Rivalries among the Family Line
Mehmet could only become the key figure in a circle of interpersonal association with the support of the Selimoğlu. But his family line carried a heavy burden of history. The sets (takıımlar) of the Selimoğlu had vied with one another for prominence. On rare occasions, they had come into serious conflict with one another. So Mehmet could not just assume that all the members of his family line would support him. He would have to take steps to address an undertow of resentments and jealousies.
One of the most serious incidents had taken place during the interregnum between the Empire and Republic in the home village of the Selimoğlu. Sometime in 1922, a young man of the family line had abducted (kaçıırdıı) a young woman of the family line with the intention of marrying her. In response, another young man of the family line organized a party of men and succeeded in taking back the young woman. Afterward, it was discovered that the abductor had sexual relations with her (onu bozdu), thereby ruining her chances for a suitable match in the future. Thus began a series of events that concluded with the shooting and death of a friend of the abductor, yet another young man of the family line, but a resident of the town of Of, not the home village. One of my acquaintances told me the story in the 1960s in order to explain the cleavages in the family line. In the citations of my field notes that follow, I have substituted the terms "the abductor," "the rescuer," and "the friend" in brackets whenever my interlocutor mentioned the personal names of those involved:
At the time of the kidnapping, the government was weak and self-help was common. All the men in the district of Of used to go about armed with pistols and rifles. One could not depend on the police or the courts for justice, and the resort to weapons was not all that uncommon. So when the woman was at last taken back to her family [by the rescuer], and it became known that she had been raped, there was plenty of anger all around and a good chance of further trouble. For his part, [the abductor] of the woman set about to take revenge on [the rescuer] for having taken her back.
Some years before, [the rescuer] had been appointed as a minor official in charge of a government warehouse. Taking advantage of his position, he had sold all the goods that were stored there, pocketed the money, and then burned the warehouse to cover his tracks. Knowing this, [the abductor] began to urge Rasih Efendi [the father of his friend] to go to the government with this story of theft and arson. After he did so, [the rescuer] was soon arrested and brought to trial. However, on the very day he was taken by the gendarmes to appear in court, he evaded his guards, escaped through a back door, and went into hiding in the mountains.
As we have seen in earlier chapters, gender relations played an important role in social standing in the district of Of. Setting aside the issue of emotional attachments, of fathers and daughters as well as of young men and women, the arrangement of marriages was the very stuff of interpersonal association, and hence of district social networks. Ultimately, there could be no leading individuals, and thus no large family groupings, without the regulation of the giving and receiving of women in marriage. An abduction of a young woman would have normally ended in a settlement between the two families involved. The rescue of the young woman made such an outcome less likely on this occasion, but it still would have been possible for a settlement to be reached. When the rape became public knowledge, it became a genuine challenge, if not impossible, to bring the aggrieved parties into agreement. The informing of the police, however, represented a serious deterioration of the situation. Once the quarrel fell into the hands of state officials, it was almost impossible for the members of the family line to resolve it. Then, a chance incident caused a bitter division between the sets of the family line, both those in the village and those in the town. My interlocutor gave me the following account:
During the following summer, [the rescuer] began to roam about the highland pastures (yayla) with a gang of armed men looking for trou-ble. One day, by chance, as they were loitering about a mosque in one of the summer settlements, by a bad turn of luck, their worst enemies happened to come along, [the abductor] and his friend [the son of Rasih Efendi, the informer]. The two men came by singly, one about a hundred meters behind the other, [first the friend and then the abductor]. After [the friend] had passed the mosque, the party of [the rescuer] began firing on him, striking him once in the shoulder. Both [the abductor] and [the friend] fell to the ground and returned the fire so that [the rescuer] and his group took cover near the mosque. But now another member of their party, who had been napping in a nearby house, was awakened by the shots. Taking his rifle, he came out to discover [the friend of the abductor] lying on the ground before his house, firing at his comrades near the mosque. There and then he shot [the friend of the abductor] dead from behind. Hearing the gunfire, a number of women had by now come out of the houses in an effort to stop the fighting. Seeing that [the friend of the abductor] was already dead, they brought rugs (kilim), wrapped both [the abductor] and [the friend] in them, and carried their bodies away as though both were dead. [The rescuer] and his group wanted to assure themselves that the two of them had been killed, but the women would not allow them to do so. [The abductor] had not even been hit once, and so the women were able to save him. As for the party of [the rescuer], they went out in the highland pastures to dance and sing in celebration of having killed their enemies.
