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This article is based on a case file examining the allegedly corrupt behavior of the district governor (kaymakam) of Ereğli, located in the Black Sea coal district of the Ottoman Empire, before the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. It paints a vivid picture of the cronyism, greed, and demands for justice that abound in the testimonies and petitions of a diverse array of local actors that were included in the case file. These documents provide the opportunity to shed light on, among other things, the growing nexus between state power and capital in the late Ottoman Empire within a little-studied peripheral context. As the article shows, prospects of control over the region's burgeoning coal economy led to abuses among officials at various levels of the local and imperial bureaucracy, the impacts of which were felt (to varying degrees) by a wide cross-section of Ereğli society. The behavior of the district governor and his allies, along with the final decision made in the case, reveals much about power, wealth, and justice in the final years of the Abdülhamit regime.
Transnational labor migration is one of the most visible features of our globalizing world. The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 214 million migrant workers crossing national borders in the world today. Migration both in and to the Middle East constitutes an important part of this movement of laborers and has deep roots. In the mid-fifteenth century, workers across a broad spectrum of occupations, including stevedores, boatmen, and bakers, trekked from areas in eastern and central Anatolia to the new imperial Ottoman capital, Istanbul, where they lived and worked for months and even years. Workers from outside the Middle East also have been part of the fabric of life in the region for several centuries, the slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa, which long supplied labor for a variety of purposes, being one of the most notable. Migrant workers took on new significance in the twentieth century, especially after the oil price hikes of 1973. Today the nations on the Arabian Peninsula, the destination for most workers, have the highest ratio of migrants to locals in the world.
As explained by one of its founders, subaltern studies seeks to counteract histories written by elites, about elites, and for elites that ignore the majority of society. Through this examination, the urban poor, workers, and peasants of India, the original focus of attention, are agents in the formation of their subaltern consciousness: the “agency of change is located in the insurgent or the ‘subaltern.’”
In marked contrast to the military and political successes of the 1300–1683 era, defeats and territorial withdrawals characterized this long eighteenth century, 1683–1798. The political structure continued to evolve steadily, taking new forms in a process that should be seen as transformation but not decline. Central rule continued in a new and more disguised fashion as negotiation more frequently than command came to assure obedience. Important changes occurred in the Ottoman economy as well: the circulation of goods began to increase; levels of personal consumption probably rose; and the world economy came to play an ever-larger role in the everyday lives of Ottoman subjects.
The wars of contraction, c. 1683–1798
On the international stage, military defeats and territorial contraction marked the era, when the imperial Ottoman state was much less successful than before. At the outset, it seems worthwhile to make several general points.
First, at bottom, the Ottoman defeats are as difficult to explain as the victories of earlier centuries. Sometime during the early sixteenth century, as the wealth of the New World poured into Europe, the military balance shifted away from the Ottomans; they lost their edge in military technology and using similar and then inferior weapons and tactics, battled European enemies. Moreover, the earlier military imbalance between offensive and defensive warfare in favor of the aggressor had worked to the Ottomans' advantage, but now defenses became more sophisticated and vastly more expensive.
Nationalism – a highly sensitive and difficult subject at the root of shifting understandings of identity – forms an important focus of attention in the present chapter. In its essence, nationalism speaks of one dominant nationality; for example, the Turkish republic is said to rest on a Turkish identity. Yet the Ottoman Empire for much of its history brought together multiple and different ethnic and religious groups. At times their interaction was co-operative and harmonious; but under the pressures of “modern nationalism” those ethnic and religious relations deteriorated into hostilities and worse, massacres, that remain a difficult subject in memory and national accounting. This issue is particularly acute in the interactions among, for example, modern-day Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds, as well as Palestinians and Israelis.
Inter-communal relations: an overview
The subject of historical intergroup relations in the Ottoman Empire looms large because of the many conflicts that currently plague the lands it once occupied. Recall, for example, the Palestinian–Israeli struggle, the Kurdish issue, the Armenian question, as well as the horrific events that have befallen Bosnia and Kossovo. All rage in lands once Ottoman. What then, is the connection between these struggles of today and the inter-communal experiences of the Ottoman past?
Let me begin with the assertion that there was nothing inevitable about these conflicts – all were historically conditioned, that is, produced by quite particular circumstances that evolved in a certain but not unavoidable manner.
