Some Ottoman Sources on One Metochion of Iviron Monastery in Melnik

The history of the Iviron Monastery founded by Georgians on Mount Athos in 980-983 is one of the most important sources that reflect Georgian presence at the Monastery, as well as the Georgian-Byzantine and, later, Georgian-Ottoman relations.

The research project that I implemented at the Koc University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations intended to address the very aspect of the history of Iviron. It was my goal to search as well as process and translate the sources preserved at Istanbul archives, and prepare the basis for further academic study of these important documents.

Through the proposed article, for the first time, the academic community is offered the opportunity to pursue research independently by applying the provided Ottoman sources and translations thereof.

The documents that I have explored at the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office in Istanbul are dated back to 1850-1911. These include seven folders and thirty documents, and four of them are written in Greek.

The documents presented here mainly describe the distressed state of the Iviron Monastery; the sources indicate its debts owed to certain individuals, the seizure of land, the conflict with Bulgarians and the attack on the Monastery. 

  1. The document concerning a disputed plot of land in Melnik, owned by the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos that was supposed to be handed over to Bulgarians (BEO 3875- BÂB-Î ÂLI EVRAK ODASI- the chamber of the Grand Vizier and the Ottoman State Council), dated 1911;
  2. The document on the disputed plot of land in Gilimrie district in Thessaloniki; (C.ML CEVDET MALİYE - finance);
  3. The document on the suppression of the attack carried out by the Iviron Monastery fathers on the fishing spot of the Hilandar Monastery fathers in Sidre Kapi district in Thessaloniki (HR.MKT- HARİCİYE NEZARETİ MEKTUBİ KALEMİ EVRAKI - records of the correspondence department, foreign affairs office) dated 1850;
  4. The document concerning the attack on the Iviron Monastery where monks were assaulted and robbed (TFR. 1. M – RUMELİ MÜFETTİŞLİĞİ MÜTEFERRİK EVRAKI - documents on various expenses of the supervisory department of Rumeli), dated 1906;
  5. Findings of the commission specifying that an abandoned Aladyave land plot located in Cassandra region did not belong to the Iviron Monastery (TFR. 1. M – RUMELİ MÜFETTİŞLİĞİ MÜTEFERRİK EVRAKI - documents on various expenses of the supervisory department of Rumeli), dated 1902;
  6. The document on the Vangeli’s request related to the recovery of debt from the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos; (TFR.1. ŞKT - RUMELİ MÜFETTİŞLİĞİ ARZUHALLER – statements of the supervisory department of Rumeli), dated 1908;
  7. Vangeli’s statement submitted to the court specifying the request for fast-track court proceedings for the purpose of debt recovery from the Iviron Monastery (TFR.1. ŞKT- RUMELİ MÜFETTİŞLİĞİ ARZUHALLER - statements of the supervisory department of Rumeli), dated 1908.

A major part of the available sources is fragmented merely narrating about episodes of the events that have occurred on Mount Athos. In order to restore the entire picture, it is necessary to obtain sources referring to the specified places, events and individuals. Regrettably, the Turkish archive system is not well-structured and organized, the sources are not adequately arranged, and the catalogue is incomplete. Another challenge that makes the investigation of the topic even more complicated is that the research focuses on the monastery and the Christians which are among sensitive issues in Turkey.

This time, I will introduce the academic community to the first item of the above listed sources (that I have explored) referring to a disputed plot of land (the metochion). These are the five sources on the Rozhen Monastery located in Melnik (13th c. by Hijri).

