Her Majesty's Protected Subjects: The Mishaqa Family in Ottoman Damascus

Keskinkilic E., Ceylan E.

MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, vol.51, no.2, pp.175-194, 2015 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 51 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/00263206.2014.934817
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.175-194
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: No


The protege system that the Ottoman Empire encountered as the result of diplomatic relations with European powers later became a clear threat to the very existence of the empire. Among these powers, Britain, until the nineteenth century, executed its consular affairs via the Levant Company in the Middle East, but later employed local people, mostly non-Muslim Ottomans, as dragomans, consular agents and vice-consuls to execute its services in the region. The dragomans not only translated treaties and official documents, but also commented on the messages to and from the authorities and this gave them much more important roles. In this regard, members of the Mishaqa family served the British and later American interests under different posts ranging from dragoman, to consular agent and vice-consul. As they gained confidence, they were accorded British consular protection which provided them considerable privileges, and passed their duties to their sons. Unlike similar Levantine families who assumed dragomanship in the imperial centre as a household tradition, members of the Mishaqa family were deeply embedded in the local society and therefore could give insights on social and political changes in the Ottoman province of Damascus. After attaining British protection in 1840, members of the family served in British and American consulates until the beginning of the First World War. However, the protege status of the family members paved the way for continued debates over their nationality and citizenship. This article attempts to present the basic codes of consular protection and Ottoman responses within the context of the story of Mishaqa family.