A Social System Divided from the State System
What I had observed as the result of an incidental stop for lunch would not have ordinarily come to the attention of a passing traveler. Normally, there was nothing to be seen or heard in either the market of Eskipazar or the town of Of to indicate the dominant position of the Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu. It was not openly announced by any kind of sign, building, or plaza. The town of Of, where I was eventually to conduct my fieldwork, actually offered a strong first impression of the new state rather than the old society. By the design of its streets and squares, and by the appearance of its offices, shops, and residences, this was a town of the Turkish Republic, even more so than its counterparts elsewhere in the country. Forty years earlier, when the Ottoman Empire came to an end, it was hardly a town at all. Its public spaces and structures, most of which had come into being since that time, were therefore almost entirely the creations of the new nation-state. Some body of state officials and experts, probably in Ankara, had devised a definition of what a Turkish town should be. The town of Of, such as it was during the summer of 1965, conformed to this nationalist canon far more perfectly than other Turkish towns, some of which were cluttered with Ottoman, Seljuk, Byzantine, or even Roman leftovers.
What first struck the eye of a casual visitor was therefore very much a "republican" town (see fig. 1). There was a new government building (hükümet), designed in a spare modernist style and larger than any other building. Here, a district officer (kaymakam), two district judges (hakim), and a district prosecutor (savcıı), none of them natives of the district, conducted their affairs and received visits from citizens. A large central square (meydan) had been laid out before the government building for the purpose of national commemorations and ceremonies. A bust of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) was located at the center of one side of this square, always to be seen looking to the west—and so, specifically, not to the east. On national holidays, state officials, local worthies, military bands, schoolchildren, and villagers assembled in the square before the bust in order to pay homage to the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Figure 1. View of the town of Of.
With the government building and central square as its center, the town spread out along the coastline. To the west, where the small nucleus of a late Ottoman town had been laid out around the turn of the century, the grid of streets was more compact, but the roads were still rectilinear rather than winding and irregular. Most of the shops, workshops, and warehouses of the town were located here, as well as most of its coffeehouses, hotels and dormitories, and restaurants. To the east, two wide avenues ran parallel to one another, interspersed with vegetable gardens and citrus groves. The residences of officials, the gendarmerie and military posts, the primary and secondary schools, and the public health and social services agencies were all located here.
The town was centered around the government building and central square, the administrative and ceremonial spaces of the Turkish Republic. By the arrangement of the two, which had been determined sometime around the early 1930s, one could detect the principle that had inspired the Kemalist one-party regime. Although barely a stone's throw from the coastline, the government building and central square had been oriented landward rather seaward, so that they were facing away from a spectacularly beautiful vista. Given the sensitivity to architectural siting and views in Turkey, the pair of them seemed to insist, "We do not represent the people of this district to the world so much as we represent the central government to the people of this district."
Such a reading of the town plan is more simplification than exaggeration. From the later 1920s, the Kemalist leadership of the nationalist movement had faced the difficult task of transforming a citizenry of Ottoman Muslims into a citizenry of Republican Turks. To do so, they encouraged a certain degree of popular participation in various kinds of governmental and nongovernmental organizations. In this way, a new kind of public life would be propagated, one based on republican rather than ottomanist principles. All these governmental and nongovernmental organizations had always been subject to official regulation, even closure and banning. Nonetheless, resident state officials did not have direct control over a certain number of genuinely public organizations whose numbers and functions had gradually multiplied over the first four decades of the Turkish Republic.
The most important of these public organizations, in terms of their services and their financing, were the municipal government and four agricultural cooperatives. Just to the west of the central square, toward the older section of town, the municipal government was located in a new concrete building, along with the water, electric, and telephone utilities. The town mayor and council, who had their offices there, were residents of Of and natives of the district. They had assumed their posts after facing other candidates in free and open elections. Elsewhere in the older section of the town, the four agricultural cooperatives maintained separate offices and warehouses. They consisted of a loan cooperative for purchasing agricultural tools and supplies, founded in the 1930s; a cooperative for hazelnut producers, founded in 1942; and two cooperatives for tea growers, founded in 1955 and 1965. Each of the four agricultural cooperatives had a director, councilmen, membership rolls, annual meetings, and a written constitution. The director and councilmen were elected by the membership from a list of nominees during the annual meeting. The elections, which were by secret ballot, were observed by government inspectors, who ratified the results. The membership of each cooperative varied from somewhat fewer than a thousand to more than two thousand, and the annual budget of each varied from about a half million to more than two million Turkish lira, a very considerable sum of money at the time.
