Reconfiguring the Old Republic in the New Republic
Hüseyin had run the cooperative as a resource for a circle of agnates, relatives, friends, and clients. But once his political prospects dimmed, his associates had begun to recalculate. These events were indications that the configuration of the old and new republic was shifting during the 1960s. In conclusion, I will explain this shift.
The office of the new tea cooperative, the one that had been organized in the town itself by dissidents from the old cooperative, was located in a building of no special distinction in the older part of town. The rooms were not particularly large. Their floors consisted of bare wooden planks. The walls lacked any kind of decoration, save for a calendar. The desks and chairs were wooden, secondhand, and rickety. The staff consisted of just three individuals, a director, an accountant, and a janitor. I was not able to see the books of the cooperative, but I was told by a man on the executive committee that they had almost five hundred members, and would have had many more were it not for the restrictive measures taken by the other cooperative. It was as though the new cooperative had been specifically designed to emphasize frugality, that is, how little had been spent on rent, furnishings, and decor, and therefore how little the director wished to aggrandize himself.
The director, Süleyman Selimoğlu, had himself been the accountant of the old cooperative. When I met him, he was unshaven, tieless, and coatless. He explained to me how the new cooperative had resulted from quarrels (geçimsizlik) about the distribution of loans and fertilizer. He took care not to criticize specific individuals. But he did say that those producers who had developed excellent tea gardens were not favored by the directors of the old cooperative. Instead, the resources of the cooperative had been needlessly squandered or diverted. His group of founders had therefore resigned from the old cooperative in order to organize a new one that would focus solely on encouraging tea cultivation. The gossip in the town agreed with the director. The administration of the new cooperative was said to conform with government regulations, heretofore a novel procedure.
The old and new tea cooperatives held their annual meetings on the same day at the same time, so I was only able to attend the meeting of the former. According to a report, there was no shouting at all during general assembly of the new cooperative, although there were some points of contention. One of the members of its executive committee laughed with pleasure when I gave him my account of the brouhaha during the general assembly of the old cooperative. Still, the new cooperative was not entirely different from the old. Süleyman, the director of the new cooperative, was still a leading individual from the Selimoğlu, although of a set (takûm) distinct from both that of Ferhat Agha and Rasih Efendi. The members of the executive committee of the new cooperative also included individuals from the same sets of large families as the members of the executive committee of the old cooperative. So the founders of the new cooperative were not ordinary villagers and townsmen.
Both the old and new cooperatives were founded by individuals who represented the old republic in the new republic. But the two cooperatives were not administered by the same methods or for the same objectives. The old cooperative had been run in a way that recalled the late imperial period. Local elites, with the support of a circle of agnates, relatives, friends, and clients, set about to colonize the state system. They did so with the understandable intention of subverting the ends of the centralized state system so that it served the ends of the local state society. The new cooperative had been set up as it became apparent that the old methods and objectives were no longer working. Leading individuals from large family groupings were now obliged to recognize that their clients possessed more economic alternatives than ever before. They were still able to monopolize all public offices open to local residents, but they were now forced, if not inclined, to run local institutions in a manner that was more compatible with the economic interests of their membership. This was the situation whose logic came to light during the annual meetings of the two tea cooperatives in late March 1967.
In the analysis of coffeehouses and cooperatives in this chapter, I have repeatedly pointed to the role of the old republic in the new republic, that is, to the imperial legacy of the district of Of. In doing so, I do not mean to suggest that nothing had ever changed in Of, Trabzon, or Turkey. Indeed, change has always been a prominent feature of public life, from earlier, during the Empire, until now, during the Republic. So the echo of the past in the present is not inconsistent with displacement and dislocation. Let us return briefly to the coffeehouses, which were taken to be a measure of the old republic in the new republic at the outset of this chapter.
