Biliotti's Awareness of a Structure of Misgovernment
Shortly after his encounter with Yusuf Pasha, Biliotti found himself back in his consular residence in the town of Trabzon. It was now time for him to write a summary report for his superiors, one that would set out general conclusions and recommendations instead of dwelling on specific instances of injustice and corruption. Before he undertook this task, however, he would be able to reconsider the coastal region in the light of all that he had learned about the prevailing social and political conditions. Strangely, facts he had always known about the provincial capital itself now acquired a new significance. He now realized that the problem of misgovernment involved something far more serious than collusion between district officials and local elites.
As he began to write the last of his reports, Biliotti understood that the best representatives of the reformed state system were powerless. A new governor, Sıırrıı Pasha, had just replaced the old governor, Yusuf Pasha. Biliotti admired the capability and integrity of the former no less than the latter. Nonetheless, he now saw both as victims of a governmental structure that they were unable to control or to change in any way:
The same collusion of local elites and district officials that existed in the coastal districts also prevailed in the provincial capital. But now in the town of Trabzon, where he had been a resident for more than seven years, this problem appeared in a new light. Local elites and state officials were one and the same. It was not that the latter had succeeded in corrupting the former; rather, it was that the two were one within a structure of misgovernment.
The same spirit [of defiance of the provincial governor by subordinate state officials] prevails down to the native official of the lowest rank. There are families that monopolize Government employments at Trebizond; the same thing happens in the districts. These families are connected to each other by blood or interest, but even when they are not, there is a kind of solidarity between native officials, who whatever the personal spites between them may be, unite to fight the power of the Vali, whom they consider an intruder.
To demonstrate the full extent of the problem, Biliotti described how a single family had penetrated the provincial government. He listed fifteen individuals from this family holding fifteen different governmental positions: five members of various courts, four chief administrators of provincial bureaucracies, three clerks to chief administrators, and three members of various councils. In addition to holding these offices in the provincial capital, other members of this same family held the position of government secretary in Gümüşhane and government treasurer in Rize.
Biliotti now understood that a regional social oligarchy of families and friends spread by "twig and branch" outward and downward into the coastal districts, but then also upward and inward into the highest circles of imperial officials. This regional social oligarchy had a kind of sovereign power of its own, apart from that of the westernized, that is, rationalized and institutionalized, state system:
He concludes that the governor had almost no control over major segments of the coastal region. His subordinates, the sub-governor of Rize in the east and the sub-governor of Samsun in the west, were virtually independent, regularly disregarding his orders. Furthermore, it was reported that the sub-governor of Rize was attempting to have his sub-province separated from Trabzon so that he might be appointed governor of this new province. This was exactly the situation that divided Memiş Agha of Rize from Osman Pasha of Trabzon in 1814–17, and then later divided Tahir Agha of Rize from Süleyman Pasha of Trabzon in 1832-34!
It is easy to comprehend that with the influence that all these officials, severally and collectively, can command in the Capital of the Province, and with the support which they give or receive from their relatives or friends in the districts, the power of the Vali is more nominal than real. . . . Not only this, but several natives of this Province holding important appointments in the Capital [of the Empire] they naturally always enlist their influence in favor of their countrymen, friends, or relatives.
Provincial governors were oftentimes upstanding, well-educated, and capable administrators, that is to say, accomplished representatives of the new westernized state system. But there was nothing they could do about misgovernment, even though they had good intentions and were determined to make a difference. Biliotti writes, "Sirri Pacha who has worked very hard since his appointment here 20 months ago, will, I expect, soon break down, as broke down before him, Ahmet Rassim Pacha and Yusuf Pacha, also two first rate Valis, and as will break down all those that may succeed him." Eventually the new professional bureaucrats would be defeated by a government subverted by a regional social oligarchy whose leading individuals used the law to favor their own interests.
Biliotti's new awareness of the subversion of the westernized state system by local elites had led him toward a moral judgment of conditions in the coastal region. Good government was dependent on good character. The province of Trabzon seemed to him to be awash with bad characters, and for that reason its provincial government was corrupt and abusive. His new perception was, however, incomplete. He was still unaware that another kind of morality, different from the morality of professional bureaucrats, underpinned what appeared to him as misgovernment.
Here I must comment further on Biliotti's perception of both ordinary and elite Muslims in the province of Trabzon. His consular reports always include assessments of the general condition of both the Muslim and Christian populations. He remarks again and again that local elites and district officials treated ordinary Muslims even worse than they treated ordinary Christians. He repeatedly cites instances in which leading individuals among the Christian minorities participated in the exploitation of both ordinary Muslims and Christians. Still, he knew more about the Christians than the Muslims, and he assesses the circumstances of the former in more detail than the latter. In all probability he always resided with Greeks and Armenians during his travels, and his hosts were most probably the chief sources of the information he gathered.
In mentioning these features of Biliotti's consular reports, I do not wish to cast any suspicion on the accuracy of the information he provides, or even to suggest that it was one-sided. He was perhaps the most open-minded of all the British and French consuls. Nonetheless, his consular reports are in a certain sense unreflective. Unlike other exceptional and accomplished consuls, Biliotti never pauses to theorize or analyze the character of the ottomanist state society of the province of Trabzon. This is partly because he was personally inclined to cite facts and incidents rather than offer generalizations. Still, his consular reports are curiously skewed. They include an impressive body of ethnographic details, more than are found in the reports of any other British or French consul. And yet he never attempted to describe in structural terms the local elites from family lines or the social formations that backed them.