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A Nation of Empire

A Nation of Empire: The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 438
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  • Book Info
    A Nation of Empire
    Book Description:

    This innovative study of modern Turkey is the result of many years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research. Michael Meeker expertly combines anthropological and historical methods to examine the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic in a major region of the country, the eastern Black Sea coast. His most significant finding is that a state-oriented provincial oligarchy played a key role in successive programs of reform over the course of more than two hundred years of imperial and national history. As Meeker demonstrates, leading individuals backed by interpersonal networks determined the outcome of the modernizing process, first during the westernizing period of the Empire, then during the revolutionary period of the Republic. To understand how such a state-oriented provincial oligarchy was produced and reproduced along the eastern Black Sea coast, Meeker integrates a contemporary ethnographic study of public life in towns and villages with a historical study of official documents, consular reports, and travel narratives.A Nation of Empireprovides anthropologists, historians, and students of Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a new understanding of the complexities and contradictions of modern Turkish experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92912-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps, Tables, and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  6. Explanations
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)

    • 1 Amnesia: Clan-Society and Nation-State
      (pp. 3-39)

      In August of 1965, during my first trip to Turkey, I was traveling by minibus eastward along the coastal road from Trabzon, hopping from town to town, taking first one van and then another, intending to reach Rize by the evening. Sometime after noon, taking advantage of a stop at the small town of Eskipazar in the district of Of, I decided to have lunch in a restaurant that catered to the travelers making bus connections in the market center. Just as I had begun to relish a dish of chicken pilaf, the room fell silent as several men, some...

    • 2 Prohibition: Social Relations and Official Islam
      (pp. 40-82)

      In August of 1965, traveling by minibus eastward along the coastal road from Trabzon, I reached the town of Rize in the late afternoon. Wanting to shower and rest, I took a room in a comfortable hotel, patronized for the most part by businessmen, professionals, and officials. That evening, some of the guests invited me to join them in the lobby of the hotel and asked me questions about my university studies. When I found the opportunity, I told them about the elderly bearded man in Eskipazar for whom the restaurant patrons had stood at attention. My hosts were impressed...


    • 3 Horizons: Markets and States
      (pp. 85-109)

      The Pontic Mountains run from west to east across the upper tier of the peninsula of Asia Minor.¹ The northern slopes of these mountains comprise a well-watered coastal region with a temperate climate. The southern slopes belong to the more arid, less vegetated, hot-in-summer, cold-in-winter interior highlands of Anatolia. This contrast between coast and plateau intensifies as the mountains rise from west to east (see map 2).

      Along all the eastern segment of the coastline, from Ordu to Hopa, there are no large deltas, flat coastal strips are more infrequent and narrower, and the landscape is almost everywhere broken and...

    • 4 Empire: Gaze, Discipline, Rule
      (pp. 110-152)

      In the last chapter, I noted that the inhabitants of the eastern coastal region eventually came to identify with and participate in the institutions of the Ottoman Empire. But if these rural peoples were inclined to align themselves with the imperial system, this does not mean that the ruling institution itself would have permitted, let alone encouraged, such an accommodation. Indeed, the very idea of a rural people becoming ottomanist in orientation contradicts the prevailing historiography of the Ottoman Empire. Most commentaries have emphasized an unbridgeable divide between its ruling (askeri) class of state officials and its ordinary subjects (reaya),...

    • 5 Dissemination: Soldiers and Students
      (pp. 153-182)

      In this chapter, I examine the district of Of as a case study in the emergence of an ottomanist state society in the province of Trabzon. Documents transliterated and summarized by Hasan Umur, the local historian of Of, track three different phases of such a process: the Islamization of the district by conversion and immigration, the spread of soldiering and preaching, and the rise to prominence of local elites.¹

      Who are the Oflus? The question has often been posed by outsiders, and their answers are bewildering. The Oflus are Lezghis (Evliya Çelebi, a late-seventeenth-century Ottoman traveler who confused them with...


    • 6 A State Society: State Officials and Local Elites
      (pp. 185-226)

      The rise of local elites in the coastal districts of the province of Trabzon came about through the appropriation and adaptation of an imperial tactic of sovereign power. Individuals from the lower ranks of military officers formed interpersonal associations with their lessers, equals, and betters. With this development, the structure of political authority came to feature a distribution of sovereign power with both vertical and horizontal cleavages. State officials no longer enjoyed a monopoly of military force as they once had during the classical Ottoman period. They were everywhere confronted with local elites in the coastal districts who were able...

    • 7 Blindness: A Feudal Past Without a Modern Future
      (pp. 227-250)

      In 1796 Citizen Beauchamp had noticed that the Muslims of Trabzon were “different” from the Muslims of Istanbul:

      The inhabitants have a wild look about them at first appearance. Their dress consists of pants and coat of Capuchin cloth. They all walk about armed with pistols and a rifle, even within the town itself. They are not as fanatic as the Muslims of Constantinople.¹ During the three hundred years the [latter] have encountered Europeans, they have always preserved the custom of insulting them and mistreating them as unbelievers. During our stay at Trabzon, we didn’t hear a single bad word;...

    • 8 Scandal: Aghas and Hodjas
      (pp. 251-282)

      The first constitution of the Ottoman Empire was promulgated toward the close of 1876, the same year in which Sultan Abdülhamit II began a thirtythree-year reign.¹ The constitution had been prepared and adopted under the auspices of Mithat Pasha, one of the most prominent of the Ottoman reformers. It provided for the selection of representatives who would assemble as a legislative body. The spring of the following year, the deputies of the new parliament took their seats and began their deliberations. Not quite one year later, Abdülhamit II dissolved the parliament, but claimed to preserve the constitution. The election of...


    • 9 Revolution: Amnesia and Prohibition
      (pp. 285-317)

      The official history of the Turkish Republic begins on May 19, 1919, with the arrival of the Ottoman military commander, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, in the Black Sea port of Samsun.¹ Under the terms of an armistice, the Ottoman sultan had accepted the disbanding of what remained of his armies, as well as military occupation by Britain, France, and Italy. Having left Istanbul under orders to implement the armistice, Mustafa Kemal, later to become known as Atatürk, instead set about coordinating a national resistance in defiance of the imperial government. Just days before his departure, a Greek army had landed at...

    • 10 Democracy: The Old Republic Inhabits the New Republic
      (pp. 318-341)

      In this chapter, I shall explain how the move from a one-party to a multiparty regime vivified both district networks and coastal coalitions. Leading individuals from the Selimoğlu and the Muradoğlu once again came to dominate public life as each aligned himself with one of two national political parties. This development illustrates how the behavioral foundations of the old state society remained in place during the first two decades of the Turkish Republic despite the revolution in public culture.

      In April 1945, the National Assembly in Ankara ratified the Charter of the United Nations, confirming membership of the Turkish Republic...

    • 11 Civil Society: Coffeehouses and Cooperatives
      (pp. 342-371)

      During the 1960s, there were about ten coffeehouses (kahve) in the town of Of, some of which were also called reading rooms (kıraathane) or teahouses (çayhane). Despite the name commonly applied to them, the coffeehouses were not places where one went to drink a good or bad cup of coffee. They were the forums of public life, for the town, but also for the entire district. During the course of a week, thousands of villagers came down from their mountain hamlets to spend some time sitting and talking in a coffeehouse, exchanging pleasantries, making business deals, debating politics, learning the...

    • 12 The City: Nations and Empires
      (pp. 372-396)

      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,...

  11. References
    (pp. 397-406)
  12. Index
    (pp. 407-420)