In the old days, the government had occasionally burned down the mansions, coffeehouses, and markets of aghas, just as the aghas had occasionally burned down the mansions, coffeehouses, and markets of their rivals. The resort to violence was a consequence of the dissemination of sovereign power through interpersonal association. By the logic of such a regime, circles of interpersonal association were under the constraint of military necessity. As a consequence, aghas from agha-families owned and sponsored coffeehouses, and the ordinary villagers and townsmen who constituted their followings were obliged to sit and talk in these coffeehouses. From the later imperial period, however, new kinds of coffeehouses had begun to appear, ones in which a discipline of social thinking and practice had no strong connection to the leading individuals from large family groupings. Perhaps in fits and starts, but nonetheless inexorably, new kinds of circles of interpersonal association had been gaining ground, especially during periods of greater economic activity and opportunity. The transition from a one-party to a multiparty system had led to a resurgence of leading individuals from large family groupings in public life. Nonetheless, the Town Square Coffeehouse was the only coffeehouse in the town of Of that had a strong connection with leading individuals and large family groupings. Otherwise, ordinary villagers and townsmen could elect to sit in one of at least seven other coffeehouses in the older part of town, including the "teahouse" (çayhane) managed by my companions in the Crystal Palace (see chap. 2). This was a gathering place for villagers and townsmen who were "not from the aghas" (ağadan değil). Leading individuals from large family groupings were never to be seen there. So ordinary villagers and townsmen were able to form their own circles of interpersonal association, more or less independently of leading individuals from large family groupings. They did so in the course of all kinds of economic engagements, labor migration, entrepreneurial adventures, and business dealings, which were not limited to Of, but extended to Trabzon, Erzurum, Adana, Istanbul, Munich, and Berlin. Income from tea cultivation was rapidly rising as gardens first planted some years before became increasingly productive. Transportation and construction firms run by Oflus in various cities had become increasingly profitable with increasing urbanization. Cash remittances sent home from Germany by migrant workers had become substantial.
All these special factors were compounded by the effects of a general economic expansion during the 1960s. Ordinary villagers were making money as never before. As a consequence, the total value of commercial transactions in the town market was soaring, inflating land prices and building rents. The sociopolitical hegemony of leading individuals from large family groupings was then compromised by market differentiation and expansion during the 1960s. Such a phenomenon was not unprecedented. There had been earlier rises and falls in economic activity in the eastern coastal districts, and hence earlier rises and falls in the claims of aghas and agha-families on ordinary townsmen and villagers. Nonetheless, the sheer scale of the increase in economic opportunities in the twentieth century was unprecedented, especially after the beginning of the multiparty period. Whether these opportunities are judged to represent a new kind of liberty or a new kind of subjection, they unquestionably eroded the hegemony of leading individuals from large family groupings.
Already by the time of the general assembly of the tea cooperative, Hüseyin had begun his long and slow descent from a position of prominence. He was still chairman of the Red Crescent Society at the time, but the number of his other public offices was dwindling. He had been replaced as chairman of the RPP. The new chairman was a lawyer from a merchant family of local origin rather than from one of the large families. And Hüseyin had also been replaced as the chairman of the Middle School Parent-Teacher Association. The new chairman was a lawyer who had moved to Of from Bayburt who had no standing with the large families of the district. At the annual meeting of the Parent-Teacher Association in the spring of 1967, Hüseyin had stood up to deliver a speech, but he was not well received. The audience of about a hundred fathers (no mothers) began to grumble as he continued to declaim, and he was eventually asked to sit down by the new chairman before finishing what he had to say.
One or more circles of professionals and merchants would continue to assert themselves in the public life of the town, for the most part, in the sphere of educational endowments and institutions. But there were other segments of public life that would for a long while remain closed to them. If, for example, the founders of the new tea cooperative had not been who they were, if they had not been leading individuals from large family groupings, their office equipment and records might well have ended up in the river one dark night. So the old republic would continue to inhabit the new republic in the district of Of, as it does even to this day, but only insofar as its representatives adopted new methods and objectives in order to cope with new political and economic realities.