Aghas Create Clans, Clans Do Not Create Aghas
But again, this second path of investigation, like the first, became less and less credible as I learned more. Public life, social memory, local history, and architectural leftovers all pointed toward the same conclusion. But the conclusion was dependent on a logic of analysis that was inconsistent with what is known about the social history of the eastern Black Sea coast.
A mass of other details, all conveniently suppressed in the preceding arguments, could not be reconciled with the idea that the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties were a local social system divided from the state system. One of these "details" stands out in all the discussion that has preceded as a blatant contradiction. According to all authorities, Osman Pasha had brought the "time of the aghas" to an end in 1834. And yet leading members of the Muradoğlu and the Selimoğlu had dominated the public affairs of the district of Of during the remaining eighty years of the Empire, and then appeared soon again to repeat this performance during eighty years of the Turkish Republic. How could a local social order that was outside the state system continue to exist inside the state system for well over a hundred years?
The simplest kind of anthropological facts finally pointed toward a resolution of this contradiction. As I have indicated in the preceding discussion of the leftover mansions, the pattern of aghas and clans that I had discovered in Of was also more or less characteristic of the eastern coastal region from Batum to Ordu during the nineteenth, if not the twentieth, century. Everywhere one found the same kind of local elites, backed by the same kind of large family groupings, designated by the same type of patronyms, and aligned in the same type of rivalrous alliances. That is to say, the same kind of clan-society was found throughout the coastal region. If concepts of patrilineal descent had originally provided the elements for this pervasive pattern, then a specific idiom of kinship must have been common to, or at least dominant among, all the peoples of the coastal region. And if this was the case, there must have been a common ethnic tradition that was the same everywhere throughout the eastern coastal region. In other words, the thesis of a clan-society separate from the state system demanded the presence of a "primary folk" in the coastal region, which raised the question of "which folk?"
Since the patronyms, which were everywhere current in the coastal districts, were Turkic in form, I first considered that the clan-society might be traceable to a "Turkic folk." This solution was not acceptable on the basis of the comparative ethnography of rural Anatolia. There was a plethora of lineage and tribal names of Turkic origin in other parts of Asia Minor, but they only sometimes and exceptionally took the "oğlu" form. They tended to vary in their character and composition, even from village to village, so that one did not normally find the same type of names across a broad region. This inconsistency was compounded by other considerations. In many parts of the eastern Black Sea region (and especially where leading individuals and large family groupings were most prevalent), Turkic settlement had occurred much later and in lesser numbers than elsewhere in Asia Minor. So it was difficult to explain why a clan-society of Turkic origin would be more important and developed in a region where Turkic peoples had settled at a later date and in fewer numbers than in other parts of Anatolia.
This raised the possibility that the clan-societies might be traceable to some underlying non-Turkic ethnicity that had been subsequently Turkicized in its overt forms if not in its substance. Perhaps the patronyms were simply a Turkicized version of the family names of another ethnicity (the "son of" construction being a common practice among many non-Turkic peoples in northeast Asia Minor). The role of non-Turkic peoples in the social history of the Muslim population in the eastern Black Sea region was undisputed. The problem was that none of these non-Turkic groups could be considered to have been a preponderant influence throughout the coastal districts. The Muslim population in this part of Turkey was formed relatively recently out of many different ethnic groups, including peoples of Turkic, Lazi, Kurdish, Greek, and Armenian background. The influence of each of these ethnic groups varied in different parts of the region, from valley to valley as well as from the lower to the upper parts of a single valley. The pattern of aghas, mansions, clans, and parties, which was more or less the same throughout the eastern coastal region, could therefore not be explained in terms of an underlying ethnic tradition, since the latter was variable throughout the coastal region. As there had been so many folk in the eastern coastal region, it was impossible to argue that any of them could claim the status of a primary folk.
An obvious and simple solution had always been at hand but seemed unthinkable given the prevailing climate at the time of my early fieldwork. The aghas, mansions, clans, and parties could only be derived from some kind of uniform sociopolitical process that had been common to all the coastal districts of the eastern Black Sea region. And the only general condition that could have determined such a process would have been the state system of the late Ottoman Empire, given the variable ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds of its inhabitants. The aghas, mansions, clans, and parties in the eastern coastal region were not essentially outside of, or consistently opposed to, the central government. They had arisen as district social formations in the course of local participation in the imperial system. What was recalled as a breakdown in the central government was more precisely a spread of certain kinds of imperial thinking and practice that moved outward and downward into the coastal districts.