After the murder, supporters of the two sides traded charges and countercharges, each blaming the other for the outbreak of violence. Although the principals were reputed troublemakers, the dispute focused on the question of who had or had not conformed with social norms:
Some said that [the friend] had said "selamün aleyküm" to the party of [the rescuer] as he passed them, but had received no "aleyküm selam" in return; even so, he continued on his way minding his own business. Others said [the friend of the abductor] did not say "selamün aleyküm," but passed by without speaking and then started to fire at them from a distance. Still others said that [the friend of the abductor] had said, "I will fuck the mothers and daughters of the lot of you!" (Topunuzun anasıınıı avradıınıı sikeceğim!) The party of [the rescuer] themselves offered excuses. "Why should we have attacked him? They were only two and we were many. We had nothing to fear."
By the preceding account, the abduction and recovery of the young woman had moved into the background as a justification. In their place, the principals traded accusations of impropriety. This shift of attention probably began to occur even as the news of the shooting reached the village and the town. The abduction and rescue had spiraled out of control, threatening the solidarity of the family line, and even the hierarchy of social relations in the district of Of. My inter locutor concluded his account by describing the falling out of the members of the family line, as well as the criticism of Ferhat Agha:
When the news reached the Selimoğlu in the district center, they were furious with the Selimoğlu of the village [because a senseless quarrel in the village had resulted in the death of the son of a prominent individual of the family line in the town]. Young men of the Selimoğlu in the district center broke the windows in a house that was owned by the father of [the rescuer], and they tried to catch his brother, who was able to escape to Sürmene by boat. To demonstrate their friendship [with the Selimoğlu of the district center], their friends and allies came from their villages and offered to help track down [the rescuer]. Rasih Efendi was of course especially upset about the murder of his son, and his three surviving sons were no less upset. They openly blamed Ferhat Agha for allowing such a thing to happen, not only in his area, but also in his family line, for which he was held responsible.
My interlocutor then concluded his story by describing how its legacy of bitter memories scarred the relationships of members of the family line for years to come:
[The rescuer], who was held responsible for the death of [the friend of the abductor], was eventually caught and sentenced to a long jail term, but freed a few years later by amnesty. His close relatives [among the Selimoğlu of the village] did not come to the town for several years, and [the rescuer] himself did not dare show his face there until after the death of Ferhat Agha in 1931.
At the time, Mehmet was situated exactly in the middle of all those members of his family line in the village who had been involved. He was a close paternal cousin of the rescuer, and so also of the father of the young woman who had been abducted. At the same time, he was also the maternal half-brother of the friend who had been murdered, and so also close to those who had abducted the young woman and then informed on the rescuer. During the 1930s, after Mehmet had become mayor, the memory of the abduction, rescue, and murder complicated his relationships with the sets of the family line in the town. As I have explained, the sons of Rasih Efendi and descendants of Ferhat Agha had been angered by the members of the family line in the village, just as their relationships with one another had been embittered when the former blamed the latter for not insuring the peace.
So Mehmet did not have the best relations with the sons of Rasih Efendi (his half-brothers) because of his connections with the rescuer and his associates, and he did not have the best relations with the descendants of Ferhat Agha since he was connected with the sons of Rasih. All these hard feelings were compounded by the fact that he, an obscure member of the family line from the village, had become mayor, rather than a prominent member of the family line from the town. So Mehmet was more or less distrusted by all the sets of the family line in both the town and the village. But he was also in a position to ally himself with any set of the family line, since he was equally close to all, even as he was equally distant. During the 1930s, his relations with his agnates appear to have been more in the register of distrust than alliance. He had chosen a surname different from all his agnatic relatives. He had managed to garner for himself almost every public office open to a local resident, in effect preventing his agnates from doing so. In acquiring these public offices, moreover, he had brought about the dismissal of a Selimoğlu on more than one occasion, giving rise to resentment among both the descendants of Ferhat Agha and the sons of Rasih Efendi. By the early 1940s, he had begun to work with individuals of these two sets of the family line, but he could not yet be described as a leading individual from a large family grouping.