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A New Rumelia: Imperial Nostalgia and the Remaking of Anatolian Environments
The Ottoman Empire’s control of its most agriculturally productive, "core" territories in the Balkans of southeastern Europe (Ottoman Turkish: Eyālet-i Rūm-ėli; Rumelia) eroded throughout the nineteenth century, devastating state revenues that depended on the agricultural tithe collected from these regions. As dominion over Rumelia eroded, Ottoman administrators turned attention to compensating for the material environments and political prestige that was lost. The interests of Ottoman administrators drifted eastward to Anatolia. For Ottomans, especially Ottoman Turkish and Muslim refugees (muhacir) fleeing Balkan splinter-states, Anatolia was a space both old and new. It was an ancestral homeland about which little factual information was known. Anatolia was a frontier ripe for financial speculation. Bringing Anatolia into the European fold meant rendering its landscapes legible, negotiable, and productive. To these ends, Ottoman administrators and European firms formed fateful partnerships not just to compensate for the lost Balkan lands; but to recreate the Balkans in Anatolia. This chapter argues that Ottoman administrators, enmeshed in modernist discourses about the manipulation of natural environments, attempted to compensate for its territorial losses in southeastern Europe, by attempting to reengineer the landscapes of Anatolia in the Balkans’ image. Drawing on archival documents from Turkey, France, Britain, and Germany, as well as published memoirs and traveler's accounts, this paper applies the tools of environmental history to explore how late Ottoman administrators sought to compensate for the loss of Balkan territories by literally reengineering Anatolian environments in the image of southeastern Europe. As uprisings peeled off many of these districts in the nineteenth century, the Ottomans experienced a loss of political prestige and a severe contraction of the resource base of their fiscal state. To compensate for these losses, administrators adopted Tanzimāt discourses about state centralization and novel ideas about environmental and economic geography to transpose features of Balkan environments onto the Empire's remaining Anatolian territory. Beginning in the 1850s, administrators implemented a project of reconstructing Balkan environments on the Anatolian steppe. The result was a modification of social ecologies, landscapes, labor, and financial networks in styles advocated by European scientists, technocrats, and bankers. This set of projects reached its apex under Abdülhamid II and was the basis for the speculative attention of European capitalists who became entangled with Ottoman policymakers.
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Ottoman Empire
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