Amnesia and Prohibition
By all accounts of the Battle for Of, and they include a large body of songs and stories, Avni Pasha had no need to threaten the local population with burning, destroying, torturing, and deporting. Caught between two armies, the local residents would have had more to gain by siding with the Russians, who were advancing, and more to lose by siding with the Ottomans, who were retreating. And yet, for reasons that should be clear from previous chapters, a very large number of Oflus chose to join or assist "their" imperial troops.
Part of the response of the Oflus would have most certainly involved aghas directing local militias in accordance with the orders of imperial military officers. And yet, the popular response would not have been limited to such a process. Accordingly, Hasan Umur was able to provide an account of the Battle for Of that makes virtually no mention of aghas. This is evidence that the rising of the Oflus against the Russian invasion was general and popular in character, rather than limited to the circles of local elites, their agnates, relatives, friends, and partners. Umur's account of the Battle for Of as a popular rising therefore has to be regarded as a reasonable and accurate version, even if it, too, cannot be said to be exhaustive and definitive. The inconsistency in the accounts of Umur and Yiğit are therefore not wholly matters of "construction." They indicate that the events of the Battle for Of were of a complex and variegated character, which is exactly what one would expect during a conflagration.
And yet there are also signs of prohibition and amnesia in Umur's Of and the Battles for Of. As we saw in chapter 1, Umur does refer to aghas in the introductory historical section of his book. He describes the "time of the aghas" (ağa devresi), a period he restricts to the half century between 1790 and 1840. In doing so, he associates the aghas and agha-families with conditions of civil disorder that he attributed to the decline of the classical imperial system. He thereby disconnects them from the later Empire just as he disconnects them from the early Republic. So for Umur, the aghas were the pathological effects of a weakened and ineffective state system. Otherwise, he makes no other explicit reference to them. Umur's omission of the aghas is no less suspicious than Yiğit's omission of the hodjas.
During his youth, Umur would have been among that segment of the Ottoman public who had come to believe in a new kind of governmental institution. So it is very likely that he would have seen the aghas, intermediaries between the state and the general population, as a problem of misgovernment. If this were the case, he would have had a sense of déjà vu during the later 1940s. Once again, leading individuals from large family groupings had begun to play a prominent role in public life. And once again, in the opinion of the majority of local residents, there were severe problems of misgovernment.
If Umur was so apprised of the situation in the district of Of during the 1940s, his silence is entirely understandable. He would refuse to recognize that the aghas had played a role in the Battle for Of. He would not give them an important place in events that he otherwise had conceived as the first signs of a Turkish state that effectively and genuinely represented a Turkish people. Instead, he would foreground all those ways in which the injunctions of a military officer had stirred a popular rising against the Russian invasion and occupation. And as a way of explaining how it had been possible for the state to represent a people at this moment, he would turn to the work of professors and academies.
And of course he was justified in doing so, as I have already noted. By virtue of the efforts of the professors and academies, the Oflus enjoyed a common moral outlook that enabled communal solidarity. They therefore enjoyed a capacity to form all kinds of circles of interpersonal association, not only in the form of leading individuals at the head of armed followings, but in all kinds of other, more entrepreneurial ways, along the lines of my friends in the Crystal Palace Hotel and Teahouse. And so, Umur appropriately praised the professors and academies. But in doing so he not only consciously chose to remain silent about the aghas, but he also forgot about them precisely by way of a thought that was forbidden to him.
The descendants of aghas had once again inhabited the state system, controlling nationalist institutions and organizations by the later 1940s. They were ready and able to monopolize sovereign power at the local level by virtue of a discipline of interpersonal association. And this was itself a legacy of an imperial tactic, one by which state power held official religion as a captive. But Umur could not see how this was so because the descendants of aghas represented themselves as a national leadership. They wore hats, trousers, and shoes rather than turbans, baggy pants, and slippers. They were represented by schoolteachers who wrote authoritative histories of their close connections with the nationalist movement. All this being the case, it was not easy to recognize (even if it was otherwise easy to see) that they were positioned in a regional social oligarchy rooted in the imperial history of power and religion. In his account of the Battle for Of, just after his quote of Avni Pasha, we find a confirmation of this second instance of amnesia born of a prohibition.
Just a day or so before Avni Pasha arrived in the district, the campfires of Russian troops had began to appear along the western banks of the İİyidere River, the border between Of and Rize (see map 1). Umur hoped that a front might be organized there, sparing the villages of central Of from the worst of the fighting. To assess this possibility, he had set out from the district center in the company of a policeman (zabit), intending to reach one of the villages near the western banks of that river. On their way, the two of them came across an older hodja, blissfully unaware of all that was happening. Umur describes their meeting as an incongruous scene of pastoral serenity:
While ascending just at the point of passing the Baltacıı River, in the fine air of a cool spring day, we saw Hurşit Efendi, professor of the Eskipazar religious academy, reclining in a sheltered spot in a meadow just above the road. Every time I encountered this man I gave him a greeting [1st pers.: selamün aleyküm; 2nd pers: aleyküm selam, hoş geldin; 1st pers.: hoş buldum; 2nd pers: merhaba; 1st pers.: merhaba; 2nd pers: nasıılsıın?; 1st pers.: iyiyim, sen de nasıılsıın?, etc.] "Where are you going?" he inquired. After briefly explaining the situation, I said, "We are going to battle. We will not let the enemy into the country." [Thinking Umur was going to fight the imperial government] the hodja said in reply, "I grant all of the district of Of to you. If you don't struggle and become a man, what good is there in it?" I understood what he meant, but my policeman friend did not and asked me, "What is the hodja saying?" To which I replied, "The hodja doesn't understand the affairs of this world. He is talking about something else again." Immediately I set out on the road, and of course the policeman followed along. The hodja had a grudge against the [imperial] government. He was alluding to the possibility of setting up a new government that would replace the existing government, which did not know how to direct the people.  The fact of interpersonal association (the exchange of greetings) was enough to sanction the hodja's engagement in a revolutionary initiative aimed at seizure of sovereign power. Such a revolutionary initiative would have the purpose of bringing the state into proper alignment with society. It was therefore inspired by the old imperial modernity in which interpersonal association was the foundation of sovereign power. Umur could not formulate the connection of aghas and hodjas any more successfully than Yiğit. Even though he dared to challenge a prohibition, he, too, was afflicted with amnesia. He could not understand that aghas and hodjas came in the company of one another as the representatives of the old republic based on sovereign power and interpersonal association.
The revolutionary impulses of Hurşit Efendi, so spontaneous and immediate, illustrates that the professors and academies had done something more than forge a common moral outlook that enabled communal solidarity. They had been part of an imperial tradition of power and religion. And so hodjas in partnership with aghas had enabled the local population to assert themselves in the imperial system. The old imperial modernity therefore harbored a republican principle. The state was composed as a society, and so it was that society could become part of the state. This old republican principle therefore harbored the potential to serve the new republican principle.
The old republic was founded on a principle of hierarchy, even though it was implemented through participation. The new republic, however, was founded on a principle of participation, even though it was implemented through hierarchy. The Kemalist revolution had become problematic in the district of Of even before the first electoral sounding of public opinion in the Turkish Republic. The devices of authority and association far exceeded nationalist ideology and institutions. The result was splits and divides in national public culture working through an alchemy of amnesia and prohibition.
In the remainder of this chapter, I shall return to the revolution in public culture in the town of Of during the first decade of the Turkish Republic. In doing so, I explain the extent to which principles were contradicted by practices.