12. The City
Nations and Empires
Liberation Day: the Turkishnation in the District of Of
The celebration of Liberation Day in Sürmene occurs three days before the same celebration in Of (February 28), since the Russians had withdrawn from Sürmene earlier. With the idea of making a comparison between the celebrations, I traveled from Of to Sürmene with a friend during the early spring of 1967. Since that town extends for a considerable distance along the coast, we initially had difficulty locating the place where the celebration would occur. A man we met at a minibus stop told us where we should go, but he dismissed the entire affair as "nonsense" (fasafariya). A little later, we joined a large crowd watching a parade consisting of a military corps marching in formation, the Trabzon municipal band playing nationalist marches, and children from the primary and middle schools. After the parade, municipal and district officials made speeches, and a few of the children recited poems celebrating Turkish heroism during the Independence War. The proceedings could be described as an official celebration, so well organized that it was formal and tedious.
Back in the district of Of, an entirely different mood was already noticeable that same evening. It was expected that the ceremonies would once again be attended by a significant fraction of the district population. Yusuf, éminence grise of the descendants of Ferhat Agha, and his bosom buddy, Molla İİshak, a Greek-speaking hodja from Çaykara, had been making plans for weeks. Yusuf would lead a group of citizens dressed in period costume as the "militia forces" (milis kuvvetleri). Mollaİİshak would deliver a speech he had been writing in praise of those who had bravely fought the Russian troops.
The evening just before the ceremonies, in the Town Square Coffeehouse, the two of them were excitedly anticipating their performances. The molla was dressed in his newly tailored militia uniform, consisting of black baggy pants, black vest, black headscarf, and white shirt. He was also equipped with several new and old pistols, a powder horn, and binoculars. He demonstrated how one of his pistols had to be fired with a hammer since it lacked a trigger, producing an ear-splitting gunshot and blinding smoke within the confines of the coffeehouse. He then dramatically delivered his speech at the top of his voice, benefiting from his experience as a sermon-giver, to the approval of all those in attendance.
Early the next day trucks overflowing with men and women from the villages began to arrive in Atatürk Square. By nine o'clock in the morning thousands of people had assembled for the celebration, the men milling about the square, the women standing on rooftops and balconies. As the crowds continued to swell toward ten or twenty thousand, the municipal loudspeakers repeated again and again that anyone firing weapons would be subject to arrest and fine. After the parade and speeches were over, these warnings would be flouted as men roamed the street firing weapons all afternoon. One favorite stunt was to sneak up behind the resident ethnographer, then fire a pistol or rifle close to his ear, producing a reflexive leap into the air.
Toward eleven o'clock in the morning, gendarmes arrived to clear a small space in Atatürk Square. Swinging long switches, they slowly drove the crowd back from a pole mounted in the center of the square. This done, a professional folklore team consisting of seven men from the western coastal district of Akçaabat assembled near the pole. Dressed in period costumes and adorned with international medals, they began to dance the horon in a quick step, first squatting and then standing, as one of their members played a reed flute (zurna) and another beat a drum (davul) with sticks. This was the first of many dances that they performed intermittently throughout the day.
Around noon, the gendarmes returned to clear a larger space in Atatürk Square, this time with more difficulty. The square was jammed with men, while the rooftops and balconies of the surrounding buildings were crowded with village women wearing blue, red, black, and white body shawls. Once the gendarmes had done their work, the parade entered the square. It began, as in Sürmene, with the military corps, followed by the Trabzon municipal band. The group of citizens organized by Yusuf and the molla came next, dressed in the costumes of the militia forces of the late imperial period. The schoolchildren concluded the parade, as in Sürmene, but they too had taken pains to present themselves in a special way. The boys of the primary school were dressed as the men of the Imperial College. They had moustaches painted on their faces and wore imitations of the tall fold-over headgear. They marched in the janissary style, turning to the left and right as they proceeded, and they sang janissary songs. The girls of the primary school who followed them were dressed as the women of the imperial harem. They wore "silk" baggy pants, caftans, and gossamer veils.
Each of these groups, after passing through the square, assembled at different stations in the square, facing the bust of Atatürk. The militia forces, however, moved out of sight. The first speech was then given by the school secretary, that is, the Kemalo-Islamist hodja of the town worthies (see chap. 2). He read a brief account of the heroism of the Oflus during the Russian advance in 1916 and the Russian retreat in 1918. As he finished, he called out in a loud voice, "Let the militia forces move into action!" At first nothing happened, so that he was obliged to repeat the command several times. At last, the militia forces appeared, noisily firing their weapons, which were armed with blanks (see fig. 12). Yusuf came first, mounted on a horse, thus representing one of the old aghas, presumably his grandfather, Ferhat Agha. He wore a brimless hat that evoked the old style of military headgear, and he carried a rifle strapped to his back. He was followed by a second man, representing his adjutant, who was mounted on a supply horse. A man next to me said it should have been a mule, since no one but an agha could have ridden a horse. These two were followed by the main body of the militia forces, all on foot, with one exception to be mentioned below. They were led by a hodja (whom I did not know) dressed as an imam with a turban on his head. From time to time, the hodja would draw a sword and call for the militia forces to charge. The hodja was immediately followed to one side by a man riding a Vespa motor scooter, a vehicle that had lately become popular in the town. Like all the men following him, he too was dressed in period costume and carried a rifle. So far as I could tell, all those who composed the militia forces had a connection with the descendants of Ferhat Agha, some of them being clerks and janitors of the various cooperatives.
Figure 12. The parade on Liberation Day.
The militia forces advanced toward the pole in the center of Atatürk Square, on which was hung a black flag representing the foreign troops. They then began firing their rifles and pistols, still armed with blanks. After some moments, someone took down the black flag, placed it on the muzzle of his rifle, and tore it to shreds by repeated discharges. This impromptu performance much pleased the crowd. Once the flag had been destroyed, the Trabzon municipal band played the national anthem. The crowd listened quietly and respectfully but did not sing. After the band had finished playing, Molla İİshak gave his speech in honor of the militia forces, firing off his ancient pistol with a hammer at the conclusion, to the puzzlement of his audience. A girl and boy from the middle school followed, reading speeches they had written and passionately reciting a patriotic poem. The district officer concluded the ceremony by saying a few words and then reciting a poem by Mehmet Akif. The latter was the author of the Turkish national anthem, but also a critic of secularism and therefore a favorite of religious conservatives. The district officer had taken care to select a poem that fit the religious sentiments of the majority of those in attendance.
