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Captives, Clergymen, Soldiers, Refugees: Mobile Actors and their Accounts on the Transottoman Space

Session XIII-02, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
For centuries, mobility dynamics were a characteristic feature of the macro-region we call the “Transottoman space”, which streched from Eastern Europe across the Ottoman Empire to Russia and the Persianate world. Writing from a Transottoman perspective, we do not focus on a specific geographical region, but rather deal with related action patterns of mobility. Mobile actors were an essential element of the mobility dynamics and shaped them not only by their actions and missions, but also with their written accounts. All of these travelers, be it soldiers, clergymen, refugees or war captives, acted in their specific mobility space, and thus their accounts demonstrate a variety of interactions between different groups of protagonists. These accounts present peculiarities of human mobility and the circulation of knowledge, as well as existing spheres of entanglement. By these texts we can identify a variety of mobility dynamics in a variety of fields, such as warfare, diplomacy or forced migration. This panel aims to explore five untold stories of individuals and groups who reflect dynamics of Transottoman mobility across the centuries in a wider spatial and social space. The first paper investigates the case of military officials who traveled from Europe to the Mamluk realm and served both as military experts and interpreters, resulting in a mobility of knowledge in warfare. Focusing on the mobility of military units during the Morean War between the Venetians and the Ottomans (1684-1699), the second paper explores the military career of the Venetian officer Colonel Muazzo by analyzing his chronicle on this war. Against the background of the history of the Orthodox churches in the Ottoman Empire, the third paper illuminates the travelogue of the patriarch of Antioch in the mid-seventeenth century, and his comparisons of structures of government in the Danubian principalities and the Ottoman realm. The subject of the fourth paper is forced mobility experienced by the Ottoman war captive Necati in St. Petersburg during the Ottoman-Russian war of 1768-1774. An analysis of his captive narrative offers insights into Ottoman-Russian relations in warfare and diplomacy. Another form of forced mobility is the subject of the fifth paper. It discusses this phenomenon by investigating memoirs of two female refugees who had to flee from their home town on the Balkan to Istanbul in the early twentieth century. Thus, former Ottoman territories appear—from a Transottoman point of view—as as driving force of massive displacement and refugee movements.
  • In the second half of the fifteenth century, tensions increased between the Ottoman Empire and the Mamluk realm about the supremacy over Eastern Anatolia. In this conflict, new war techniques like the usage of firearms and canons plaid a vital role. However, the Mamluks were disadvantaged in the availability of the necessary resources and lacked specialists. Therefore, we observe an influx of European experts into the Mamluk realm where they served as interpreters and diplomats to European powers or as instructors for the Mamluk army about how to build and use the new arms. Still the full role of these Europeans is understudied. Little is known, as well about their personal mobility and how they actually came to the Mamluk Empire. When did they convert to Islam to serve in the army or administration? The present contribution will therefore gather the available information in Arab historiography and travel accounts of European pilgrims as well as biographies of Europeans like Ludevico de Varthema who served in the Mamluk army prior to returning to Europe. These texts and memoires will be scrutinized as well in order to see how the Ottoman and Mamluk Empires are depicted by these experts prior to their decisive conflict in 1516/17. By doing so the contribution will shed light as well on the process of "Ottoman-like" military and administrational reforms in the Mamluk Sultanate which actually meant that it became increasingly part of a Transottoman periphery.
  • The Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire were at war for much of the second half of the seventeenth century. There is significant research on the diplomatic and military history of these years. However, little is known about the impact these wars had on the people who fought them. This paper shall offer a bottom-up view at the Venetian-Ottoman encounters by investigating the military career and crisis of a Venetian officer, Colonel Francesco Muazzo. It describes the life of a soldier fighting the Ottomans across the Eastern Mediterranean and shows that Muazzo’s experiences of violence and mobility challenged his ideals and loyalties. These experiences eventually led him to write a history of the first Morean War, which contains some autobiographical elements and can be read as an ego-document. Francesco Muazzo’s active military service in the Venetian army put him on the path to sheer endless mobility from one theater of war to the next: Venice and Italy, Crete, Dalmatia, the Peloponnese, Athens and the sea and land passages connecting those places. This Transottoman mobility heavily imprinted on Muazzo’s biography and shaped the path of his life. The wars he fought brought him into contact with various people, both friend and foe, of different languages, religions, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Being exposed to many different ethnic idiosyncrasies, religions, traditions and value-systems helped Muazzo sharpen his own value-system and clarify his soldierly principles. He differentiated according to his values, not according to some version of “belonging”. Whenever his “own” prove to be incompetent, lie, cheat, or violate humanity, they are exposed and critizised scathingly - be they Muazzo’s fellow fighters in the army, Venetian noblemen, or his direct superior in the chain of command. The repeated violations of his principles and values led him into a process of estrangement: While Muazzo never lost his loyalty to Venice, his disappointment with the increasingly unprofessional conduct of war led him to a complete loss of confidence in the Venetian oligarchic ruling class and political system. Thus, an analysis of his work sheds light on many aspects of military mobilities in the Transottoman space in the second half of the seventeenth century.
