As its title suggests, my book examines the imperial legacy of the Turkish Republic. By this phrase, I refer not to those fragments of the old regime that somehow survived the radical reforms carried out by the nationalist movement but to key pieces of the imperial system that became active, even formative, principles in the new regime. As I explain in the first two chapters, the discovery of such principles as a force within the public life of the nation came to me as a surprise some years after my first period of fieldwork. My training in anthropology and history had not prepared me for it, and my interlocutors in the province of Trabzon, otherwise so helpful, had been unable to lead me to it. So the legacy in question was—and still is—beneath the surface, one altogether different from those features of the Ottoman past that have recently become a subject of nostalgic reminiscence. But while beneath the surface, and therefore not easily identifiable, the legacy has contributed to both the dynamism of modern society in Turkey and by implication some of the country's most intractable political problems. My work has thus unfolded as an effort to make recognizable what might well be called counterrevolutionary practices and beliefs that nonetheless served as the hidden devices of the nationalist revolution itself.
My study has its origins in a program of anthropological research on the role of local elites in the public life of a Turkish town in the province of Trabzon. Those local elites whom I encountered during my fieldwork in the 1960s were almost always descendants of individuals who had been prominent during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. I therefore understood that my account would necessarily combine ethnography with history, but I initially had no intention of theorizing the character of Ottoman official thinking and practice. On the contrary, I had at first assumed, out of sheer ignorance, that the region where I was working could be considered a remote backwater, only superficially touched by the imperial system. More than ten years after my residence in Trabzon, I had an inkling of my mistake in the course of reading the reports of British and French consular officials who came to reside in Trabzon during the first decade of the nineteenth century. Gradually, as my archival and historical research deepened, I came to realize that the lands of the old province of Trabzon featured striking transgressions of what had been, not so many years ago, conventional Ottoman and Republican historiography. The imperial system—sometimes portrayed as an extreme example of state exclusivity and centralism—had never been entirely closed. An official governmental hierarchy had always been only the visible part of a much larger complex of nonofficial elites leading nonofficial coalitions at the local level. Because the imperial system had been open to outsiders, it had refashioned multiethnic, multilinguistic, and multireligious populations into ottomanist provincial societies during the later centuries of the Ottoman Empire. This being the case, the nationalists who founded the Turkish Republic enjoyed an important resource for an otherwise daunting project. As they set about to create a new population of Turks for the country that would be called Turkey, they were able to rely on an already existing state society that could be moved from Empire to Republic. Taking advantage of this, the nationalists resorted to an imperial practice, supplementing an official governmental hierarchy with nonofficial social oligarchies. As they did so, the new national regime came to exhibit a combination of institutional flexibility and rigidity, not wholly unlike what had previously characterized the old imperial regime. In the remainder of this preface, I shall place my study in the context of scholarly understandings of the transition from Empire to Republic. To do so, I shall use the opening remarks of a classic work as a reference point.
In the introduction to The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961), Bernard Lewis begins with a characterization of the object of his study: "We may then distinguish three main streams of influence that have gone to make modern Turkey: the Islamic, the Turkish, and a third, composite one that for want of a better name we may call local. By this assessment, the Ottoman Empire did not figure as a main influence in the making of modern Turkey.
An imperial system that had survived seven hundred years would appear to have vanished without a trace by the close of the third decade of the Turkish Republic. Having been a significant piece of the world system for almost a millennium, the old regime had more or less vaporized, its ruling devices having at long last exhausted their political potential. In contrast to western European imperialism, deemed virtually ineradicable by post-colonial scholarship, this peculiar version of an "other" European imperialism was without aftermath.
