decision without checking the accuracy of the trial first. He initiated an inquiry to see whether there was any misconduct in the case. He ordered the Governor of Jeddah Agah Pasha, who would be passing by Sivas on the way to resume his duties elsewhere, to investigate the issue in Sivas and inform him about the conclusion. When he arrived, Agah Pasha listened to both Münib Pasha and Celal Bey, and conducted an investigation.
Celal Bey claimed that the testimonies of the suspects had been taken under torture and coercion, that he had been sentenced to death in absentia, that his relatives’ accusations were not true, that the governor of Sivas had confiscated his property and that a servant and a cashier who allegedly admitted to the charges slandered him because he had fired them before the incident. Additionally, he argued that a court operating within the jurisdiction of Sivas Governor Münib Pasha, with whom he was on bad terms, could not be impartial and demanded a retrial in Istanbul. Considering the potential reasonability of Paşazade Celal’s objections, Sultan Abdülmecid duly ordered a retrial in the capital.
Celal Bey and his henchmen were brought to Istanbul, while his wife and the judge who had conducted the trial were summoned. But the retrial did not alter the verdict for Celal Bey and his accomplices given the sheer weight of evidence. The criminal court in Istanbul had no choice but to sentence Celal Bey and his men to death. Celal Bey paid for what he had done with his life.
It is noteworthy that during Ottoman times, women frequently applied to courts personally or through representatives to demand justice. In cases at the courts of İstanbul, Bursa, Kayseri and Trabzon, women were party to legal proceedings at a rate varying between 7%-42%. Plus, in lawsuits filed by women against men, women usually appeared to be the prevailing party.
*Historian, rector of National Defense University, Ankara
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