Articles Tagged with: Portrait of a Neighborhood Community in the Late Nineteenth Century

Portrait of a Neighborhood Community in the Late Nineteenth Century

Thank God, the terrible earthquake was over. Facing the tombstone that stood in the small cemetery behind the Kasap ƒlyas mosque, Osman efendi, the muhtar, addressed a prayer (fâtiha) to the soul of
Kasap ƒlyas, founder of the mosque and of his neighborhood. As every morning, he had just left his house situated just behind the mosque and was on his way to his haberdasher’s shop in the Great
Bazaar. Large parts of that large and central commercial complex were left in ruins, as well. By an extraordinary coincidence, the seismic catastrophe had hit Istanbul on July 10, 1894, a year that marked the quadricentennial anniversary of the death of Kasap ƒlyas. The wooden houses of the neighborhood in which, rich or poor, almost everybody in the mahalle lived, had not suffered much and, fortunately, there were few casualties.
But the stone buildings of the neighborhood were in a pitiful state, and, naturally, these were buildings of public utility. The tiled roof of the four-centuries-old Kasap ƒlyas mosque had caved in and what
was left of the walls was rather shaky. The pointed upper part of the slender minaret had crumbled down. Services could not be held and the believers had to climb up the road and pray in the Davudpaœa mosque. The public bath, the only other large stone building of the neighborhood, was in need of heavy repair as well. All this caused Osman Efendi genuine concern.

