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University of California Press
A Nation of Empire: The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity / Edition 1

A Nation of Empire: The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity / Edition 1

by Michael Meeker


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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 Empire provides anthropologists, historians, and students of Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a new understanding of the complexities and contradictions of modern Turkish experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520234826
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/29/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 438
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Michael E. Meeker is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Literature and Violence in North Arabia (1979) and The Pastoral Son and the Spirit of Patriarchy (1989).

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Nation of Empire

Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity
By Michael E. Meeker

University of California Press

Copyright © 2002 Michael E. Meeker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520234826

Amnesia Clan-Society and Nation-State

A First Account of Arrival and Discovery

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 of them dressed in suits and ties, abruptly rose from their chairs, standing at attention as though soldiers presenting themselves to a commanding officer. An elderly bearded man who had just then entered the room with a perfunctory greeting motioned to the men to sit and then ordered two of the waiters to carry a suitcase and a millstone from the nearby market to a minibus that he was about to board on his way to Trabzon. The waiters followed him from the restaurant to do his bidding while the patrons, having taken their seats again, resumedeating and talking as before.

Impressed that someone without any apparent official standing would be accorded this kind of deference in a public place, I decided to return to the district of Of as soon as I had finished my tour of the eastern Black Sea coast from Rize to Hopa. When I did so a week or so later, I was able to question a university student whom I had met in one of the coffeehouses in the town of Of. After describing the scene in the restaurant, my acquaintance was able to explain to me exactly what I had seen. He told me that the elderly bearded man and all the other men who had risen to salute him would have been members of the same large family grouping, as was most of the population in the vicinity of Eskipazar. The older man, whose identity he was able to guess, was one of the more prominent elders (büyüklerinden) of this family. The younger men had stopped eating and talking and stood at attention as a sign of their respect (hürmet ediyorlardıı) for a senior relative.1 Some of them might have been his own sons or grandsons, but others would have been more distant junior agnates (amcaoğlu).

I expressed surprise that the majority of the residents near a major district market consisted of a single kin-group composed of many households. My host, who was not displeased by my reaction, explained that this situation was not at all remarkable. The majority of the population in the vicinity of the town of Of, where we sat, also belonged to a second large family grouping. Each of the two families consisted of hundreds of households, and each was concentrated around one of the two small coastal towns of the district. Moreover, the members of these two families dominated the public life of the two little towns. As my acquaintance explained it, leading individuals from the two families had, by virtue of the support of their numerous kinsmen, monopolized all the higher official positions that were open to locals in each town. Except for a certain number of district state officials, the heads of municipal government, agricultural cooperatives, nationalist associations, and political parties were drawn from one of two large family groupings, the Muradoğlu in the town of Eskipazar and the Selimoğlu in the town of Of.2

As our conversation continued, my host told me that the two families had been in a dominant position in the district as far back as anyone could remember, that is to say, for well over a hundred years. Throughout the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, they usually monopolized the higher official positions open to locals. More often than not, they were able to intimidate, if not coerce, local representatives of the provincial government. After the declaration of the Turkish Republic, the two families were set back politically for only a few years. Toward the end of the one-party system, from 1945 on, leading individuals from the Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu rose in prominence through participation in political parties. Now, the two families were fierce rivals with one another, each aligned with a different national political party and competing against the other to bring government projects to Eskipazar and Of, respectively. The "Oflus" (native residents of the district), as well as the district state officials who served among them, were more or less resigned to the fact that members of the two families would dominate public life in the district. Some considered this situation a kind of scandal, running counter to the democratic principles of the multiparty period, but no one expressed such an opinion openly.

I wrote down a summary of the remarks of my coffeehouse acquaintance with a sense of excitement. I had stumbled upon a situation that posed exactly the kind of questions on which I had intended to focus my research. When I came to the Turkish Republic as a graduate student in anthropology, I had been interested in understanding how local tradition had played a role in shaping the course of economic and political modernization. I was searching for a site, preferably a district center, where I could study these two sides of everyday provincial life. I had the idea that interpersonal relationships in villages and towns had not been transformed by the nationalist movement to the same degree as in the major cities of the Turkish Republic. Presuming that the Ottoman Empire had left most localities to fend for themselves, I expected to discover a rich variety of local social and cultural systems.

I was therefore anticipating that townsmen and villagers had responded to the nationalist project of state modernization in different ways, and I was hoping to demonstrate that local traditions were sometimes the basis for both positive and negative engagements with modernity. I had been specifically attracted to the eastern Black Sea coast by the reputation of its inhabitants. They were said to be unusually conservative in their social relations but nonetheless successful as officials, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

In the district of Of, I had now encountered just the profound contrast between a local tradition and state modernity for which I had been looking. An "order" of a social system, consisting of leading individuals from large family groupings, could be clearly differentiated from an "order" of the nation-state, consisting of representative government, state administration, and public associations. By this distinction, the elites of a local social order had succeeded in infiltrating the new national order. These elites, whose conduct of social relations was apparently conservative, familial, and religious in orientation, dominated a public sphere that was in principle reformist, nationalist, and secularist in orientation. The district of Of therefore seemed an excellent place for a study of the way in which local social formations had adapted themselves to state projects of political and economic modernization. Using the methods of anthropology—the ethnographic study of interpersonal relationships—I could hope to uncover the limits of "top-down" reforms that a study of government policies and institutions could not easily detect. From the outset, I had assumed the existence of two separate but interacting orders at the local level: a traditional social system and a modern state system.

A Social System Divided from the State System

What I had observed as the result of an incidental stop for lunch would not have ordinarily come to the attention of a passing traveler. Normally, there was nothing to be seen or heard in either the market of Eskipazar or the town of Of to indicate the dominant position of the Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu. It was not openly announced by any kind of sign, building, or plaza. The town of Of, where I was eventually to conduct my fieldwork, actually offered a strong first impression of the new state rather than the old society. By the design of its streets and squares, and by the appearance of its offices, shops, and residences, this was a town of the Turkish Republic, even more so than its counterparts elsewhere in the country.3 Forty years earlier, when the Ottoman Empire came to an end, it was hardly a town at all.4 Its public spaces and structures, most of which had come into being since that time, were therefore almost entirely the creations of the new nation-state. Some body of state officials and experts, probably in Ankara, had devised a definition of what a Turkish town should be. The town of Of, such as it was during the summer of 1965, conformed to this nationalist canon far more perfectly than other Turkish towns, some of which were cluttered with Ottoman, Seljuk, Byzantine, or even Roman leftovers.

What first struck the eye of a casual visitor was therefore very much a "republican" town (see fig. 1).5 There was a new government building (hükümet), designed in a spare modernist style and larger than any other building. Here, a district officer (kaymakam), two district judges (hakim), and a district prosecutor (savcıı), none of them natives of the district, conducted their affairs and received visits from citizens. A large central square (meydan) had been laid out before the government building for the purpose of national commemorations and ceremonies. A bust of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) was located at the center of one side of this square, always to be seen looking to the west—and so, specifically, not to the east. On national holidays, state officials, local worthies, military bands, schoolchildren, and villagers assembled in the square before the bust in order to pay homage to the founder of the Turkish Republic.

With the government building and central square as its center, the town spread out along the coastline. To the west, where the small nucleus of a late Ottoman town had been laid out around the turn of the century, the grid of streets was more compact, but the roads were still rectilinear rather than winding and irregular. Most of the shops, workshops, and warehouses of the town were located here, as well as most of its coffeehouses, hotels and dormitories, and restaurants. To the east, two wide avenues ran parallel to one another, interspersed with vegetable gardens and citrus groves. The residences of officials, the gendarmerie and military posts, the primary and secondary schools, and the public health and social services agencies were all located here.

The town was centered around the government building and central square, the administrative and ceremonial spaces of the Turkish Republic. By the arrangement of the two, which had been determined sometime around the early 1930s, one could detect the principle that had inspired the Kemalist one-party regime.6 Although barely a stone's throw from the coastline, the government building and central square had been oriented landward rather seaward, so that they were facing away from a spectacularly beautiful vista. Given the sensitivity to architectural siting and views in Turkey, the pair of them seemed to insist, "We do not represent the people of this district to the world so much as we represent the central government to the people of this district."

Such a reading of the town plan is more simplification than exaggeration. From the later 1920s, the Kemalist leadership of the nationalist movement had faced the difficult task of transforming a citizenry of Ottoman Muslims into a citizenry of Republican Turks. To do so, they encouraged a certain degree of popular participation in various kinds of governmental and nongovernmental organizations. In this way, a new kind of public life would be propagated, one based on republican rather than ottomanist principles. All these governmental and nongovernmental organizations had always been subject to official regulation, even closure and banning. Nonetheless, resident state officials did not have direct control over a certain number of genuinely public organizations whose numbers and functions had gradually multiplied over the first four decades of the Turkish Republic.