The Liberation Day celebration, attended and enjoyed by a significant fraction of the district population, was an impressive demonstration of the public spirit of the Oflus. On an occasion that commemorated a local episode in a struggle that led to a national awakening, they were able to imagine themselves as something more than mountaineers living in remote and isolated hamlets. Many in the audience knew of ascendants who had taken part in the Battle for Of, and so had participated in the building of the Turkish Republic. A few also knew that more distant ascendants had taken part in imperial campaigns, and so had participated in the building of the Ottoman Empire. Despite a mishmash of local customs, an unacceptable Turkish dialect, an embarrassing non-Turkic language, and country manners, the Oflus did not consider themselves bystanders in world history.
But what exactly was being celebrated in Atatürk Square, and who exactly were the celebrants? The elements of Liberation Day in Of, as in Sürmene, were much the same as those of nationalist commemorations everywhere in the Turkish Republic. The officials, soldiers, bandsmen, citizens, teachers, and children represented the past, present, and future of the Turkish Republic. But the elements of Liberation Day in Of, in contrast to those in Sürmene, were presented in such a way that they departed from conventions that had until recently been in force. The citizens appeared as militia forces of the late Ottoman Empire. The children appeared as the men and women of the sultan's palace. This was the imperial past, not the national past.
During the early years of the Turkish Republic, it would have been unlikely, if not strictly forbidden, for schoolchildren to dress up as janissaries and concubines. After all, the revolution in public culture had been conducted against the Ottomans, first by force of arms, and later by legal reforms, at least according to official national history. But by 1967, if not sometime earlier, a deviation from radical Kemalist principles had become permissible. Now, the imperial period could be the subject of children's make-believe. In this context, the costumes and pantomimes of the schoolchildren could be seen as a sign of the success of the revolution in public culture in the later 1960s. The classical imperial period could be recuperated as a moment of triumph and glory, since no one believed that classical imperial institutions had any claim whatsoever on the present. Children could therefore "play" at being janissaries and concubines.
On the other hand, citizens had represented an agha and a hodja as the leaders of the local militia on the occasion of a foreign invasion. Such a scene, or something much like it, had actually occurred repeatedly on the occasion of successive Russian incursions around the years 1787, 1810, 1828, 1877, and 1916. To so represent the Battle for Of was to trace the origins of the Turkish Republic to the regional social oligarchy of the post-classical Empire. Yusuf and the molla had played out this little drama before the bust of the founder of the Turkish Republic. But Yusuf, the "play agha" in the parade, really was the most powerful man in the town of Of, just as the molla, the "play hodja," really was his closest confidant, and the "play militia" really was drawn from a circle of agnates, relatives, friends, and clients. The little drama was both a play and not a play. So this part of the parade in Atatürk Square raised a question about the success of the revolution in public culture.
At the time, none of my interlocutors mentioned to me the significance that I have just attributed to this event. The little drama with antique flintlocks, blanks, and a black banner was dismissed by a good many as just so much "nonsense." But it is unlikely that the district officer who had addressed the public in 1939 would have tolerated any such nonsense if he were as good as his word: "We will thrash the aghas. We will save the simple and pure folk from their influence, their execrable acts, and their deceits and tricks. We will not give them precedence in any manner, with respect to any thing or task" (see chap. 9). By this radical Kemalist dictum of the time, the little drama of Liberation Day would have to be described as counterrevolutionary. It overtly asserted that aghas and hodjas had led the people of Of into the initial phase of their national history. It covertly asserted that the descendants of aghas and hodjas continued to lead the people of Of in the present phase of their national history. In this regard, the little drama during Liberation Day of 1967 was an unprecedented departure, inconsistent with existing accounts of the events in question.
Neither Altay Yiğit nor Hasan Umur had described the Battle for Of in counterrevolutionary terms (see chap. 9). Yiğit hoped to confirm that aghas from agha-families in 1916 were a local leadership that had already become a nationalist leadership even before the declaration of the Turkish Republic. This is why he described how they carried out the orders of the "Turkish" commander of a "Turkish" army, why he showed their faces in photographs, and why he suppressed references to hodjas and mollas. Taking these steps, he hoped to persuade his readers, and no doubt himself, that the revolution was still moving forward in 1949, as the descendants of aghas and agha-families were gaining control of nationalist organizations and institutions. Similarly, Umur also hoped to move the revolution forward by offering helpful criticisms based on his unusual experiences. He praised the role of professors and academies in the founding of the Turkish nation, but with the intent of pointing to an existing gap between the Turkish state and the Turkish people. He hoped to persuade his readers, and no doubt himself, that Islamic teaching and learning, properly supervised by the state system, might be a resource for narrowing this widening gap. He certainly did not intend to turn back the clock to the post-classical imperial period. Directly and succinctly, he described the "time of the aghas" as a time of misgovernment based on violence and terror.
Yusuf and the molla were not of such reflective dispositions. They were celebrating their own social standing, which they simply assumed to be historically sanctioned and legitimate. And in doing so, they exemplify how national public culture was continuing to split and divide from the 1950s to the 1960s. Kemalist representations of the nation-state and nation-people were increasingly challenged by other representations. In the instance of Liberation Day in the district of Of, officials, military forces, schoolteachers, and classrooms were going out of focus. Local elites, the descendants of aghas and hodjas, were coming into focus.
The colonization of the new republic, based on official hierarchy and authoritarianism, by the old republic, based on social hierarchy and authoritarianism, may explain in part the fury of the younger generation that was to follow in the 1970s. Many young people of both leftist and rightist persuasions were saying that the revolution had failed, making more radical steps an imperative. But this very special period, which appears in retrospect to have been a decisive transition, lies beyond the scope of my study. I shall conclude by sketching still other ways in which national public culture was splitting and dividing as a consequence of urbanization.
