Documenting the Origins of Aghas and Konaks in Of
Since imperial participation was such an important factor in the district of Of, social changes in the district should be all the more closely correlated with changes in state policies and structures. In other words, the history of social relations in Of should follow those changes in the central government that everywhere touched the populations of the core Ottoman provinces. Documents summarized or transliterated by Hasan Umur indicate that this was indeed the case. Overall, the two hundred or so court cases and imperial decrees that he summarized are well coordinated with the major trends in the relationship of state and society. At the same time, the documents also point to the distinctive features of local elites in the province of Trabzon. When combined with local tradition, the documents suggest that imperial participation proceeded in a fashion that was not exactly duplicated in other Ottoman provinces, with results that also differed.
My interlocutors in the district of Of generally believed that the individuals who became aghas and established agha-families during the eighteenth century were often newcomers to the district of Of. I do not know of any definitive proof of this, but it is the overall opinion of both district outsiders and insiders. Local tradition also holds that the different aghas and agha-families arose at different times during the period of decentralization, some of them very early and some of them very late. Most of them then endured right down to the present day, some declining and others flourishing. The documents transcribed or summarized by Umur tell us something more than this. Given that some names that appear in the documents are unrecognizable, together with the fact that aghas and agha-families were always emerging, it seems likely that some individuals rose to prominence but then failed to establish family lines. Furthermore, the documents also suggest that the individuals who did rise to prominence, whether or not they did set down a family line, had some kind of connection with the government, but were of no special official eminence. In this respect, they are usually mentioned in terms of personal names supplemented by an "official" patronymic in the "oğlu" or "zade" form.
Of the documents Umur reviews, the earliest mention of a patronymic that is eventually associated with aghas and agha-families appears in three separate documents that address the attack, theft, and pillage of a settlement in 1679/1090. A certain Hacıı Ahmet Ayazoğlu is one of several individuals alleged to have participated in these aggressions. Some of the other accused individuals also have patronymics, but I am unable to link them with contemporary family names. The names include some with various epithets of a military (kanlıı, bey) or religious (hacıı, molla) character, but no titles or ranks. Other epithets added to their personal names indicate that the individuals in the group were of different homelands (Azaklıı) and different ethnicities (Çerkes). So the accused consist of a motley group of individuals of different familial, regional, and ethnic origins who have adopted low-level religious and military epithets. If the three documents are set in the larger context of state and society, they point toward a tentative conclusion.
During the final years of the seventeenth century, irregular troops and religious students without employment were commonly responsible for the kind of incidents described in the documents. For example, the group of individuals accused and convicted of the incidents in Of in 1679 would appear to have been so composed. So it would seem that some of the first aghas and agha-families in the district of Of arose from among individuals who were associated with the very lowest level of official military and religious activities. Alternatively, Hacıı Ahmet Ayazoğlu may have been a black sheep from a more prominent family line. This possibility is unlikely when compared with the same pattern that appears in other documents. About thirty years after the above incidents (1708), Kanlıı Hasan Ayazoğlu, acting together with brothers, a cousin, and associates, is accused and convicted of usurping the authority of the district janissary agha by appointing his son-in-law to that position. Then two years later this same individual, still other brothers, a cousin, and associates are named as well-known brigands who have been attacking marketplaces, committing homicides, and assaulting unmarried women for more than a decade.
A second set of documents describes even more serious incidents occurring in the year 1737/1150. A group of individuals is accused of hundreds of crimes, including assault, homicide, theft, looting, burning, rape, and kidnapping in the course of separate incidents. Among the names of the leaders one finds individuals who bear the patronymics Fettahoğlu, Çap-oğlu, Selimoğlu, Hacııhasanoğlu, and Keleşoğlu, all of which are patronym-ics later associated with aghas and agha-families of the Five and Twenty-five parties. In one of the documents, these individuals are described as brigands who act in concert with other brigands from the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Janissaries (also named) and from the Fifth Regiment of private soldiers (not named). As in the previous documents, the individuals named have adopted various epithets of a military (alemdar, deli, kanlıı) or religious (hacıı, molla) character; however, there is no clear indication of diverse familial, regional, or ethnic origin. So the individuals in question are clearly of the lowest military and religious stations. This is especially significant since the targets of their aggressions are residents of Of bearing titles and ranks of the religious and military branches of government. Moreover, the crimes of which they stand accused are of such a serious character that it would appear they were attempting to annihilate the family lines and household organizations of prominent individuals.
In one incident, the brigands attack a retired janissary officer, Piri Çavuş zade Mustafa, kill him with a bullet not far from his house, then attack the house, seize the house and his wife, and then turn the house and the wife over to other outlaws. They later attack the house of the father of Mustafa, also an individual of some distinction, loot it of cash and valuables, and then burn it down. They track down the father, who has fled to Rize, and they finally kill him as he leaves the mosque after completing his Friday prayers. Then they return to his residence in Rize, where they kill his wives and servants and burn the house. On yet another occasion, the same individuals are said to have caused considerable destruction in and around Paçan village while engaged in a battle with private soldiers. Attacking the village, they burn buildings and steal property, including seven hundred books or registers. After being taken to court and ordered to pay restitution, they refuse to pay and are declared to be in a state of judicial noncompliance. In the document transcribed by Umur, they are accused (but not convicted) of returning to the village, pillaging it once again, carrying off women and children to their "towers," and committing numerous homicides. They are accused, but not convicted, of having killed as many as forty among the religious teachers and students and as many as five hundred altogether.
The last set of documents provides many indications regarding the social origins of the new local elites. First, the documents are a further confirmation that the individuals whose descendants later become aghas and agha-families are drawn from the milieu of irregular troops or local militias (bölük). Second, they indicate these individuals began their rise to prominence by assaulting and threatening individuals with titles and ranks. Third, they show that individuals with different patronymics acted in concert with one another to challenge and intimidate prominent local residents. Fourth, they indicate that professors and academies were in existence in the district during the first half of the eighteenth century. Fifth, they suggest that the aghas and agha-families only arose after the professors and academies had already been established rather than in tandem with them. And sixth, the documents also point to tantalizing links between the regimental affiliations of irregular troops and the later emergence of the Five andTwenty-five parties.
The individuals with the aforementioned patronymics are described as brigands residing in Of who combine with brigands from the Sixty-fourth Regiment of Janissaries to act together with other known individuals of the Fifth Regiment of Soldiers. By a report of Peysonnel, the province of Trabzon was troubled for many years by the rivalry of the Twenty-fifth and Sixty-fourth regiments of janissaries. By combining the Umur documents and the Peysonnel report, one discovers an indication of the origins of the Five and Twenty-five parties in the district of Of: Members of the Fifth and Sixty-fourth regiments join in an attack in Of, while other members of the Sixty-fourth and Twenty-fifth regiments are bitter rivals in the province of Trabzon. The patronymics attributed to the individuals who collaborated in the attacks in 1737/1150 eventually appear among the Five and Twenty-five parties. The Selimoğlu have become the leading agha-family in the Five Party just as their name is associated with the Fifth Regiment of Soldiers in 1737. However, the Fettahoğlu and Çapoğlu are later associated with the Twenty-five rather than the Five Party. This change is consistent with a tradition that tells how the Fettahoğlu and Çapoğlu fell out with the Selimoğlu in the early nineteenth century and joined the Muradoğlu, who assumed the leadership of the Twenty-five Party. So then, by a web of interrelated factual and hypothetical linkages, the regimental affiliations of the individuals involved in the attacks on prominent local residents point directly to the early origins of leading individuals, large residences, family lines, and district social formations.
Altogether eight patronymics that are eventually associated with aghas and agha-families during the period of decentralization are mentioned in the documents. These are Ayazoğlu, Bektaşoğlu, Çapoğlu, Fettahoğlu, Hacııhasanoğlu, Keleşoğlu, Nuhoğlu, and Selimoğlu. All of these names are consistently associated with regiments or janissaries, but in a way that confirms that they were individuals of the outer and lower fringes of the military establishment. The individuals with known patronyms are sometimes described as members of regiments, but only those composed of irregular soldiers or local militias (bölük). They are sometimes accused and convicted of attacking local janissary officers, but they never appear in the capacity of true janissary officers themselves. This pattern is supported by other incidents in which individuals accused of wrongdoing seem to be attempting to worm their way into the position of official janissaries. For example, individuals might carry out aggressions while falsely claiming to be acting as official janissaries. Or contrariwise, they are the victims of aggressions carried out by others who falsely claim to be acting as official janissaries.
So far the documents I have cited strongly suggest that the aghas who founded agha-families arose for the most part from lower-level regiments and militias. Some of them may have held janissary titles and ranks, since it became common for all kinds of individuals to do so. More typically, they belonged to regiments and militias that imitated and emulated the janissaries by their tattoos, insignia, and banners. Other documents offer further support for this same conclusion in a negative way by excluding the possibility that the aghas and agha-families were of other social origins.