The most important of these public organizations, in terms of their services and their financing, were the municipal government and four agricultural cooperatives.7 Just to the west of the central square, toward the older section of town, the municipal government was located in a new concrete building, along with the water, electric, and telephone utilities. The town mayor and council, who had their offices there, were residents of Of and natives of the district. They had assumed their posts after facing other candidates in free and open elections. Elsewhere in the older section of the town, the four agricultural cooperatives maintained separate offices and warehouses. They consisted of a loan cooperative for purchasing agricultural tools and supplies, founded in the 1930s; a cooperative for hazelnut producers, founded in 1942; and two cooperatives for tea growers, founded in 1955 and 1965. Each of the four agricultural cooperatives had a director, councilmen, membership rolls, annual meetings, and a written constitution. The director and councilmen were elected by the membership from a list of nominees during the annual meeting. The elections, which were by secret ballot, were observed by government inspectors, who ratified the results. The membership of each cooperative varied from somewhat fewer than a thousand to more than two thousand, and the annual budget of each varied from about a half million to more than two million Turkish lira, a very considerable sum of money at the time.8

In addition to the municipal government and agricultural cooperatives, there were also a number of local branches of national public associations. Most of the latter had first been organized in the larger cities during the early years of the Turkish Republic with the express intention of facilitating, but also guiding, popular participation in political, cultural, and charitable activities. Each branch office had appeared in the district of Of not long after the association's founding at the national level. The Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) had been founded by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) in 1922, shortly before the declaration of the Turkish Republic. The RPP had a chairman in the town of Of no later than 1927, and probably several years earlier than that.9 The People's Houses (Halkevleri), which were directly linked with the RPP, were culture clubs for the promotion of local history, folklore, music, and literature.10 First founded in Istanbul in 1924, the People's Houses had established a local branch in Of no later than the 1940s, and probably by the 1930s. It had become defunct when the national organization was closed down by the government in 1951.11 The Turkish Air Association (Türk Hava Kurumu), founded on the national level sometime after 1922, was in existence in the town of Of by 1925. This association collected contributions—principally the hides of sheep sacrificed during the annual religious festival (Kurban Bayramıı)—for the building of a national air force. The Red Crescent Society (Kıızıılay Cemiyeti) raised relief funds for victims of disasters. There was a local branch during the 1940s, and probably by the 1930s. The Primary and Middle School Parent-Teacher Associations (ıılk Okul/Orta Okul Aile Birliği) were in existence by the 1940s. They had a chairman who called an annual meeting at least once a year to discuss issues regarding the schools. A local branch of the Small Businessmen's Association (Küçük Esnaf Derneği) was organized in the town of Of in 1966, soon after it was first founded at the national level. Its officers managed a loan fund for the promotion of small businesses.

Like the municipal government and the producer cooperatives, most of these local branches of national organizations were supposed to manage their affairs according to a written constitution that had been legally approved and registered. Their membership was to elect a chairman and councilmen during an annual assembly in accordance with prescribed procedures. Their officers were to maintain a membership roll, keep a record of dues paid, announce meetings, conduct open discussion, and so on.

The municipal government, the producer cooperatives, and the local branches of national associations were therefore in principle the means by which private individuals in the town of Of were able to participate in the public life of the Turkish Republic. During the period of their existence in Of, their directors, councilmen, and membership were almost always composed of natives of Of who were not themselves state officials. And yet, popular participation in the public life of the town was certainly not in any way free and open.

At the time of my arrival, the top officer of every public association in the town was a member of the Selimoğlu family. This included the mayor of the municipality, the headman of the central municipal quarter, the directors of the four producer cooperatives, the chairman of the Republican People's Party, the chairman of the district Turkish Air Association, the chairman of the district Red Crescent Association, the chairman of the Parent-Teachers' Associations, and the chairman of the Small Businessmen's Association. As for the councilmen and committeemen in these same public associations, they included a few more individuals from the Selimoğlu, but for the most part consisted of their friends and allies, many of whom were the members of other large family groupings. As I was eventually to learn, this situation was not at all transitory. The monopoly of the directorships and chairmanships by the Selimoğlu, together with their support by other associated large family groupings, spanned many years, going back to the first two decades of the Turkish Republic.

At first it seemed that this situation was not altogether surprising or unusual. Since a majority of the residents of the town may have had the same surname, onecould expect most officeholders would be selected from the Selimoğlu. Similarly, one could also explain the large proportion of the members of other large family groupings who appeared as councilmen and committeemen. Nothing more than the common tendency for voters to support their relatives, whether close or distant, would have probably produced such a result. But once I was able to determine the exact identity of the directors, chairmen, councilmen, and committeemen, it was clear that the pattern was no simple artifact of a normal electoral process.

With only one exception, all the individuals who served as directors or chairmen in the town of Of were the sons or grandsons of one man, so they were not at all randomly selected from among all the qualified members of the Selimoğlu family (see fig. 2).12 Ferhat Agha Selimoğlu (c. 1860–c. 1931) is remembered as the last preeminent public figure of the old regime in the town of Of. In the 1960s, during the fourth decade of the Turkish Republic, the sons of the eldest son of this one man held the top office in as many as seven different public associations at the same time. The officeholders in the town of Of appeared to be the "dynastic successors" of the last "reigning" member of the family during the late Ottoman Empire.

Members of other large family groupings were similarly predominant among the councilmen and committeemen. These individuals came from large family groupings that were not necessarily settled in or even near the town of Of. They appeared as councilmen and committeemen by virtue of some kind of friendship or partnership among large family groupings, not as a consequence of the voting preference of an organized membership. So it appeared that the public life of the town, although not directly subject to state officials, was nonetheless under the strictest supervision by some other kind of authority.

A variation on the same pattern prevailed in the vicinity of Eskipazar, which was dominated by leading individuals from the Muradoğlu. This area was little more than a marketplace with some shops, warehouses, coffeehouses, and dormitories. Although it was not a subdistrict and had not yet been incorporated as a municipality, producer cooperatives and nationalist associations were appearing in Eskipazar just as they had earlier in Of. Moreover, the Muradoğlu had recently been far more successful than the Selimoğlu in bringing government installations and factories to their area. So the vicinity of Eskipazar was on its way toward becoming an ostensible "republican" town, rivaling the ostensible "republican" town of Of.13 In effect, the formation of public institutions and organizations in these "republican" towns was working through the rivalries of leading individuals from the Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu. These were towns where popular participation in public life was not so much under the regulation of the state system as under the regulation of a social system internal to the district of Of. Or so it seemed to me during the first period of my fieldwork.

The Ethnographic Analysis of a Clan-Society

Soon after my return to the district in 1966, I began to consider how best to understand the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu as local social formations. I was more or less familiar with the state system, because the ideology and institutions of the Turkish Republic had been studied so thoroughly, but I did not know anything about the social system that had come to my attention in the district of Of, since I had read of nothing like it in the anthropology of Turkey. So I eagerly set about to define and analyze what I considered to be my anthropological discovery.

Although the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu were the most prominent family groupings in Of, they were but two of many other similar family groupings in the district. The names of these family groupings were always constructed in the same way. The names of large family groupings are composed of the putative personal name, attribute, or title of an ancestral father (never a mother) plus a suffix, "öğlu," which means "son of" (never "daughter of"). So, for example, Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu can be translated as "the son(s) of Selim" and "the son(s) of Murad," respectively.14 These names can therefore be described as patronyms. They refer literally and narrowly to groups of agnatically related men (not their mothers, daughters, or wives) who are conceived to be the descendants of a single individual. These groups of agnatically related men can be described as patronymic groups.15

Before the adoption of official "Turkish" surnames some years after the declaration of the Turkish Republic, patronyms of the type described were very common in the coastal districts that had comprised the old province of Trabzon, all the way from Batum to Ordu.16 Probably most men (but not any women) identified themselves with a patronym that signified their membership in a patronymic group.17

The prevalence of patronyms as well as the salience of patronymic groups was a regional peculiarity. In other parts of rural Turkey, groups of agnatically related males often designated themselves by a nickname, but they did not consistently take the form of a patronym. Correspondingly, the nicknames for descent groups, so common elsewhere in rural Turkey, did not have their counterparts in most of the eastern coastal districts of the old province of Trabzon.18 This was an odd contrast that had never received any attention but that seemed significant, given my interest in local variation and diversity. I began to consider the patronymic group as a local social formation more or less distinctive of the eastern Black Sea coast without any exact equivalent in other parts of the country. There was other evidence that this might be the case.

