Documenting the Aghas and Family lines in Trabzon
From the middle of the eighteenth century, Umur's collection of documents begins to change in character. The signs of conflict between new social elements and religious and military officials at the local level are no longer apparent. There are no reports of incidents involving attacks on state officials and brigands falsely claiming to be janissaries, and there are fewer cases that mention brigands and outlaws with the patronymics of agha-families. There are no further cases of mass assaults on villages, deportations of village populations, illegal land seizures, or the failure to pay taxes. All kinds of social disorders may have been occurring in the districts, but if so, they were infrequently brought to the attention of higher military and judicial officials. The local elites were perhaps usurping offices, interfering with the courts, improperly imposing taxes, refusing to forward revenues to the capital, and illegally confiscating property. But if they were, they were able to prevent the lodging of complaints against them.
Toward the close of the eighteenth century, a new order of aghas, mansions, family lines, and regimental parties was in place. This is indicated by three documents that call on local elites to muster troops. The earliest of the three, dated 1774/1188, was written by a military commander representing the palace. He calls on "the judges, religious officials, the righteous, officers, commanders, craftsmen, and community leaders" (kadıılarıına, ûlema, sûleha, zabitan, serdarlar, iş erleri, söz sahiblerine) of nine districts of the province to assemble and dispatch troops for participation in imperial military campaigns against the armies of Moscow. However, in doing so, he reveals that the central government is unable to compel them to furnish troops, but entirely dependent on their willingness to do so. He chastises his correspondents for having failed to respond to previous orders to assemble troops for imperial campaigns. They have said they were ready to come and have unfurled their banners, but then, offering various excuses, have failed to mobilize. They have engaged in quarrels among themselves, a kind of behavior that cannot be called anything other than disobedience to the sultan. Begging them to mend their ways, the military commander exhorts his correspondents to assemble for liberating the Crimea from Moscow. Their previous faults will be forgiven. Their military service is a religious duty.
The other two documents, dated 1788/1202 and 1789/1204, provide more direct evidence that aghas from agha-families governed their districts more or less independently of the central government at this time. The earlier is written by a palace official. It addresses the notables (âyan), officials (mütesellim), judges (kadıı), and officers (yeni çeri) of the districts in the province of Trabzon, from Görele in the west to Hopa in the east. It calls on them to assemble troops and report for a campaign on the northeastern shores of the Black Sea (Anapa, Soğucak). The document lists 26 names of individuals or families in 16 districts, referring to them as "aghas" (ağavat). They are required to contribute either 100, 150, or 200 troops. About two-thirds of these names specify a patronymic, each in the "son of" (oğlu) format. Some of these add a personal name to the patronymic, as in "Tuzcuoğlu Hüseyin at Rize" and "Kuğuoğlu Süleyman at Görele." Others merely list the patronymic alone without specifying an individual, as in "Bahadıır oğlu at Büyük Liman" or "Hacıı Hasan oğlu at Pulathane." In a number of instances, the patronymics listed in the document correspond with the patronymics of aghas who held official appointments and positions fifty years later, when European consuls began to report on the coastal region at the close of the period of decentralization. In other instances, the patronymics correspond with local traditions of aghas and agha-families during the nineteenth century. The number of troops required from three families at Of are 150, 200, and 200, respectively. The total for the district of Of, 550, is larger than for any other district in the province. The total number for the three eastern districts of Rize, Of, and Sürmene is almost 40 percent of the total for the entire eastern coastal region.
The later document, dated 1789/1204, is a call-out for troops for a military expedition to the northeastern shores of the Black Sea (Anapa). The troops are to be assembled in various ports of the Black Sea coast, including Samsun, Trabzon, Sürmene, Rize and others. The government will pay merchant ships to transport these troops, and these ships will be accompanied by galleons of the Imperial Navy. The document is divided into five sections, which refer in turn to the vicinity of Trabzon, the district of Of, the district of Rize, the aghas of the Laz, and the western districts. In the first four sections, there are lists of individuals and families, each of which is called upon to contribute a certain number of troops. The names are usually the same as those in the earlier document, but there are now more than forty names for the four mentioned areas. The total call-out for each of these areas is roughly 5,200 for the vicinity of Trabzon, 1,800 for Of, 2,300 for Rize, and 1,800 for the aghas of the Laz. The individuals are usually labeled in accordance with their regimental affiliations, including the Sixty-fourth, Twenty-fifth, and Fifth. The document therefore confirms that the parties in Of were associated with janissary regiments, just as it also confirms the depth and breadth of local military affiliations.
Taken together, the three documents indicate that the social changes taking place in the district of Of during the period of decentralization were consistent with social changes taking place in all the core provinces of the Ottoman provinces. By the late seventeenth century, large numbers of Oflus were serving as irregular soldiers or studying as religious students. Occasionally, some of these elements joined up with imperial elites who, while out of office or back from campaigns, extorted money from villagers and looted their farms. By the fourth decade of the eighteenth century, individuals with low-level military appointments were asserting themselves, sometimes by banding together to usurp the authority of local officials or to intimidate local villagers. At the same time, individuals with low-level religious qualifications had organized religious academies and were recruiting and training considerable numbers of religious students. But these teachers and students were eventually confronted with the emergent aghas and agha-families. Just as the palace had captured the mosque in Istanbul during the classical period, so too would aghas and agha-families capture the religious teachers and students during the period of decentralization, neutralizing them as alternative local sources of political legitimacy or social organization.
Aghas and mansions together with hodjas and academies were to be found in virtually every segment of the eastern coastal region. Coalitions of local elites constituting regional social oligarchies comprised the entirety of the province of Trabzon. However, some coastal districts of the province of Trabzon featured a broader and deeper participation in imperial institutions than others. In general, those coastal districts that had large Christian majorities and little Turkic settlement during the sixteenth century, such as Rize, Of, and Sürmene, are associated with broad and deep participation in imperial institutions. By contrast, coastal districts that had a sizable Muslim population and considerable Turkic settlement by the sixteenth century, such as Tirebolu, Giresun, and Ordu, were associated with narrower and shallower participation. It was then those populations that had a background in market and state participation that became part of the imperial system. To some degree, a legacy of participation in Byzantine institutions had helped their otherwise mixed populations to recognize and to exploit the opportunity for becoming part of the Ottoman state system and state society.
Two exceptions to the preceding pattern prove the rule. First, the hierarchy and institutions of the Orthodox Church had survived Ottoman incorporation precisely in that part of the coastal region where the Byzantine state system had been centered and developed, that is to say, the central districts around the town of Trabzon. According to Bryer and Lowry, the survival of these pieces of the older state system had been the basis for the survival of a large Greek Orthodox population in this same area. So an alternative to the imperial system had retarded conversion and immigration, and hence imperial participation, in this section of the province of Trabzon. Second, one of the coastal districts in the west bears some resemblance to the district of Of in the east. The population in the district of Tonya included a large number of Muslim Greek-speakers, as well as broad and deep participation in imperial institutions (military rather than religious). But Tonya also stands as an exception among the western coastal districts. By its more isolated location, it did not receive as many Turkic settlers as other western coastal districts. So it is an example of a coastal district in the west that fits the pattern of the coastal districts in the east.