In addition to the municipal government and agricultural cooperatives, there were also a number of local branches of national public associations. Most of the latter had first been organized in the larger cities during the early years of the Turkish Republic with the express intention of facilitating, but also guiding, popular participation in political, cultural, and charitable activities. Each branch office had appeared in the district of Of not long after the association's founding at the national level. The Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) had been founded by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) in 1922, shortly before the declaration of the Turkish Republic. The RPP had a chairman in the town of Of no later than 1927, and probably several years earlier than that. The People's Houses (Halkevleri), which were directly linked with the RPP, were culture clubs for the promotion of local history, folklore, music, and literature. First founded in Istanbul in 1924, the People's Houses had established a local branch in Of no later than the 1940s, and probably by the 1930s. It had become defunct when the national organization was closed down by the government in 1951. The Turkish Air Association (Türk Hava Kurumu), founded on the national level sometime after 1922, was in existence in the town of Of by 1925. This association collected contributions—principally the hides of sheep sacrificed during the annual religious festival (Kurban Bayramıı)—for the building of a national air force. The Red Crescent Society (Kıızıılay Cemiyeti) raised relief funds for victims of disasters. There was a local branch during the 1940s, and probably by the 1930s. The Primary and Middle School Parent-Teacher Associations (ıılk Okul/Orta Okul Aile Birliği) were in existence by the 1940s. They had a chairman who called an annual meeting at least once a year to discuss issues regarding the schools. A local branch of the Small Businessmen's Association (Küçük Esnaf Derneği) was organized in the town of Of in 1966, soon after it was first founded at the national level. Its officers managed a loan fund for the promotion of small businesses.
Like the municipal government and the producer cooperatives, most of these local branches of national organizations were supposed to manage their affairs according to a written constitution that had been legally approved and registered. Their membership was to elect a chairman and councilmen during an annual assembly in accordance with prescribed procedures. Their officers were to maintain a membership roll, keep a record of dues paid, announce meetings, conduct open discussion, and so on.
The municipal government, the producer cooperatives, and the local branches of national associations were therefore in principle the means by which private individuals in the town of Of were able to participate in the public life of the Turkish Republic. During the period of their existence in Of, their directors, councilmen, and membership were almost always composed of natives of Of who were not themselves state officials. And yet, popular participation in the public life of the town was certainly not in any way free and open.
At the time of my arrival, the top officer of every public association in the town was a member of the Selimoğlu family. This included the mayor of the municipality, the headman of the central municipal quarter, the directors of the four producer cooperatives, the chairman of the Republican People's Party, the chairman of the district Turkish Air Association, the chairman of the district Red Crescent Association, the chairman of the Parent-Teachers' Associations, and the chairman of the Small Businessmen's Association. As for the councilmen and committeemen in these same public associations, they included a few more individuals from the Selimoğlu, but for the most part consisted of their friends and allies, many of whom were the members of other large family groupings. As I was eventually to learn, this situation was not at all transitory. The monopoly of the directorships and chairmanships by the Selimoğlu, together with their support by other associated large family groupings, spanned many years, going back to the first two decades of the Turkish Republic.
At first it seemed that this situation was not altogether surprising or unusual. Since a majority of the residents of the town may have had the same surname, onecould expect most officeholders would be selected from the Selimoğlu. Similarly, one could also explain the large proportion of the members of other large family groupings who appeared as councilmen and committeemen. Nothing more than the common tendency for voters to support their relatives, whether close or distant, would have probably produced such a result. But once I was able to determine the exact identity of the directors, chairmen, councilmen, and committeemen, it was clear that the pattern was no simple artifact of a normal electoral process.
With only one exception, all the individuals who served as directors or chairmen in the town of Of were the sons or grandsons of one man, so they were not at all randomly selected from among all the qualified members of the Selimoğlu family (see fig. 2). Ferhat Agha Selimoğlu (c. 1860–c. 1931) is remembered as the last preeminent public figure of the old regime in the town of Of. In the 1960s, during the fourth decade of the Turkish Republic, the sons of the eldest son of this one man held the top office in as many as seven different public associations at the same time. The officeholders in the town of Of appeared to be the "dynastic successors" of the last "reigning" member of the family during the late Ottoman Empire.
Figure 2. Prominent sons and grandsons of Ferhat Agha (c. 1960s).
Members of other large family groupings were similarly predominant among the councilmen and committeemen. These individuals came from large family groupings that were not necessarily settled in or even near the town of Of. They appeared as councilmen and committeemen by virtue of some kind of friendship or partnership among large family groupings, not as a consequence of the voting preference of an organized membership. So it appeared that the public life of the town, although not directly subject to state officials, was nonetheless under the strictest supervision by some other kind of authority.
A variation on the same pattern prevailed in the vicinity of Eskipazar, which was dominated by leading individuals from the Muradoğlu. This area was little more than a marketplace with some shops, warehouses, coffeehouses, and dormitories. Although it was not a subdistrict and had not yet been incorporated as a municipality, producer cooperatives and nationalist associations were appearing in Eskipazar just as they had earlier in Of. Moreover, the Muradoğlu had recently been far more successful than the Selimoğlu in bringing government installations and factories to their area. So the vicinity of Eskipazar was on its way toward becoming an ostensible "republican" town, rivaling the ostensible "republican" town of Of. In effect, the formation of public institutions and organizations in these "republican" towns was working through the rivalries of leading individuals from the Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu. These were towns where popular participation in public life was not so much under the regulation of the state system as under the regulation of a social system internal to the district of Of. Or so it seemed to me during the first period of my fieldwork.