Oflus Come To the City
I first heard about the Of Culture and Assistance Association (Of Kültür ve Yardûmlaşma Derneği) at the time of its founding in the winter of 1967. By chance, I had encountered one of my early acquaintances who had been away from the town for some weeks. He had been looking after his firm in Samsun, where he was constructing an apartment building. Now he was planning to move the firm to Istanbul, where business was more promising. As he told me this, he mentioned that some Oflus living in Istanbul were launching a new association for the many thousands of their fellow Oflus who lived there. Each member would pay dues of so much a month, not to exceed 125 Turkish lira a year ($10 U.S.). With the accumulated capital, grants would be made first to needy students, but then to entrepreneurs who required start-up money for new businesses in the city. The organizers had anticipated that their association might eventually have as many as ten thousand dues-paying members, and they had calculated that there might be twenty thousand students in need of some assistance.
Some hours later, I heard someone report the same news to Salih Selimoğlu, who was sitting and talking with his friends in the Town Square Coffeehouse. They laughed together heartily, considering the whole thing a great joke; nonetheless, Salih was careful to interrogate the man who gave him the report and to learn exactly what the organizers intended to do. Eventually, I came to understand that the new Oflu association was similar to others that had been organized by urban migrants from other parts of the country from the 1950s through the 1960s. These associations were a direct result of the appearance of urban colonies of provincials in Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, and Izmir.
In the fall of 1986, I was able to visit the Of Culture and Assistance Association for the first time. It was located in the crowded Laleli quarter of Istanbul, just a few steps away from the old covered bazaar. The association still had thousands of members, probably more than ever. Its members had consistently sponsored various charitable projects for Oflus over the years, both in Istanbul and in Of. They continued to disburse monthly grants to students, and they were then raising funds for a student hostel to serve the new high school (lise) in the town of Of. When I learned of the composition of the association's executive committee at that time, I recognized the names of some of the most prominent merchants in the town of Of during my earlier residence there.
On the occasion of my visit, I entered the coffeehouse (kûraathanesi) that was part of the association, referred to by my companion as the "Of Locale" (Of Lokalû). It was more or less like the coffeehouses in towns and cities all over the country. Small groups of men were sitting, drinking tea or coffee, playing cards or backgammon, and talking at tables. There were no women present. My companion immediately encountered someone who knew him. The conversation that followed was broken by long pauses. It was as though we were sitting in a coffeehouse in the district of Of. The following excerpts are from my field notes:
The two men told my companion that in the coffeehouse a register was kept in which Oflus living in Istanbul listed their addresses and telephone numbers, both residential and business. My companion asked for the register and wrote down the name and address of his son, who had just set himself up in Kadûköy (across the Bosphorus) as an architect.
We were greeted by two men sitting at a table in the Of Locale [1st pers.: selamün aleyküm; 2nd pers: aleyküm selam, hoş geldin; 1st pers.: hoş buldum; 2nd pers: merhaba]. They were invited to sit and drink tea with them [1st pers.: merhaba; 2nd pers: nasûlsûn?; 1st pers.: iyiyim, sen de nasûlsûn?, etc.]. One of them was well acquainted with [my companion]. The other man did not know him, but said he had known his father. He told [my companion] that they were related to one another (hûsûmlûğûmûz var); the sister of [so-and-so] was said to have married [so-and-so].
The man then asked [my companion] his birth date, rather than his age [thereby contextualizing him generationally in the past rather than biographically in the present]. They discussed whether this individual and that individual was alive or dead, when the funeral was held and where, and also who had married whom. [My companion] was having some dental work done and apologized for his slurred speech. The man then told us that he had been in Australia for five years. He spoke admiringly of it as rich country with factories that had been financed with English and American capital.
Some weeks later, the editor of a new magazine invited me to be interviewed by a group of students at the Of Locale. His magazine was written and published by Oflus and directed at an Oflu readership, especially those Oflus living outside the district in the larger cities of the country, not only Istanbul, but also Adana, Ankara, Izmir, and Trabzon. On the occasion of my second visit to the Of Locale, I was shown a complex just to the side of the coffeehouse. I met with the students there in a conference room with comfortable armchairs and couches. After the interview, I encountered individuals whom I had known during my residence in the town of Of during the later 1960s. They had since moved to Istanbul, where they now had places of business. I also met men in their later twenties who said they remembered me from when they were children. I naively asked one of my acquaintances the location of the squatter settlements (gecekondu) in which migrants from the district of Of had congregated. Offended, he told me that the Oflus lived in apartments and houses in the better parts of the city, not in squatter settlements.
During a third visit to the Of Locale that same year, I attended a lecture that was given by a retired military officer who addressed a group of businessmen in the conference room. He was one of a number of Oflus who had distinguished themselves in the Turkish military (especially the army, but also the navy). Indeed, a resident of the old district of Of (the district of Çaykara) had been a member of the General Staff during the 1960s, after which he had become president of the Republic after election by the National Assembly. The talk by the retired military officer consisted of an insightful commentary on the contemporary political situation. A lively discussion followed, during which members of the audience asked the speaker penetrating questions. There were no women present.
Afterward, I was shown still other rooms behind closed doors. When I was taken behind the first set of doors, I discovered a few tables, waiters passing through, and a kitchen. I had been entirely unaware of the existence of this part of the association during my earlier visits. My hosts arranged for a meal to be served to me there, and I was able to talk with some children who had been born in Istanbul. I asked them whether they were themselves Oflu. One of the little girls insisted that she was not an Oflu, but an İİstanbullu, a response that amused my hosts. After my meal, I was briefly allowed to look behind yet another set of doors. To my astonishment, I discovered yet another dining room, crowded with men sitting at tables eating, drinking, smoking, and talking. There were interiors within interiors within interiors in the Of Locale.
