The Old Republic Inhabits the New Republic
During the national elections in 1954 and 1957, the two dominant large family groupings in the district of Of gradually came into alignment with the two dominant national parties in the Turkish Republic. By the end of the decade, the Selimoğlu were the local representatives of the RPP and the Muradoğlu were the representatives of the DP. The relative efficiency with which local social formations aligned themselves with the major national parties was impressive. I shall briefly review the steps by which this came about.
From 1949 to 1957, there was no perfect alignment of the two families and the two parties. The descendants of Ferhat Agha (Selimoğlu) held a firm grip on the public offices in the town and were RPP leaders and activists in the district (see fig. 2). Nonetheless, they were weakened by the fact that the RPP did not receive enough electoral support to form a national government from 1950. Meanwhile, the sons of Rasih Efendi (Selimoğlu) had been joined by the sons of Reşat Agha (Muradoğlu) as party leaders and activists in the DP, ever since the run-up to the elections of 1950. These two sets of the two large family groupings continued to work together during the period in question, when the DP, led by Adnan Menderes, was able to form the national government.
During the run-up to the national elections in the summer of 1957, however, a crisis in the DP at the national level reverberated at the local level in Of. Adnan Menderes, who had been moving to restrict the political process, was being challenged from within his own party as well as from the opposition parties. Instead of changing course, however, the leadership of the DP moved to suppress dissent, first by purging their party membership. Similarly, in the countryside, the local leaders of the DP also began to purge local party membership. One of my interlocutors recounted the incidents that followed in the district of Of:
In preparation for the coming elections, [the sons of Rasih Efendi] had been touring the villages signing up people as members of the DP party. They had been organizing the membership to elect delegates to attend a DP party convention to be held in the town of Of. They engaged in a number of maneuvers. They would sign up people, mix up the papers, and so attempt to let their own people in and keep other people out of the meeting. When someone came to the meeting they would tell him that his papers were not in order so he would not be admitted to the meeting.
[The sons of Rasih Efendi] were intent on packing the meeting with their own supporters. What they were trying to do was to gain control over the DP so they could run it as they liked. The Muradoğlu heard about their intentions and came in a crowd to the meeting. They were ready to make their way into the room whatever anyone said to them or did to them. They eventually forced their way inside and chased two of the three brothers out of the meeting. This was the end of the Selimoğlu influence in the DP.
The sons of Rasih Efendi had run the local branch of the DP in an authoritarian manner, emulating party leaders at the national level. When they were driven out of the DP, they founded a local branch of a new national political party, the Freedom Party (Hürriyet Partisi). The FP had been organized in late 1955 by DP dissidents at the national level who had been dismissed for refusing to accept party discipline. So now the sons of Rasih Efendi were emulating DP dissidents at the national level who had been objecting to the authoritarian manner of party leaders. The FP failed miserably in the national elections of 1957 and soon vanished from the scene both locally and nationally. Until the 1970s, all the political activists and most of the voters from the Selimoğlu family line were affiliated with the RPP.
A similar sorting out of family lines and political parties took place among the Muradoğlu. Harun Agha was the elderly bearded man for whom youths had stood at attention in the restaurant in Eskipazar during my brief stopover in 1965 (see chap. 1). Impressed that his kinsman, Reşat Agha, had been able to defeat Mehmet Bey in the national elections, he also became a party activist. Sometime during the early 1950s, Harun Agha had announced that he had joined the Nation Party (Millet Partisi). Founded by dissident members of the RPP and DP, this party called for a program of moral uplift based on family and religion. Eventually, Harun Agha became the chairman of the NP in the district of Of. During the run-up to the national elections of 1953, he toured the villages of the district soliciting or, more exactly, demanding support for the NP. Like Reşat Agha, he was one of only a very few individuals who were still accorded the title "agha." Unlike Reşat Agha, however, he had a much harder time adapting himself to the demands of electoral politics. According to the memory of an acquaintance who had also joined the party and toured the villages with him, Harun Agha was better at intimidating the villagers he encountered than at winning their sympathies for his party. For example, he used to travel by minibus from village to village, carrying a staff (bastinado) in the manner of some of the old aghas of the imperial period. This gesture succeeded very well in reinforcing his stern appearance, not to mention bringing to mind his fearsome reputation. If a driver of the minibus asked him for a fare, he would simply refuse to pay. If the driver persisted, he would threaten to punish him with his staff. This kind of behavior apparently decreased whatever support there might have been for the Nation Party to the vanishing point.