The patronymic group was called an "akraba" in the district of Of as well as in neighboring districts to the east and west. So, for example, my interlocutors sometimes spoke of the Selimoğlu or the Muradoğlu as an akraba. Sometimes, however, the word was used in a different way, so that it had a more inclusive meaning. Instead of referring only to the males who comprised a patronymic group, the term "akraba" referred to all the patriarchal households (hane) of a patronymic group. In this case an akraba took the form of a "great patriarchal family," which included men, women, and children. All these usages, like the patronyms themselves, were peculiar to the eastern coastal districts and not at all typical of Anatolia.19 I concluded that the patronymic groups could be appropriately described as "clans." This term, which correctly pointed to their qualities as bounded patriarchal collectivities, was a move toward a certain theory of the division of society and state, as we shall see.

On the basis of more or less random inquiries, I estimated that the large majority of clans ranged from ten to fifty households.20 The residences of such ordinary clans were usually territorially grouped within a village, so that they extended across a hillside or along a ridge. Otherwise, the prominence and population of clans varied enormously. About a score of the dominant clans were very much larger than the average, so that they comprised more than a hundred, and sometimes several hundred, households.21 These larger clans sometimes made up virtually the entire population of the quarter (mahalle) of a village or even an entire village (köy). In a few instances, the very large clans comprised the population of two or three villages. During the 1960s, I estimated that the score of very large clans represented a minimum of 15% to 20% of the total district population.22 So a major proportion of the entire population belonged to a very large clan (akraba). Taken together, these large clans were significant social and political factors in the district, if for no other reason than their sheer numbers.

I concluded that I was confronted with a "clan-society." The local social order took the form of a political system altogether independent of the national order. Almost every male in the district of Of recognized his attachment and loyalty to a clan. This suggested that membership in a clan was the basis of personal and familial security.23 The size of a clan was correlated with its social and political prominence. This suggested that large clans had dominated small clans on the basis of force and numbers.24 Two of the very largest clans appeared to have subverted the public life of the nation-state in the marketplace of Eskipazar and the town of Of. This suggested that these two large clans were able to face down provincial state officials responsible for regulating local public institutions and organizations.

If all this was correct, I could apply, or at least adapt, existing anthropological theories to the clans in the district of Of. These theories proposed that concepts of unilineal descent could provide the basis of a political system among peoples who otherwise lacked centralized government.25 By simply historicizing these theories, which were synchronic rather than diachronic, I could argue that a principle of agnatic solidarity would be reinforced if a state system weakened or failed. Given concepts of kinship that favored patrilineal descent, near agnates would have become the first line of political identity and support during times of insecurity. This would explain why almost all the males in the district of Of had become members of patrilineal descent groups (clans) at some time during the post-classical imperial period.26 Furthermore, these theories would also explain why groups of agnates, that is, the members of different patrilineal descent groups (clans), would unite with and divide from one another. The members of each clan would look for allies in order to protect themselves from enemies, and they would generally find these allies among more distant clans, rather than among neighboring clans, who would be their nearest competitors. By this logic, a checkerboard pattern of clan alliances and oppositions could be expected to emerge during conditions of insecurity. Such a pattern would constitute a political system based on the principles of balanced opposition and lineage mediation. When a dispute or conflict occurred, two broad coalitions of clans would oppose one another. The resulting stalemate would force a resort to political settlement that would be worked out by mediators who wereoutsiders to the clan-society. The return of centralized government would be understood by all the clans as an assault on the broad range of their mutual agreements and arrangements. The two coalitions of clans could therefore be expected to have come together to resist interference in their local affairs by state officials.

Such an analysis seemed plausible in consideration both of the facts I was assembling and of the explanation of those facts by my interlocutors. I decided to focus my research on the two clans that seemed to be the key to the local political system. The results of my initial findings were encouraging.

The Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu were among the largest of all the clans in the district of Of. I was eventually able to arrive at a good estimation of their population and location in each of the two valley-systems that comprise the district (see map 1):

The Muradoğlu are reported to consist of about 700 households or about 4,000 individuals. Most of these people are settled in three villages at the foot of the eastern valley-system. These villages are set in the midst of the more prosperous agricultural region in the district, especially so after the introduction of tea cultivation. The leading individuals of this group dominate the nearby market town of Eskipazar, where they are estimated to constitute 80% of the population.

The Selimoğlu are reported to consist of about 350 households and 2,000 individuals in two different areas. One group is settled in their "home" village about 20 kilometers up the western valley-system. A second group is settled in and around the town of Of, which is the district center, an incorporated municipality, and the most extensive market. The leading individuals of this group dominate the municipality where they are said to constitute a majority, but no more than 60%, of the population.27

These two clans were preeminent among all the larger clans because of their strategic coastal locations. Many of their households were concentrated near the shoreline at the foot of each of the two valley-systems that comprised the district. Here, leading individuals from each of the two clans were in a good position to serve as intermediaries between the district population and outsiders. Officials, merchants, and travelers inevitably came under their surveillance, whether they landed on the shore, traversed the coastal tracks, or descended the valley-systems. About a score of other very large clans, scattered throughout the lower reaches of the eastern and western valley systems, had also dominated their vicinities at some time in the past, just as they continued to do in the present. They, too, were located near a point of commercial significance, such as a marketplace, a trade route, an anchorage, or a pass. All claimed a kind of social, if not political, ascendancy over the smaller clans who were their neighbors.

The members of all these large clans were said to be mutually associated by partnership, friendship, and marriage. For example, my interlocutors would say that the Muradoğlu or the Selimoğlu were allied to (çok yakıınıız), related to (hıısıımlıığıımıız var), or friendly with (dostuz) this or that other group. Some claimed that the large families were grouped into two district-wide coalitions, separately led by the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu, that competed for social honors, government influence, and control of public affairs. The leading individuals from the large clans in the district of Of also had close relationships—by marriage, friendship, or partnership—with leading individuals from large clans in the districts to the west and east of Of. These relationships were mutually exclusive, so that the families in other districts allied to the Selimoğlu would be rivals of those allied to the Muradoğlu. Some of my respondents claimed that there had long been a patchwork of competitive coalitions that ranged up and down the coast. There were also indications that this might have still been the case in the eastern Black Sea districts during the 1960s.

Eventually I began to encounter evidence that the clan-society was associated with competitive displays of force and numbers. During my first visit to the district of Of, when I was still a bachelor, my acquaintances in the market of the town sometimes invited me to their residences in the mountain villages just beyond the town. On one of these occasions, late in the morning on a warm summer day, a series of distant explosions began to reverberate through the mountain valleys. When I asked my host what this could be, he said matter-of-factly that it was a marriage (düğün), as though this were a sufficient explanation. Seeing that I still did not understand, he promised me a demonstration. After leaving for a moment, he returned with what appeared to be a small mass of dough and invited me to come outside, into the garden. There he placed a fuse into the dough, lit it with a cigarette lighter, and flung it into the brush. A few seconds later there was a deafening explosion. After my return to Of the following year, I was able to witness the fetching of the bride that takes place at one point in the celebration of a marriage. If the groom and the bride come from different villages and different families, the bride-takers would organize a caravan of supporters equipped with firepower.28 Cars, trucks, and buses were assembled to transport the scores, and sometimes hundreds, of individuals who might participate in such an event. There were always at least a few women in one of the cars to assist the bride on the return trip, but the remainder of the celebrants was men. As such a caravan proceeded on its way to fetch the bride, other villagers, who were not part of the festivities, would venture to test the resolve of the bride-takers by barricading the roadway with fallen trees or piles of stones. If the caravan traveled along a major highway, oncoming trucks and buses might suddenly swerve across the tarmac in order to bar the passage of the bride-takers.29 Even the gendarmerie would sometimes attempt to stop the caravan if it passed near one of their guard posts.30 In each instance, the groups who blocked the road would demand money before they agreed to allow passage. Only the bravest of souls had the courage to challenge a caravan of bride–takers, since these groups were usually heavily armed with pistols, rifles, and explosives. As a caravan left the main road and climbed into the mountain areas, gunfire and explosions would break out. When the caravan arrived at the village of the bride, the men descended from their vehicles and advanced upon the house of the bride with more gunfire and more explosions, like a skirmish line advancing against the enemy. After taking the bride from her house, the caravan then made its return, again with a noisy manifestation of numbers and force.

