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Migration and Urban Integration

The Arapkir Connection

As is the case with all economic and political capital-cities, Istanbul has always been a city which, over the centuries, attracted a large number of newcomers and migrants of various types and origins. Notwithstanding the nostalgic protests of the natives or the governmental efforts to repel the newcomers, the Ottoman city accepted and, eventually integrated them.
Obviously, social and political upward mobility in the Ottoman Empire entailed a passage through Istanbul. The city always supported a substantial number of migrant workers, a labor supply pool for unskilled or nonguild work of various kinds.1 Some areas of Anatolia are frequently mentioned as
sources of migrant labor.2 Being the center of political power of such a large empire, the city’s population was no doubt very disparate.3
But migration to the capital was not always necessarily voluntary. The devœirme process that forcibly brought to Istanbul children from the provinces to be trained as soldiers (Janissaries) or as servants for the Palace in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is one instance. What was more important, quantitatively at least, were the consequences of warfare, of territorial losses, and of the frequent border changes that ensued. These provoked, especially in the nineteenth century, a massive flocking of mostly Muslim refugees toward the capital and its Anatolian hinterland, which progressively became
the heartland of the shrinking empire.
Ottoman Istanbul was the end point of the politically motivated occasional, sudden, and massive migration-wave. But, as we shall see, it was also the final destination of a continuous trickle of newcomers, rural migrants in search of work and economic and social opportunities. To use more modern terminology, there was both mass-migration and chain-migration toward Ottoman Istanbul in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a matter-of-fact, Kasap ƒlyas provides us with a centuries-old instance of a well- organized, established, almost institutionalized chain of migration. Men of working age and their kin originating from a small locality in eastern Anatolia moved to our small Istanbul neighborhood, were welcomed there by their already established co-locals, and these “patrons” helped the newcomers to settle, find a job, and officialize their stay in the city.
However the case may have been, the Ottoman governments often saw this flow of migrants as a potential danger to security within the capital-city.
Uncontrolled migration to Istanbul was always a politically sensitive issue and migrants were perceived, first and foremost, as a potential threat to political stability in the sensitive and “protected” imperial capital (mahmiye-i Konstantiniye). Uprisings and various real or imaginary urban disorders (of a physical as well as of a moral sort) were often attributed to the presence of uncontrolled elements in the capital, and especially of groups of provincial and unsettled younger males who came seeking employment.
The authorities tried to control the flow of migrants, and often took forceful measures designed to curb the number of newcomers and to limit their possibilities of residence in the city. For instance, single migrant males were for centuries confined to living in special bachelor’s quarters (bekârodaları or bekâr hanları) and their numbers and whereabouts were often the subject of official inquiries and reports.4 Strict regulations concerning the issue and the holding of a sort of internal passport called mürur tezkeresi (certificate of passage) for those who were moving, either permanently or temporarily, within the territory of the empire were revived toward the middle of the nineteenth century.5 In previous centuries various types of “suspicious” men were not infrequently rounded up in Istanbul and either driven out of the city or sent back to their place of origin.6
However, judging from the number of edicts and regulations issued on this matter over the centuries, it seems that, on the whole, these efforts have been of no avail and that the flow could not be reversed. The flow of migrants, mainly depending on the economic and political fortunes of the empire, could
neither be stopped, nor was it ever effectively controlled. We shall see how the migrants who came to settle in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle in the nineteenth century succeeded in circumventing these strict residence regulations. There is no precise method and no historical documents that could allow us to give realistic estimates of the number of migrants to Istanbul in the periods preceding the nineteenth century. None of the early nineteenth-century Ottoman population counts contain any information on the geographic origin of the Istanbulites. We do know, however, that the nineteenth century witnessed a permanent trickle of migrants in search of work, income, and security, and that the population of Istanbul grew more than twofold during this century. The speed of this trickle is hard to estimate, and the first trustworthy figures on the demographic composition and geographic origin of Istanbul’s population are those of 1885.7 A five percent sample drawn from the population of the central districts of Istanbul in the 1885 Ottoman census, show us that fifty two percent of the Muslim inhabitants of Istanbul had not been born in the capital of the Ottoman Empire.8 More than half of the capital’s population had come from elsewhere. The percentage of the non Istanbul born among the Muslim inhabitants of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, was equal to 49 percent, at the same date.9
A period of relative political calm and stability followed the disastrous Russian War of 1877–1878. This was a period that lasted for about a quarter of a century, with no large-scale wars, no significant losses of territory, and no subsequent massive influx of Muslim refugees from the former territories of the disintegrating empire. This long period devoid of international conflict— which coincided more or less with the reign of Abdülhamid II—slightly reduced the proportion of the province-born within the Istanbul population.
According to the last Ottoman census of 1907, 57 percent of the Muslim residents of Istanbul had been born in the capital, and 43 percent in the rest of the empire.10 In the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle the proportion of non-Istanbul- born Muslim inhabitants had, between 1885 and 1907, slightly declined,
from 49 to 47 percent.11

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