The failure of Harun Agha and the Nation Party deserves special comment. The platform of the Nation Party appealed to popular resentment of the secular reforms; nonetheless, the NP succeeded in garnering only 5 percent of the vote in the province of Trabzon in 1950. So a national party that attempted to make the most of the religious issue actually did very poorly in a region where one would have expected success. The failure of the NP underlines the fact that leading individuals, large family groupings, and district social networks did not constitute an Islamist reaction to the Turkish Republic. They were social formations from the old state society that were assuming a place in the new state system. These social formations were founded on an imperial version of Islamic belief and practice, but they were otherwise oriented toward the official state system of the Turkish Republic. The most successful members of the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu family lines were no more interested in an extreme Islamist agenda than in a "leftist" or "rightist" agenda. They were not intending to challenge secularism. They wanted to be recognized by and participate in the state system, as did their ascendants during the late period of decentralization.
The rapidity and efficiency with which the two major groups of local elites aligned themselves with two major national parties was then a direct legacy of the old state society. With the shift from one-party to multiparty politics, the local elites were poised to serve as the intermediaries between the government and the population. They were still positioned within a framework of competing social formations. They still believed they had a right to participate in sovereign power. So from the time of the national elections of 1950, leading individuals from the two dominant family lines polished their skills as electoral politicians. They learned how to turn out the vote. They learned how to lobby party leaders.
Their education in electoral politics was accelerated by international circumstances. During the 1950s, the United States was providing the Turkish Republic with agricultural loans and military assistance. This money appeared in the eastern coastal region in the form of subsidies for the development of agriculture, especially the expansion of tea cultivation, as well as funds for road and bridge projects. But there were always questions about how agricultural subsidies were distributed in the coastal region, and where roads and bridges would be built first and last. It was now possible for the Oflus to see a connection between vertical and horizontal solidarities in the district and the configuration of sovereign power in the state system. Consequently there was an extraordinary interest in elections and parties during the 1950s and into the 1960s. Some of the Oflus were described as afflicted by "political fanaticism" (siyaset hastasıı). They felt obliged not only to read every newspaper and listen to every broadcast, but also to travel from place to place to attend political rallies and speeches. Some were said to have ruined their families and business through their preoccupation with politics.
Once the sons of Reşat Agha dominated the DP, they quickly became formidable political competitors. Adnan Menderes was prime minister, and the DP dominated the National Assembly. The man and his party were to become notorious for their skillful use of patronage and clientage as political weapons. As a consequence, the sons of Reşat Agha were able to break down the single channel between the central government and the district population that had been established by Mehmet Bey Selimoğlu and inherited by the descendants of Ferhat Agha. By 1960, the town of Of was no longer the single conduit between state officials and the district population that it had once been.
The first blow to the town of Of and the Selimoğlu came in the later 1950s. At the time, there was a cooperative for tea producers in the town that was managed by Hüseyin Selimoğlu, a brother of Yusuf and Salih. But now a group of the Muradoğlu proposed to organize a second cooperative to be based at Eskipazar that would become a competitor of the already existing cooperative. The supporters of Hüseyin Selimoğlu argued against this measure, saying that one cooperative was sufficient for the district. They had a great deal at stake since cooperatives were also concentrations of capital and, as such, slush funds for clients. In the end, however, the government permitted the new cooperative to come into existence. The decision made perfect sense, since some of the most productive tea gardens were owned by the Muradoğlu and in the vicinity of Eskipazar. Still, this challenge to Mehmet Bey would not have occurred a few years previously.
A second blow soon followed. During the later 1950s, the officials of the government tea monopoly determined that a tea factory was to be built in the district of Of. But where would the factory be located? The answer to this question was an important one for the two dominant family lines. The tea factory would have administrators and workers, that is to say, a payroll. The construction and maintenance of the tea factory would also provide a stimulus for local tradesmen. The key difference between the various proposals for the tea factory was that the Selimoğlu wanted to situate the factory in the town of Of, the Muradoğlu near the market of Eskipazar. I was told a barely credible story by one of my interlocutors, which seems nonetheless to have been true. State officials had finally made a decision. The new factory would be built near the town of Of. All the building materials, the cement and iron, were brought to that site in preparation for the beginning of the construction. At this point, the Muradoğlu came to the proposed site and carried all the building materials "on their backs" to a site near Eskipazar, where the Muradoğlu had taken the initiative to set aside land for the factory. In response, the officials of the state tea monopoly changed their minds and decided to locate the factory just outside Eskipazar. The market of Eskipazar, which had consisted of only a few shops, thereafter became a small town.
