The Deposition of Ferhat Agha
Ferhat Agha Selimoğlu, the ascendant of every public office holder in the early 1960s (see fig. 2), first became the mayor of the town of Of sometime around 1910. Although he is said to have been an active participant in the Battle for Of, he chose to remain in the district during the Russian occupation from 1916 to 1918, continuing to serve as mayor. Many leading individuals from large family groupings elected to stay in their districts, and some of them worked with the military authorities as representatives of the local population. This put them in a delicate position with respect to the nationalist movement once the Russian troops withdrew.
After the beginning of the Independence War, but before the declaration of the Turkish Republic, the local elites in Rize, Of, and Sürmene are said to have been contacted by emissaries of Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Each was asked how many men in arms they might be able to assemble and dispatch in support of the nationalist struggle. According to my interlocutors, the actual purpose of these inquiries was to assess the strength of local elites in anticipation that they might choose to support the imperial government. Those who were considered too powerful because they had too many men or too much money were called before the independence courts (istiklâl mahkemeleri). Some leading individuals from large family groupings were there accused of collaborating with the Russians. This was not because they were guilty of any crime, so it was said, but rather it was a move to weaken them by detaining and dishonoring them. Ferhat Agha managed not only to survive the turmoil of the interregnum but also to remain the mayor of the town, by default since there were no local elections. However, his luck finally ran out in 1926 when a new district officer (kaymakam) took steps to force him out of office. The timing of his deposition is significant since it occurs at the moment of confrontation between the nationalist movement and the old state societies in the provinces of the Turkish Republic. From 1925, the Kemalist leadership of the National Assembly had begun to take steps to suppress their opponents and consolidate their hold on the central government. The ongoing Kurdish rebellion of Shaikh Sait had served as an initial pretext for their doing so. But subsequent incidents provided further justification. The adoption of the Dress Law (Kııyafet Kanunu) in the fall had led to a number of armed rebellions in different parts of Anatolia, some of them occurring in the eastern coastal districts. Then, in the following summer, the discovery of a plot to assassinate Mustafa Kemal in Izmir provided the occasion to crush the opposition. Soon afterward, the Republican People's Party (RPP) became the only legal political party, initiating more than twenty years of a one-party regime (1925–45).
The deposition of Ferhat Agha occurred in this context. One of my interlocutors recalled the occasion as follows:
During the year 1925, a new district officer (kaymakam) was appointed to the district of Of. [The next year] this man went to Ferhat Agha and told him that he would no longer serve as the mayor of the town. In reply, Ferhat Agha gave the district officer two slaps (tokat) across his face. The district officer then proceeded to telegraph Trabzon for reinforcements. Taking a number of gendarmes (jandarma) with him, he surrounded the office of the mayor, which was next to the Town Square Coffeehouse. He ordered Ferhat Agha out of the office and announced that a new mayor would be chosen.
The district officer and his subordinates (memur) are remembered to have become the dominant authorities in the district of Of after the deposition of Ferhat Agha. Probably as never before, district state officials were able to take a range of actions without first reaching agreement or receiving assistance from local elites. The enhancement of the state system at the expense of the old state society was recalled by one of my interlocutors as the onset of moral laxity and decline:
With the news [of the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923], there were celebrations in the town of Of. Crowds assembled and bonfires were built. There was a sense that the future would be different, but the first change to be noticed was the misbehavior of young men. This was especially the case during the "time of the waiter girls" (karson kıızlar devresi), sometime around 1926–27. A building was turned into a kind of theater (tiyatro) in the town of Of. Films were shown using an electric generator that was run by a little water wheel. [There was no cinema in the 1960s.] Sometimes singers and musicians would come to the town, appear on the stage, and perform for audiences. [There was no nightclub in the 1960s.] Besides the theater, there was also at least one new kind of coffeehouse. One of the new nationalist regulations permitted women to work as waitresses in the coffeehouses. [There was no such coffeehouse in the 1960s.] To encourage this reform, local officials declared that the prices in coffeehouses with men rather than women waiters would have to be set higher. Someone, either a state official or a private party, set up a coffeehouse with women waiters and a group of musicians and permitted the patrons to dance. [There was no public dancing in the 1960s.] Some of the local youths began to attend this establishment, going there to smoke cigarettes, have the girls wait on them, and dance among themselves. They considered themselves very modern and very revolutionary. [There was no place where young men could drink or smoke in the 1960s.] Soon there were disturbances in the coffeehouses, as the young men quarreled with one another and fights broke out. Unwilling to tolerate this, local state officials revoked the experiment, called in a minivan [sic], and packed off the women and the musicians to Trabzon. Still, these kinds of excesses had changed the relationship of fathers and sons. Sons became less respectful of their fathers. The young men no longer went to the mosque or the Friday prayers. They failed to keep the fast during Ramadan. [In the 1960s, by contrast, it was uncommon for young men in the town to avoid the weekly prayers or to break the fast.]
