The End of the Period of Decentralization
Fontanier's account of his visit to Sürmene in 1827 casts light on an otherwise puzzling report he wrote some years later, after he had returned to Trabzon to serve as a consular official (see chap. 1). On January 27, 1831, more than three years before any such event could have plausibly taken place, he declared the triumph of Osman Pasha Hazinedaroğlu, writing to his superior in Istanbul:
In these countries, which of all were the most difficult to bring to submission, even the chiefs [in the coastal districts] that I have cited for Your Excellency no longer exist. The most terrible of all, Fatzanoğlu, has been beheaded. The others have been either dispersed or employed by diverse pashas; resistance has vanished, and the country, now rid of this crowd of minor despots, enjoys a perfect tranquility. [Italics mine]
The "chiefs" would have been astonished to learn that they no longer existed, and perhaps amused by the qualifying euphemism, "dispersed or employed by diverse pashas." Almost all the local elites of the coastal districts still held the positions to which Osman Pasha had himself appointed them when he first assumed the governorship of Trabzon. And soon enough, they would find cause to assert themselves once again, eventually rising in full revolt against the provincial government. Before exploring the reason for Fontanier's misassessment, and how it might be linked with his visit to Sürmene, I shall summarize the series of events that prove how seriously he had been mistaken.
When Fontanier was writing his report, the political situation in the province of Trabzon was not that much different from what it had been before the abolition of the janissary institution five years earlier. Indeed, it was as though the clock had been turned even further back. The very same triangle of leading individuals and coastal coalitions that had led to the revolts of 1814–17 was in place, save that two sons were now standing in for two fathers. Osman Pasha Hazinedaroğlu, like his father Süleyman Pasha before him, had assumed the provincial governorship in the conventional manner, re-appointing many of the local elites to their former positions as district governors and chief notables in the coastal districts. Osman Agha Şatııroğlu, formerly the ally of Süleyman Pasha, now the ally of Osman Pasha, led a coalition of local elites in the central districts. Tahir Agha Tuzcuoğlu, like his father Memiş Agha before him, was district governor of Rize, where he led a coalition of local elites in the districts of Rize, Of, and Sürmene. Moreover, the same bitter quarrel that divided the two fathers—the degree to which the eastern coastal districts would be obliged to submit to the provincial government at Trabzon—now divided the two sons. In this respect, the revolts of 1831–34 would be re-enactments of the revolts of 1814-17.
Just a few months after Fontanier submitted his report, there were fresh disturbances in the eastern coastal districts. The Oflus and the Sürmenelis, still suffering from the combined effects of poor harvests and the Russo-Ottoman War of 1828, balked when called upon to pay higher taxes and send more troops to the central government. Then, toward winter, news came of the rebellion of Mehmet Ali Pasha in Egypt, and sporadic civil disorder in the eastern coastal districts blossomed into full-scale revolt. By the summer of 1832, the Oflus and Sürmenelis were categorically refusing to accede to the new tax and troop levies. Meanwhile, the residents of the provincial capital slipped into panic with the spread of alarming rumors. There was one report that the aghas of Of and Sürmene had received letters from Mehmet Ali Pasha promising his support. There was another that the janissary institution had been revived among the villages of Of and Sürmene. At this point, Osman Pasha adopted harsh military measures in order to force the local elites of these districts into submission. His brother led seven thousand troops in an attack on Sürmene from the west. The governor of Adjaria led another seven thousand troops in an attack on Of from the east. A third force was dispatched from Bayburt to attack these same districts from the south. The result was massive destruction of houses, shops, crops, and flocks in the two districts.
The military invasion during the summer of 1832 inflicted a terrible devastation on the districts of Of and Sürmene. And yet, the crisis of political authority remained unresolved. Tahir Agha Tuzcuoğlu, assisted by three brothers, was still the district governor of Rize, and he was more than ever intent on defying Osman Pasha in Trabzon. Toward the fall of that year, there was a report that the forces of Mehmet Ali Pasha, then occupying parts of Anatolia, had made contact with the Tuzcuoğlu brothers. Using the report as an excuse, Osman Pasha charged Tahir Agha with conspiracy and obtained a writ for his execution. Thereupon Tahir Agha rose in full revolt, bringing two of his three brothers with him. By January 1833, the Tuzcuoğlu had assembled an army of twelve thousand men from Rize, Of, and Sürmene and defeated a military force that had been led against them. By February 1833, they were advancing on the town of Trabzon, sending word to its minorities and consuls that they had nothing to fear. Osman Pasha first moved his furniture into the citadel as a precaution, then chose to leave his capital and province altogether.
