February 9, 2015


Ali Bulaç

Last week, the management of Bank Asya, one of the strongest financial institutions in Turkey in terms of capital sufficiency, was confiscated. Of course, the confiscation is related to current political developments, particularly the disagreement between Hizmet and the government. But there are some painful examples of confiscation in our history.

Confiscation was one of the methods of punishing opponents in the Ottoman era. The general practice of confiscation in the Ottoman state was in the form of taking all the property of a leading figure because of his opposition or dissidence when he died, was executed or was dismissed from his position.

Historians indicate that the practice was first introduced in time of Fatih. Grand Vizier Halil Pasha, Yakup Pasha and Mehmet Pasha were the first to have their properties confiscated by the state. Mustafa II funded wars by confiscation. Local rulers also confiscated the property of those they considered dangerous. Sometimes, opponents were punished with this method. Mahmud II banned the practice of confiscation.

Historians indicate that the first example of the practice of confiscation in Islamic history was aimed at unjustly acquired properties of governors in the time of Caliph Omar. The Umayyads used this method to punish dissidents and take revenge. The confiscation practices of Hajjaj are particularly infamous. Like The Umayyads, the Abbasids also relied on confiscation as a method of punishment. Historian Kemal Çiçek says: “The practice that the Prophet and Omar started in order to prevent the unjust acquisition of property has become a mechanism to address budget deficits. The properties acquired during public service were considered public assets. The justification was as follows: A public officer acquired this wealth because of his position. So, the administration confiscated his property at the end of his public service.”

In principle, the properties of non-Muslims were not confiscated; only public officers, viziers, servants, military servicemen and those who became rich through transactions with the state were subject to this practice. The Ottoman understanding suggested that the sultan was the master, boss and employer of all servants except the scholars. So he was their inheritor. If they were rich, it was because of their loyalty to the sultan. For this reason, the sultan was able to confiscate the property of those who disobeyed him. To overcome these risks, public officers built foundations to ensure that their property and the rights of their inheritors were protected.

And today, those who are in power are trying to silence their opponents by relying on such illegal measures. Confiscation today is being performed either through legal means or despotically. The possibility of arguing that the customary law of the Ottoman state was based on arbitrariness rather than Shariah has been resurrected today. Those the sultan considered servants were targets of the practice of confiscation. Members of the Committee of Union and Progress developed a totalitarian, ruthless and brutal state mentality based on customary law, traditions, Indian-Mongolian state tradition, the “right of the sword” of the Arabs as well as the precepts of the totalitarian nation state and rule. The targets of this state are people, civilian scholars and neighboring countries.

At this point, it should be noted that if a common punishment were used on all opponents, it would be possible to argue that all religious communities and civilian religious movements would be susceptible to the practice of confiscation; in that case, the property of dissidents, associations and foundations would be confiscated.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 08 February 2015, Sunday