The Structure of Political Authority in the Capital
In the summer of 1796, Beauchamp had encountered the pattern of divided political authority characteristic of the later period of decentralization. There were two kinds of sovereign power. That of the provincial governor appeared to represent state institutions and organizations. That of local elites appeared to rely on a local base of allies and supporters. But Beauchamp, and the other western Europeans visitors who followed him, could not so easily perceive the basic similarity and close relationship of the two kinds of authority.
On the one hand, the political authority of high state officials was primarily based on their position in the state system. The provincial governor, for example, was the head of a more or less effective centralized bureaucracy composed of military and judicial officials. He had at his command officers and soldiers from the central army and, perhaps as well, some private officers and troops. He had at his disposal funds that were raised by tax collections, not only from the eastern coastal region, but also from farms and estates outside the province of Trabzon. At the same time, his position in the state system had a social component that was just as important, perhaps even more important, than its bureaucratic dimension. But this social component involved the provincial governor's contacts with other state officials in other parts of the Empire, outside the province of Trabzon. His household was organized in accordance with imperial ceremony and protocol. His staff and servants were recruited and trained in accordance with official thinking and practice. Like other members of the official class, he might move his household, his family, servants, and staff, from town to town or from region to region. In this respect, his political authority was not directly dependent on his position and influence in the social networks of the inhabitants of Trabzon (even if some of its local elites were his allies and others were his enemies). Instead, he was more directly dependent on his position and influence among members of the imperial official class, such as other governors and sub-governors in other provinces, or the highest officials of the palace in Istanbul. Accordingly, the souring of his social standing in official circles could lead to his immediate downfall, while a serious revolt of the local elites in the coastal districts could drive him from the capital but not deprive him of the provincial governorship.
On the other hand, the political authority of local elites, such as the two chiefs of the town, was primarily dependent on their local position and influence in some specific territory of the eastern coastal region. The two chiefs lived in large mansions and had large households that were functionally equivalent to those of state officials (see fig. 8). They even had staffs and servants who performed governmental functions, legally or illegally, just like the staffs and servants of state officials. So it was that they had the capacity to displace or replace state officials and govern districts in their stead. But the households of local elites were otherwise not organized in accordance with imperial protocol and ceremony, and their personal dependents and armed supporters were not recruited or trained in accordance with official thinking and practice. Rather, the local elites were creatures of a system of leaders and followers that was based on a discipline of interpersonal association. They were therefore dependent on their social networks among the inhabitants of a particular place somewhere in the eastern coastal region. They were Trabzonlus, not Ottomans, and by that fact they did not move in official circles. Nonetheless, they were able to defy, if not defeat, the provincial governor by mobilizing large numbers of men in arms because of their place in a regional social oligarchy that composed a major fraction of the rural population. When they lost favor with the provincial governor, this might have no effect whatsoever on their position and influence so long as they retained the support of clients, friends, partners, and allies.
Figure 8. A mansion (early to mid-nineteenth century).
For a century, from 1740 to 1840, these two kinds of political authority, one official and the other nonofficial, confronted one another in the town of Trabzon. The relationship of the provincial governor to the two chiefs of the town was not institutionalized but the subject of negotiation and renegotiation. In 1796, the two chiefs of the town had assumed authority ([ils s'étaient] emparé de l'autorité) from the provincial governor, reducing him to a mere symbol of the state system. In 1803, the two chiefs of the town were included in the official receptions of the provincial governor but were not allowed to speak. In 1827, the two chiefs of the town had not been granted any official recognition by the provincial governor and were excluded entirely from his official receptions.
During some periods, either state officials or local elites prevailed over the other for a period of time. When the provincial governor was in a much stronger position than the chiefs were, he was able to force one or both of them to abandon the city altogether, exiling all their dependents and supporters to one of the outlying coastal districts. When the two chiefs were in a much stronger position than the provincial governor was, they might force him to take refuge in the citadel, or even to abandon the capital or province altogether. Still other kinds of alignments occurred when no party was in a dominant position. During periods of political crisis, for example, the relationships of the governor and the two chiefs were entirely fluid, changing from month to month, if not from week to week. Sometimes the governor allied himself with one of the chiefs against the other, and then a short time later allied himself with his former enemy against his former ally. Sometimes the two chiefs joined together and called in reinforcements from their friends and partners in the countryside in order to force concessions from the provincial governor. Sometimes the governor called on allies among the local elites in the outlying coastal districts to force the compliance of one or both of the chiefs.
So the government was divided between state officials and local elites during the later period of decentralization. And yet this division cannot be understood as a centralized "state system" ranged against a localized "social system," since the latter was both structurally and functionally related to the former. All leading individuals with armed followings, whether or not they held official appointments, were essential to the carrying out of the most elementary functions of the provincial government. So state officials were dependent on the regional social oligarchy. On the other hand, local elites were always interested in penetrating the state system in order to consolidate and legitimize their political authority. So the local elites were dependent on the imperial system.
During the later period of decentralization, a few of the local elites of Trabzon gained entry into the circles of state officials, acquiring high titles and offices and cultivating social networks that reached up into the palace. The two chiefs whom Beauchamp accords the title "ayan" appear not to have held high titles and offices at the moment of his visit. The term "notables" (âyan) referred generally to persons of wealth and influence in a town or district, but it also designated a specific, officially recognized, social position. On the other hand, the term also referred to specific leading individuals who had been appointed as chief notable (âyan başıı) by virtue of their capacity to represent all the notables of a village, town, or area. The chief notable was not a state official, but he did assist in the carrying out of certain governmental functions.
The principals among the local elites in the town of Trabzon and in the outlying coastal districts were often so appointed. Otherwise, the two chiefs in the town sometimes acquired titles and offices usually reserved for state officials, such as district governor (mütesellim), military commander (kaymakam), military general (paşa), and provincial governor (paşa, miri mîram). It was also the case that the most prominent of the local elites outside the provincial capital sometimes held such titles and offices, and probably did so on the occasion of the French expedition. The provincial governor, or his superiors in Istanbul, granted such official titles and offices in response to shows of force, as a means of mollifying or manipulating troublemakers. This being the case, it is not surprising that leading individuals with armed followings moved into state offices with greater frequency during periods of political crisis. Correspondingly, they were less successful in retaining such appointments during periods when the provincial governor was in a position to confront them. A strong provincial governor would dismiss those local elites who held state offices and replace them with as many of his own personal associates as possible. Still, even the strongest provincial governors never alienated the local elites entirely from the state system but merely curbed the worst of their illegal practices and scaled back their official titles and offices, usually by relegating them to the position of chief notable.