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Governance and Citizenship in the Late Ottoman Empire

Panel IV-26, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Striving to consolidate sultanic authority, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) sought to ‘reconquer’ many parts of the Ottoman Empire. The imperial capital, Istanbul, was also subject to an attempt at reconquest. This paper is about the religious aspects of this so-called reconquest of the imperial capital, focusing on Mahmud II’s architectural campaign in Istanbul which sought to physically assert the legitimacy of the sultan as a heroic and pious ruler — the two intertwined characteristics that were widely questioned (and often outright rejected) by the inhabitants of the city. In doing so, the sultan sought to access and control the religious landscape of the city to be able to influence the public within the framework of the existential legitimacy crisis the Ottoman dynasty was suffering from. I will present the inscriptions on some of the holy tombs (türbe), dervish lodges (tekke), and mosques that were renovated or built during this period and discuss their significance within this context. Similarly, I will present a selection of treatises, poems, and chronicles written by the members of the Ottoman political elite that sought to present the sultan as a pious and heroic ruler. I will conclude by discussing the significance of Mahmud II’s troubles with the imperial capital and its ‘unruly’ inhabitants for Ottoman historiography, with regard to themes like 'center-province relations', 'centralization', and 'imperial legitimacy.' This paper presents a humble invitation to rethink the notion of ‘the center’ by highlighting the multi-varied and convoluted nature of the imperial capital that carried many ‘provincial’ characteristics which caused anxieties for the political elite during Mahmud II's long and tumultuous reign.
  • This paper explores how the Ottoman polity considered/regulated public office corruption (POC) in its regulations. I analyze two understudied volumes of codes in their entirety to understand the context(s) of corruption in different regulations. This project explores how the Ottoman legal rhetoric defined POC as an unwanted (yet unavoidable) practice. Following Ian Hacking’s work on “social construction” of concepts, I explore how in Ottoman governance, POC was considered as “inevitable.” The works on corruption in the Ottoman polity either point out how corruption was a rampant problem or how Ottoman practices were misunderstood by outside observers as corruption. This paper differs from those accounts and argues that POC is “socially constructed” in nineteenth-century legal texts as an unavoidable consequence of human involvement in public service. What makes this paper unique is that rather than focusing on individual cases of POC, it explores some early compilations of the 19th-century codification movements that has not been examined much at all (let alone, in their entirety) to identify how these codes defined corruptible processes. Corruption requires a corruptible process. It is a deviation from a normative order defining proper governance. 19th-century Ottoman codification movement employed a legalist discourse to redefine processes such as customs’ controls, to eliminate practices such as price controls, to introduce certificates such as title deeds, etc. This codification movement outlined a normative order and defined POC in that context. Two comprehensive volumes of legal codes were published (in 1851 and 1863). By rendering these volumes digitally-legible through OCR and coding them using a qualitative analysis software this project provides an in-depth analysis of a significant variety of legal texts, rather than focusing on individual laws or independent cases of POC. This novel approach gets us a step closer to understanding the topology of 19th-century Ottoman governance precisely because it focuses on laws compiled by intellectuals like Ahmed Cevdet Pasha. The initial findings of the project show how these codes defined spaces/practices where corruption was possible. Once such practices were explained, corruption became a societal ill that needed addressing. But it also became a negotiation tool for individuals who accused others of “corruption” or praised themselves as incorruptible. By examining these legal compilations in a comprehensive way that involves digitizing and coding them with a qualitative analysis software, this project sheds a light to the Ottoman codification process, exploring new ways to analyze the legal discourse from a broad perspective.
  • The more recent scholarship establishes that the first codified civil law in the Islamic World Mecelle-i Ahkâm-ı Adliyye (1868-1876) is not a sort of timid, traditionalist, Islamist, and less successful alternative to the French Civil Code but rather a part of the modern global codification movement of the long 19th century. Following that, this paper aims to contribute to the ever-growing scholarship that challenges a sort of diffusionist modernity model according to which ideas, reforms, and all sorts of intellectual advancements first originate in the Ottoman capital, İstanbul, and then spread to the so-called periphery of the empire. That is, by drawing on primary sources in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, it examines Mecelle by paying attention to the connections and affiliations across the empire: from a less İstanbul-centric perspective and by considering the contributions of non-Muslim Ottoman subjects’ and their engagement with the Mecelle. The first major contribution of this research is to demonstrate that controversies around the Mecelle were not limited to a small circle of intellectuals and bureaucrats in İstanbul: more recent scholarship and my ongoing research demonstrate that Mecelle can be better understood when the multi-directional intellectual exchanges that were not necessarily limited by time, political borders, and sectarian differences into consideration. Archival documents including the previously unutilized meeting minutes of the Mecelle Committee and correspondence among its members enable me to reveal important intellectual networks and entanglements within the Ottoman Empire and with the larger Islamic world. Thus, I argue that the preparation of Mecelle (1868-1876) and subsequent meetings of the Mecelle Committee until 1889 further enhance the creation and expansion of these networks where İstanbul might be an important center, but certainly not the only one. Secondly, Mecelle was prepared for Muslim as well as non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, although it should not come as a surprise that non-Muslim subjects of the empire also showed great interest in Mecelle, there has not been any dedicated study on non-Muslim engagements with Mecelle. To close this gap, this study focuses on non-Muslim legal experts and intellectuals. Relying on my findings from the Ottoman archives such as the correspondence of the Mecelle Committee with non-Muslim legal experts, and books written on the interpretation of Mecelle by non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, it can be safely concluded that the non-Muslims were an important part of the making of the Mecelle.
  • This paper basically observes the development of citizenship in the Ottoman Empire through critical engagement with pre-existing theoretical frameworks and sophisticated analysis of the historical, political, and social variables that had an impact on Ottoman citizenship. It aims to answer the following questions: who was included in and excluded from citizenship in the Ottoman Empire? What were the significant factors that influenced the evolution over time? How does it mold our perception of the basis and consequences of citizenship in the region? The main argument is that citizenship in the Ottoman Empire rotated from a pre-modern conception of ethnic and religious communal belonging to a modern institutional and legal framework grounded on allegiance and nationality. Various internal and external variables, such as religious and ethnic diversity (Millet/Tanzimat reforms), imperial reforms and crises, as well as worldwide changes in citizenship and nationalism, intertwined in a complex manner to develop citizenship in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire left a mixed impact on citizenship in the Middle East and elsewhere, having modeled inclusion and pluralism in some instances while also entrenching exclusion and inequality along ethnic and religious lines. It is difficult to entirely apprehend the evolution of citizenship in the Ottoman Empire through a single theoretical framework because it was a complicated and multifaceted process. Therefore, it uses a historical and comparative approach to analyze the Ottoman legal documents, historical documents, and academic literature. It relies on a critical evaluation of the sources, taking into account any biases, omissions, and silences in them. Initially, it gives a historical overview of citizenship in the pre-modern Ottoman Empire, discussing how ethnicity and religion define citizenship and giving examples of citizenship rights and responsibilities. Subsequently, it explores citizenship in the modern Ottoman Empire with a particular emphasis on the Millet system, the Tanzimat reforms, and the Hamidian period. Finally, it explains the Young Turk Revolution, and the Ottoman Empire's participation in World War I, which examines citizenship in the late Ottoman Empire. In conclusion, the study reveals that citizenship was a complicated and contentious notion in the Ottoman Empire that changed over time in relation to both external and internal variables. The study also emphasizes the legacy of the Ottoman Empire on citizenship, which continues to influence citizenship in the region and beyond in both positive and negative ways.
  • The Ottoman province (sancak; liva) of Kilis in what is now south-central Turkey was formed in 1536 from the towns of Kilis and A‘zaz, the rural district of Cûm and thirty-five overwhelmingly Kurdish tribal groups. Attached to the regional governorship of Aleppo and systematically identified as the “Liva of the Kurds” in Ottoman tax registers, the province was incorporated into the fiscal reserve of the Ottoman queen mother (Valide Sultan) in the late seventeenth century and played a key role in the taxing and policing of some of the major Kurdish confederations of the region including the Qilîçlos, Şexlos and Oqçî-Izzedînlos. This paper draws on Ottoman complaints (şikayet) registers and registers of “important affairs” (mühimme) to show how the state then increasingly came to rely on local intermediaries to govern the province in the eighteenth century, co-opting leading local Kurdish families as tribal chieftains and tax agents and recognizing the Kurdish character of the district as such. It traces the usage of the term “Kürd Dağı” (Mountain of the Kurds) in Ottoman documentation beginning around 1784, arguing that it was especially the Fırka-ı İslahiye campaign, sent under the supervision of reformist statesmen Ahmed Cevdet Paşa to pacify the area in 1865, that consecrated this as the semi-official new designation for the province. Drawing further on Ahmed Cevdet’s memoirs, the paper ends with the incorporation of the kaza (judicial district) of İzziye toward the end of the nineteenth century, by which the Ottoman state formally acknowledged the historical significance of the Oqçî-Izzedînlo tribe in the province and of the Kurdish population overall.