The Ottoman Legacy in New York | The Visitor’s Curiosity
We are going to tell you an interesting story today. This is about New York’s world-renowned financial district, a place two blocks from the stock exchange on Wall Street and here on its right is the World Trade Center and which is the lower west side of Manhattan. It is an area that was once actually called the “Little Syria”. The story of Little Syria started when the Ottoman Empire was in decline. The citizens from across the Ottoman Empire including Syrians, Lebanese, Kurdish, Greek, Armenians, and Jews were looking for better economic opportunities.
On the other side of the ocean, immigrants used different rows to come to the United States. Some of them started their journey from Harput and traveled to a Turkish port called Samsun and then went on to the French port city of Marseille. Before reaching their final destination of New York, most of the Ottomans from Arab areas boarded ships from Beirut to Alexandria or Cyprus. The ships would also stop by Genoa, Marseille or Liverpool before going on to New York’s Ellis Island. People who were able to provide the necessary documents like passports, work permits and a minimum of $50 cash and also passed the health tests, were allowed to enter Battery Park just a couple of blocks away from where Little Syria was.
Yes, this is Washington Street in below picture. Once there were dozens of dozens of low-rise residential buildings called tenements. But during 1940s, when New York’s famous architect Robert Moses built the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, many of these buildings were demolished. Today there are only a handful of them left and this is the one where the Ottoman Syrians used to live. So here we have the last Ottoman-influenced Church, St. George Syrian Catholic Church. This is a Melkite Church which means it uses the Byzantine rite which was common among the Christian Orthodox Ottomans even though it was under the authority of Rome. And today, it’s a Chinese restaurant.
For years, people thought there was never a mosque here in the Syrian quarter, in Ottoman New York, because they assumed that almost all the immigrants who lived here were Christians. But historians like Todd Fine, who organizes Ottoman New York walking tours, says historical records show names like Muhammad and then there is evidence of Muslims working here. He says,
“I always believed that we might find evidence of more with Muslim worship but we were shocked, just a few years ago, to learn that the Ottoman government in 1910 CE established a mosque at 17 Rector Street in the third floor of a business building and this mosque was directed by an Imam named Mehmed Ali Effendi who was from Georgia or from Russia and was authorized by the Caliphate, by the Ottoman Caliphate to be responsible for all Muslims in the United States and he established his base here in lower Manhattan near Wall Street”.
The Ottoman mosque and it’s Imam Mehmet Ali Effendi used to live right at the location where today the constructed building is hosting the second 9/11 museum and Dunkin Donuts store. But the mosque and church are not the only significant signs of Ottoman life here in Manhattan. There were Syrian bakeries, Lebanese restaurants, coffee houses, and even peddlers that were selling traditional Ottoman non-alcoholic sweet “sherbet” to New Yorkers. After the gentrification of the area and the construction of many skyscrapers, things changed and the area lost many of its Ottoman influence. The Ottoman influence in New York may not be as prevalent these days but it is still here not just in buildings but also in culture mainly through the descendants of those Ottoman immigrants who are part of the diverse Society of New York City today.