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.