The Learned Class from the Eastern Districts
A recent study indirectly tells us something more about the distinctive orientation of the Oflus toward religious teaching and learning during the late nineteenth century. Sadıık Albayrak, an independent scholar from the district of Çaykara, published a four-volume work consisting of transcriptions of the official biographies of the Ottoman learned class during the final years of the Empire. Using his index, which lists the birthplace of each individual, I was able to arrive at a count of the number of individuals who were listed among the Ottoman learned class for particular locations. Table 3 presents the counts for the principal coastal districts of Trabzon, for two mountain districts of Antalya (Akseki and Ibradıı), and for Istanbul. The counts provide a rough indication of how many individuals from each location had become officially recognized as members of the Ottoman learned class. The locations are grouped in order to illustrate how the counts vary in different regions: eastern Black Sea, western Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and the capital.
|3. Individuals Listed among Ottoman Learned Class, by District and Region|
|Eastern Black Sea||Western Black Sea||Mediterranean Sea||Capital|
By the counts, the number of individuals born in the district of Of who appear among the learned class is relatively high, but not as high as for other eastern Black Sea coastal districts. Since the numbers of religious professors, academies, and students in Of would have surpassed all the other districts cited by far (save for the imperial capital itself), this means that a relatively small number of those Oflus who took up religious studies were able to rise into the Ottoman learned class.
The contrast between the districts of Arhavi and Of illustrates how the inhabitants of coastal districts with fewer religious professors, students, and academies than Of produced more members of the learned class. From Albayrak's study, we discover that some fraction of the learned class born in Arhavi did receive their early education in its local centers of religious studies. On the other hand, many others did not begin their early education until after they left Arhavi to reside in Istanbul. In effect, the Arhavilis were more successful than the Oflus in leaving their mountain homelands and seeking their fortune in the capital.
Comparing the eastern and western districts of the Black Sea coast, we see that the inhabitants of the former were far more successful than the latter in rising into the Ottoman learned class. This is consistent with the relative differences in the relationship of society and state in these two regions. To the east, the Muslims consisted more nearly of a melange of peoples of Turkic, Lazi, Kurdish, Greek, and Armenian background. Although their districts had been almost entirely rural in character until the late nineteenth century, a more continuous history of local participation in the imperial system resulted in large numbers of individuals among the ranks of the Ottoman learned class. To the west, the Muslims consisted of a larger proportion of Turkic peoples of pastoral background. Even though there were a number of sizable towns, the Muslims in these districts did not have the same history of local participation in the imperial system and so they were less prominent among the Ottoman learned class.
A further comparison casts still a different light on this matter. Akseki and Ibradıı are districts nestled in the upper valleys of the Toros Mountains, which run along the southern tier of Asia Minor. The landscape in which the villages are located is hilly and forested, and historically there were no farming estates or land magnates in this area. The district centers were stops on the caravan routes running from the shoreline through the mountain passes to the important provincial center of Konya. Many of the inhabitants of these districts became migrant traders and craftsmen, leaving their villages seasonally to work in towns and cities. In other words, Akseki and Ibradıı were much like Of, save that they were located in the Mediterranean province of Antalya rather than the Black Sea province of Trabzon. Like their eastern Black Sea cousins, the residents of Ibradıı and Akseki were propelled by circumstances to seek their fortunes beyond their rural homelands. As in the eastern Black Sea districts, these two Mediterranean districts once produced large numbers of professors, academies, and students.
And yet, there is a striking difference between the Mediterranean and Black Sea districts in this regard. The number of the Ottoman learned class who declare Akseki and Ibradıı as their birthplace or homeland is very high. The numbers involved are comparable to all the learned class of all the eastern Black Sea coastal districts taken together, or even to all the learned class of Istanbul. Ibradıı and Akseki are then two striking additional examples of provincial participation in the state society and system, only by a different path and in a different way. There were large numbers of professors, academies, and students in Akseki and Ibradıı during the late nineteenth century, to a degree that was comparable to Of. Still, the Aksekilis and Ibradıılııs were far more successful in entering the ranks of Ottoman religious, military, and administrative officials. The reason for this appears to lie in their very early contacts with the imperial center, a fact Evliya Çelebi took the trouble to point out. From a very early date, no later than the classical Ottoman period, the inhabitants of these two small Mediterranean districts were unusually well connected in the ranks of Ottoman officialdom, despite their remoteness. Over time, moreover, they were able to preserve and cultivate these connections so that the two towns, even though agriculturally impoverished, were recognized as centers of both learning and wealth by state authorities during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These long-standing connections with individuals in high imperial positions were probably essential for maintaining the quality, if not the quantity, of local educational activities. And, of course, they must have also played an important role in providing access into high imperial circles as one generation of successful Ibradıılııs and Aksekilis gave assistance to the next.
The peoples of the district of Of, like those in the districts of Akseki and Ibradıı, were also obliged by their circumstances to seek their fortune through participation in a state society and system. On the other hand, their situation was very different from their Mediterranean cousins. The district of Of had remained outside the realm of the Turco-Islamic dynasties of Asia Minor for a much longer time. Its inhabitants included many newly converted peoples during the seventeenth century. As newcomers, they were at a disadvantage. They would not have had contacts among circles of higher imperial officials. They therefore would have had more difficulty working their way into circles of higher imperial officials. So they did not have what the Aksekilis and Ibradıılııs had: representatives among higher imperial officials who endowed local religious establishments and sponsored local youths of promise. What the Oflus had instead was collective experience in penetrating a state system from its margins.
During the post-classical period, the Oflus set about colonizing imperial institutions wherever and whenever they could do so. As a consequence of this mode of entry, the Oflus were remarkably successful on the ground floor of imperial institutions, so to speak, in the same measure that the Aksekilis and Ibradıılııs were successful at the top floor. In the district of Of, one discovers all the ways in which people at the margins of the Empire could better themselves through a strategy of identifying with a state society and system rather than resting content with purely local communal identities and occupations. Religious teaching and learning were therefore popular activities in the district of Of precisely in the measure that involvement in the outside world was the local way of life. Religious teaching and learning were fused with the practice of trades and crafts precisely because acquisition of the former was the precondition for the exercise of the latter in the towns and villages of a state society and system.
Through the nineteenth century and beyond, the local elites of the eastern coastal districts adapted themselves to the westernizing state system. The aghas and agha-families remained essential to the state system since they were still necessary for carrying out the most elementary governmental functions at the local level. The hodjas and medreses remained essential to the state system given the policy of building an Islamist population for the support of the imperial regime. By this combination, the military and religious foundations of an ottomanist rural society remained in place until the very end of the imperial regime. Again, it is the district of Of, homeland of so many soldiers and students, that provides one of the best examples of how this was so.