Early the next year, I was invited to the annual celebration of the Of Liberation Day in Istanbul, which was held as close as possible to the official day itself, that is, February 28. The events were organized by the Of Culture and Assistance Association and took place in a music hall (gazino) in the Aksaray quarter of Istanbul, between the Laleli and Fatih quarters. I would estimate that about two thousand people attended this occasion. As the celebrants, both men and women, entered the hall, they were received by two lines of young men in formal evening dress who greeted them and escorted them to their tables. The seating was generally segregated by table, with the men sitting on one side of the table facing the women sitting on the other side. The women in attendance were dressed in various ways, according to their age, taste, and wealth. Some women kept their heads and arms covered, but there were also women without head coverings wearing fashionable dresses. In the course of the evening, some men left their tables to greet friends sitting elsewhere in the room. Most people remained seated at their tables talking among themselves and occasionally listening to the music. There were no formal speeches, such as I had heard during the meetings of cooperatives in the town of Of.
The entertainment consisted of performances according to the conventional format of a music hall in Istanbul, although some restraints were apparent. Men and women singers accompanied by different instrumental groups performed folk, pop, and classical songs. Alcohol was served at some tables but not at others. There was no belly dancing, otherwise common in most music halls. At one point, one of the members of the executive committee of the association called on those present to give generously to the building fund for the student hostel. He and others then passed through the tables with sacks for cash contributions. Toward the end of the occasion, after the professional singers had concluded their performances, a group of young Oflus mounted the stage and began to dance an Oflu horon to the frenetic music of the eastern Black Sea fiddle (kemençe), rather than the shrill music of the western Black Sea flute (zurna).
The celebration of Liberation Day did not make any reference whatsoever to the old republic of local elites, the aghas and the hodjas. This was a gathering of civil servants, professionals, shopkeepers, businessmen, and their families. They were men and women who had different political opinions and who followed different social conventions. They composed a Turkish nation not so much as a citizenry, but as a society, one that tolerated difference in the urban context, at least up to a certain point. It was possible for women to cover themselves or remain uncovered. It was possible to drink or not drink. It was even possible for the young men, some of who must have been born in Istanbul, to celebrate being Oflu by a folklore performance. In the district of Of, singing, dancing, and fiddling were frowned upon by the hodjas. Other than on Liberation Day, I never saw any such performances in the town of Of during the 1960s. But in Istanbul, young people from the district could represent themselves as a folk, perhaps for the first time in five hundred years. But this was but one of a number of new ways the Oflus of Istanbul were reimagining themselves as a society of a nation that had once been a society of an empire.
Before the end of my two-year residence in Istanbul (1986–88), I was invited to attend the opening of a second branch of the Of Culture and Assistance Association in the city of Kadûköy, across the Bosphorus. The earliest colonies of Oflus in Istanbul had been concentrated on the European side, but there were now also many Oflus who lived or worked on the Asian side. The second branch had been organized to provide the latter with a more convenient meeting place. When I attended the opening celebration, I was able to enter one of the association's inner rooms, which was crowded with men dressed in suits and ties who were standing and talking. Everyone was shaking hands, exchanging information regarding family backgrounds, village origins, and business activities. Those in attendance expected to meet Oflus whom they did not know. Some approached me to introduce themselves and to shake my hand, only to discover with some surprise that I was an American. The two branches of the Of Culture and Assistance Association were social clubs, not political clubs. The membership of both branches seemed to be distributed among a variety of political parties, as well as nationalist and religious parties. I cannot say in what proportion.
Of course, the Of Culture and Assistance Associations in Laleli and Kadûköy did not represent all the ways in which the Oflus had mutual interests and contacts. The Oflus also shared some new intellectual projects. For example, I have already mentioned the editor of the new magazine for Oflus. His name was Haşim Albayrak, author of Of and Çaykara (1986), which describes the social history of the old district of Of. A picture of "Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk" appears on the frontispiece. A chapter bears the title, "Were Turks the first settlers of Of?" and then reaches a positive answer to the question. On the other hand, the book cover represents the tombs of three hodjas credited with converting Christian Oflus to Islam during the seventeenth century. By these features, the work composes a history of the district of Of that fuses the official nationalism of the Turkish Republic with the official religion of the Ottoman Empire. Just a few years later, Ömer Asan would publish another kind of book, Pontic Culture. The title of the book uses a word that has negative connotations for Turkish nationalists since it is a word that Greek nationalists use to refer to the eastern Black Sea region. One of the initial sections bears the heading: "Who were the first natives of Of?" The author asks the question only to illustrate that it cannot be definitively answered. To make his point, he illustrates how any kind of official history or official identity is insufficient to recognize fully the richness of a people's past. He then argues that "Pontic culture," that is, eastern Black Sea culture, combines all kinds of heritages, but especially Hellenic and Turkic. The last section of his book consists of a Turkish-Greek dictionary of terms current in the villages of the districts of Of and Çaykara. These two examples of different intellectual projects mirror different circles of interpersonal association among the Oflus of Istanbul. Albayrak's readers are probably not Asan's readers. But there were still other kinds of projects and circles among the Oflus in Istanbul as well.
To survive in the great city, the Oflus had deployed a discipline of sociability in all kinds of ways for all kinds of ends. Several of the Oflus had become prominent Mafia bosses in the city, while a large number of Oflus appeared among their followers. I had heard about "Oflu Hasan" during the 1960s, when he was one of the most infamous of the "fathers" (babalar) in Istanbul. By the late 1980s, others had taken his place. One of the Oflu "baba" was said to receive daily visitors who came to pay him homage in the old style, stooping down and kissing his hand. One of my interlocutors told me that the Oflus had only learned the "mafia business" (mafia işleri) after coming to Istanbul, but they were very good at it because they "stuck together" (tutkunluğumuz var).
Some of the Oflus were also followers of religious leaders (Şeyh) who were connected with religious brotherhoods (tarikat). The latter were principally Nakşibendi, but some were perhaps Kaderi. I have the impression that these kinds of religious associations were not circumscribed by place of origin, and so not necessarily headed by, or limited to, circles of Oflus. But I have very little information about such religious leaders and brotherhoods. Most of my friends were pious, regularly performing their daily prayers, but they were not interested in religious leaders or brotherhoods. Perhaps this was a characteristic of the educated generation that came of age during the first decades of the Republic. Although I am not at all well informed about baba or Şeyh, I will venture a generalization. In regard to the Oflus, I would say that these two new types of leaders represented the reformulation of the tradition of old local elites in the urban context. The baba can be seen as a "fallen" version of the old agha. He is surrounded by armed followers. He receives visitors who pay him homage. He even serves as an intermediary between the state and citizens, fixing traffic citations and so on, for example. But unlike the old aghas, he is a shadow figure of urban life who lacks the legitimacy of state appointments or a community following. In contrast, the religious Şeyh can be seen as a "risen" version of the old hodja. He would appear to be a religious exemplar rather than a person of learning who offers instruction in ethical thinking and practice. So in effect he is "above" the context of a state society based on ethical thinking and practice. He is the focus of religious identification and association among urbanites whose daily lives are structured by economic rather than communal interactions.
I have been told that one of the baba from Of was a descendant of one of the old aghas. I have also been told that one of the Şeyh from Of was one of the last graduates of the old hodjas. If these facts are true, and my information is rather poor, I would nonetheless insist that both are new figures of the urban context (both in Of and in Istanbul), but at the same time adapted from the old imperial coordination of power and religion.
It was the prior existence of a public life in the district of Of that enabled the Oflus to immigrate and prosper in the greater cities of the country. However, in the absence of aghas and hodjas, who were still dominant figures in the district of Of, the Oflus in the greater cities formed associations that were less conventional, hence more inventive, and as a consequence, more differentiated and variegated. By the 1980s, however, the town of Of was becoming more and more like a city.
The City Comes To Of
During my initial residence in the town of Of, my interlocutors had been preoccupied with aghas or, more exactly, with the quality of "agha-ness" (ağalûk), as they had come to call it. The ghosts of the old regime had somehow recently surfaced in the district of Of, probably beginning in the later 1950s. Agha-ness was said to be everywhere once again, in the streets of the town, in its coffeehouses, in the management of tea cooperatives, in the administration of the municipality, and in the organization of political parties. Some said that the "agha mentality" (ağa zihniyeti)—meaning both to behave as an agha and to respect those who behaved as an agha—had never been eradicated in the district of Of. But others claimed that a pattern of leadership and followership, similar to what had existed in the old regime, had spread and intensified by a process of "aghafication" (ağalanûyor, ağalanacak).
As we saw in the last chapter, this intimation of an unwelcome return of aghas and agha-families was a consequence of a shift in the position of leading individuals from large family groupings. The new awareness of aghas and agha-families was actually a harbinger of a new degree of institutional rationalization that was accompanying economic differentiation and expansion. Aghas and agha-families had actually come into view because it was more possible than ever to imagine that they were unnecessary and unworkable. Eventually, institutional rationalization would lead to a diminution of the awareness of "agha-ness," but it would not lead to the disappearance of leading individuals from large family groupings. Leading individuals from large family groupings continued to adapt and adjust to public life. It therefore became harder and harder to understand where they had come from or what they represented.
In 1988, I was able to pay a visit to the district of Of, the first in about ten years. The population had doubled, redoubled, and then doubled again since the 1960s, so that it probably exceeded twenty thousand. Now there were three tea-processing plants, seven banks, eight pharmacies, six doctors, and five dentists. Previously, there had been only one of each. Now there was a high school (lise), a school for imams (Iİmam-Hatip Okulu), and a girls' vocational school (Özel Meslek Kûz Lisesi) in the town, as well as several middle schools (orta okulu) in different parts of the district. Before a single middle school in the town had served the entire district, and the only high schools had been in other parts of the province of Trabzon. The grid of streets had been expanded to include a large esplanade, and many more shops and warehouses had been constructed. There were also thousands of new apartments and many more planned. A significant number of people had made a lot of money, some by sellingtheir gardens at hugely inflated prices, others by building or renting apartments to the crowds of new residents who had moved from the villages to the town.
Measured against my earlier experiences, encounters on the street were comparatively anonymous. In the 1960s, a stranger like myself would have been noticed upon stepping off the bus. He would have immediately been asked who he was and what he wanted. When I mentioned this change to my friends, they agreed, saying they commonly encountered individuals whom they did not know, and so they no longer thought to ask their names, business, or place of origin. I was also impressed with the new urban atmosphere of the town. Before, many of the residences were actually small farms surrounded by tea gardens and with livestock in their basements. When I sent a friend a postcard, it was not even necessary to have his street address. Just a name and surname were sufficient: "Mehmet Öztürk, Of, Trabzon." Now the postman could not possibly know the thousands of residents who lived in blocks and blocks of six-story apartment buildings. Along with the new anonymity and urbanism, the old public sanctions had lost their force through differentiation of consumption patterns. Before, the wife of the only pharmacist in the town had been cursed and spat upon for leaving her hair uncovered during the weekly market. Now young women employees strolled through the market with bare forearms, something that would have been shocking two decades earlier. Before, a leading individual from a large family grouping had entered the studio of the town photographer and destroyed the photograph of one of his nieces that had been placed in the street window. Now, a son of the same photographer had opened a new boutique, a franchise of a national chain, with the latest women's fashions from Istanbul. Before, Hüseyin had run a stationery shop and bookstore as a way of involving himself in Kemalist politics and reform. Now his son, who was managing the store, had added a substantial video library. There was even a hint of cosmopolitanism. A large and comfortable hotel, The Tea City Hotel, had been opened. It featured an outdoor cafe where one might enjoy a splendid vista of the Black Sea coast. It also featured a restaurant with tablecloths and uniformed waiters, and dishes that matched the quality of those in the best Istanbul restaurants. The hotel, cafe, and restaurant had become a site for government and business conferences, and it had also become a regular stop for German tour buses passing between Trabzon and Rize. I could hardly recognize the coffeehouses because of all the construction. The Crystal Palace Teahouse, where I had been so warmly welcomed, was no longer to be found. The Town Square Coffeehouse was also gone, but it was eventually replaced by a smaller version across the square. Otherwise, there were many new coffeehouses, some of them incorporated as private clubs, just as there were new kinds of social groups who attended them. But even though there were more coffeehouses than before, the proportion of the population who frequented them must have diminished. The arrival of television, already with several channels and with many more soon to come, had brought with it the living room as a meeting place for family and friends, including both men and women. Because of this change, the coffeehouses, still unattended by women, could not have been quite so important as forums of public life as they had been in the 1960s.
And yet many, if not most, of the public offices open to local residents in the town were still reserved for members of the Selimoğlu. How was it possible for circles of agnates, relatives, friends, and clients to continue to dominate public life? The discipline of interpersonal association had depended on all kinds of constraints that were now eroding. These included men's control of women, men's presence in coffeehouses, restricted intellectual engagements and resources, a political economy of patrons and clients, the imposition of authority by occasional threats of retaliation, the relative immobility of the rural population, and limited economic opportunities. Given that each of these conditions had been more or less compromised, how could circles of interpersonal association, based as they were on normative performances, survive in this town that was becoming a city?
The example of the Oflus in the greater Istanbul region provides the answer. A discipline of social thinking and practice was a resource by which the Oflus adapted to the city. The city was an anonymous urban environment, but it enabled interpersonal associations by concentrating the population, facilitating communication, and expanding economic opportunities. In Istanbul the Oflus were able to devise new kinds of interpersonal associations, some of them mercantile, some of them benevolent, some of them intellectual, some of them religious, and some of them criminal. In just the same way, circles of interpersonal association persisted in the town of Of even as they were becoming more differentiated and variegated in character.
The portrait of Mayors in the Municipal Building
One afternoon during my brief visit in 1988 I entered the new municipal building, where an employee invited me into the office of the mayor. Süleyman Selimoğlu, who had been the director of the "dissident" tea cooperative during the 1960s, was not in his office at the time. He had first been elected to the mayorship in 1984, his parsimonious style of management having apparently won the day with the voters. The municipal employee kindly offered me tea. Soon other employees joined us, as well as a number of town worthies. Together we recalled the days when I had been a resident. In the course of our conversation, I was shown a large framed picture hung on one wall. It was a montage of identity card photographs, purporting to represent all the mayors of the town since 1874. There were nine photographs in all, each accompanied by a name and dates of service. As we were examining the photomontage, one of the employees said that the mayorship of the town of Of had remained in the same family line for almost a 120 years. One of the town worthies present, an ex-mayor himself, said that this record of service for a single family line was without parallel anywhere else in the Republic of Turkey.
The portrait of mayors was indeed remarkable, even if not exactly for the reasons given. There were years in which the mayor had not been from the Selimoğlu family line, both before and after the declaration of the Turkish Republic. The period of service of two of the other mayors had been inaccurately expanded to cover these gaps. There were also years when Mehmet Selimoğlu had served as mayor under a different surname. This detail was overlooked, although with justification, since he eventually reassumed the name of the family line. So the photomontage, by its inaccuracies and omissions, established what had not really been the case.
The portrait of mayors did, however, confirm that the hegemony of the family line still prevailed in the town of Of, since it was possible to assert a claim that was not strictly true. This having been said, one would have to add that the photomontage actually understated rather than overstated the historical prominence of the family line. Members of the Selimoğlu had figured in the government of the district of Of even before the town existed, for perhaps as long as 250 years, more than twice as long as the claimed 120 years. This is indeed a remarkable record that would surely have few parallels anywhere else in the Turkish Republic. The Selimoğlu had outlasted the "Hazinedaroğlu," the line of Süleyman Pasha and Osman Pasha. They had even outlasted the "Osmanoğlu," the line of Mehmet II and Süleyman I. So what we have to consider is not how members of the family line could claim so much, but rather why they were content to claim so little.
The photomontage commemorated the mayorship as the responsibility of the entire family line. It accurately recorded the fact that the mayorship had not been monopolized by the descendants of Ferhat Agha, but had passed from set to set (takûm). In doing so, as I have noted above, it did not recognize that the aghas and ayans of the district had come from the family line since the eighteenth century. So, in effect, it ignored the opportunity to claim a strong connection with the imperial period. But at the same time, it did not recognize the role of leading individuals of the family line in the Battle for Of. So it also ignored the opportunity to claim a strong connection with the transition from Empire to Republic. Instead, the photomontage correlated leading individuals of the family line with the municipality. They had served as its mayors from the moment of its initial founding in 1874, fifty years before the national revolution, right down to the present. In so doing, the photomontage identified leading individuals of the Selimoğlu with the history of bureaucratic modernization in the eastern coastal region. This history had begun in 1874 with the incorporation of all district centers of the province of Trabzon as municipalities, even though many of them did not even have towns. The representation of the mayors of the town by photographs was itself a way of emphasizing this identification. The mayors appeared more convincingly as bureaucratic modernizers precisely because they also appeared in the form of an identity card photograph, a token of bureaucratic modernization.
One would have to credit Hüseyin Selimoğlu with the idea of so legitimizing the role of the family line in the district of Of, perhaps as early as the 1950s. He had chosen to hang a portrait of Mithat Paşa (a photograph being unavailable) above the quilted and framed fabric behind his desk in his office in the tea cooperative. But Hüseyin had only had the idea of legitimizing the family line in this way. In contrast, Süleyman Selimoğlu had come to prominence by insisting on the practice of bureaucratic modernization. As I recounted in the last chapter, he and his allies had successfully organized a second tea cooperative in the town in the face of opposition by the descendants of Ferhat Agha. He had done so by stressing his commitment to fairness and efficiency. Some years later, he had entered the race for mayor and won the office, presumably on the basis of his reputation as the director of the tea cooperative. And now, altogether appropriately, his mayoral office featured a portrait of mayors that identified the family with the period of bureaucratic modernization.
So the "argument" of the photomontage was not the same as the "argument" of Liberation Day in 1967. The Selimoğlu had traveled a certain distance since the time of my residence in the town. The old tactic of sovereign power through interpersonal association, which had been revived during the early years of multiparty politics, was now in the background. It had been replaced by a claim to public service that stretched back to the imperial period of bureaucratic modernization. This indicated that "class" distinctions characteristic of a modern nation-state now supplemented the circles of interpersonal association of a regional social oligarchy. That is, leading individuals of the Selimoğlu claimed the mayorship by their professional training, experience, and contacts, even as they continued to rely on agnates, relatives, friends, and clients. This was a striking change from the 1950s, when some said that the mayor did not know how to read and write very well.
The capturing of public offices by a combination of bureaucratic professionalism and interpersonal associations was, however, subject to challenge. There were sectors of the population who saw bureaucratic procedures as mechanisms of domination and exclusion, and these same sectors of the population also featured circles of interpersonal association. Before my visit to the town of Of in 1988, I had been told by an acquaintance that the residents of the town of Of now included a large number of supporters of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), whose national leader was Necmettin Erbakan. This party appealed to those who resented the secularist policies of the Turkish Republic, since they experienced them as instruments of repression rather than participation. For example, many of those who voted for this party supported a return to the sacred law of Islam. Such a move, they could imagine, would at the same time legitimize their place in the Turkish Republic and reinforce their social solidarity, thus enhancing their political position.
Given the tradition of official Islam in the district of Of, it is not at all surprising that many, if not a majority, of the villagers who had moved to the town would vote for this Islamist political party. My acquaintance had also told me that the Selimoğlu were no longer able to muster enough votes to win the mayorship without the support of the Welfare Party. The leading individuals from the family line were therefore required, he maintained, to work closely with representatives of the Welfare Party, the latter having not yet fielded its own candidate for the mayorship. The fact of such a partnership would soon be plain to see in the evolving urban character of the town of Of.
The Imperial Great Mosque in the Town of Of
I have already described how the town featured an extended grid of streets with blocks and blocks of new apartment buildings at the time of my 1988 visit. But I did not mention an impressive architectural project that had been initiated but not completed. A gigantic mosque in the style of the classical Ottoman mosques was being constructed in the old market center. An Oflu firm was going to use reinforced concrete to build a likeness of the domes and minarets that mark the skyline of Istanbul. The new mosque was to be situated at the western side of town in such a way that its grounds overlooked the Solaklû River at the point where it entered the Black Sea. By this arrangement, the new mosque would bring to mind the imperial great mosques that overlook the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Straits.
The construction of the new mosque was part of a trend throughout the country that was not in any way peculiar to the district of Of. During the years immediately following the military coup of 1980, the generals who had taken charge decided to place a new emphasis on religious education in the public schools. The Turkish military, a Kemalist bulwark in the Turkish Republic, thereby compromised the founding principle of a secular public culture. This departure was inspired by the hope that an updated version of official Islam might counter radical leftist and rightist political orientations among Turkish youths. In effect, the Turkish military had adopted the idea of Hasan Umur in his little book Of and the Battles for Of, but not with the end that he had in mind. They were not interested in bringing the state into closer alignment with the Islamic beliefs and practices of the people. They were interested in rectifying and improving the people so that they would occupy their proper places in a state society.
In other words, the generals had opted for a version of what I have elsewhere termed "Kemalo-Islamism." Partly as a result of this policy, but also partly as a consequence of the demoralization of the radical left and right, religion acquired a degree of respectability in national public culture. All kinds of groupings and movements were inclined, if not obliged, to align themselves with the updated version of official Islam. During the early 1980s, for example, new public monuments and memorials oriented toward imperial rather than national history began to be built in towns and cities all over the country.
The building of the great mosque in the old market center of the town of Of was just one of many such undertakings. The building project was widely supported by public donations, including gifts from Oflus who lived both inside and outside the district. But leading individuals from the Selimoğlu had also made an important contribution. The part of the old town center where the great mosque was to be located was also the site of the graves of leading individuals from the Selimoğlu family line. Some portion of the grounds for the new mosque was reported to have been donated by members of the family line, in emulation of an ascendant who donated the grounds for the old mosque in the old town center. And eventually, one side of the court of the great mosque would become the site for the reconstructed graves of leading individuals of the Selimoğlu family line. The old graves, some going back to the period of decentralization in the early nineteenth century, would be enclosed in white marble borders. They would be set with new white marble headstones and re-inscribed in the Latin letters of new Turkish. The refurbishing of the old graves thereby accomplished what had been missing from the portrait of mayors.
The leading individuals of the Selimoğlu family line had not only been bureaucratic modernizers. They had also been among the founders of an ottomanist provincial society that went back to the post-classical period of the Ottoman Empire. The leading individuals of the Selimoğlu still headed circles of interpersonal association, but now in a town that had assumed the character of a city. They were therefore inclined to supplement these circles of interpersonal association with a politics that would wrest an electoral majority from a diverse urban population. On the one hand, they represented themselves as fair and efficient bureaucrats, thereby appealing to a citizenry that had good reason to fear corruption. This was some part of the meaning of the portrait of mayors. On the other hand they were also supporters of Islamic monuments and institutions, thereby appealing to a citizenry resentful of bureaucratic domination and proud of its Islamist traditions. This was some part of the meaning of the old graves at the side of the great mosque.
The Muradoğlu, rivals of the Selimoğlu, faced another, more straightforward, version of the problem of changing political circumstances. The Muradoğlu family line was traditionally based in the villages rather than the town. They had never represented themselves as bureaucrats, like their rivals, but claimed instead to be close to ordinary Oflusin the countryside. They were less inclined to rely on the control of public institutions and organizations, and accordingly they had more readily aligned themselves with the Islamist sentiments of the majority of the population at an earlier date.
During a visit to Of in 1978, I had been shown the refurbished graveyard of the founders of the Muradoğlu family line, principally İİsmail Agha and Memiş Agha (see chap. 6), and of some of their children and wives. Members of the family line had collected funds to enclose the graveyard with white marble borders and arches. They had also arranged for the setting of new white marble headstones, inscribed in the old Arabic letters, rather than in the Latin letters of new Turkish (see fig. 13). During the same period, funds had also been collected to build a new mosque at the eastern edge of the district of Of, not far from the town of Eskipazar. This mosque was intended to commemorate one of the tombs of one of the hodjas credited with the mass conversion of the Christians in the district of Of (the Maraşlûlar) during the post-classical period. The mosque was not large, but its construction materials and facilities were especially fine and luxurious.
