Posts Tagged ‘public scribe’

Photo: Bruch / Stringer
A street in Istanbul where people could go to have documents typed up while they waited, 1959. The tradition is only just dying out now.

In Turkey, public scribes have offered a document-typing service for generations. Now, partly because of the opposition of lawyers and partly because of new laws providing legal access to the indigent, the tradition is fading away.

Joshua Allen writes at Atlas Obscura, “On a side street near Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse, an electric sign reading ‘Petition Writer’ points to the open door of 67-year-old Hayrettin Talih’s tiny, one-room office. …

“Talih sits in front of a manual typewriter, in the same pose as a black-and-white photograph of himself, from 40 years earlier, which is tacked on the wall beside him.

“Occupying the chairs opposite his desk are a couple of older citizens who are explaining a property dispute with a relative. Talih listens, demands clarification where necessary, and finally applies his fingers to the chattering typewriter, producing an affidavit that the couple will use to start proceedings at the courthouse, and hopefully get their rightful dues.

“Although he is not a lawyer, Talih has clients who clearly trust him to translate their experiences into Turkish legalese, which is replete with archaic Ottoman words — much like the Latin phrases beloved of English-speaking lawyers. An understanding of this obscure language is vital to Talih’s work as a public scribe or arzuhalci, a profession he entered almost 50 years ago. Now, he is one of the last of his kind. …

“Public scribes were a necessity in the Ottoman era, when the language used in state documents was even farther removed from ordinary speech and a large percentage of the population was illiterate. On top of legal work, the scribes also made a living by writing love notes and letters for soldiers who travelled to fight in the wars that consumed the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. …

“The scribes say that they do not claim to be lawyers, as they merely help clients to express themselves on paper. ‘Let’s say I wrote something I don’t know about, and the person lost all his expenses and lost the case. Won’t he turn around and complain about me for putting him in that loss? It’s better not to write something you don’t know,’ Talih says.

“[Scribes] defend their profession as the only option for those who cannot afford a lawyer. … But according to İmmihan Sadioğlu, a lawyer at the Istanbul Bar Association, … the legal labyrinth cannot be navigated by an amateur, and the specific wording that the scribes use in the initial documents can be crucial. …

“After all, there is a government system in Turkey that covers the costs of those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer. … As this government support becomes better known, Sadioğlu and her fellow lawyers believe that the last scribes will see the writing on the wall.

“ ‘If a disadvantaged person can access justice easily, then he won’t look for other solutions. As for the state, it should increase the level of funding for legal aid,’ Sadioğlu says. ‘Someone who can receive a better and higher quality service from a free lawyer will not consider risking his rights by using a scribe.’ More at Atlas Obscura, here.

Don’t you love the fedora in the old photo? I think I’d ask for the help of a scribe just to sit and admire that hat.

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