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Issues

A small number of in-depth interviews have also been conducted with elderly inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas. Nine of them were with Kasap ƒlyas-born men who were still in touch with their mahalle of origin, and one was with the wife of a former muhtar. The interviews were conducted either in their homes or in a coffeehouse in the mahalle where elderly people regularly met on Sundays. We attempted to obtain informants from as wide a range of social strata as possible but the paucity of the numbers involved invalidates any claims of “representativity.”
Not surprisingly, we have had difficulty in obtaining precise chronological information about occurrences in the neighborhood. The temporal construction of each of the biographical narratives hinged on the remembrance of a past and lost “imagined community.” Nevertheless, these interviews have provided very useful general information on daily life in the neighborhood and on its inhabitants in the first half of the twentieth century. We have thereby also obtained important clues on intracommunity relationships, on the self-image of the neighborhood community as a whole as well as, more generally, on twentieth-century local identities in Istanbul. Local myths and legends seem to have played an important role in the definition of the inhabitants of the mahalle.
The interviews also provided us with insights into the values and aspirations of men and women living in the integrated atmosphere of a traditional Istanbul neighborhood before the Second World War. During the interviews, most of the older Kasap ƒlyas inhabitants have spontaneously referred to the “foundation myths” of their mahalle with a mixture of pride and nostalgia, and have all expressed deep regret at the disappearance of the local ‘asabiyya in Istanbul. Many of the interviewees, for instance, took great pride in the “authentic old Istanbul” nature of their mahalle of origin, which they viewed as a proof of aristocracy. They all missed and deeply regretted the former internal solidarity networks.
The Istanbulites, in their public life, often saw their mahalle as a direct extension of their untouchable individual private space, of their inner personal domain. Their doorstep, their (often dead-end) street, and their mahalle were indeed transitional stages between their private and public spheres of activity. Therefore for many people, to talk about a mahalle implied conducting, in a sense, a first-person narrative discourse.
On the other hand, Ottoman historians have sufficiently stressed the fact that there was no widespread tradition of first-person narrative writing, no “personal” literature, or autobiographical materials worthy of that name in Ottoman times, at least not before well into the second half of the nineteenth century.
There are exceptions, of course, but the exaggerated value attached to them is of a kind that tends to confirm the rule. The dearth of Ottoman/Turkish historical sources centered on the singularity of individual lives has been sufficiently underlined. The personal voice, the distantiation of the observer to the observed, the autobiographical touch, and the opinionated observation of daily events is something that is virtually impossible to find before the winds of “Westernization” could seriously affect daily social life in Ottoman cities.
As to the very few available personal narratives, they do not furnish sufficient material for the construction of personalized histories. Nor are they numerous enough, or do they constitute a fruitful perspective leading to a view of society “from the bottom up.”39 This state of affairs, for the time being, erects almost insuperable barriers to the detailed study of Ottoman popular life and culture in past centuries. The building of a meaningful, consistent, and continuous Ottoman/Turkish histoire des mentalités is, by the same token, a formidable enterprise. As things now stand, therefore, an Ottoman/Turkish equivalent of a Montaillou or of a “Merchant of Prato” seems quite impossible to reconstruct.
Take, for instance, our exceptionally conscientious late nineteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas muhtars and imams. These two officials have very carefully noted down hundreds of local events, filled up pages and pages with notes of local occurrences, and kept a personal archive full of various official matters of sometimes minor local importance. Some of the events that happened in the neighborhood didn’t even require the official seal and did not even need to be officially registered.
Nevertheless, these two people, through pages and pages of local records, never give as much as a single clue either about themselves, their families, or their daily lives. Besides, they have never put down in writing a single personal opinion or viewpoint. The tone that prevails in their handwritten documents concerning the mahalle is a totally flat and impersonal one. The events that took place in Kasap ƒlyas were uniformly related in a crisp, dry style, often evocative of shorthand notation. Nowhere does the mental attitude of the muhtar and the imam toward these events, their work in general, their immediate social environment, or themselves transpire in any way. The tone is that of a zealous scribe who does his job well, often does more than what is required of him, and puts down in writing a maximum of information. But the scribe never distantiates himself from the duty of officially recording events. That these events in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle were taking place in a very close environment and that almost all of them involved people who were well-known both to the muhtar and to the imam have made no difference.
The selectivity among the types of recorded events is not revealing either. All social and demographic events, whether a birth, a death, the arrival to the mahalle and the registration of a newcomer, or even a simple signature apposed on a sales contract, get exactly the same flat and impersonal treatment.
Besides, these zealous and careful scribes always chose to remain incognito. Not once do they directly sign their books or documents, or mention their own names and identities, which we have had to discover by following the changes in handwriting, by cross-checking with other sources, and by capitalizing on minor textual hints. Official or unofficial local chronicles are a type of historical source that is not to be found in Ottoman Istanbul. Whether all of this constitutes sufficient reason for explaining the absence, especially before the second half of the nineteenth century, of any documentation on life in the Istanbul mahalle, is a matter to reflect upon. Microscale social and economic studies have not yet managed to appear as a promising research area for Ottoman and Middle Eastern historians.
We do not go so far as asserting that the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle was, in any sense of the word, representative of the whole of traditional Istanbul—or even of its more modest portion; nor can we say that it was a “typical” Ottoman/ Turkish urban community neighborhood. Whether such a thing as a “typical” Ottoman city, which would also impose unique characteristics upon their various quarters and their inhabitants, ever existed is doubtful. To situate and describe a precise Ottoman local urban identity and to document its demographic and social evolution is, in itself, a sufficient challenge.
Otherwise, it might well be that Kasap ƒlyas has followed a strictly individual and inimitable path, that it has had an evolution that is totally sui generis. The highly unusual set of historical documents that have survived for this mahalle would, if anything, tend to set our neighborhood apart from the
others. The care with which the successive imams and muhtars of nineteenthcentury Kasap ƒlyas took note of the demographic events that occurred in the mahalle is truly surprising. This is even more of a contrast when set against the background of a total absence of any Ottoman/Muslim habit of registering, reporting, or centralizing vital events. The impressive collection of local waqf documents that the local imams carefully preserved is just as unusual.
These quite exceptional local headmen might well have been the products of an exceptional mahalle. The lesson, if any, to be drawn from Kasap ƒlyas would be to emphasize the extreme diversity and dissimilarity of urban neighborhoods, as well as their fluidity.