To draw such a conclusion from the citation is unfair, although not as unfair as it might first seem. Lewis was most certainly aware of the continuing existence of all kinds of "ottomanisms" in the Turkish Republic. Even though Lewis was at an early stage of his academic career, few other scholars would have been better equipped to address this subject. So he did not mean to imply that the Ottoman Empire had left nothing behind when he omitted it as an influence in the making of modern Turkey. Instead, he regarded the Empire as an earlier accomplishment of the "Turkish" and "Islamic" people of Asia Minor, just as he saw the Republic as their later accomplishment. According to such an analysis, it did not make sense to consider the influence of the Empire on the Republic, since the people in question had abandoned the first as they set about to realize the second. Accordingly, Lewis focused instead on the meaning of such a move, and he concluded that it signified a shift from latent to manifest nationalism. The Empire had been a nonmodern state system designed to govern a vast multiethnic, multilinguistic, and multireligious population. The "Turkish" and "Islamic" people of Asia Minor had therefore remained unconscious of themselves as a people in the course of making and sustaining it. In contrast, the Republic was a modern state system that represented only one people, not many. The "Turkish" and "Islamic" people of Asia Minor had consequently become conscious of themselves as they moved from the imperial to the national phase of their history.
When Lewis published his study, its introduction would not have been welcomed by many Turkish citizens, especially those who might be described as the Kemalist establishment: state administrators, military officers, and schoolteachers. Many such individuals would have taken exception to the view that the Turkish people were either closely associated with Islam or responsible for the Empire. To understand why, we must have some understanding of the mission of the Kemalist establishment. The nationalist movement began as an effort to resist the occupation of Asia Minor by Greece, Britain, France, and Italy (1918–22). After achieving success, it evolved into a revolutionary movement aimed at replacing the Ottoman Empire with the Turkish Republic. Once this course was taken, the problem of defining both the nation-state and the nation-people arose. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the members of the National Assembly took steps to invent a new public life based on secularism, as well as to destroy the old public life based on religion. As they did so, the Kemalists adopted policies that favored the identities and traditions of some citizens and disfavored those of others. For example, the Kemalists came to see the Alevis of Turkey as representative of the original Turkish nation that had settled Asia Minor before it had been spoiled by the Ottomans. They took this view because many of the Alevis had retained ancient beliefs and practices of Central Asian origin; however, they had done so precisely because they had been remote forest or mountain peoples relatively untouched by imperial institutions. So they had been perceived as representative of the original Turkish nation precisely because they were free of the stigma of Empire, and also of the stigma of Sunni Islam.
Although Lewis had written an introduction that contradicted the views of the existing Kemalist establishment, he had accurately predicted a watershed in public life. At the time, more and more citizens were moving toward the idea that a Turkish and Islamic people had first built the old regime, and then built the new. And some twenty years later, even state administrators, military officers, and schoolteachers would embrace such a doctrine. Astonishingly, Lewis had anticipated nothing less in his introduction. He had flatly stated that the Kemalist program of secular reforms could never have succeeded in displacing Islam. After only a temporary eclipse, he observed, Islamic belief and practice were once again becoming an important part of public life. Noting this trend, he affirmed that it would continue, if not accelerate, precisely because the state could not help but orient itself to its people in a modern Turkey.
While Lewis was moving with a trend in the thinking of Turkish citizens, he was moving against a trend in the thinking of historians, sociologists, and anthropologists. With the de-colonization of many parts of Asia and Africa, academics had begun to take an interest in the gap between nationalist ideals and realities. In principle, the destiny of every nation-people was defined by the task of achieving independence through the founding of a nation-state. In practice, every nation-state came into being as a result of language policies and educational programs that encouraged a diverse population to think and behave as a homogeneous nation-people. In other words, a people did not create their own state so often as a state created its own people.
By the 1980s, two theorists of nationalism had articulated the shift in perspective in distinct but equally provocative analyses. Anderson and Gellner explained that the modern nation was the result of a political process, one in which the state system was used as an instrument for generating national identity and commitment. In doing so, they separated the problem of the origin of the modern nation from the problem of its propagation. And in discussing the latter, they gave special notice to "modular nationalism. This last concept refers to the following sequence of events.
The first nation-states representing nation-peoples emerged during the later eighteenth century in different parts of the Euro-American sphere. But once in place, they provided a recipe by which other governments, whatever their character, could concoct a nation-state representing a nation-people. The mechanisms for doing so involved all the machinery of the modern state, such as promoting a standardized vernacular in print, institutionalizing public education, building monuments of commemoration, mobilizing an army of citizens, and so on. So it was that nation-states representing nation-peoples came into being in the rest of the world. And of all the many instances of modular nationalism, the Turkish Republic stood as one of the most impressive examples of a top-down project of nation-building, one that explicitly embraced the example of the nations of western Europe.