Unfortunately, the records are fragmented failing to give a complete picture of the issue under discussion. Chronologically arranged sources reveal that the Bulgarian fathers of the Rozhen Monastery demanded its return from the Greek fathers. The sources demonstrate the Turkish support towards Bulgarians. For instance, according to the governor of Thessaloniki, the Greeks had 78-80 churches in that area while the Bulgarian church was the only place for Bulgarians to conduct the divine service. It is emphasized that Greek monks are trying to politicize this incident which, according to the governor of Thessaloniki, may lead to tensions between two nations and even provoke the emergence of the areas of unrest. The telegram of the governor Ibrahim reveals that the Greeks, in violation of the law, refused to cede the church cells and other buildings to Bulgarians. According to one of the sources, despite the court decision to assign the disputed church to the Bulgarians, the Iviron fathers disobeyed the court ruling by locking the church door and giving the key to a foreign monk (of neither Greek nor Bulgarian origin). Unfortunately, the nationality of this “foreign monk” remains unspecified in the source. It should be noted that none of the sources that I have examined in the archives mention a Georgian name. Further, instead of the Rozhen Monastery, “Rozina”, “Roznia” or “Rozen” forms are indicated throughout the sources. The same is true of the Georgian monastery: the sources specify five different forms of the name such as Ivirun, Iveriron, Iver, Ivirun and Iviro. Every scholar who works on the Ottoman sources is aware of the difficulty of reading foreign toponyms correctly. Due to the specificities of the Ottoman Turkish, which is similar to the Arabic consonantal writing, and where some of the consonants correspond to two or sometimes five letters of the Latin alphabet, specific foreign names and toponyms always involve different versions.

No other source on this metochion has been identified and described by scholars at the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’ Office in Istanbul (Bashbakanlik arshivi). Likewise, no similar information is provided by the catalogue.  

According to the sources, the court apparently assigned to the Greeks the ownership of the land that was adjacent to the church, as well as the cells owned by the church, but the Bulgarians demanded the return of this property. Ottomans’ support towards the Bulgarians becomes obvious; the governor Ibrahim claims that no Greeks are around this church, which is less likely; after all, the governor himself specifies the number of the Greek churches as an example.

According to these sources, the final decision is unknown. The chronologically arranged original source from Istanbul is a document of the Patriarchate, which is based on a telegram of the Metropolitan Emelianos of Melnik.

The telegram, dated March 25, 1911, notifies about the handover of the Rozhen Church to the Bulgarians. Apparently, the Ottomans, secretly from the Greeks, decided to concede the ownership of the Rozhen Church to the Bulgarians which is suggested by the words - “in violation of the Church law”- indicated in the telegram of the Metropolitan Emelianos. Apparently, this was followed by the Greeks’ reaction, which becomes obvious from the reports discovered by the Ottomans and sent to the Grand Vizier, as recorded in the sources below.


Source no: 1

Transcription of the Ottoman text:

English translation:

The Greek Patriarchate


The copy of the telegram to the Patriarchate sent on March 25, 1911 by Metropolitan Emelianos of Melnik from Demir Hisar:

According to the Rumelia newspaper, the Rozhen Church in Melnik owned by the Iviron Monastery, that has never been a subject of dispute, was handed over to Bulgarians.

The copy of another telegram sent by the same Metropolitan on the same date:

By violating the church law, under the order of Thessaloniki governor, the church of the Rozhen Monastery is handed over to Bulgarians. 

According to the telegram, dated March 27, 1911, sent by Thessaloniki governor Ibrahim to the Ministry of Justice, the governor notifies the Ministry of the necessity to transfer the Rozhen church to Bulgarians, since the specified area has become a matter of disagreement for years.

 “Besides, no Greek individuals gather around this church while it is the only one the Bulgarians have. As notified earlier via the telegram, the Greeks own 78-80 churches and several large monasteries. Therefore, rooms and annexes belonging to the church, apart from the church itself, should be handed over to the Bulgarians, because the Greeks refuse to allow the Bulgarians to use this property. Until the above-mentioned property is in the possession of the Greeks, the controversial issue will permanently lead to challenges. As a result, this issue of the monastery will escalate, which should not be tolerated in order to please the Patriarchate. According to the information obtained (by us) during this period, the Greeks assigned a foreign priest to the aforementioned place as an attempt to politicize this issue. We are looking forward to receiving your reply so that to solve the problem”. 

The third source is a report sent to the Ministry for Civil and Religious Issues. It addresses the reply received with respect to the Greek response to the issue of the Monastery that had already been transferred to the Bulgarians. It seems that the Turks are trying to gain insight into the matter, keeping, however, the earlier decision temporarily unaltered, as the report indicates. It should be noted that the early 20th century was a particularly difficult period for the Ottoman Empire, both in terms of domestic and foreign circumstances. During the troubled times, provoking a feud between nations, especially due to a religious matter, could have turned into a bigger problem for the Ottoman State to handle.