It is not surprising that the revolution, by which the state system had moved to overturn the state society, was remembered as a moment of filial rebellion. The Kemalists had reinforced the ligaments of official authority even as they had also relaxed the ligaments of social authority. Every citizen now had to wear a hat instead of a fez, so why should one attend to fathers and uncles who had worn the fez instead of a hat? But then, as we have already seen, memory can play tricks. The recollection of the unraveling of social and familial hierarchy has to be put in the context of a revolution that promised more than it eventually delivered.
Let us return to the last half of my interlocutor's account of the deposition of Ferhat Agha:
To a point, this memory fits the previous recollection of moral laxity and decline. Speaking to me in 1967, my interlocutor was recalling how the Oflus had become aware of a part of the physician's consciousness that was otherwise hidden from them. This had come about when he had come into contact with foreigners whose dress and manners were incongruous, if not absurd. The new mayor had welcomed a Frenchman who was said to be a general in that nation's army, but he stepped off the boat in the company of his wife, wore a funny little brimmed hat, and had the same title as an irregular soldier under the old imperial regime. Some general! Some nation!
The district officer ordered Ferhat Agha out of the office and announced that a new mayor would be chosen. The district officer and Ferhat Agha then entered into negotiations. They agreed that a new mayor would be appointed, but by their mutual approval. It was then that Hasan [surname omitted] was appointed to the mayoralty, which he held for six or seven years. He was a physician, and he spoke some French. We knew this because one day a boat stopped here and a French general and his wife disembarked at the pier. Hasan [surname omitted] received them and spoke French to them. The Frenchman wore a little brimmed pillbox hat [kepi] and was named De Limerjine, which everyone understood as "Crazy Merjin" (Deli Mercin).
The two "asides" that appear in the account of the deposition of Ferhat Agha are equally revealing. After a show of force, we are told, the district officer and Ferhat Agha had "entered into negotiations," and eventually they agreed that a new mayor would be appointed "by their mutual approval." These are signs that the practices of the old regime would continue to be the practice of the new regime. Kemalist ideology and institutions might have been designed to replace the old state society with a new nation of citizens in the long run, but the state system would continue to work through the old state society in the short run.
By this assessment of the deposition of Ferhat Agha, the reforms of the early Republic bear a resemblance tothe reforms of the late Empire. Whenever the state system was strong and the state society was weak, the provincial governor had confronted local elites in the eastern coastal districts, sometimes deposing them from state offices and replacing them. When the provincial governor did so, he chose successors in order to insure the cooperation and assistance of those he had dismissed. Similarly, the district officer who deposed Ferhat Agha understood that it was best to make gestures of deference to this man rather than ignore him. The district officer in question, who is remembered as exceptionally intelligent and competent, was also more pragmatic and less ideological than some of his successors.
The aforementioned Hasan, the physician, continued as mayor of the town for about five years (not six or seven as my interlocutor stated). He was then briefly succeeded by yet another member of the Selimoğlu family line, by circumstances about which I have no information. The more interesting period of the mayoralty begins sometime later during the early 1930s, not long after the death of Ferhat Agha.