The theorists of nationalism would seem to require a radical revision in The Emergence of Modern Turkey. However, a number of cosmetic changes—replacing the word "emergence" in the title with "making," for example—suffice. For as Lewis had cogently pointed out, the Muslim peoples of Asia Minor did not think of themselves as Turks or their country as Turkey at the beginning of the twentieth century. They would only adopt these self-descriptions some years later, after Ottoman defeat and collapse, borrowing them from long-standing usages in western Europe. And although he did consider that both the country and the people had existed latently before they existed manifestly, his account is otherwise largely consistent with the concept of modular nationalism. He describes how the Turkish Republic was more or less modeled on "Euro-American" states representing peoples, placing some special emphasis on the French Revolution. He describes how this modeling enabled the Islamic and Turkish peoples of Asia Minor to understand themselves as a nation. The historian of modern Turkey differs from the theorists of nationalism only in regard to the question of whether the state actually created or merely stimulated national consciousness.
On the other hand, this is hardly a negligible difference. According to Lewis, the Kemalist establishment had "mis–identified" the people. As time would tell, the real Turkish nation was religious, not secular. But according to the theorists of nationalism, any such contention necessarily came in the company of a politics of the "proper" nation. And indeed, the fulfillment of Lewis's prediction featured precisely such a politics. By 1980, a large segment of the political elite in the Turkish Republic, including many members of the Kemalist establishment, had reached a new consensus, inconsistent with the program of secular reforms. The political elite in question were reacting to a decade of unstable coalition government accompanied by growing unrest among youths in the larger cities. To reaffirm the importance of order and discipline, they had begun to promote a "proper" Turkish and Islamic nation in which the two qualities were deemed essential for a strong state and stable society. Eventually, as a consequence of their advocacy, state policies of cultural de-legitimization and political exclusion gained ground, the targets of these policies including all kinds of individuals and groups. Some among them could easily be deemed not Turkish (linguistic minorities) or not Islamic (religious minorities), but some could be deemed not Turkish or not Islamic politically rather than empirically. Kurdish and Turkish Alevis, many of whom were subjected to official blacklisting (şeritli), are notable examples of each of these categories.
But I do not wish to find fault with the historian of modern Turkey; for the weakness of his work as politics is also its strength as history. Lewis was pointing to something very real when he described a "Turkish" and "Islamic" people who had moved from Empire to Republic. He had located the counterrevolution within the revolution, even if he would never use such terminology, and he had sensed that the counterrevolution was gaining ground. This insight is impressive even if it was gained at the cost of his own "mis–identification," that is, mistaking a part of the Turkish nation for the whole. To see how this is so, we must reassert the dictum of the theorists of nationalism—states make people, people do not makes states—and then apply it to the Ottoman Empire.
It is certainly true that "Turkish" and "Islamic" streams of influence were important, if not dominant, among the population in parts of the Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Balkans for many hundreds of years. It is also indisputable that the classical imperial system of Sultan Mehmet II was shaped in a fundamental way by rivulets among these streams of influence. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire was built and sustained by individuals of diverse backgrounds, some of whom were of Turkish and Islamic background, some of whom were not. As we shall see in the instance of the old Ottoman province of Trabzon, participants in the imperial system included large numbers of Turks, Lazis, Greeks, Armenians, and Kurds, as well as some number of Circassians, Georgians, Bosnians, and Albanians. Representatives of these same peoples would have also been participants in the imperial system in other Ottoman provinces, along with still other peoples, most notably Arabs, Persians, and Jews, not to mention some scattering of Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Italians, Frenchmen, and Germans. The imperial project was joined by peoples of diverse backgrounds, and in so joining it, they acquired behaviors that featured its peculiar "Turkish" and "Islamic" qualities.
So the Empire generated a state people even before the Republic generated a state people. The capacity of the imperial project to mobilize the population would have a direct bearing on the capacity of the national project to mobilize the population. For to reform a state people that already existed, it would be necessary to address the very elements that composed that state people, replacing in each instance an imperial formula with the equivalent of a national formula: hats for turbans, shoes for slippers, tubs for hamams, a romanized script for an Arabic script, a secular law for a sacred law. This means that the Republic would inevitably feature a derivative and imitative character with reference to the Empire.
Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) (d. 1938) and Mehmet the Conqueror (d. 1481) had indeed charted a similar course at a distance of almost five hundred years. The accomplishments of both involved a series of prescriptions that could be said to constitute a project of modernity, conceived in response to challenges from abroad. Launch a project of state that is cut free from a past of degeneracy and corruption. Clear out all that is rotten from a landscape littered with ancient ruins in order to construct the capital city of a new political utopia. Assemble a body of supporters by inculcating a discipline of interpersonal association distinct from that of any pre–existing communal grouping. With the assistance of this body of supporters, constitute a regime that draws together peoples of diverse backgrounds and traditions. Guarantee all these peoples the honor and dignity of subjects on the condition that they take their proper place in the new utopia. By such steps, convert fatal circumstances of ethnic fragmentation into an opportunity to propagate a state society that transcends the disabilities of parochial loyalties and affiliations.
The imperial project therefore prefigures the national project. The former, usually judged traditionalist, appears as modernist while the latter, usually judged an unprecedented departure, appears as repetition. Insofar as this is the case, the old imperial project represents something far more formidable than the inertia of a degenerate and corrupt tradition. Until recently, however, the posing of such a question has been blocked by two presumptions backed by scholarly consensus. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, a landmark in Ottoman and Turkish studies in its time, provides a useful example of these two presumptions.
Having accounted for the three main influences that went into the making of modern Turkey, Lewis devoted his first chapter to "The Decline of the Ottoman Empire." The story began with the virtual collapse of the classical imperial system during the seventeenth century: "The breakdown in the apparatus of government affected not only the supreme instruments of sovereignty but also the whole of the bureaucratic and religious institutions of the Empire. These suffered a catastrophic fall in efficiency and integrity, which was accompanied by the growing change in methods of recruitment, training, and promotion." By this assessment, the Empire was twice removed from the Republic. The classical imperial regime (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) had been based on a narrow military and administrative elite who set themselves apart from a much larger subject population. The efficiency and integrity of this military and administrative elite had vanished during the post-classical imperial period (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). There could have been no influence of the Ottoman Empire of Sultan Mehmet II on modern Turkey. The classical imperial period he initiated with the conquest of Constantinople had come to an end three hundred years before the founding of the Turkish Republic and had left no trace of itself on the majority population that was to become its citizenry.
Recent studies of local elites in the core Ottoman provinces have cast a clearer light on the dark figure in the preceding citation, the "growing change in methods of recruitment, training, and promotion. Sometime during the seventeenth century, under the direct pressure of internal instability and external competition, the Ottomans took more radical steps to widen the circle of participation in imperial institutions in the core provinces of the Empire. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the countryside was here and there teeming with representatives of the lower echelons of the military and religious branches of the imperial system. And during the course of the eighteenth century, some of these elements began to emerge as the principals of regional social oligarchies comprising a major proportion of the local population. The state policies of the post-classical period therefore had the potential to generate state societies, partly as a consequence of their intentional and judicious application, but also partly as a consequence of their manipulation and infringement at the local level.
In this regional study, I shall examine how peoples of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and ascribing to different religions, came to form such a state society in the old province of Trabzon. Through participation in imperial institutions, a large population of townsmen and villagers adopted universal standards of social thinking and practice in the course of bringing themselves into alignment with the imperial system. As they did so, they lost their sentimental attachment to their existing customs that they came to consider degenerate and corrupt, even though they did not entirely abandon them. In this respect, the large majority of the inhabitants in the old province of Trabzon could be said to have been more modern than traditional. They had not incidentally participated in imperial institutions but had identified themselves with a world project that was conceived as a move toward reform and renewal.