Source No. 3:

Abridged version:

To the Ministry of Civil and Religious Issues.

The Rozhen Church in Melnik, that is the metochion of the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos, represents a subject of dispute. The Greek Patriarchate states that the transfer of this metochion to the Bulgarians has become an urgent issue; in this respect, through meetings and interviews held in the vilayet of Thessaloniki, it was established that on March 15, 1327 (March 28, 1911), according to the reports (№ 29) discovered by the Grand Vizier, this monastery, being in the possession of the Iviron Monastery, as well as the metochion were not considered as places of prayer; and, under the Church law and the public judge’s decision, the issue of Rozhen was investigated and deemed to be subject to a temporary decision.

The very report №29 (which the Grand Vizier had become aware of, as indicated in the source above) provides a brief review of the controversial issue and, in conclusion, describes the interests of the Ottoman State towards the matter, as discussed above.


Source 4:

Abridged version:

A telegram was delivered to the vilayet of Thessaloniki stating that 78-80 churches in Melnik were owned by Greeks, while the above-mentioned Rozhen church that had long become a matter of dispute, was the only place of prayer for Bulgarians. Under the court’s earlier decision, the disputed issue had been settled in favor of Bulgarians with subsequent control over the church, however, the rooms (cells) and the annexes owned by the Church remained under Greek ownership.

Under the circumstances, the issue cannot be considered resolved, and the problems will remain, therefore, they (i.e., the cells and annexes) should necessarily and preferably be handed over to Bulgarians. According to the telegram sent from the Governor’s Office of Thessaloniki, the Greeks have installed a lock on the church door and sent a foreign priest, thereby adding political overtones to the case. Therefore, the issue requires immediate resolution so that to avoid any damage to the relationship between the two elements (i.e. Bulgarians and Greeks), and prevent any confrontation between them, which I highly recommend to consider.

On the other hand, according to the regulations of the Athos monasteries, the property of churches affected by the problem brings no benefits to the population, and the premises as well as the monk cells owned by this Monastery are among its possessions and, should not otherwise be considered as a separate entity, as indicated in the above-mentioned regulations. The necessary actions and the decision (with respect to this issue) remain with the Grand Vizier.


Ministry of Justice and Religion. March 28, 1911.

The last source (i.e. source №5) at our disposal is dated March 20, 1327 (April 2, 1911) and it includes the decision of the Grand Vizier. It indicates that a temporary decision is not deemed to be acceptable (münasip görülmediğini) since the Church law does not cover the Monastery and the metochions; moreover, being rather different, this region is not regarded as a place of prayer (supposedly, it implies that territorially it is not Mount Athos). Investigation of this issue should further be pursued, and the temporary decision should be considered unacceptable, of which the relevant body in the vilayet of Thessaloniki should be notified. Thus, as a result of the alleged intervention on the part of the Greeks, the Grand Vizier, within just a week, withdrew the decision concerning the handover of the church of Rozhen monastery to the Bulgarians.


Source № 5.


Abridged version:


To the regulatory body of civil and religious affairs

Since handover of the property to the Bulgarians has become a high-urgency issue in regard to the disputed churches of the Rozinia metochion under the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos, and as a result of discussions at the Greek Patriarchate and gatherings in the vilayet of Thessaloniki, as you are well aware, the Church law does not cover the Monastery and the metochions; furthermore, the above-mentioned locations are those of different type, rather than merely the places of prayer. Therefore, further investigation is essential. The vilayet (Thessaloniki) should be notified that the matter under discussion could not be limited to a temporary resolution.



  April 2, 1911.  Grand Vizier



Unfortunately, the Ottoman sources do not provide any insights into what happened to the Rozhen Monastery, the metochion of the Iviron Monastery, before the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Hopefully, further studies in this regard will shed light on the history of the Iviron Monastery in the Ottoman period in order to fully fill the gaps in the history of one of the most important Georgian centers of education abroad.