His concern had grown after his conversation with Ahmet Necati Efendi, the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque and the trustee of the local foundations attached thereto. Ahmet Necati Efendi had made
it clear that what was left of the pious foundations (vakıfs) attached to the Kasap ƒlyas mosque, of their endowments and revenues, was insufficient to cover the expenses that the extensive repair work re-
quired. Osman Efendi was not really surprised. He had been helping the imam of Kasap ƒlyas with his book-keeping for some years and he knew that the vakıf revenues that now accrued were barely sufficient to cover running expenses, to pay for the müezzin’s wages, and for operating costs and maintenance.
So, what was to be done? How were they to collect the large sums of money necessary to do the repair work? There appeared to be no other way but to try to raise funds from the wealthier inhabitants of
Kasap ƒlyas. And that was something that only he, Osman Efendi, could do. Though a direct stakeholder in the repair work, it was unlikely that Necati Efendi, the imam of the ruined mosque, could ever muster sufficient support alone. After all, Necati Efendi was not a local of Kasap ƒlyas. He was a native of the faraway eastern Anatolian city of Merzifon and he had been posted in the neighborhood only a short time ago. Besides, he was too young.
Necati Efendi had recently been asking for Osman Efendi’s help in many instances. So much so that Necati Efendi had come to relinquish part of his traditional imam’s prerogatives to the benefit of the
muhtar. It was now Osman Efendi who was keeping track of the marriages that the imam had celebrated. Osman Efendi had also come to check whether these nuptials were being celebrated in accordance with the shari’a law. Osman Efendi had also helped to settle a small financial disagreement that had occurred a few years ago between the imam and Ahmet, the müezzin of the Kasap ƒlyas
mosque. Although the obvious legal recourse was the Davutpaœa shari’a court, the parties had come to him instead, further proof of the confidence that the neighborhood as a whole placed in him.
There had occurred a de facto transfer of local prestige and authority. Authority had been transferred from the traditional religious to the new and secular local leadership, that is, from the imam to him,
Osman Efendi, muhtar of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle.
Osman Efendi therefore thought that his own personal status, position, and prestige within the mahalle was the only thing that could warrant the success of such an extensive fund-raising operation.
Hadn’t he been a muhtar of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle for more than ten years now? Hadn’t he occupied, before that, the post of first assistant to the previous headman for three years? Hadn’t the confidence that the residents of Kasap ƒlyas had put in him been openly manifest during all these years? Besides, he personally knew almost everybody in the neighborhood, from the richest and most powerful to the poorest and most destitute. Everybody was within his reach. He had easily access to ¥evket Paœa, the former cabinet minister who lived with his family in the large konak on Samatya Street, as well as to Abdullah, the poor ambulant street vendor of fruits and vegetables who had come only last year from his faraway Arapkir and was temporarily sharing with a couple of fellow-citizens some shoddy lodgings in the Ispanakçı Viranesi.
Osman Efendi therefore felt he would be successful in mustering enough financial support. He first planned to knock on ¥evket Paœa’s door. ¥evket Paœa, who had served for many years as ¥eyhülharem, the official responsible for the security of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, would certainly agree to contribute. And ¥evket Paœa would be the obvious example to show to the rest of the neighborhood. Then Osman Efendi could follow with the other grandees who lived in the mahalle: Ahmet Faik Paœa, the retired army general; Nebil bey, the high-ranking foreign affairs bureaucrat; and Sadeddin bey, the colonel who was now posted with the General Staff in Istanbul. The others would certainly follow suit. But it wasn’t going to be easy, and he would certainly have to knock on many doors.
Then the imam Necati Efendi, in his usual Friday sermons, would also encourage the Kasap ƒlyas population at large to contribute.
Whether this would be really efficient, however, Osman Efendi was not so sure. First of all, the inhabitants of the mahalle were not generally opulent, to say the least. True, Kasap ƒlyas was one of the
oldest and most glorious of the traditional muslim Istanbul neigh-borhoods. But it was not anywhere near the centers of economic and political power, and had never become a prosperous area. The rich
were few in this semiperipheral and semirural area surrounded by city-walls and vegetable gardens. Most residents were small artisans and shopkeepers and the few civil servants who lived here were
mostly of lower rank. So, Necati Efendi would certainly have difficulty in convincing the residents to make substantial financial contributions. But still, the imam could raise contributions in kind; he could convince many to do a charitable act by working on the construction site of the mosque.
Besides, the neighborhood housed a large number of poor rural migrants, most of them coming from Arapkir and from its surroundings. Not only were they poor, but they belonged for the greatest part to the Alevî sect, and they formed a closed and tightly knit subcommunity within the mahalle. They were modest and honest people, but they never showed a high rate of attendance to prayers and services in the mosque, to say the least. How could they be convinced to contribute to the repair of a place of worship they did not frequently attend?
Osman Efendi had an idea. He suddenly remembered that he did have some leverage on this group of people. As a muhtar he had rendered all of these migrants from Arapkir some sort of service or other in the past. He had facilitated the settlement of many of them in Kasap ƒlyas and in Istanbul, and two of the kahvecis of the neigh-borhood had often been instrumental in the process. Ibrahim and Yusuf, old-time migrants from Arapkir, were both well established and were managing two of the coffeehouses in Kasap ƒlyas. Each time an Arapkirli needed some sort of official paper, one of these coffeehouse owners was ready to act as a witness and a sponsor in support of their fellow-citizens who had newly migrated to Istanbul.
This solidarity should now work the other way around, thought Osman Efendi. It was only fair that these two kahvecis who had come from Arapkir should demand a small contribution to the reconstruction of the mosque from each one of their fellow-citizens.
The mahalle had contributed to their well-being. Now it was their turn. These coffeehouse owners would certainly comply, and their fund-raising efforts would no doubt be crowned by greater success
than those of the imam Necati Efendi.
Osman Efendi felt greatly relieved by this brilliant idea. He addressed a last prayer of thanks to the founder and patron of his mahalle, and calmly walked to work….
The 1885 Census Population Roster for the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle shows a total of 925 Muslim inhabitants (498 women and 427 men).1 A second register that contained the non-Muslim population of the neighborhood has unfortunately been lost. It seems reasonable to assume that the proportion of
non-Muslims was the same as in the count of 1907 (10.2 percent). Kasap ƒlyas had a total of around 1,100 inhabitants in 1885. One also has to allow for some underregistration of children, women, and also of men, for military service and tax evasion reasons. We had previously estimated the rate of
underregistration for children in the late Ottoman censuses at around 15 percent.2 Even after due correction, however, the irregularity in the agegroups from 20 to 40 remains. Though the sample is small and subject to random variations, that irregularity is certainly due to the presence of a considerable number of migrants (see table 4.1). There is also a considerable degree of rounding-off in age declarations.
That Kasap ƒlyas was smallish (in terms of population only, though, and not of geographic area) is confirmed by the overall results of the 1885 census itself. The city of Istanbul within the old ramparts had a total population of 389,545 people.3 As to the total number of mahalles in Istanbul, it is given
as 251 in a listing of houses and neighborhoods dating from 1877, which was established in preparation for parliamentary elections. The listing shows an average number of 163 houses per mahalle.4 The variance in the number of houses per quarter was very large, however, with the smallest neighborhood
containing as little as 8 houses, and the largest 477. As to the average population per Istanbul mahalle, it was around 1,550, about 50 percent above that of Kasap ƒlyas, which contained 149 houses in all.
The median age of the Kasap ƒlyas population in 1885 was 27.2.5 The age below which half the population happens to be at the time of the census, is the median age. As to the mean age, it was equal to 29.2. Considering the fact that the median age was only about 22 for the whole of Turkey according
to the 1990 census, it is clear that we are not dealing with a population having a young age-structure. Correction for the underreporting of children would decrease the figure by one or one and a half years at most.

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