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Migration Records

The notebooks of the muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas contain a total of about three hundred records of people having entered or left the mahalle in the years between 1885 and 1895. One hundred and ten were records of incoming people and one hundred and ninety concerned persons moving from the mahalle. However, the records of only about forty cases of birth and just about twenty five deaths that occurred in the mahalle had found their wayinto Osman Efendi’s notebooks, during the same ten-year period.50

The registration of such vital events was very far from being complete in Istanbul, anyway. In this matter, coverage was not due to attain exhaustivity for a long time to come yet.51 Obviously, the pressure exerted by the central government on the muhtars concerning the control and registration of migrants within the empire had been much more effective. The official regulations making the registration of vital events compulsory were, after all, quite new. The first of these had been promulgated only in 1883.52 Besides, in the Ottoman population at large, be it Muslim or not, there was no widespread habit of, and incentive to, declare births or deaths to the authorities. Nor had
there ever existed any administrative setup designed to record and/or to centralize information on demographic occurrences. By contrast, the laws and regulations on internal population movements were well-known in Istanbul and, at the time of the 1885 census, had been in full force for more than fifty years. Moving and migrating within the Ottoman Empire had been strictly defined and put under control by two different regulations, issued in 1826 and again in 1841.53
Basically, these laws stated that all persons who were temporarily or permanently moving from one place to the other within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire had to be in possession of a sort of internal passport called mürur tezkeresi. To it was attached a control system that worked both at the point of departure and at the point of arrival of the traveler or of the migrant. This mürur tezkeresi was delivered by the local authority in charge of Law and Order upon presentation of a certificate or note (an ilmühaber or pusula) delivered by the muhtar of the migrant’s neighborhood or village of departure. This ilmühaber or pusula was to be given only to persons of good conduct and good reputation. As to the certificate of passage carried by the traveler or migrant, it was to be presented upon request to all authorities and was to function as a basic identity paper. At the points of arrival of eventual migrants, the muhtars were requested not to allow newcomers who were not in possession of this mürur tezkeresi to settle in their mahalle. They were not to put them down in their register and therefore not grant them a signed pusula upon their eventual departure from their neighborhood. This was the most important duty of the muhtar, and it was perceived to be of basic importance for urban security, especially in the capital.
These strict regulations were meant to apply even to people who were moving within the same city, although the urban and settled inhabitants were less of a jeopardy to security in general. At all events, these intracity migrants had to present the pusula duly signed and stamped by the muhtar of their
neighborhood of departure to that of their neighborhood of destination. This system of internal passport and local registration remained in operation for the rest of the nineteenth century and was abolished only after the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. Small wonder, then, that the notebooks of the muhtars of Kasap ƒlyas mahalle contained five times more entries concerning geographic movements of population than entries of births and deaths for the period between 1885 and 1895.
This migration control system provided for checks at points of departure and of arrival and had built-in sanctions for trespassers. In theory the system seems to be watertight. In practice, however, things did not go as smoothly as the regulations intended. Not even in a relatively small and relatively stable
mahalle such as Kasap ƒlyas could a dutiful and zealous muhtar ever manage to keep track of everybody. For instance, Osman Efendi, a longtime muhtar, signed quite a large number of personal notes and certificates stating that such and such a person “had lost his mürur tezkeresi.” The “loss” of these certificates of passage eventually became habitual. So much so that Osman Efendi ended up by giving a particular heading to a portion of his personal notebooks: “Those who had not registered and have moved to other places.”
Under this title, which was obviously in perfect contradiction with the laws and regulations on the matter, he took note of the pusulas he had given to migrants who had come to Kasap ƒlyas without a mürur tezkeresi, when these migrants had to leave the neighborhood.54
Who, then, in the second half of the nineteenth century, came to our neighborhood with, and who came without proper identification documents?
There were indeed some well-defined groups that fit into both of these categories.
It appears from the muhtar’s notebooks that those who came to Kasap ƒlyas with proper documents were coming, first and foremost, from other neighborhoods of the capital. It was the Istanbulites themselves who were showing the greatest care in acquiring a note from the muhtar of their mahalle
of origin before moving to Kasap ƒlyas. Of the 110 instances of newcomers’ registrations (kuyudats) in the muhtar’s notebooks, 87 (i.e., almost 80 percent of the total) concerned persons who had changed residence within Istanbul and had moved from one mahalle to the other.
The local headman of Kasap ƒlyas had often put down an indication as to the area, the neighborhood, or the district of Istanbul from which these people had come. These indications are more or less detailed, but they invariably point out at the precise Istanbul mahalle from which the newcomers to
Kasap ƒlyas had moved. Indeed, the notes that these people carried with them bore the seal of the muhtar of their neighborhood of origin. Here are a few examples of these indications of location within Istanbul: “From the Sahhaf Muhiddin mahalle in Kasımpaœa,”55 “From number one in the Seyyid Ömer mahalle, near Molla Gürani,”56 “Seven people from Langa avenue, number 156, in the Kürkçübaœı mahalle,”57 “From number 22 in the Hacı Piri mahalle near the Saturday Market,”58 and so forth.