The fetching of the bride seemed to confirm that a clan-society, based on masculine solidarity and military power, existed alongside the nation-state. Moreover, these two principles appeared to be deeply ingrained in masculine personal identity, hence, something more than a quaint way of celebrating a wedding. The preoccupation with firearms along the eastern Black Sea coast had come to my attention during the first days of my second residence in the district of Of in 1966. I had been obliged to go to the provincial capital, the town of Trabzon, in order to apply for a residence permit. When I arrived there late in the day, I found a harried clerk who was anxious to leave the office and did not want to hear my business. He brusquely waved me away saying, "No more gun permits today, come back tomorrow." The clerk was unaccustomed to foreigners applying for residence permits, but all too familiar with citizens who somehow felt it necessary to carry guns. I soon became aware that more than a few of my acquaintances in the town of Of carried handguns underneath their suit jackets, such that they could be glimpsed when they leaned forward to tie a shoe or pick up a dropped key. Miraculously, these concealed firearms always vanished during the periodic sweeps of the coffeehouses by the gendarmerie, and they were rarely discovered and confiscated. When I asked my acquaintances who carried concealed weapons why they did so, they said they were obliged to do so because they had enemies (düşman), as they also had friends (dost). The carrying of firearms was then an artifact of a local social order in which individuals were politically allied to some and politically opposed to others.

The local social order of a clan-society, nowhere written into law, was incompatible with the national order of state officials and public associations. The two orders referred to two incompatible kinds of sovereign power, one nonofficial, based on force and numbers, the other official, based on legal procedures and judicial enforcement. By state law, one was not allowed to parade along streets and roads in large numbers firing off weapons and tossing dynamite. One was not allowed to carry a gun in the district of Of or anywhere else in Turkey without a permit. The local social order was thereby divided from the state order. Or so I presumed during the first period of my fieldwork.

The Clan-Society Belongs to the Past, Not the Present

I have described a path of investigation inspired by my notion of a clan-society divided from the state system. But all along, this direction of my fieldwork had been faced with an unresolvable difficulty. I could not really locate a system of rights and duties that was uniquely linked with the clans, the sine qua non for the anthropological theories to which I was appealing. The patronymic groups were not associated with either a rule of marriage, an obligation to give or receive bride-price, the taking of vengeance, or the payment of blood money. Even the fetching of the bride was not really an occasion when a bride-taking clan was opposed to a bride-giving clan. The armed participants were largely composed of individuals from many patronymic groups, some related and some not related to the groom's patronymic group. So the fetching of the bride only demonstrated a connection of military power with broad social formations, but not with bounded patriarchal collectivities.

Ultimately, I had to qualify my concept of a clan-society in the district of Of with a series of negative conclusions. The patronymic groups in the district of Of lacked the minimum attributes by which anthropologists had defined a political system based on unilineal descent groups. I duly drew up a list of the essential "missing" features:

    Assembly and Ceremony. The members of a patronymic group did not assemble on any occasion or unite for any collective purpose. They did not observe any distinctive ceremony associated with their common descent, either separately or collectively.
    Property or Territory. The members of a patronymic group did not have a mutual share or claim to any property or endowment. Some large family groupings were associated with specific vicinities, but neither patronymic groups nor any of their constituent patrilines claimed collective ownership over a demarcated territory.31
    Vengeance Obligations and Blood Money. The members of a patronymic group did not collectively recognize any obligation to take vengeance for an injury or insult that was inflicted by an outsider on one of their agnatic relations. They did not collectively pay or accept blood money on the occasion of a homicide involving one of their agnatic relations.
    Marriage Rule and Bride-price Payments. The members of a patronymic group were not obliged to consult with agnates about marriages or to follow any kind of endogamous or exogamous marriage rule. They did not collectively contribute to the bride-price paid by a member of their patronymic group. They did not collectively receive a portion of the bride-price received on the occasion of the marriage of a daughter of a member of their patronymic group.
    Mediators. There were local specialists in the sacred law of Islam who could be considered outsiders to the clan-society. They were often consulted on matters of religion by individuals and families, but there were no reports that they served as mediators on the occasion of conflicts among clans.32
These generalizations applied to both large and small patronymic groups. The "clans" of Of were little more than amorphous groupings of men who claimed descent from the same patronymic ancestor and referred to themselves as a patronymic group. Otherwise, they did not constitute a "corporate group" in the technical sense of the anthropological theory of unilineal descent groups. Similarly, the patrilines of a patronymic group could be separately designated, but such a patriline also did not constitute what anthropologists have described as an "effective lineage.33

In the absence of collective institutions or organizations, the patronymic groups could not be represented by specific individuals, could not support or challenge one another, and could not enter into collective contracts and agreements. This being the case, the clans did not comprise a political system in their own right. This meant that I had failed to discover how the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu had dominated the public life of the district. Given this difficulty, I turned to a strategy of anthropological reconstruction. The patronymic groups in the present must be but a pale reflection of a more structured and institutionalized clan-society in the past. Once upon a time, when the authority of the central government was either weak or absent, there must have been a clan-society in the eastern coastal districts. Now its shadowy legacy continued to distort and subvert the institutions of the nation-state. As my theory of a social order divided from the state order was seriously mistaken, one might have expected that such a study of history would immediately reveal the flaws in my thinking. On the contrary, my errors were reinforced and compounded by the sources available to me.

Aghas and Clans

Questioning my acquaintances in the town of Of, I began to piece together a picture of leading individuals from large family groupings during the late Ottoman Empire. Since it appeared they had been even more socially prominent and politically powerful at that time, I assumed the local social order had been more assertive during the old imperial regime than during the new nationalist regime. The leading individuals from large clans, I was told, had then been locally accorded the title "agha" (ağa) and had played a significant role in governing the district of Of.34 Some of my interlocutors believed that the backing of a large clan was necessary for someone to qualify as an agha, and, consistent with this presumption, they designated those large families that had once been the base of their support as "agha-families" (ağa akrabasıı). Some of my interlocutors in Of also spoke of "the time of the aghas" (ağa devresi), when aghas from agha-families had been able to defy state officials and rule segments of the district as their personal possessions. During this period, they levied and collected taxes, assembled soldiers, arrested lawbreakers, and imposed forced labor.

Accordingly, my interlocutors also said that the aghas in the district were at loggerheads with officials from Trabzon, but they inconsistently described the confrontation of the two. Sometimes it would be said the aghas had protected the people from rapacious state officials always eager to raise more troops and more funds. At other times it was said that state officials had protected the people from the aghas who imposed illegal taxes, seized fertile lands, kidnapped women, and suppressed opponents. I was easily able to reconcile these inconsistencies in terms of a division between two separate political systems, one a social order based on patrilineal descent groups and the other a state order based on administrators, police, courts, and laws. Each of these two political systems could lapse into its own peculiar version of exploitative subjection. The tyranny of the agha was warm and familiar while the tyranny of the official was cold and formal.

The "Five" and "Twenty-Five" Parties

When speaking of the old days, some respondents recalled a definite structure of rivalries and alliances in the district of Of as well as elsewhere in the old province of Trabzon. My interlocutors also recalled two opposed hierarchies of aghas in the district. A greater agha of the Selimoğlu and a greater agha of the Muradoğlu were said to have been preeminent along the western and eastern coastlines, respectively. Other lesser aghas, distributed in checkerboard fashion through the western and eastern valley-systems, aligned themselves with either the agha of the Selimoğlu or the agha of the Muradoğlu. Just as the latter were personal rivals, so the two networks of aghas saw themselves as rivals with one another. These personal rivalries and alignments extended to their supporters to include all the members of their respective clans. Moreover, all the aghas also had allies and partners among the prominent members of ordinary clans, who were also supported by all the members of their clans. So the two networks of aghas and clans, opposed as factions, included many, perhaps most, of the individuals and families in the district of Of.

