The Ottoman Bank Archives, one of the collections at SALT Research, not only shed light on the history of the Ottoman Bank, formerly the central bank and the treasurer of the Ottoman Empire, but also offer a representation of life during this period. The archives narrate the story of the little-known world of the late Ottoman and Early Republican period in which the bank played a central role.
These archival documents presented in five different exhibitions in the Google Cultural Institute display the significant changes, developments and crises experienced over an 80 year period, from the Ottoman Bank's founding until 1933, when it gained a private bank status.
Ottoman Bank Museum - 1856-1880 - The Founding Years & The Difficult Times
Ottoman Bank Museum - 1881-1894 - Redressing the Situation
Ottoman Bank Museum - 1895-1894 - The Expansion Period
Ottoman Bank Museum - 1914-1920 – War and Crisis
Ottoman Bank Museum - 1921-1931 - A New Balance & Epilogue
1921 - 1930 A NEW BALANCE OF POWER
It was wise of the bank management to have taken seriously the nationalist movement centered in Ankara. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the bank received positive signals from Ankara, the new capital of the state. As a result of negotiations held in 1924 and 1925, the Ottoman Bank was able to maintain its right to operate within the boundaries of the new Turkish state, though with a price to pay. The bank was to eliminate its “Imperial” status, increase the number of Muslim-Turks in its staff, and extend credit opportunities to the government. In short, the Ottoman Bank had to make considerable efforts to adapt itself to the ideology and needs of the country’s new rulers. Yet, the bank's overall performance was good: it was the only institution that continued to operate in the Republic while still bearing the name Ottoman. Moreover, due to the government's incapacity to institute its own central bank, the Ottoman Bank was able to preserve its status as the state bank. It was not before 1931, when the Central Bank was finally established, that the Ottoman Bank abandoned all its official prerogatives, and acquired a totally private and ordinary status.
Strained Relations 1923 - 1925
By offering some services to the nationalist forces throughout the War of Independence, the Ottoman Bank had increased its chances of making a smooth transition into the new regime. However, it was clear that the adaptation process would be rough. The institution appeared to certain circles in Ankara as contradictory to the Republic’s foundation due to its foreign capital, its imperial past, and close ties to its non-Muslim clientele and staff. Such elements were bound to create zones of friction with the new power structure emerging in Ankara. A number of articles in the press voiced the animosity felt by these circles. More realistic analyses stressed the need to reach a compromise. Until the state was able to establish its own central bank, Turkey had to work with the Ottoman Bank, which was ready to comply with the new conditions at hand. The bank management believed that yielding to some of the demands would help survive in this new political climate. Although, the bank suffered from occasional political pressure and arbitrary measures, it was evident that the institution's future depended on its capacity to remain active in Turkey.
Agreements with the Ankara Government 1924 - 1925
Despite considerable opposition, the state signed an agreement with the Ottoman Bank. The government was in no position to sacrifice an institution that still constituted one of its most solid financial and economic links to the West. Negotiations between the bank management and bureaucrats in Ankara were finalized on 10 March 1924. According to the agreement, the Ottoman Bank's concession was prolonged, including its privilege of issue, and in return, the bank agreed to extend its financial support to the government, mostly through credits opened to the government and state banks. The greatest change to be undertaken by the bank was increasing the number of its Muslim-Turkish personnel. However, because of the opponents interference, the 1924 National Assembly did not ratify the agreement. Following another year of negotiations, a supplemental agreement was authorized on 22 April 1925, and the bank's status acquired some certainty. Consequently, the bank was able to maintain its status as the state bank, however, as Prime Minister Ismet Pasha confirmed, this was only a temporary solution, until the day a real state bank was established.
Adjustment Efforts 1924 - 1931
Implementing the requirements of the 1925 agreement began by raising the Muslim-Turk population among its staff together with their salaries, and the obligation to use Turkish as the official language instead of French in the bank's accounting and administrative documents. The bank opened Turkish language classes for its non-Turcophone staff, and began systematically favoring Muslims over non-Muslims in its recruitment of Turkish citizens. The results satisfied the Ankara government, since from 1927 to 1933, the proportion of Muslim employees rose from 30% to 60%, and their salaries from 23% to 40%. The bank also saw to the immediate fulfillment of its other duties under the terms of the new agreement. In the fall of 1925, it opened credit lines of 750,000 liras and 2,000,000 liras to İş (Business) and Ziraat (Agriculture) Banks, respectively, thus enabling these institutions to acquire additional funding for their growing operations.
1931 - EPILOGUE
After the establishment of the Central Bank of Turkey in 1931, the Ottoman Bank underwent a final series of important changes. The privileges it had enjoyed since 1863, first with the Ottoman sultanate, and then with the Turkish state had no longer any standing. As an ordinary commercial bank, its operations were now limited to deposit and credit operations. The Ottoman Bank's only remaining privilege as a foreign institution was that it was allowed to operate within Turkey under the same conditions as Turkish banks. However, in the face of the growing competition of state-sponsored banks, and from the 1940s onwards, of local private banks, its share of the market decreased steadily. The Ottoman Bank soon became a small bank catering to the needs of a restricted but loyal clientele. The bank was sold in 1996 by its major shareholder Paribas to Doğuş Group and served under this new identity for another five years. In 2001, following the severe crisis that shook the Turkish economy and financial markets, it merged with Garanti Bank, thus putting an end to its 145 years of existence.
Kurgu ve anlatım / Concept and narrative — Edhem Eldem, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi