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3 December 2022, Denver

Translating Status and Privilege in (post-)Ottoman Moments of Transition

Panel at MESA 2022, Denver

Translating Status and Privilege in (post-)Ottoman Moments of Transition

Session VIII-05, sponsored by Organized under the auspices of DFG Priority Programme 1981: Transottomanica, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

The proposed panel explores moments of sociopolitical and cultural transition and rupture that have prompted individuals, groups of actors and institutions in various Ottoman and post-imperial settings to attempt a translation of their previous social standing and status into newly emerging contexts – in the hopes of salvaging existing privileges, unlocking new opportunities or adapting to changing conditions. Asking about cultural translation and other forms of negotiation and code-switching as coping mechanisms, the discussion covers a time frame from the mid-19th century into the post-Ottoman period and draws on case studies from Ottoman Istanbul, Anatolia and the Arab provinces. Local elites, Turkish-Republican intellectuals, families tracing their descent back into early-Islamic history and religious administrators feature among the protagonists of this panel and are united by the common challenge of navigating sociopolitical transitions and coming to terms with their impact on textures of hierarchy and status. Individual contributions make use of insights from historical sociology, comparative history or biographical approaches, respectively, to inquire about resources that are being mobilized in these attempts of status translation, including concepts and discourses, network structures, materiality and performative aspects, and are also attentive to the immediate consequences, long-term effects and limits of these undertakings. Both the reinterpreted claims of status and privilege and their authors, as well as the reception and impact of these translations on their respective target audiences are being addressed. On a theoretical level, the panel engages with discussions and insights from the field of cultural translation studies, mapping out their applicability along with possible modifications and fine-tuning for late-Ottoman and post-imperial settings.
  • This paper focuses on the status of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople following the Greek Revolution of 1821. Using Ottoman Turkish and Greek documents together with narrative sources from the period, it explores the creation of a new modus operandi between the Sublime Porte and the Patriarchate. The paper argues that the Patriarchate and its agents successfully negotiated a new position for themselves in the Ottoman Empire and managed to translate their spiritual power into an administrative leadership of their flock by 1830s. The Greek Revolution of 1821 fundamentally changed the status of the Greek-Orthodox populations of the Ottoman Empire. In the early months, the Sublime Porte found it difficult to differentiate between the revolutionary Greeks and the rest of the Ottoman Orthodox populations. Orders warning governors to be careful about possible Orthodox rebellions were sent to as far as Kars and Baghdad, while many documents spoke about the Ottoman Orthodox as though they were all in rebellion everywhere in the Empire. Rum milleti had thus two meanings: not only Ottoman Orthodox populations but also Greek nation in a modern understanding. This equalization of revolutionaries with Ottoman Orthodox subjects was symbolized in the execution of Patriarch Grigorios V in April 1821. However, even after the execution, the Sublime Porte had to make use of the Patriarchate to negotiate with the rebels or force them back to submission. Ottoman government needed the Patriarchate to go back to a status quo or at least to carry out an effective damage control. This gave the agents of the Patriarchate enough leeway to negotiate their status in the post-revolutionary Ottoman world. By 1830s, just before the creation of an independent Greek Kingdom, the Patriarchate managed to definitively differentiate the rebels and their newly independent country as Yunan and made itself the sole guarantor of the submission of the Rum milleti, now decisively meaning the Ottoman Orthodox populations. In this process, the Patriarchate also translated the religious primacy of its agents into administrative responsibility in Ottoman provinces opening the way for these prelates’ participation in Tanzimat councils.
  • This paper is set in the environs of the Eastern Anatolian town of Palu at the turn of the twentieth century. At the heart of this investigation is a puzzle: how did the local elite manage to maintain their power in the face of first Tanzimat (1839-1876) and then Hamidian centralization (1876-1908)? Based on the study of a range of primary sources, it appears that the local elites were able to ‘use’ the Armenian Question, and the fears of the central authorities, to their advantage. The elites increasingly presented themselves as “loyal Muslims” in the face of supposedly “seditious Armenians” to maintain control of the land. We therefore suggest an innovative perspective to study the Armenian Question, in which the concept of identity should be approached historically rather than as taken for granted. To deepen our conceptual perspective on the relationship between the question of identity and Armenian Question, we draw significantly on the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois and thereby resort to a comparison between the late nineteenth century Eastern Anatolia and contemporaneous history of post-Reconstruction South in the US, which will help us make sense of similar patterns of group boundary maintenance, retention of hierarchies and mass violence. Our paper relies primarily on a voluminous legal file compiled from the catalogues of the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives, İstanbul composed by different segments of the region’s population, including Armenian and Muslim peasants, members of the local elite and Armenian religious dignitaries. It is based on a group of official complaints which accuse the district governor of Palu, Mehmed Tevfik, of brutality and corruption. The narrative emerging out of the official process they prompted, which involves basically an executive inquiry and legal prosecution, provides an incredibly telling prism to study the changing configuration of land, power, and identity in the region and as an extension the Armenian Question. Our research is complemented principally by a meticulous reading of the contemporaneous ABCFM reports and memoirs.
  • This contribution engages with discussions about hierarchy and social status in the period of transition from the late-Ottoman Empire into post-imperial settings. It takes the example of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (seyyid, pl. sadat) as a starting point to explore how members of a highly privileged group, to which access was closely monitored from both within the group and by the Ottoman authorities, dealt with sociopolitical changes in the late-19th century and subsequently navigated the end of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of secular and nationalist political orders in the region. It is of particular interest in this regard to trace and understand strategies that individual actors and communities relied on in their attempts to translate former status, privileges and resources into newly emerging contexts. The late-19th century correspondence that the highest representative of the seyyids in the Ottoman administration, the nakibü’l-eşraf in Istanbul, exchanged with community leaders in the provinces provides detailed insights into network structures and illustrates demands that were made from within the seyyid community. It emerges from these documents that already during the Ottoman reform period of the late-19th century, seyyids felt the need to safeguard existing privileges, notably with regard to taxation, exemption from military service and their representation in the provincial councils. In addition, the dossiers of the nakibü’l-eşraf permit to identify individuals in different Ottoman provinces who stand out as spokespersons of the local seyyid communities. The second part of the paper takes its cue from there, making use of local archives from Ottoman Syria with an emphasis on the region of modern-day Jordan to follow-up on these individual trajectories from the late-19th into the early-20th century, thus joining the view from the Ottoman central administration with a biographical approach that zooms in on local actors and their strategies in claiming and affirming status. These cross-readings of administrative discourses and local case studies add nuance to existing research into post-imperial transitions, pointing to a continuum and a lively back-and-forth of negotiations about privileges that begins already in the late-19th century, rather than a sudden transformation and complete devaluation of seyyid status after the end of the Ottoman Empire. A focus on actors and their strategies highlights attempts of translating a variety of former status markers – e.g. naming practices and titles, privileged access to resources and restricted bodies of knowledge or social standing, religious charisma and political influence – into new contexts.
  • This paper examines the concept of münevver, commonly translated as “intellectual,” in the historiography of the late Ottoman Empire and early republican Turkey. Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches in historical sociology, I trace the genealogy of münevver both as a concept and a social category that can be translated as “enlightened,” “luminary,” or “intellectual,” depending on the context. This social category was mobilized first by late Ottoman thinkers and writers such as Fuat [Köprülü] and Ziya [Gökalp] as a quasi-translation of the French intellectuel crystallized during the Dreyfus Affair. It was then adapted and re-defined by the ruling Republican People’s Party (RPP) in the formative years of the Republic of Turkey. The RPP leadership considered its local spokespeople as münevver, the Halk Hatipleri (People’s Preachers), a group of party members chosen to communicate viva voce the “values, principles, and ideas” of the new regime in the provinces. By analyzing a corpus of texts produced by ideologues and officers of the ruling party, I show how the notion of münevver in this post-imperial setting was linked to but varied from that of the “intellectual,” another social category that emerged in Europe, but particularly in France with the Manifesto of the Intellectuals. I contrast the elite conceptualizations of münevver found in canonical texts produced by key intellectual figures of early republican Turkey with a sociographic analysis of People’s Preachers, a group that the state-party regime charged with the responsibility of “enlightening” (tenvir) the “popular masses” (halk kitleleri). My analysis combines canonical (often published, edited, and re-edited) and noncanonical historical sources. It contributes to intellectual and social history by comparing normative and textual sources with historical sociology of circa 3500 party “preachers” selected between 1931 and 1950. In so doing, it demonstrates that münevver of early republican Turkey included a humbler and a larger body of local elites and notables whose distinctive social trait ranged from access to education, partnerships that persisted from empire to republic, and sometimes, simply literacy. Charging them with a kind of “responsibility of the intellectual,” the early republican leadership transformed different types of provincial elites, including civil servants and local notables, into party “intellectuals.”