With this conclusion, local memories and traditions that had once seemed to me so unanimous and convincing now appeared both contradictory and questionable. Setting aside everything that I had been told and shown in the district of Of, I drastically revised my assessment of the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties:
- Aghas. During the post-classical imperial period, the aghas were local elites who always claimed and usually held some kind of position in the state system. They were invariably the descendants of individuals who themselves had claimed or held some kind of position or appointment in the state system.
- Patronyms. The patronym ("oğlu" or "zade") had its origin in official references to local elites who received government positions and appointments. To claim a patronym was therefore to claim descent from an individual who had some kind of standing in the imperial system.
- Agha Clans. The aghas were able to set down family lines (ağa akrabasıı) because their positions in the state system were perpetuated from generation to generation. It was always aghas who made large clans and never large clans who made aghas. Upon a review of my field notes, I discovered that the ascendant of every large family grouping with which I was familiar was said to have held some kind of state position or appointment.
- Mansions. The mansions of the aghas were not local in origin but were constructed to emulate the residences of state officials. They symbolized their occupants' claim to the right to participate inthe state system by collecting taxes, conscripting recruits, imposing forced labor, and enforcing judicial decisions. When my interlocutors had said the mansions were like a "government," they were citing a memory of aghas having usurped the sovereign power of the state system.
- Patronymic Groups. The ubiquity of family groupings taking the form of patronymic groups was not the simple and direct result of a reaction to the threat of anarchy (pace Hasan Umur). By membership in a patronymic group, one also claimed descent from an individual who once had a role in the imperial system, that is, someone who was more than a mere farmer or villager. The ubiquity of patronymic groups along the eastern Black Sea coast points to a greater degree of participation in the imperial system than was typical of most parts of rural Anatolia.
- Parties. The Five and Twenty-five parties had been linked with irregular or regular military regiments. The members of the two parties had been rivals, but specifically for precedence and privilege in the imperial system. Membership in a patronymic group was usually correlated with membership in one or the other party. The aghas were then social leaders of social formations, but also military leaders of military formations.
- Force and Numbers. There was always a certain amount of rivalry among different aghas and hence also among their followers. Through displays of force and numbers the aghas and their followers claimed sovereign power on the inside, not the outside, of the state system. This rivalry sometimes degenerated into military skirmishes and sieges.
- Vengeance and Vendetta. The militarization of the population of the coastal districts did compromise legal statutes and judicial procedures (but the latter were never completely overturned). The solidarity of patronymic groups did become a refuge against insecurity, and this did lead to the law of talion. But these tendencies were directly related to local participation in the imperial system rather than a breakdown in the central government.
By such revisions, the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties were not based on the elaboration of a local system of kinship. They were country extensions of the imperial military and administrative establishment. I therefore dropped the term "clan" since it evoked the idea of a local social system complete in itself. Thus, by this new approach, the outlying coastal districts of the old province of Trabzon were anything but marginalized and isolated with respect to governmental institutions and activities. Local elites at the head of large followings had always had a close relationship with state officials of the central government, even if not always according to the terms that the latter would have wished to impose upon the former. This was then the "solution" to the problem of the existence of aghas, mansion, family lines, and parties throughout the coastal region.
Of course, the "solution" brought with it other kinds of problems. The anthropological theories by which I was trying to describe and analyze the social order of aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties only made sense if the central government was weak or absent. All the structural features of local social order—leading individuals, large family groupings, a checkerboard pattern of alliances and oppositions, and binary coalitions—were understood to be responses to insecurity that arose with a power vacuum. If the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were instead the consequence of participation in the imperial system, a wholly new kind of analysis was necessary. Why did state officials permit local elites to become part of the imperial system? What did local elites have to gain from becoming part of the imperial system? Why did participation in the imperial system result in such extensive social formations? Why werethe latter associated with the principle of force and numbers, and, as a consequence, divided into rivalrous factions?
All these questions pointed to the necessity of a theory of a society within, rather than against, the state. This suggested that a full understanding of the local societies in the coast districts would be dependent on an understanding of the imperial regime of which they were a part. Even before any such analysis had been undertaken, however, the abandonment of the concept of a clan-society had led to an important conclusion. The aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were examples of state phenomena because they had come into being through local participation in the imperial system. But at the same time, the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were also social phenomena because they took the form of an oligarchy woven together by agnation, affinity, partnership, and friendship. With this provisional conclusion, we can return to the question of local memories and traditions.