Quantitative data and sources for the pre-nineteenth-century Istanbul population are difficult to come by. The available estimates, most of them by European travelers and Orientalists, are approximations with a usually low degree of reliability. Besides, Istanbul was never taxed in the same manner as the provinces, never had a Tapu Tahrir Defteri, and was never, even immediately after the Ottoman conquest, subjected to a census. There are, for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, only a few sparse cizye defteri (head-tax registers for the non-Muslim population) and some partial household counts for the occasional avârız taxation. As to the urban local level, population figures are non-existent. The first citywide reliable count is that of 1885.
The Archives of the Religious Courts (¥er’iye Sicilleri Arœivi) for Istanbul are classified on a topographical basis, given that many of the courts of justice were also responsible for law and order in specific chunks of the city. The archives for the Davud Paœa District, of which the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle is a part, span the period between 1782 and 1924. The Davudpaœa Court of Justice, always headed by an aide (na’ib) of the kadı of Istanbul, was one of the oldest courts of the city. Its foundation is probably contemporaneous with the namesake mosque and dates therefore from the last decade of the fifteenth century. The court operated at first within the Davudpaœa mosque itself but was moved, in the eighteenth century, to a two-story wooden building just adjacent to it. The devastating fire that ravaged a large part of Istanbul in 1782 destroyed both the Davudpaœa Court Building and its three centuries of accumulated archives.
As to the post-1782 religious court records for Kasap ƒlyas, they contain mostly deeds of sale of property, settlements of debts and of commercial disputes, cases of inheritance with litigation, and cases of divorce. The cases of divorce include declarations of outright repudiation as well as cases with mutual consent and financial settlement. There are also a number of rulings that amount to an outright rejection of the plaintiff’s case. A 10 percent sample spanning the 1782–1924 period has been drawn from among these court records. A total of 173 detailed court records have thus been transcribed, classified, and analyzed. A first screening was done by previously selecting the court cases where either the plaintiff, the defendant, and/or the object of discord were living or were situated in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle.

