In this paper, a heuristic method is developed for segmentation, feature extraction and recognition of the Arabic script. The study is part of a large project for transcription of the documents in Ottoman Archives. A geometrical and topological feature analysis method is developed for segmentation and feature extraction stages. Chain code transformation is applied to main strokes of the characters, which are classified by the hidden Markov model (HMM) in the recognition stage. Experimental results indicate that the performance of the proposed method is quite satisfactory, provided that the thinning process does not yield spurious branches. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.