Figure 13. Graves of the founders of the Muradoğlu family line.
So by the later 1970s, the Muradoğlu were commemorating ascendants who had been prominent in the government of the district during the period of decentralization, before the beginning of bureaucratic modernization. By their claim to be a family line that extended back to the post-classical period, the Muradoğlu had also been able to align themselves with the Maraşlûlar, who converted the district of Of to Islam and initiated its tradition of professors and academies. Following the coup of 1980, the members of the Muradoğlu were therefore far better positioned than their rivals in the town of Of to respond to the new policy of encouraging religious identification and expression. They had soon taken part in the building of a great mosque at Eskipazar, one that also used reinforced concrete in imitation of the classical imperial style. The construction of this mosque was already more advanced than the great mosque in the town of Of in 1988.
By these developments, the Selimoğlu and the Muradoğlu continued to represent local elites closer to the state system and local elites closer to district networks. The difference between them is therefore analogous to the difference between Osman Agha şatûroğlu and Memiş Agha Tuzcuoğlu (see chap. 6).
The ruling institution of the Ottoman Empire is often understood as a household state, based on the model of a family. In my opinion, this obscures important features of the imperial system. The Ottoman palace was founded on a discipline of face-to-face, person-to-person relationships, one that was unhinged from any local setting of primordial customs and habits. In this respect, it was against family, just as it was also against tribe, community, and ethnicity. One did not have to be born into it, and perhaps all the better that one was born out of it. The discipline in question was derived from an ethico-religious system of scholarly construction, but it came to be used as an imperial instrument. Being valid for all times and places because not limited to any time and place, a tactic of sovereign power through interpersonal as sociation could produce a state society out of all kinds of families, tribes, communities, and peoples. But precisely because the imperial system was both transmissible and assimilable, it was also off balance and out of kilter. Its strategies of centralization always featured problems of decentralization.
The project of the nation features similar qualities insofar as it is a repetition of the project of the Empire. The fractures in the state society of the Empire—officials with and against aghas but also aghas with and against hodjas—reappear as fractures of the Republican period—Kemalists with and against local elites but also local elites with and against Islamists. The splits and divides in national public culture, such as I have described them in the district of Of, can therefore be seen as indications of the transformative and inventive potential of the old imperial devices in the environment of modernity. In the city today, the structural relationship of state and society is still apparent in the differentiation of Oflu associations, which range from high religiosity to low criminality. On the other hand, this structural relationship is neither closed nor inescapable. As we have seen, it was possible for a little girl to challenge her interrogator: "I am not an Oflu; I am an Istanbullu." This child's play might seem to be but a recent instance of more than three hundred years of Oflu identification with the great imperial city. But this would be a misunderstanding of my argument, and perhaps as well a misinterpretation of the child's meaning. The Oflus never identified with Istanbul as a city, but rather with the universal imperialism that the city claimed to represent. As for the child, she may have been asserting her identity as an Istanbullu, not an Oflu. But more likely, since she spoke with defiance, she was saying that she was not going to let others tell her who she was. If this is correct, her statement was a sign of a transformative and inventive potential of another kind, one unanticipated by either Mehmet II or Kemal Atatürk. Just where it might lead is anyone's guess.
1. As it had happened, the Battle for Of in 1916 had begun on virtually the same day of the year that the Russians had evacuated the district two years later in 1918. So Liberation Day simultaneously marks resistance to as well as liberation from the Russian military occupation. [BACK]
2. I was repeatedly told that no one was allowed to mount a horse in Of except the agha, a point that was intended to illustrate how the old imperial hierarchy had been supplanted by republican equality. Compare the Ottoman sultan on his horse in the middle court (chap. 4). [BACK]
3. He appealed to religious conservatives on other occasions as well. During the month of Ramadan, when attendance at the morning prayers was heavy, he stood outside the mosque to greet the crowds of men as they left the building. [BACK]
4. Some years later in Istanbul, groups of an Islamist orientation would begin to commemorate Mehmet II's conquest at the old walls of the city. This presumably would have raised the question of whether the palace could henceforth remain a subject of children's play. [BACK]
5. Hasan Ulusoy, father of one of the organizers of the new association, had contributed a substantial sum of money in the late 1960s (some said forty thousand Turkish lira) for the rebuilding of the minaret of the old mosque in Of. [BACK]
6. The association has since moved into luxuriously furnished quarters on the top floors of a tall building in the Fatih quarter. [BACK]
7. I would be surprised if this were universally true. [BACK]
8. Altay Yiğit (1981) had also published a second volume thirty years after his account of the Battle for Of. It was a study of the history and folklore of Çaykara. [BACK]
9. For examples of other intellectual projects in an urban context, see Meeker 1991, 1994b. [BACK]
10. See Shankland 1999 for a good overview of the place of religious leaders and brotherhoods in the politics of Turkey. [BACK]
11. For a recent study of money and association in the city, see White 1994. [BACK]
12. The use of this term would appear to be a neologism, since "agha-ness" would have once referred to a state appointment of an individual to serve as an agha in accordance with certain defined duties. See chaps. 7 and 8. [BACK]
13. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, another bizarre interlude, the "time of Natashas," repeated the "time of the waiter girls" of the 1920s. [BACK]
14. Some of my acquaintances had cited the names of several individuals who had been the mayor of the town before and after the Great War but were not members of the Selimoğlu family line. [BACK]
15. I do not know which mayor was responsible for the photomontage, or when it was first hung in the office of the mayor. My point is that the career of Süleyman brought the importance of fairness and efficiency to the foreground. Other members of the family line would have learned this lesson even before Süleyman became mayor. [BACK]
16. This may be a result of the influence of Max Weber's views of patrimonial domination, but Findley (1980, 7) notes that the Ottomans themselves sometimes ascribed to such a viewpoint. [BACK]
17. Cf. Delaney 1991, who has explored the prevalence of patriarchal symbolism in Turkey. [BACK]