My interlocutors also said that these hierarchies had once formed two "parties" (fıırka) in the district during the time of the aghas, one designated "Five" and the other "Twenty-five." Each party had a kind of coat of arms (arma) that was carved on a wooden slate marked by the number five or twenty-five and placed near the fireplace in the house. The two parties are thought to have been led by the aghas of the Selimoğlu and Muradoğlu but included many of the individuals and families throughout the two valley-systems. The presence of coat of arms markings on the fireplaces of old houses, even those belonging to ordinary households, confirmed extensive participation in the Five and Twenty-five parties.35 According to one interlocutor, a man's personal relationships were directly determined by membership in one or the other party. If a man visited a house and saw the coat of arms of the other party, he politely said goodbye and went on his way. To illustrate this legacy, an acquaintance of mine, born in the early twentieth century, was able to draw up a list of the names of the clans that had been associated with the Five and Twenty-five parties at some time during the nineteenth century.36 He recorded fifteen family names under the Selimoğlu, the Five Party, and six family names under the Muradoğlu, the Twenty-five Party.37 He was of the opinion that a pattern of marriages, friendship, and partnerships among the members of all these clans still followed the lines of their membership in the Five and Twenty-five parties.38

I was pleased to discover that a local historian of Of had described the old social system in terms that almost exactly fit my suppositions. Hasan Umur (1880–1977) had been born early enough to hear first-hand reports of the period when the authority of the central government was either weak or absent. In one of his books he argued that the aghas, clans, and parties constituted an alternative political system. According to Umur, this system first arose with the breakdown of central government in the 1200s (1785–95). This was the "time of the aghas" (ağa devresi), which continued until the end of the 1240s (1834), when it was brought to an end by a provincial governor of Trabzon, Osman Pasha Hazinedaroğlu. It seemed possible to accept what he had written as only one step removed from an eyewitness account:

So it was that the people [of Of], who joined parties because of the weakness of the government, gradually became enmeshed in a state of perpetual conflict by depending on their membership in parties. In the absence of a government that would have protected them and preserved the law, and with the natural thought that they might try to secure their lives by means of the parties which they blindly took for granted, the people participated in the spirit of the affair by searching for the means to either kill their enemy or save themselves from their enemy. Every leading agha, in as much as he could do so, tried to protect those who belonged to his party, as though they were his subjects.39

Umur went on to explain that membership in a party was based on membership in a clan. In doing so, he arrived at his own formulation of the anthropological theories of unilineal descent groups. He even included the principles of balanced opposition and lineage mediation:

Sometimes the clans (kabîle) who were adversaries made peace among themselves. As I heard it from an elderly man in my village: "Peace was made between the Boduroğullarıı (the clan of which I am a member) and the Ceburoğullarıı and a celebration was held." The elderly man related that he had witnessed this celebration when he was a child. . . . And let me add this further point. While the clans (kabîle) who were adversaries were continually agitated and in a state of tumult, there were also neutral clans. These did not recognize any side but went along getting by on their own. The sides who were adversaries did not intervene on their behalf.40

Looking into the past seemed to be a way of understanding what could be glimpsed only obscurely in the present. In the course of my interviews, the outlines of a social order, apart from the state order, seemed to come more clearly into focus. Furthermore, I had also learned that the district of Of was in no way unique or peculiar. A social order that had come into being with a breakdown in the state order had been duplicated, not only in the near neighboring districts to the east and west, but throughout the old province of Trabzon. A patchwork of aghas and clans had once existed in all the coastal districts from Batum to Ordu during the last centuries of the old regime.


Indeed, I had both heard of and seen clear physical evidence of such an old order of aghas and clans in the form of the remains or ruins of mansions (konak) that once existed throughout the eastern Black Sea coast. All the greater aghas from the larger clans were said to have been "valley lords" (derebey), independent rulers of their separate domains. As such, they had constructed large, semi-fortified mansions to serve as their personal residences, seats of government, and reception halls. According to my interlocutors, there had once been at least a score of these mansions in the district of Of alone. During my travels along the eastern Black Sea coast, I was told of the remains of foundation stones or ruined walls of such structures that had once existed on this promontory or that hilltop. All these mansions of the old social order were said to have been razed in the 1830s by the aforementioned Osman Pasha. He was credited with having restored centralized government in the coastal region, but only by resorting to drastic measures. Large numbers of troops invaded and occupied the outlying districts, where they burned the mansions of the aghas and destroyed the villages of their followers.

Inexplicably, a number of the old mansions had somehow escaped these depredations and remained standing. Here and there I had observed these old, dilapidated structures, many times larger than ordinary houses and always situated in a prominent location. They had stone foundations, massive doorways and hearths, spacious storerooms, and pleasingly decorated salons fitted with wood panels and conical fireplaces.41 Oddly, and contrary to the report of their destruction, these existing mansions were those of the most powerful aghas, that is, just the mansions one would have expected Osman Pasha to have put to the torch.

I concluded, with some prompting from my hosts, that the mansions had been essential architectural instruments of the old social order. In light of their ownership and location in the district of Of, they could be reliably correlated with the aghas, clans, and parties. The mansions had been built by individuals of prominence who were now remembered as the ascendants of large clans. The mansions had all been located near markets, crossroads, routes, or anchorages. So wherever there had been leading individuals from large family groupings, there had also been a mansion. And wherever there had been a mansion, one could be assured that its location was of strategic significance. For its chief residents, a mansion was a necessary physical infrastructure for bringing together relatives, friends, and allies. In this manner, a mansion became a center of political authority that first replaced and then later challenged state officials. The handful of dilapidated mansions appeared to stand as testaments to the existence of a local political system that had once been distinct from the central government during the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Aghas Create Clans, Clans Do Not Create Aghas

But again, this second path of investigation, like the first, became less and less credible as I learned more. Public life, social memory, local history, and architectural leftovers all pointed toward the same conclusion. But the conclusion was dependent on a logic of analysis that was inconsistent with what is known about the social history of the eastern Black Sea coast.

A mass of other details, all conveniently suppressed in the preceding arguments, could not be reconciled with the idea that the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties were a local social system divided from the state system. One of these "details" stands out in all the discussion that has preceded as a blatant contradiction. According to all authorities, Osman Pasha had brought the "time of the aghas" to an end in 1834. And yet leading members of the Muradoğlu and the Selimoğlu had dominated the public affairs of the district of Of during the remaining eighty years of the Empire, and then appeared soon again to repeat this performance during eighty years of the Turkish Republic. How could a local social order that was outside the state system continue to exist inside the state system for well over a hundred years?

The simplest kind of anthropological facts finally pointed toward a resolution of this contradiction. As I have indicated in the preceding discussion of the leftover mansions, the pattern of aghas and clans that I had discovered in Of was also more or less characteristic of the eastern coastal region from Batum to Ordu during the nineteenth, if not the twentieth, century. Everywhere one found the same kind of local elites, backed by the same kind of large family groupings, designated by the same type of patronyms, and aligned in the same type of rivalrous alliances. That is to say, the same kind of clan-society was found throughout the coastal region. If concepts of patrilineal descent had originally provided the elements for this pervasive pattern, then a specific idiom of kinship must have been common to, or at least dominant among, all the peoples of the coastal region. And if this was the case, there must have been a common ethnic tradition that was the same everywhere throughout the eastern coastal region. In other words, the thesis of a clan-society separate from the state system demanded the presence of a "primary folk" in the coastal region, which raised the question of "which folk?"

Since the patronyms, which were everywhere current in the coastal districts, were Turkic in form, I first considered that the clan-society might be traceable to a "Turkic folk." This solution was not acceptable on the basis of the comparative ethnography of rural Anatolia. There was a plethora of lineage and tribal names of Turkic origin in other parts of Asia Minor, but they only sometimes and exceptionally took the "oğlu" form. They tended to vary in their character and composition, even from village to village, so that one did not normally find the same type of names across a broad region. This inconsistency was compounded by other considerations. In many parts of the eastern Black Sea region (and especially where leading individuals and large family groupings were most prevalent), Turkic settlement had occurred much later and in lesser numbers than elsewhere in Asia Minor.42 So it was difficult to explain why a clan-society of Turkic origin would be more important and developed in a region where Turkic peoples had settled at a later date and in fewer numbers than in other parts of Anatolia.43

This raised the possibility that the clan-societies might be traceable to some underlying non-Turkic ethnicity that had been subsequently Turkicized in its overt forms if not in its substance. Perhaps the patronyms were simply a Turkicized version of the family names of another ethnicity (the "son of" construction being a common practice among many non-Turkic peoples in northeast Asia Minor).44 The role of non-Turkic peoples in the social history of the Muslim population in the eastern Black Sea region was undisputed. The problem was that none of these non-Turkic groups could be considered to have been a preponderant influence throughout the coastal districts. The Muslim population in this part of Turkey was formed relatively recently out of many different ethnic groups, including peoples of Turkic, Lazi, Kurdish, Greek, and Armenian background. The influence of each of these ethnic groups varied in different parts of the region, from valley to valley as well as from the lower to the upper parts of a single valley.45 The pattern of aghas, mansions, clans, and parties, which was more or less the same throughout the eastern coastal region, could therefore not be explained in terms of an underlying ethnic tradition, since the latter was variable throughout the coastal region. As there had been so many folk in the eastern coastal region, it was impossible to argue that any of them could claim the status of a primary folk.

An obvious and simple solution had always been at hand but seemed unthinkable given the prevailing climate at the time of my early fieldwork. The aghas, mansions, clans, and parties could only be derived from some kind of uniform sociopolitical process that had been common to all the coastal districts of the eastern Black Sea region. And the only general condition that could have determined such a process would have been the state system of the late Ottoman Empire, given the variable ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds of its inhabitants. The aghas, mansions, clans, and parties in the eastern coastal region were not essentially outside of, or consistently opposed to, the central government. They had arisen as district social formations in the course of local participation in the imperial system. What was recalled as a breakdown in the central government was more precisely a spread of certain kinds of imperial thinking and practice that moved outward and downward into the coastal districts.

