A Tiered State Society
The rise of local elites in the coastal districts of the province of Trabzon came about through the appropriation and adaptation of an imperial tactic of sovereign power. Individuals from the lower ranks of military officers formed interpersonal associations with their lessers, equals, and betters. With this development, the structure of political authority came to feature a distribution of sovereign power with both vertical and horizontal cleavages. State officials no longer enjoyed a monopoly of military force as they once had during the classical Ottoman period. They were everywhere confronted with local elites in the coastal districts who were able to mobilize armed followings.
In this chapter, I shall describe the structure of political authority that emerged in the old province of Trabzon during the period of decentralization. As we shall see, it consisted of a hierarchy of leading individuals representing tiered circles of interpersonal associations. At the top, leading individuals consisted uniquely of state officials who were usually not from Trabzon. At the bottom, leading individuals consisted of local elites from the coastal districts. But the leading individuals in the middle range of this hierarchy held high titles and ranks in the state system precisely because they were eminent figures among the local elites of the countryside.
The two sides of the structure of political authority—official at the top and nonofficial at the bottom—reflect the two "pieces" of sovereign power in the imperial system: the mechanism of bureaucratic centralism and the tactic of disciplinary association. During the period of decentralization, the mechanism of bureaucracy had become less effective even as the tactic of association had become more generalized. Accordingly, the structure of political authority exceeded the state system so that local elites in the old province of Trabzon, together with all their relatives, friend, partners, and allies, comprised a very large fraction of the population. In effect, the dissemination of the imperial tactic of sovereign power during the period of decentralization had transformed the large majority of inhabitants of the coastal region into an ottomanist provincial society.
To analyze this structure of political authority, I shall rely on the reports of French and British consular officials who first began to reside in the town of Trabzon after 1800. Although the quality of their insights is variable, they provide a wealth of information about specific individuals and incidents. Matching this information against other sources, I have been able to reach conclusions about the relationship of state officials and local elites, as well as about the breadth and depth of popular participation in the imperial system.
For the most part, I shall not directly examine the observations of the consuls in this chapter. Instead, I rely on the information in their reports to understand the narrative of a Frenchman who briefly visited the provincial capital a few years before the beginning of the consular era. Citizen Beauchamp was one of the last western European visitors who was able to contemplate the relationship of state officials and local elites from a position of curiosity. A few years later, the consuls who followed him would come to believe that the success of their mission depended on the eradication of the local elites (see chap. 7).