Quantitative Data (Late Ottoman Censuses)

Two other important Ottoman archival sources have been delved into, for the purposes of this book: The archives of the religious court (¥er’iye Sicili Arœivi) for the Davud Paœa District, spanning the period from 1782 to 1924, and the 1885 and 1907 late Ottoman Population Census (Tahrir-i Nüfus) documents. The censuses and registration schemes developed in the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century provide a rich source of data for historical studies. The two late Ottoman de jure censuses (tahrir-i nüfus) of 1885 and 1907 and the population registers that were built upon them comprise a rich array of information on many aspects of Ottoman population and society.37 Until recently, these data had been utilized only in a superficial way.38 Census-taking was an age-old Ottoman habit and a census of each newly conquered territory was indeed taken in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

But these early counts were done for the purpose of assessing agricultural output and potential tax returns. Besides, they were discontinued after the first decades of the seventeenth century.
The two censuses of 1885 and 1907 were in fact the first empire-wide censuses designed specifically for purposes other than either taxation, agricultural revenue assessment, or military conscription. They were the first “modern” censuses in which precise demographic and social information was col-
lected for each individual. All census registrations were nominative and they permit, therefore, the reconstruction of family and household structures. The 1885 census was also the first to record information about females. Individuals were recorded as members of residential groups of various types, the most common of which was the house or household (hane). The houses and other premises were all registered together by neighborhood and street address, and these are very helpful in drawing the social topography of the neighborhood.
Registration in the Ottoman capital during these two censuses is known to have been quite thorough, both for males and females. Strict measures were implemented to make sure that the census officials carried out their tasks. Each registered individual was then issued with a sort of population certificate (nüfus tezkeresi), which was a combination of a birth certificate and an identification card. This certificate was later to become an essential document for transacting all official and legal business, buying and selling property, seeking government employment, obtaining travel documents, and so
forth. There is reason to suppose that census regulations were most strictly applied in the capital-city. In the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, for instance, both the local headman and the imam of the mosque assisted the census officials in the registration process and signed the local census register upon completion of the operations as a testimony of the exhaustivity of the count. The data from these censuses are the most reliable source for the study of population, households, and families in late Ottoman society.
The basic rosters for the 1885 and 1907 censuses in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle are kept intact in the Population Registry (Nüfus Müdürlü™ü) of the Fatih District of metropolitan Istanbul. These two late Ottoman censuses were designed to also function as permanent population registers, probably
under the influence of Quételet’s Belgian population registers, and the census totals were to be regularly updated with the day-to-day registration of all subsequent vital events. All births, deaths, and in- and out- migrants to and from each neighborhood and city were to be recorded on the basic census rosters and these were to be kept in situ. The total failure of the postcensus registration schemes, however, stand in sharp contrast with the thoroughness and the reliability of the initial census registration itself. These rosters, which contain personal and confidential information, are still protected by a privacy aw. They have not yet been turned over to the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Ministry and are not yet, properly speaking, public archival documents. They can be consulted by special permission only.
We have done an exhaustive and systematic transcription of both the 1885 and the 1907 census documents for the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle. In the 1885 census, the non-Muslim population of the neighborhood was registered in a separate roster, which is unfortunately lost. As to the 1907 census, there is only one basic roster that contains both the Muslim and the non-Muslim inhabitants of the neighborhood. In 1885, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had 925 registered Muslim inhabitants and, in 1907, a total of 1,160 inhabitants, 1,039 of which were Muslim.