With this conclusion, local memories and traditions that had once seemed to me so unanimous and convincing now appeared both contradictory and questionable. Setting aside everything that I had been told and shown in the district of Of, I drastically revised my assessment of the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties:

    Aghas. During the post-classical imperial period, the aghas were local elites who always claimed and usually held some kind of position in the state system. They were invariably the descendants of individuals who themselves had claimed or held some kind of position or appointment in the state system.
    Patronyms. The patronym ("oğlu" or "zade") had its origin in official references to local elites who received government positions and appointments. To claim a patronym was therefore to claim descent from an individual who had some kind of standing in the imperial system.
    Agha Clans. The aghas were able to set down family lines (ağa akrabasıı) because their positions in the state system were perpetuated from generation to generation.46 It was always aghas who made large clans and never large clans who made aghas. Upon a review of my field notes, I discovered that the ascendant of every large family grouping with which I was familiar was said to have held some kind of state position or appointment.
    Mansions. The mansions of the aghas were not local in origin but were constructed to emulate the residences of state officials. They symbolized their occupants' claim to the right to participate inthe state system by collecting taxes, conscripting recruits, imposing forced labor, and enforcing judicial decisions. When my interlocutors had said the mansions were like a "government," they were citing a memory of aghas having usurped the sovereign power of the state system.
    Patronymic Groups. The ubiquity of family groupings taking the form of patronymic groups was not the simple and direct result of a reaction to the threat of anarchy (pace Hasan Umur). By membership in a patronymic group, one also claimed descent from an individual who once had a role in the imperial system, that is, someone who was more than a mere farmer or villager. The ubiquity of patronymic groups along the eastern Black Sea coast points to a greater degree of participation in the imperial system than was typical of most parts of rural Anatolia.
    Parties. The Five and Twenty-five parties had been linked with irregular or regular military regiments. The members of the two parties had been rivals, but specifically for precedence and privilege in the imperial system. Membership in a patronymic group was usually correlated with membership in one or the other party. The aghas were then social leaders of social formations, but also military leaders of military formations.
    Force and Numbers. There was always a certain amount of rivalry among different aghas and hence also among their followers. Through displays of force and numbers the aghas and their followers claimed sovereign power on the inside, not the outside, of the state system. This rivalry sometimes degenerated into military skirmishes and sieges.
    Vengeance and Vendetta. The militarization of the population of the coastal districts did compromise legal statutes and judicial procedures (but the latter were never completely overturned). The solidarity of patronymic groups did become a refuge against insecurity, and this did lead to the law of talion. But these tendencies were directly related to local participation in the imperial system rather than a breakdown in the central government.

By such revisions, the aghas, mansions, clans, and parties were not based on the elaboration of a local system of kinship. They were country extensions of the imperial military and administrative establishment. I therefore dropped the term "clan" since it evoked the idea of a local social system complete in itself.47 Thus, by this new approach, the outlying coastal districts of the old province of Trabzon were anything but marginalized and isolated with respect to governmental institutions and activities. Local elites at the head of large followings had always had a close relationship with state officials of the central government, even if not always according to the terms that the latter would have wished to impose upon the former.48 This was then the "solution" to the problem of the existence of aghas, mansion, family lines, and parties throughout the coastal region.

Of course, the "solution" brought with it other kinds of problems. The anthropological theories by which I was trying to describe and analyze the social order of aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties only made sense if the central government was weak or absent. All the structural features of local social order—leading individuals, large family groupings, a checkerboard pattern of alliances and oppositions, and binary coalitions—were understood to be responses to insecurity that arose with a power vacuum. If the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were instead the consequence of participation in the imperial system, a wholly new kind of analysis was necessary. Why did state officials permit local elites to become part of the imperial system? What did local elites have to gain from becoming part of the imperial system? Why did participation in the imperial system result in such extensive social formations? Why werethe latter associated with the principle of force and numbers, and, as a consequence, divided into rivalrous factions?

All these questions pointed to the necessity of a theory of a society within, rather than against, the state. This suggested that a full understanding of the local societies in the coast districts would be dependent on an understanding of the imperial regime of which they were a part. Even before any such analysis had been undertaken, however, the abandonment of the concept of a clan-society had led to an important conclusion. The aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were examples of state phenomena because they had come into being through local participation in the imperial system. But at the same time, the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were also social phenomena because they took the form of an oligarchy woven together by agnation, affinity, partnership, and friendship. With this provisional conclusion, we can return to the question of local memories and traditions.

A Regional Social Oligarchy of the Post-Classical Empire

Why was it that my interlocutors could not understand that participation in the imperial system had produced a regional social oligarchy? One might object. Perhaps I was asking for too much. After all, local memories and traditions are never fully reliable, and the time of Osman Pasha was long, long ago. But the issue was a matter of remembering as well as forgetting. If the Oflus had simply "forgotten," they would have no understanding of the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties at all. This was most certainly not the case. They "remembered" them, saying they had appeared with the breakdown and vanished with the restoration of the central government. I was therefore obliged to consider memories and traditions as desire rather than fact.

My interlocutors did not want to believe that a regional social oligarchy had anything to do with the state system. They therefore insisted it had arisen only under the conditions of the absence or weakness of centralized government. By this thesis, they were driven to the conclusion that the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties must have vanished with the restoration of centralized government. So it was that they analyzed the old social order as impeccably as any social anthropologist, demonstrating how its characteristics were perfectly consistent with the absence or weakness of the state system. So it was that they focused on Osman Pasha, deeming him to be a transitional figure between governmental breakdown and restoration.

If my supposition was correct, the motivating desire that had generated so many deductions seemed to have a kind of origin or center: the figure of Osman Pasha during the 1830s. How was it that this particular man in this particular period could be imagined as an epochal divide, thereby clouding all that was the same before and after him? Was it possible that Osman Pasha had accomplished something during the 1830s to make the relationship of the present to the past incomprehensible? These questions led me toward a third path of investigation: the writings of western Europeans who had visited the old province of Trabzon. These "outsiders" had described what they had seen and heard, entirely unencumbered by the burden of local history. Perhaps these "outsiders" might reveal what Osman Pasha had actually accomplished in the 1830s and why this accomplishment left behind so much confusion.

During the first decades of the nineteenth century, foreign diplomats, soldiers, and explorers—most of them French and British—had begun to visit the province of Trabzon in increasing numbers. What they reported was indeed revealing, but not by way of an explanation of what had really happened during the 1830s. In their accounts, they wholly agreed with local memories and traditions in the district of Of. The French and the British consuls affirmed that the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were a distinct form of government outside of and opposed to the central government. They also affirmed that Osman Pasha had suppressed and abolished this alternative political system and so restored the authority of the central government. But it was not their agreement with Oflu memories and traditions that cast a new light on the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties. Instead, their affirmations were inconsistent with other archival sources, as well as inconsistent with their own accounts of what they had seen and heard during their travels. In other words, I had rediscovered in the accounts of western Europeans the same desire that I encountered among my interlocutors in the district of Of.49 They did not want to believe that a regional social oligarchy had anything to do with the state system.

As a provisional demonstration of this, I shall cite one of the most knowledgeable of all the western European visitors to Trabzon during the period in question. From 1821 until 1833, Victor Fontanier intermittently served as a naturalist, political observer, commercial advisor, and consular official attached to the French embassy in Istanbul. During this time, he resided in Trabzon on at least two occasions, first as a visitor in 1827, a time of deepening political crisis. Just months previously, Sultan Mahmut II had succeeded in abolishing the old central army of the janissaries (yeni çeri), opening the way to reforms in the military establishment. Osman Pasha Hazinedaroğlu had assumed the provincial governorship in the midst of these destabilizing events, and the local elites of the coastal districts were testing his mettle. Fontanier described the situation as a confrontation of two kinds of government, that of a weak state system, as represented by Osman Pasha, and that of a strong feudal system, as represented by aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties in the coastal district:50

The pasha of Trabzon is appointed by the Porte [Ottoman government] and placed under the command of the chief of staff in Erzurum; his authority is not great owing to the division of his territory among several chiefs who for the most part are hereditary, and in open revolt against him. These chiefs have the title of aghas, and were formerly called derebey; but the Porte, desiring to seize their fiefs, has suppressed this last denomination. This institution is precisely the feudal system of thirteenth-century Europe; the aghas reside in fortified mansions, sometimes equipped with cannons, where they preserve their families and treasures; they go about surrounded by servants and armed partisans, impose laws, raise taxes, and take refuge in their retreats, from where they defy the authority of the pasha, even the fermans [decrees] of the sultan. [Italics mine]51