  • Mehmed Necati Efendi (d. 1793) was an Ottoman official who was appointed as secretary to the Ottoman commander-in-chief of the Crimea during the Ottoman-Russian War of 1768-1774. After he was taken prisoner with a large group of Ottoman officials, he spent ca. four years in Russian captivity in St. Petersburg, only to regain his freedom after the Peace of Küçük Kaynarca in July 1774. Having returned to Istanbul, Necati Efendi wrote his memoirs on his detention on Crimea and then in St. Petersburg. Although regular Ottoman envoys to eighteenth century Russia wrote a number of embassy reports or comparable records, Necati’s memoires are the only known captivity narrative on this country from that period. As a historical source, the text is a unique document on the Ottoman-Russian relations and conflicts in the second half of the eighteenth century. From a Transottoman vantage point, this paper examines early modern war captivity as a special form of human mobility, which took place in the space between the Ottoman and the Russian Empire. It deals with the question how far Necati Efendi, as an Ottoman official, was able to narrate his forced mobility, i.e. the captivity, as an individual experience. As mobile actor and a war captive, he was not acting between clear-cut borders of the “self” and “others”, but in intertwined spheres, and eventually in his first-person narrative he reflects these multiple levels and dynamic processes. Furthermore, a close reading of this source contributes to a better understanding of the phenomenon of war captivity as a specific form of mobility dynamics as well as of inter-imperial relations and diplomacy in the Transottoman space in the eighteenth century.
  • The memoirs of two refugee women During the last years of the Ottoman Empire, refugees and deportees were everywhere. People became ‘transottoman’ without ever having planned such a thing, crossing borders because state officials forced them to do so and/or this seemed the only possibility of survival. Usually without vocational or professional training, women found enforced mobility especially traumatic. However, some young females took on the challenge and in a few instances, produced narratives reflecting their efforts to make a living in an unfamiliar environment. The present paper deals with two such memoirs, the work of female mobile actors using whatever family support remained available and building successful lives, aided by good health and plenty of energy. Descended from Muslim notables of Macedonia, Belkıs Halim Vassaf (1904-98) experienced her family’s flight as a child in primary school. By the time of arrival in the Anatolian town of Akhisar, she had lost both parents, but with the help of her half-brother Zekerya (Sertel) between 1918 and 1921, she attended the teachers’ training school (Darülmuallimat) in Istanbul as a boarder. While very detailed, the narrative of Belkıs Halim Vassaf is at considerable remove from the events narrated. She spoke her memoirs on tape in old age, and the tapes do not seem to be publicly available. Therefore, it is hard to say to what extent later experiences colored Halim Vassaf’s memories, nor can we exactly pinpoint the considerable interventions of her son, the author Gündüz Vassaf. Other editors may have added further layers of comment. A woman despite her male pseudonym, Cahit Uçuk (1909-2004) had lived in and around Salonika. She did not experience the turmoil of the Balkan Wars directly, deriving her account from the reports of her grandmother and father, a young official in the late Ottoman Balkans. Especially the grandmother narrated her experience of humiliation, robbery, and physical aggression. While Uçuk’s memoir provides a lively account, as a historical source, it is difficult to utilize; for the author did not specify who shared which parts of the story with her at what time. Despite their drawbacks, these two books are instructive to the historian as they reflect female experiences of war and flight, otherwise rarely recorded. We can only ‘peel off’ layers of intervention as far as possible, and otherwise, take the texts as primary sources for the views current at the time of (probable) composition.