Having mounted a convincing show of force, Tahir Agha contacted the palace to declare himself a faithful servant of the sultan, but demanding the rank of pasha and the office of governor, that is, the independence of Rize, Of, and Sürmene. The palace acceded to these conditions at the urging of Tuzcuoğlu's friends in court (the high admiralty was said to be a Rizeli), but with the requirement that he send a brother and three hundred followers to Istanbul for service in the arsenal. Thus Tahir Agha had reconstituted the hierarchy of authority and commerce first put into place by his father in the second half of the eighteenth century. The eastern districts from Sürmene to Batum were to become a separate province. Its governors would be appointed from the Tuzcuoğlu family line. Its capital would be the town of Rize.
Later during the year of 1833, however, Osman Pasha returned to his provincial capital, then appointed Osman Agha Şatııroğlu as district governor of Sürmene, intending to deprive the Tuzcuoğlu of that district. By the spring of 1834, the Sürmenelis, fearing the burden of Osman Agha's occupation, demanded the right to appoint their own governors, "as in other districts under Tusgioglu [sic]." But now the crisis involving Mehmet Ali Pasha was concluded, and the palace was no longer inclined to accommodate Tahir Agha. Toward summer, Osman Pasha declared Tahir Agha and two of his brothers to be fugitives, and both sides began a series of troop movements along the coast from Atine [Pazar] to Sürmene. The brother who had been sent to Istanbul, but had returned to participate in the revolt, was apprehended and executed. Tahir Agha and another brother took refuge in the district of Of, after which that district was subject to yet another invasion by fifteen thousand troops. Tahir Agha and his brother finally surrendered, and were later exiled to Varna (on the Black Sea coast of Rumania). The inhabitants of the district of Of, who had given them sanctuary, were subjected to a punitive level of taxation for an indefinite period.
Osman Pasha had much in common with other strong provincial governors of the period of decentralization. He had a good knowledge of the local elites of Trabzon since he was the son of a previous provincial governor. He was supported by two brothers who were willing to do his bidding and served him well as subordinate officials. He had a good knowledge of palace circles, having been sent to Istanbul to become a page to the sultan after the death of his father. He had great wealth since he had managed to recover the land holdings that had been confiscated from his father, and by this great wealth, he had the ability to bring both manpower and resources into Trabzon from the western province of Canıık.
From all that can be gleaned from the consular reports, Osman Pasha used these advantages to deal with the local elites of Trabzon in much the same manner as other strong provincial governors during the period of decentralization. Both before and after 1834, he never attempted to suppress all the local elites in all the coastal districts, and it seems likely that he never even considered such a possibility. During his entire tenure in office, from 1827 to 1842, he moved to "rectify" and "improve" (ııslah) those local elites that resisted the provincial government, in accordance with standing official procedures. He appointed as many new district and provincial officials as possible from a narrow circle of his supporters, sometimes dismissing or demoting local elites. He made examples of the most troublesome of the local elites, dispatching forces to take them prisoner and disperse their followers. But even in these instances, he sometimes re-appointed other members of their family lines to succeed them.
During the revolts of 1831–34, moreover, Osman Pasha had used the "classic" methods of the period of decentralization in putting down the revolt of the Tuzcuoğlu. He cannonaded and demolished many of the mansions of the aghas of Of and Sürmene. He burned and relocated many of the markets they had dominated. He executed one of the three brothers who had led the revolt, and he exiled the other two along with many of their followers. But while other provincial governors before him had applied the very same measures, he had done so with more consistency and severity, thereby confirming a decisive shift in the balance of power. The local elites of the eastern coastal districts would never again rise in revolt against the provincial government. Osman Pasha had indeed brought about a divide in the political history of the province of Trabzon by 1834. In retrospect, this divide can be described as the end of the period of decentralization all along the coastal region. However, he did not restore centralized government, and he did not abolish the local elites. After the end of the period of decentralization, the local elites of the eastern coastal districts—if not they themselves, then their descendants—continued to serve as appointed government intermediaries. The inhabitants of the coastal districts had not been disarmed, and most of the men continued to move about with their rifles. They still served as soldiers in the central army, perhaps in larger numbers than ever before. Likewise, the local elites continued to play a role in gathering and dispatching recruits to the central government. So the local elites must also have retained the capacity to mobilize armed followings against rivals. Henceforth, the responsibilities of local elites were more minutely defined than they had previously been, but these definitions were not necessarily respected. The readiness of local elites to challenge district officials, hold back tax collections, and interfere in the courts was most certainly diminished, but not eliminated.