Paradoxically, maximum compliance with the regulations had been shown by people who, in the eyes of the Ottoman authorities, carried minimum risk, and to whom, in the same line of logic, the very strict security regulations had the least reason to be applied. The muhtar’s powers of control and the contribution he was thereby presumed to make to urban “security” never really discouraged the migration of “undesirables” to the capital. The figures tell us that the apparently strict population movement control system that had been put in place in the nineteenth century, as far as we can judge from the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, had not been efficient. It had not worked as a proper instrument of control of migrants, nor did it constitute a serious deterrent to rural migration to Istanbul.
Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people who came to Kasap ƒlyas from outside Istanbul in the 1880s and 1890s were not holding legal travel documents. Therefore, if they wanted to be officially registered in the mahalle or to obtain regular travel documents (either the pusula or mürur tezkeresi)
when they left the mahalle, they needed a sponsor/guarantor (kefil). Somebody the muhtar knew and trusted had to authenticate that person’s statement of identity. By contrast, those who had come to Kasap ƒlyas from other parts of the capital never needed that sort of an authentification. As we
pointed out, they had all come with a regular pusula from the headman of their mahalle of origin and, when and if they left Kasap ƒlyas, our muhtar simply gave them, as a matter of routine, another certificate addressed to the muhtar of their mahalle or village of destination. Only those who had arrived in Kasap ƒlyas without regular travel documents would have needed the authentification of a kefil when they left.
All of this was obviously true not only for the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, but for all of the two hundred and fifty one traditional neighborhoods that existed in Istanbul in the late nineteenth century.59 Indeed, our muhtar’s notebooks show that about half the 87 people who had moved to Kasap ƒlyas from
another Istanbul mahalle with all legal documents in hand were, as a matter-of-fact, people who had not been born in the capital. They, too, had been rural migrants some time ago. Simply, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle was not their first but their second (third, fourth?) neighborhood of residence within the capital. They, too, had managed to comply with the regulations after having settled first somewhere else in Istanbul.
In sum, despite some apparently very strict rules and regulations, it was not that difficult for a rural migrant to legally become a resident of Istanbul.
That such a large-scale bypassing of these regulations occur at a specific period when, for some external reason, there is a sudden and massive flow of migrants/refugees toward Istanbul would be understandable. For instance, in the aftermath of the 1877–1878 war with Russia or as a result of the Balkan wars of 1912–1914 there had been an uncontrollable massive flow of Muslim refugees toward the heartland of the empire. Istanbul and parts of Anatolia received large numbers of refugees. But there was nothing of the sort in the 1880s and 1890s, decades of relative calm and political stability. Still, the implementation of the laws on migration left much to be desired. Our sample of migrants to a small locality within Istanbul provides a glimpse of the relative ease of entry to, and settlement in, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1885, Kasap ƒlyas had a population of around 1,000 people. During the ten-year period from 1885 to 1895, the muhtar of our neighborhood noted down in his book more than three hundred entries to, or exits from, the mahalle. This figure can be taken as a rough approximation of horizontal, geographic mobility. Three hundred entries and exits during a period of ten years for a population of about 1,000 people means an average rate of turnover of about 3 percent yearly ([300:10]/1000). This is a very high rate of population turnover indeed. Clearly, with such a rapid circulation, within about thirty years the mahalle’s composition will have completely changed.
To this turnover by simple geographic mobility should be added the (very incompletely recorded) births and deaths that occurred within the neigh-borhood itself. Besides, a record of entry or of exit by the muhtar often comprised more than one person, sometimes a whole family, and there were more persons moving to and from the neighborhood than entries in the muhtar’s notebook. These movements obviously entailed a rapid change in the overall composition of the neighborhood’s residents. Twenty years later, in the last Ottoman census of 1907, almost none of the former inhabitants of the mahalle are to be found. The population of Istanbul in the second half of the nineteenth century was certainly more mobile than is commonly thought, and almost none of the individuals and households present in Kasap ƒlyas in the 1885 census can be traced twenty years later.

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