The nationalist sentiments that have pervaded most nineteenth- and twentieth-century history writing seriously have obstructed our assessment and appreciation of the Ottoman legacy. The biases come from many sides. West and central Europeans rightly feared Ottoman imperial expansion until the late seventeenth century. Remarkably, these old fears have persisted into the present day and arguably have been transformed into cultural prejudices, for example, now being directed against the full membership of an Ottoman successor state, Turkey, into the European Union. Moreover, nationalist histories have dismissed the place of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious political formation in historical evolution. Furthermore, as a model of economic change in an emerging European dominated world economy, the Ottomans have had to bow to the manufacturing, exporting, highly productive Japanese success story. In the more than thirty countries that now exist in territories once occupied by the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman past until recently has been largely ignored and/or considered in extremely negative terms. With some exceptions, this remains the situation today in the former Balkan provinces. Regarding a number of Arab states, by contrast, scholarly works on the Ottoman period recently have proliferated. In Israel, a comparatively strong Ottoman studies tradition dates back decades, often linked to Zionism and its justification. And finally, academic and public awareness of the Ottoman legacy in Turkey is growing and an active public debate over its meaning is taking place.
In its essence, the Ottoman state was a dynastic one, administered by and for the Ottoman family, in cooperation and competition with other groups and institutions. In common with polities elsewhere in the world, the central dynastic Ottoman state employed a variety of strategies to assure its own perpetuation. It combined brutal coercion, the maintenance of justice, the co-option of potential dissidents, and constant negotiation with other sources of power. This chapter examines some of the obvious as well as the more subtle techniques of rule that it employed to domestically project its power over the centuries. Significantly, it explores the actual power of the central government in the provinces. It suggests that the older narratives stressing an extensive amount of administrative centralization are overstated.
The Ottoman dynasty: principles of succession
At the heart of Ottoman success lay the ability of the royal family to hold onto the summit of power for over six centuries, through numerous permutations and fundamental transformations of the state structure. Therefore, we first turn to modes of dynastic succession and how the Ottoman dynasty created, maintained, and enhanced its own legitimacy.
Globally, royal families have used principles of both female and male or exclusively male succession. In common with early modern and modern monarchical France (where the Salic law prevailed), but unlike the modern Russian and British states, the Ottoman family used the principle of male succession, considering only males as potential heirs to the throne.
The present chapter focuses on international relations and addresses two complementary aspects of the place of the Ottoman Empire in the wider international community. Thus, it explores the empire's relations with other states, empires, and nations, as well as its diplomatic strategies. The chapter offers a distinctive commentary on the global order through the Ottoman perspective. It first focuses on the changing place of the Ottoman empire in the international order, 1700–1922, as it declined from first- to second-rank status. It then examines the changing diplomatic tools employed in dealing with other states, particularly the shift from occasional to continuous methods of diplomacy. Another diplomatic tool, the caliphate, gave the Ottoman state a special religious instrument that it increasingly used for secular state purposes from the eighteenth century onwards. And finally, the chapter provides an overview of Ottoman relations with Europe, central Asia, India, and North Africa.
The Ottoman Empire in the international order, 1700–1922
The place of the Ottoman state and any political system in the international order is a function of many factors, sometimes demographic and economic power. A large and densely settled population is not always a certain barometer of political importance: consider the vast power of eighteenth-century Prussia with its tiny population and the political weakness of nineteenth-century China, the world's most populous country at the time. In the Ottoman case, a relative decline in the global importance of its population paralleled its fading international political importance.
During the long nineteenth century, 1798–1922, the earlier Ottoman patterns of political and economic life remained generally recognizable. In many respects, this period continued processes of change and transformation that had begun in the eighteenth century, and sometimes before. Territorial losses continued and frontiers shrank; statesmen at the center and in the provinces continued their contestations for power and access to taxable resources; and the international economy loomed ever more important. And yet, much was new. The forces triggering the territorial losses became increasingly complex, now involving domestic rebellions as well as the familiar imperial wars. Domestically, the central state became more powerful and influential in everyday lives than ever before in Ottoman history, extending its control ever more deeply into society. Its primary tools of control changed from consumption competitions and tax farms to a much larger and professional military and bureaucracy. As a part of the effort to more fully control its population, the state redefined the status of Muslims and non-Muslims and, after some delay sought, towards the end of the period, to re-order the legal status of women as well. And finally, a new and deadly element evolved in the Ottoman body politic – inter-communal violence among Ottoman subjects – that attested to the power of these accelerating political and economic changes.
The wars of contraction and internal rebellions
By the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire in Europe had receded to a small coastal plain between Edirne and Istanbul.