Serbia and the Ottoman Empire had a long history. At first, it would seem that they were simply arch nemeses; however, the reality was far more complex. It is true that the Ottoman Empire conquered and controlled Serbia from the late 14th Century until 1829, whereupon Serbia became a fully autonomous principality, being de facto independent, yet a de jure part of the Ottoman realm. It is also true that Serbia joined its fellow Slavic allies to defeat the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, following which Serbia became a fully independent nation (with augmented borders at the Sultan’s expense), before becoming the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882.
Given this history, there was much bad blood between the two sides. However, thus masked that fact that both Serbia and Turkey maintained extensive commercial and cultural ties. The Ottomans continued to buy large quantities of agricultural goods from Serbia (including paprika), while Serbs brought rugs, fine wares and semi- and tropical products from the Ottomans (such as coffee). Serbia still hosted a large Muslim population with strong ties to the Sublime Porte, while a small but vibrant and influential Serbian community was long established in the Constantinople. Moreover, the vital railway line carrying the ‘Orient Express’ (completed in 1889), which linked Constantinople to Vienna and Paris ran though Serbian territory. The bottom line was that it was in the mutual best interests of both nations to maintain cordial relations, even as the temptation towards bellicosity always lingered.
Since 1878, Serbo-Ottoman trade was subject to high duties and red tape. While commercial interaction (including smuggling) still thrived, the protectionist regime was a drag on both the Serbian and Ottoman economies.
It was with this in mind that in 1905 the Sublime Porte and the Serbian Government decided to form a high-level Turco-Serb Commission to work out ways to lower and streamline trade barriers. The Ottoman Empire was represented by Ahmet Tevfik Pasha (1845 – 1936), the Foreign Affairs Minister (in office 1899 – 1909), a political heavyweight who would later serve three terms as Grand Vizier. Serbia was represented by its Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Đorđe Simić (1843 – 1921), a veteran politician and diplomat who had previous served as the Prime Minister of Serbia (1894, 1896-7) and as Ambassador to Vienna (1894-6). It helped that Tewfik and Simić were personal friends, as the deliberations proceeded swimmingly.
The Commission came to an agreement, and the first comprehensive Serbo-Ottoman Commercial Treaty was signed in Constantinople on May 28, 1906 (and scheduled to come into effect on September 14 of the same year).
The full text of the treaty was officially printed for the first time in the present work, presented in both the French and Ottoman Turkish languages. Overall, it reveals that the agreement proscribed streamlined rules for the importation of goods between the two nations, following a schedule of relatively low (i.e. reasonable) duties for commonly traded products. The first part of the treaty features 14 articles regulating trade (pp. 3-14); followed by charts scheduling the duties to be paid on enumerated goods (pp. 15-21); next is the treaty’s ‘Final Protocol’ (pp. 22-23), while the work concludes with a series of annexes featuring sample customs forms and the text of key pieces of correspondence that led to the treaty (pp. 24-42).
The treaty went into effect in September 1906 and for time succeeded in boosting Serbo-Ottoman trade. However, political tensions rose and eventually boiled over, as Serbia and her South Slavic and Greek allies attacked the Ottomans during the First Balkan War (1912). Serbia would, once again, go to war against the Sublime Porte during World War I (1914-8), which led the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Serbia as the dominant part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, Serbia and the Republic of Turkey renewed close economic cooperation during the 1920s.
All considered, the present work is an important monument in the economic and diplomatic history of Turkey and the Balkans.
A Note on Rarity
As with virtually all the official pamphlets published by the Imprimerie Osmanié, this work was issued in only a small number of examples for high-level official use. It is today very rare, we can trace only a single institutional example outside of Turkey, at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. A second edition of the work (with added annexes), also rare, was issued later the same year.
References: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: BTD 29.22065; Türk Tarih Kurumu Kütüphanesi [Turkish Historical Society]: B.I/7700.