What is known of the demographic structures and the social relationships within the capital-city of the Ottoman Empire, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mostly concerns either the Palace itself and its web of political relationships or the more “Westernized” suburbs of Galata and Pera, whose inhabitants were mostly the Levantine or the non-Muslim. In any case, the available information concerns mostly middle- or upper-middle-class strata. The stock of published sources and materials (novels, memoirs, biographies, travelogues, etc.) also concern, for obvious reasons, more or less the same groups.
Besides, they are, for the most part, concentrated in the post-Tanzimat period. As exemplified by the history of Kasap ƒlyas however, grassroots Istanbul, much less “visible” both to contemporaries and to historians, was certainly quite different. The majority of the Istanbulites, especially those living in the intramural city, shared more modest households and neighborhoods, and it is they and their movements that ultimately put their stamp on Ottoman Istanbul. However, not much of significance has been written either on the daily lives of ordinary citizens, on the structure and the web of relationships of average neighborhoods or, for that matter, on the human fabric of Ottoman cities at large.
As far as the Anatolian towns are concerned, the picture is not all that different. In the heyday of their discovery and frenetic exploitation as a new source, it was hoped that the early Ottoman tax cum land cadastral surveys of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the tapu-tahrir registers (the Defters), could be used to reconstruct quarter by quarter their demographic and economic structure. These documents, however, have proven to be too schematic, too isolated, and too incomplete to provide anything more than a simple indication of relative population densities and, in some cases, of global
population trends36 in these cities. Besides, consistent long-run series are almost impossible to obtain for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

As to the Ottoman/Turkish tradition of local history, this literature deals quite extensively with the archaeological remains and the architecture, the historical monuments, the urban layout, and so forth, of various cities. Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions, much of this literature, especially that concerning Anatolian cities, is little more than undigested raw historical source material with almost no attempts at detailed comment or synthesis. Besides, this literature is, mainly for lack of historical documentation, largely silent on what is the basic element of any community object of study: the people and their daily lives in the Ottoman period.
There is a small number of brilliant exceptions to this sad state of affairs. Faroqhi on seventeenth-century Ankara and Kayseri, André Raymond on various Arab cities under Ottoman rule, Haim Gerber on seventeenth century Bursa, Abraham Marcus on eighteenth-century Aleppo, Daniel Goffman on Izmir, and Özer Ergenç on sixteenth-century Ankara deserve special mention. All of these studies use the archives of the local religious court records as one of their main source of documentation.
Local Archives
We know, however, of no equivalent historical study focusing on a single mahalle within an Ottoman or Middle Eastern city. Indeed, one of the reasons why, among all of the neighborhoods in traditional Istanbul, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle has been picked up for such an in-depth, demographic, and historical study is, first and foremost the availability of a really exceptional set of archival sources pertaining to its population. The equivalent of these historical sources exist, to the best of our knowledge, for no other urban neighborhood of Istanbul, or for that of any other Ottoman city, for that matter.
These quite exceptional archival sources consist of three thick notebooks accompanied by a number of loose folios, all handwritten by the successive imams of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque and by the muhtars of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle in the second half of the nineteenth century. These notebooks and folios contain, among other items of information:
1. a nominative list of 654 marriage contracts registered by the imams of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque in the second half of the nineteenth century;
2. a complete list and description of waqf property in the neighborhood starting from the 1660s and ending about the middle of the nineteenth century, as well as the uses to which these waqf buildings and land have been put and the revenues that accrued;

3. a nominative list of population movements in and out of the neighborhood in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as well as a (very incomplete) list of births and deaths in the mahalle;
4. a very precise descriptive count of all real estate property, public and private, in the neighborhood conducted in 1885 with names of owners and of tenant(s), if any.
The care with which the successive imams and muhtars of the the nineteenthcentury Kasap ƒlyas mahalle took note of the demographic events that occurred in their neighborhood is truly surprising. Prior to the late nineteenth century regulations on registration, there was no Ottoman/Muslim tradition of registering or centralizing vital events. A particularly zealous scribe (the local headman, muhtar Osman Efendi, of whom more will be said later) was instrumental in preserving these local documents. We have used these exceptional local records to complement the official census documents, to obtain an insider’s perspective about the social and economic makeup of the neighborhood, and to trace the process of rural migration and integration into the mahalle. The marriage records contain little demographic information, for neither the ages, nor the dates and places of birth of the spouses were noted.
These records are, however, a good indicator of the progressive secularization of vital registration. As to the local waqf records kept by the imam, the local trustee, they furnish important glimpses on intramahalle relationships in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The movements in and out of the neighborhood have provided a means of analyzing a multisecular migration model from the Anatolian town of Arapkir.

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