The military coup of 1960 was eventually followed by the execution of Menderes and the banning of the DP. But the descendants of Ferhat Agha, now leading individuals in a district network and a coastal coalition, enjoyed only a brief advantage. After the return to electoral politics in 1961, the sons of Reşat Agha were once again associated with a national party, now the Justice Party (Adalet Partisi), which had replaced the banned Democrat Party. The two family lines were therefore once again aligned with the two major political parties at the national level.
Sometime around 1964, the government proposed to build a lumber mill somewhere along the coast. Although the stakes were smaller than in the instance of the construction of the tea factory, this installation would also have important commercial benefits for the immediate area in which it was located. It was said that the Selimoğlu began to quarrel among themselves about who might benefit from selling their land to the government as a site for the lumber mill. Then, in the midst of the confusion, the Muradoğlu offered a site nearer Eskipazar at a reduced price. The thriving marketplace was pushed further along the path toward becoming a town.
By the time of my arrival in the district of Of, leading individuals among the Muradoğlu could claim political clout of mythic proportions. A son of Reşat Agha was reputed to have the power to shift seven thousand voters in an election. Whether he was in fact able to do so was perhaps beside the point. The belief that he controlled so many votes was just as firmly held in Trabzon and Ankara as it was in Of. So when this son of Reşat Agha made a trip to the provincial or national capital, as was his regular practice, he was certain to have an attentive audience among both party leaders and state officials.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the RPP never enjoyed a period of majority government as did their rivals, first the DP and then the JP. So the local clients of the RPP, such as the Selimoğlu, were in a less enviable position than the local clients of the DP or JP, such as the Muradoğlu. Still, the descendants of Ferhat Agha remained formidable political competitors. They continued to hold all the public offices open to local residents in the town, and hence most of those in the district. The town was also still the district center, and therefore the location of most government offices and the residences of most state administrative, judicial, military, and police officials. Furthermore, many of the staff, secretaries, and janitors were agnates, relatives, friends, and partners of the Selimoğlu. So the descendants of Ferhat Agha were in a good position to learn about and respond to government programs and policies.
They were also able to develop their skills in electoral politics in ways reminiscent of machine politics in the ethnic wards of Chicago. During the 1960s, a majority of the voters in the district favored the JP, successor to the DP. So as the population of the municipality increased, the electoral strength of the RPP, and thus the power of the descendants of Ferhat Agha, steadily weakened. Already in 1965, it was said that the town was JP during the day, when the villagers came to the market, and then RPP at night, when they returned to their mountain hamlets. To counter the trend, local elections had to be engineered by bringing truckloads of supporters into the municipality from those villages whose inhabitants could be expected to support the descendants of Ferhat Agha. For good reason, the town of Of came to be known as the citadel (hisar) of the RPP and the descendants of Ferhat Agha.
In 1967, I met the son of Reşat Agha who was said to be able to deliver seven thousand votes in a local election. At the time, he counseled me to move to Eskipazar, where an American like myself would find a warmer welcome: "We are capitalists (kapitalist)," he told me, "but they [the descendants of Ferhat Agha] are socialists (sosyalist)." The comment was inspired by the new "left of center" (ortanıın solu) orientation of the RPP that had been formulated by Bülent Ecevit. Sometime later, Hüseyin Selimoğlu, the rival of the son of Reşat Agha in the town of Of, wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment. Referring to his personal commitment to Bülent Ecevit, he said to me, "Yes, we are left of the center. We are even left of the left of center!" He did not mean he was more leftist in his ideology than the party leader. His formulation was intended to express his personal loyalty to the party leader. That is, he was thinking in terms of a discipline of interpersonal association, not in terms of leftist, liberal, or rightist ideology. As for the son of Reşat Agha, he was of course no more a capitalist than Hüseyin was a socialist. They were both representatives of the old republic, which now inhabited the new republic.