A few years later, Fontanier returned to Trabzon once again, this time to take up residence as French consul. In the intervening years, Osman Pasha had consolidated his hold on provincial government and taken advantage of the military reforms. Impressed with all that had been accomplished since his previous visit, Fontanier submitted a report in which he once again described the feudal system, now to declare that the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties had been decisively and permanently suppressed. Writing as a consular official on January 31, 1831, he took care to be precise, citing the names of individuals and their places of residence:

The pashalik (province) of Trabzon has for a long time been divided into small feudal domains [petites féodalités] whose chiefs [chefs] resided in fortified strongholds, some of which were located in the city itself. The most important of these chiefs were situated at Trabzon, Şatııroğlu and [illegible] oğlu; at Tonya, a town twelve hours from Trabzon, Hacıı Salihoğlu; at Rize, Tuzcuoğlu; at Of, Selimoğlu and Cansıızoğlu; and finally at Gönye [between Hopa and Batum], Fatzanoğlu. Other less important chiefs were affiliated with these and provided their clients. But as often happens in governments of this sort, they made war on one another and sought the good graces of the pashas [at Trabzon] and the Sublime Porte [at Istanbul].52

Fontanier leaves his reader the impression he is listing the names of the "chiefs" in the different districts, but in every instance he does not give the personal name of an individual but rather the patronymic of a family line. The two patronymics that he associates with Of are those of two large family groupings that I encountered when I was carrying out my fieldwork during the 1960s.53 Otherwise, all the other patronymics in the consular report save one refer to the ascendants of family groupings that are still prominent in the eastern coastal region today.54

As the report continued, Fontanier described how the feudal system had threatened the very existence of the provincial government: "these chiefs combined to form formidable coalitions [coalitions redoutables] . . . sometimes managed to drive the officers of the Ottoman sultan from the sandjak [sub-province]." On several occasions, he observed, "the Imperial Divan attempted to destroy them by setting them against one another but was never strong enough or capable enough to achieve this end.55 But now, Fontanier declared, the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties were a thing of the past; thanks to the vigor and energy of Osman Pasha's provincial government, they "no longer existed.56 And yet, within months, the populations of outlying coastal districts were once again refusing to forward taxes or conscripts to the provincial government, and within two years, another formidable coalition had besieged the town of Trabzon, forcing Osman Pasha to take refuge in his citadel, then to vacate his capital.57

Osman Pasha did eventually settle the "revolts" of the 1830s, but neither he nor any of his successors ever fulfilled Fontanier's declaration. For decades, aghas would continue to be appointed, mansions would still be built, family groupings would grow ever larger, and district networks would remain in place. Nonetheless, Fontanier's erroneous report of the end of the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties was but the first statement of what eventually became a fixed consular opin ion during the later nineteenth century.58 The "valley lords" had been a separate form of government, but Osman Pasha had abolished them once and for all. And yet this consular opinion, announced and re-announced, was repeatedly contradicted by incidents that confirmed that leading individuals, large family groupings, district networks, and coastal coalitions still existed and still participated in the provincial government, bottom to top. As the Ottomans eventually moved to reform the imperial system by borrowing "western" technology and methods, a regional social oligarchy in the province of Trabzon adapted itself to the new bureaucratic centralism and continued to play a role in the state system. Nonetheless, the consular opinion, despite all the evidence to the contrary, never retreated but instead spread. By the later nineteenth century, Ottoman officials and citizens in Trabzon also believed what Osman Pasha had most likely never believed, that he had put down the "valley lords" once and for all. Ottoman officials and citizens, and later Turkish officials and citizens, would therefore find themselves "surprised" by incidents revealing that leading individuals from large family groupings still permeated district and provincial government.

Why, then, did Osman Pasha come to be remembered for something he did not accomplish, even in the coastal region itself? A provisional, and thus imperfect, answer to this question is as follows. The officials and citizens of the Ottoman Empire had come to believe what the consuls believed for similar reasons but by a different path. A new thinking and practice about the proper relationship of state and society had migrated from western Europe into the Ottoman Empire during the later nineteenth century, eventually to be carried over into the Turkish Republic. By this new thinking and practice, the centralized government should have taken the form of an official association of professional bureaucrats. Accordingly, the state system should not have included aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties. And yet, the state system did include the latter, necessarily so, since it would have been impossible for the association of professional bureaucrats to perform the most elementary governmental acts without relying on them. As the new thinking and practice gained ground among the ordinary citizenry of the coastal districts, a fracture appeared in local memory and tradition. It was no longer possible to reconcile the existence of leading individuals, large family groupings, district networks, and coastal coalitions with principles of government. So it was no longer possible to understand how the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties had come from inside the state system and so continued to serve the state system as a mechanism of local control in the years and decades after Osman Pasha. The citizenry of the eastern coastal districts therefore came to believe that the aghas, mansions, patronymic groups, and parties had arisen from outside the state system during a period of governmental breakdown. Accordingly, by this belief, they could not explain either the perpetuation of leading individuals from large family groupings or, more importantly, the ability of the latter to monopolize public institutions and organizations.

Osman Pasha had thereby come to be credited with suppressing an alternative political system in the 1830s that still endured in the 1960s. He marks the onset of a period of incomprehension when first western European consuls, then the public of Trabzon, could not understand the place of a regional social oligarchy in the state system. This is the significance of Osman Pasha and the 1830s. Why then did the unacceptable, a regional social oligarchy, remain in place, even after the Empire was replaced by the Republic? This is a harder question that will be tackled in the later chapters of this study.

A Second Channel of Imperial Participation

As I have noted, the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties point to a society within, rather than against, the state. In later chapters, I will undertake a step-by-step demonstration of this theory of the imperial system. First, however, I must address an issue that has loomed ever larger as I have moved toward my conclusion. I have argued that Osman Pasha faced the necessity, which was also an opportunity, of retaining the aghas as his assistants and intermediaries. They were at the same time more dangerous than any kind of anti-state clan-society but also more useful, precisely because they represented social formations oriented toward the state system. But if this was the case, what exactly was the foundation of these social formations in terms of everyday interpersonal interactions and association? By the previous arguments, it would appear to have arisen from participation in the imperial system, and given the nature of the imperial system in question, it would have some kind of connection with Islamic belief and practice. So representatives of peoples of different backgrounds, Turkic, Kurdish, Lazi, Armenian, and Greek, would have come to constitute a regional social oligarchy by a process of Islamization. That is to say, they would have turned away from parochial customs and habits and turned toward the universal norms of the imperial system.

I must now confess that I had become aware of a second avenue of local participation in the imperial system at an early stage of my fieldwork. Scores of religious academies, hundreds of religious professors, and thousands of religious students had once been scattered through the villages of the district of Of. All these academies, professors, and students had been officially recognized by the imperial religious establishment before going underground some years after the declaration of the Turkish Republic. There were then two separate channels by which the inhabitants of the district of Of had once participated in the state society of the imperial system. That of the aghas, mansions, family lines, and parties was linked with the military and administrative establishment, while that of the teachers, schools, and students was linked with the religious establishment.


According to the conventions of showing respect, younger men do not eat or talk before senior male relatives unless bidden by them to do so, standing ready to perform any task that might be asked of them.

Muradoğlu and Selimoğlu are not the actual names of the families in question. In an earlier publication (Meeker 1972) I used other fictitious names, Karahasanoğlu and Hadjimehmedoğlu, for the same two families. I have adopted the new names because they are easier to print and read.

The population of the town of Of was in the range of one to two thousand during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, after which it began to soar.

See the Trabzon yearbooks (salname) from the late Ottoman period, in particular, the re-publications supervised by Emiroğlu (1993–95).

I use the words "republican" and "ottomanist" to refer to attributes of the new and old regimes, respectively.

Lewis 1961, chap. 8, and Zürcher 1993, chap. 11.

The district center had been a municipality as early as the 1870s, but its financing was limited. See Emiroğlu 1993–95.

The exchange rate was 9 Turkish lira to $1 U.S. during the mid-1960s. Robinson (1963, 207) cites estimates of the average annual per capita income for 1953 and 1956 as just over 500 TL. By this estimate, the average annual per capita income during the mid-1960s would have been somewhere between 500 and 1,000 TL.

Local branches of other political parties had been opened in the town of Of starting in 1945, but they were still of little importance to the town during the 1960s.

The People's Houses were based on the Turkish Hearths (Türk Ocağıı), an early nationalist club first founded in 1912 (Lewis 1961, 376).

After the Democrat Party defeated the Republican People's Party in the national elections of 1950, the government abolished the People's Houses and seized their assets (Zürcher 1993, 233).

The one exception, a father's brother's great grandson of Ferhat Agha, was a significant departure from usual practice. See the analysis of the tea cooperatives in chap. 11.

In 1986, one of the villages of the Muradoğlu just to the west of Eskipazar was incorporated as a municipality, rather than Eskipazar itself, by then a town center. See chap. 12 for the significance of this move.

The patronymic suffix is usually expressed in the singular, but sometimes in the plural, "sons of" (oğullarıı), as in Selimoğullarıı or Muradoğullarıı.

This is a paraphrase of the analysis of large family groupings in the district of Of that appears in my dissertation (Meeker 1970).

The new province of Trabzon is bounded by the provinces of Rize in the east and Giresun in the west.

One can say that women come from the group of males designated by a patronym, for example, "His wife is from the Muradoğlu" (Ailesi Muradoğlundan) or "She is from the Mehmet Muradoğlu group [of the Muradoğlu]" (Mehmet Muradoğlunun takıımıından). For other examples of local patronyms, see Umur (1951, 1956).

The contrast is described in my dissertation (Meeker 1970), but my attempt to explain it there is flawed.

Ibid. Elsewhere in rural Turkey, the word "akraba" normally referred to kinsmen, relatives or family in the broadest sense, that is, both males and females, including relatives by both blood and marriage. This means that the word "akraba" did not refer to any kind of bounded collectivity. Elsewhere in rural Turkey, the word "sülale" was commonly used to refer to "descent line" but without the meaning of a "descent group" as in the expression, "He is from my family line" (sülalemdendir). I rarely heard this word in the district of Of, probably because they were more preoccupied with descent groups than with descent lines.

Ibid., 159–60. The households are assumed to be headed by a descendant of the putative ancestor of the patronymic group. The households are otherwise of variable composition. They might include a couple and their unmarried children or a couple, their married children, and their unmarried children, or they might include other relatives of the household head, or even relatives of his spouse in some instances.

In rural areas of central and western Turkey in the 1960s, by contrast, patrilineages consisting of more than 100 households would have been considered extraordinary.

Meeker 1970, 158–59. The estimate, which is a conservative one, applies to the villages of the district of Of as newly constituted in 1948. It is based on interviews, a partial census of the Selimoğlu, official census results by village, and official vote counts by village.

The local usage of the word "akraba" seemed to confirm that this was so since it indicated that the clan was a basic unit of the social system.

This was sometimes asserted to be a fact of life in the district of Of: "Here among us large families crush small families" (bizde büyük akrabalar küçük akrabalarıı ezilir).

The classical statements of these anthropological theories are to be found in Evans-Pritchard (1940, 1949) and in Evans-Pritchard and Fortes (1940).

I use the phrase "post-classical period" to refer roughly to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Later, in chap. 4, I will also use the phrase "period of decentralization," following Hourani (1974, 71) and ıınalcıık (1977).

Meeker 1970, 158.

I have argued elsewhere (1976a; 1976b) that marriage at a distance was more common in the eastern Black Sea region than in other parts of Turkey. The logic of my analysis depended on the inability or reluctance of women to press their legal right to property inheritance, both under the Ottoman and Republican legal code. Since the probability that women may press their claims to property is increasing, endogamous marriages may be increasing accordingly, as a device for maintaining male control over property. Cf. Hann and Beller-Hann (2001), who conclude that marriage to close kin is common in the Lazi districts from Pazar to Hopa.

In the 1960s, one encountered these large caravans along the coastal road from Rize to Trabzon during the warmer months. I do not know if they were also typical of the coastal districts further east or further west.

The use of firearms during wedding celebrations was illegal, but the gendarmerie looked the other way during the 1960s.

The patronymic groups in Of were sometimes associated with one or more village quarters, or one or more entire villages. This was a stronger relationship of patronymic group and a specific territory than usually existed in the villages of western Turkey at the time (Meeker 1970, 147, 149).

The tradition of religious study in the district of Of is the subject of chap. 2.

See Fortes (1953) for a discussion of unilineal descent groups as "corporate groups" and "effective lineages" and Stirling (1965) for a limited application of these concepts to villages in central Anatolia.

The word "ağa" is translated in English-Turkish dictionaries as "chief," "master," or "lord." Cf. Meeker 1972. At the time of my fieldwork, I assumed that the aghas of the nineteenth century were local elders and leaders. I failed to understand they had been appointed and titled by state officials, who assigned them certain governmental tasks in designated groups of villages. See chaps. 6, 7, and 8.

Umur 1949, 18.

I have chosen not to publish this list of twenty family names, all of them of the "oğlu" form, but I shall be using the list to evaluate historical documents in later chapters. I have preserved the families' anonymity in order to avoid associating family members, who are many in number, with the activities of leading individuals, who are few in number.

He wrote down the name of one patronymic group under both parties, saying that its members had recently split between the groups.

I carried out a census of a large number of households from the Selimoğlu. This census confirmed that leading families from the Selimoğlu had repeatedly intermarried with leading families from other large family groupings of the Five Party in the district of Of (Meeker 1970).

Umur 1949, 18–19. Umur later conducted an extensive program of archival research on the district of Of. He may well have revised his views after completing this research.

Ibid. Umur uses the Turkish word "tribe" (kabîle) instead of "family" (akraba) to refer to the clans, thereby choosing to emphasize their extra-state character.

I saw five such mansions in the old district of Of and heard reports of a few others that had fallen into ruins. For a description of one of the old mansions east of the town of Trabzon, see Winfield et al. (1960).

See the analysis in chap. 3.

Nonetheless, Sümer (1992) has argued that prominent individuals and families along the eastern coastal region were traceable to the late arrival of Çepni Turkic peoples.

Some years ago I argued the possibility that the aghas and clans could be an artifact of the settlement of the eastern coastal region by Kartvelian peoples (Meeker 1971). Recently, Toumarkine (1995) has pointed out a weakness in my argument. If the dominant pattern of social organization all along the coast is derived from a Kartvelian kinship system, one must explain why almost all the peoples who feature such a dominant pattern failed to retain any consciousness of their Kartvelian origins. To address this problem, he devised an ingenious hypothesis. However, I have since concluded that the aghas and clans are artifacts of local participation in the imperial system and so not associated with any one of the many ethnic groups who settled in the eastern coastal region.

See the analysis in chap. 3.

I use the English phrase "family line" as a translation of the Turkish word "akraba" but with its special meaning in the district of Of, that is, a descent line which is also a descent group. See note 19, above.

I retained the terms "family grouping" and "patronymic group" as two translations of the broader and narrower meanings of the local term "akraba."

This problem will be examined in chap. 6. See Van Bruinessen (1978) for an assessment of the relationship of local elites and the state system among the Kurdish-speakers of eastern Anatolia.

See chaps. 6, 7, and 8 for a fuller discussion of French and British consular reports.

Fontanier may have received this idea from P. Fourcade, who preceded him as French consul in Sinope. See chap. 7.

Fontanier 1829, 17-18.

MAE CCCT L. 3, No. 11, Jan. 1831. British consul Brant reported a similar assessment, PRO FO 524/1, Jan. 26, 1831.

The first, Selimoğlu, already known to us, is remembered as the preeminent family line of the old Five Party. The second, Cansıızoğlu, is remembered by some as the preeminent family line of the old Twenty-five Party during the time of Osman Pasha.

The exception is the Fatzanoğlu. I do not know if this family line is today a large family grouping in the vicinity of Hopa.

MAE CCCT L. 3, No. 11, Jan. 1831.

Ibid. British consul Brant had reached the same conclusion (PRO FO 524/1, Jan. 26, 1831).

PRO FO 524/2 p. 29, Feb. 1833. Brant acknowledges the reports of a force of twelve thousand but believes that it is a force of only six thousand.

See chaps. 6, 7, and 8.


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Table of Contents

List of Maps, Tables, and Figures

Part I. Aghas and Hodjas: The Republican District of Of
1. Amnesia: Clan-Society and Nation-State
2. Prohibition: Social Relations and Official Islam

Part II. The Dissemination of an Imperial Modernity: The Ottoman Province of Trabzon
3. Horizons: Markets and States
4. Empire: Gaze, Discipline, Rule
5. Dissemination: Soldiers and Students

Part III. The Old State Society and the New State System: The Ottoman Province of Trabzon
6. A State Society: State Officials and Local Elites
7. Blindness: A Feudal Past Without a Modern Future
8. Scandal: Aghas and Hodjas

Part IV. Old Modernity and New Modernity: The Republican Town of Of
9. Revolution: Amnesia and Prohibition
10. Democracy: The Old Republic
Inhabits the New Republic
11. Civil Society: Coffeehouses and Cooperatives
12. The City: Nations and Empires



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