My argument can be summarized as follows. Local elites backed by local coalitions had the ability to tax commerce, raise armies, requisition supplies, impose labor, apprehend fugitives, and exact punishment, that is, to do everything that higher state officials of the centralized government might be able to do. They could do so, even though the latter might sometimes attempt to prevent them, because they were able to do what the proper imperial system could do: to deploy the sovereign power of a family line through a following based on a discipline of interpersonal association. The rise of regional social oligarchies can therefore be understood as coincident with the dissemination of an imperial tactic: the exercise of sovereign power by means of a discipline of interpersonal association. Such an imperial tactic, together with contradictions inherent within in it, had been transmitted outward and downward into the core Ottoman provinces, and especially into the old province of Trabzon. The result was the decentralization of the state system, and, during periods of crisis, the vertical and horizontal fracturing of the structure of political authority.
Once in place, the regional social oligarchy in the province of Trabzon was both a resource and a problem for the state system. Higher state officials could enter into agreements with local elites, granting them local sovereign powers in return for administrating or policing the local population. On the other hand, local elites frequently opposed official policies that reinforced centralized government. When such policies were nonetheless adopted, local elites proved adept at repenetrating and recolonizing the new state system. In such a manner, they were able to reinhabit the state system after periods of "revolutionary" change. From the 1830s to the 1840s, they moved from the post-classical imperial system into the westernized imperial system of the "Reordering" (Tanzimat). From the 1920s to the 1930s, they moved from the late Empire into the early Republic. The dissemination of a basic piece of the classical imperial system had led to the rise of a state society that was able to accommodate itself, first to the reformed state system of the later Empire, and then to the reformed state system of the early Republic.
My study is divided into four different parts. Parts 1 and 4 are primarily based on fieldwork. Parts 2 and 3 are primarily based on historical research.
In part 1, I begin by telling the story of my encounters with local elites in the district of Of during my first period of fieldwork in the 1960s (chap. 1 and 2). Initially, I could not understand how these local elites represented a regional social oligarchy of imperial origin that had gradually come to dominate public life during the later decades of the Turkish Republic. As for my interlocutors among the residents in the district Of, they too were unable to explain how this had come about, as it contradicted their commitment to official nationalist ideology and history. It was only years later, in the course of reading consular reports from the nineteenth century, that I became aware of the extent to which public life in the 1960s featured an imperial legacy.
Part 2 examines how diverse peoples speaking various languages in the old province of Trabzon became an ottomanist provincial society during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I begin by analyzing the ways in which topography and environment consistently encouraged its inhabitants to participate in the wider market and state systems (chap. 3). I then consider the channels by which the local elites of these rural societies could have identified with and participated in the imperial system (chap. 4). To do so, I analyze the relationship of sovereign power and disciplinary association as displayed in the architecture and ceremony of the Ottoman palace. I then consider evidence for the provincial dissemination of this relationship during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century (chap. 5). This came about as an important segment of the population in the old province of Trabzon became affiliated with imperial military and religious institutions.
Part 3 addresses the character of local elites in the old province of Trabzon from the later eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. I first show how local elites composed a tiered state society, the uppermost tier being inside the state system and the lowermost tier being outside the state system (chap. 6). I then examine how western European consuls misunderstood the character of this imperial state society. As a result, they mistakenly declared its local elites to have been suppressed by the central government during the 1830s, even though they continued to be part and parcel of the imperial system (chap. 7). I then show how the consular assessment of the local elites was later adopted by higher Ottoman officials as they adopted a westernist theory of centralized bureaucratic government (chap. 8). As a result, both consuls and officials of the later nineteenth century were repeatedly surprised to find that local elites were able to manipulate, if not subvert, the central government at the local level.
In part 4, I analyze the process by which the old regional social oligarchy of the eastern coastal region came to inhabit the Turkish Republic, citing the district of Of as a case study. The first two chapters account for the return of the old regional social oligarchy. I begin by describing how the nationalist revolution succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of local elites, even as state officials continued to rely on them for governmental assistance (chap. 9). I then describe the resurgence of a regional social oligarchy following the first free and direct elections in 1950 (chap. 10). The last two chapters illustrate the ability of local elites to accommodate changing economic and political circumstances. I examine cooperatives and coffeehouses during the 1960s as a case study of the flexible relationship between official institutions and social relations (chap. 11). The last chapter examines the effects of urbanization on social formations among the natives of Of, both at home and in Istanbul, during the 1970s and 1980s (chap. 12).