©stephanie rothenburg-unz 2012

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Ethnic Minority Groups in International Banking:

Greek Diaspora bank(er)s of Constantinople and Ottoman State Finances, c.1840-1881’


Athens University of Economics

...In the 1840s among the first known bankers to appear within the plethora of local money lenders, there was one Jew- Isaac Camondo, a French Levantine J.Alléon, and some eleven Greeks, whose dominant position within Constantinople lasted about forty years. These were George Zarifis, George Zafiropoulos, Emmanouel and Theodore Baltazzis, Stephanos Rallis, Christakis Zographos, D. Glavanys, Stephanos Mavrocordatos, B. Tubini , Z. Stephanovik-Skylitsis, and (Tz)Ioannis Psycharis. Within this group of thirteen bankers, Isaac Camondo was probably the richest and by 1870 he had moved his headquarters to Paris, where he claimed fame as "a second rank Paris haute banquier".

All eleven Greek bankers had a merchant background. With the exception of the Baltazzis they had a personal experience in the rapidly expanding foreign trade of the Ottoman Empire. Diversification from the long distance trade into finance came almost effortlessly. For Greek Diaspora merchants in the Ottoman Empire had a long tradition of making bets in futures; dealing in the selling and buying of bills of exchange; and speculating in international currencies. Moreover, these Greek bankers, (except Psycharis and Zographos), belonged to mostly interrelated Diaspora mercantile dynasties whose Merchant Houses would operate as 'internal banks'; their international branches working with capital provided by the head office.

The gift of privileged origins was combined with high connections East and West. For example, Theodore Baltazzis was close to the prominent statesman and reformer Mustafa Reshid Pasha, Christakis Zographos was personal banker to Sultan Murad V, and George Zarifis was personal banker to the Sultan Abdul Hamid. Moreover, Zarifis and the Baltazzis were well known in the banking circles of Paris, Marseilles and London. Indeed, in 1848 a relation and collaborator to Theodore Baltazzis, the Greek merchant banker of Marseilles, Demetrius Baltazzis became a member of the governing board of the Comptoir National d'Escompte.

The eleven Greek Diaspora bankers established in the 1840s , if not earlier, private banking firms which were general or limited partnerships. They specialized in the financing of the internal Ottoman Public Debt and that at least up to the early 1880s, all survived in the volatile market of Constantinople. The one exception was the firm I.Psycharis & Son which went bankrupt in 1860/61. Moreover, these private banking firms had correspondents in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire and access to the European financial markets through their foreign branches, or a loose affiliation (usually through family ties) to leading Greek Diaspora Banks/Merchant Houses based in Western Europe, as was the case with the firms of St. Rallis, St. Mavrocordatos et Cie, Z. Stephanovik-Skylitsis,and Zarifis & Zafiropoulos.

In accordance with the business practice of the international Greek Diaspora at the time, a significant part of the activities of the Greek bankers of Constantinople involved informal contracts outside the framework of the firm, built on the economic mechanism of 'trust and reputation', secrecy, and personal honor. It was also the case that these bankers, while jealously guarding their private banking firms -in their original form as partnerships- would also as 'privateers' participate in the setting up of new banks, all of which had a near exclusive involvement in Ottoman state finances, and some of which had the shape of Société Anonyme firms.

In specific, E. Baltazzis, Psycharis, Glavanys, Zarifis, and Tubini were involved in the founding of what are considered as the first three proper banking firms in the Ottoman Empire: The Banque de Constantinople (1847), the Banque Ottomane (1853), and the Union Financière(1860). The primary purpose of these banks, which were founded under the auspices of the Ottoman state, was the stabilization of the exchange rate of the Ottoman paper currency -and specifically the curtailment of the interest bearing paper money (kaime), the circulation of which had taken large proportions since they were first issued in 1840. All three banks were shortlived ventures that failed largely due to their inadequate financial backing.

Auszug aus: Dr.Ioanna Pepelasis Minoglou, Ethnic Minority Groups in International Banking: Greek Diaspora bank(er)s of Constantinople and Ottoman State Finances, c.1840-1881, HEDG 2002 [http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/files/HEDG/greekbankers.htm]

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