One document, for example, describes how high state officials without appointments assembled groups of armed men from Of and then went about raiding and looting the villages of the district. During the year 1711/1123, the head steward (kethüda) of the former governor of Trabzon, in the com pany of close associates, is accused of raiding and looting villages in the district of Of. The head steward, leading a band of brigands recruited from various villages in the western valley-system, conducted a massive assault on fifteen villages (unnamed and unlocated). They burned and looted two hundred houses and warehouses. They destroyed seven mosques and raped eighteen girls. They shaved the heads of eight women and paraded them about, tied some of them to horses and dragged them, tracked down others and raped them. Fleeing in terror, many of the villagers subsequently died of exposure and starvation.
The document illustrates how higher state officials, temporarily without positions or appointments, mustered a large band of brigands by recruiting soldiers in nine separate villages in Of. It gives the names, patronyms, and villages of more than a score of Oflus who took part in the raiding and looting. On the other hand, among the accused Oflus there is not a single mention of a patronym that later emerges as an agha-family. If this and three other documents transcribed by Umur are representative, these kinds of incidents do not appear to have played a role in the origins of aghas and agha-families in the district of Of. The individuals who are the ascendants of aghas and agha-families are not higher state officials without appointments, nor do they appear to have been followers of such higher state officials.
Another set of documents diminishes the possibility of a very different kind of social origin for aghas and agha-families. There are other individuals who organize the raiding and looting of villages but have no detectable connection at all with imperial institutions. They are not drawn from either high or low-level positions in the military or religious establishment. They are instead "tribesmen." The documents describe the following circumstances. During the year 1709/1121, the residents of seven villages in the upper western valley-system are accused of all sorts of crimes: They combined with the Ayaslo and Kolotlo tribes (kabîle), who came from outside the district and settled among the villagers. Acting in concert, tribesmen and villagers disturbed the peace of the main market in the district of Of. They attacked this market, making it necessary to move it to another place. They attacked houses, kidnapped women and girls, held them prisoner, sold them to one another, and married them as they wished. They attacked the house of the judge of Of and threatened him with death. They attacked individuals with knives. They did not pay dues to the fief-holders (tıımar and zeamat) of their villages. They held the judge of Of in contempt, saying they had given him documents when he attempted to make a case against them. In punishment for all these violations, the order was given for the pasha of Trabzon to undertake the mass deportation of the two tribes and seven villages. They were to be rounded up and transported to Anakra Castle, where they would be settled at the Ottoman frontier with Georgia.
The tribesmen organizing villagers are not named as individuals who bear patronymics. The names of their tribes do not appear among the patronymics of aghas and agha-families. The tribesmen are not associated with official titles and ranks, either truly or falsely. The tribesmen directly attack state officials and subvert the normal operations of the central government. Most telling of all, state officials are now capable of making a vigorous and ruthless response. Soldiers are sent to the seven villages, where they surround the villagers and descend on them like a flood. Both the tribesmen and the villagers charged in these incidents are rounded up and deported to the frontier. The tribesmen, being from outside the state system altogether, were perhaps less able to retard or block the overzealous but effective response of state officials. In contrast, the cases lodged against the janissaries and soldiers who attacked prominent individuals in Of dragged on for three decades in the courts.
Of all the documents that Umur has assembled and discussed, about forty refer to incidents that can be plausibly linked with the emergence of local elites who challenged existing military, administrative, and judicial hierarchies. All of the documents date to the final decades of the seventeenth century or the first decades of the eighteenth century. Usurpers or brigands are accused of having assaulted, robbed, intimidated, or assassinated individuals with military or religious titles. Military officials appointed by the central government are unable to exercise the authority vested in them by their office. Men in arms who are "from among the usurpers and evildoers" (mütegallibeden ve eşirrâdan) and pretend to be janissaries descend on the market and battle one another with sword and shield, pistol and rifle. Committing many wrongs, they seize goods and attack the court. They extort taxes from villagers, intimidate state officials, raid and loot village populations, seize the lands of non-Muslim subjects, and illegally arrest and punish people. The documents that describe challenges to the authority of military officials occur in tandem with other documents that describe the subversion of judicial procedures. One individual with the title of molla, who acts in concert with another from Paçan village, is accused of improperly assuming the duties of court officials (naip and kâtib). Other individuals who style themselves as notables (âyan), but are said to be "from among the usurpers" (mütegallibeden), are accused of putting pressure on the district judge (kadıı), or his representative (naip), by receiving them in their houses and requiring they hear cases there. Men in arms appear in the court carrying their weapons and disrupt the proceedings. Men are accused of descending on the court while it is in session and freeing their confederates who are standing trial.