The Muhtar and His Mahalle: Ruler, Representative, and Middleman

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Such was the mahalle that Osman efendi, the muhtar, was expected to rule, control, and represent. He had to have official dealings with a wide variety of people and was expected to know all the residents of his neighborhood.
Osman Efendi had a period of tenure of almost a quarter of a century (ca.1880- 1904) as muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas. The Istanbul muhtars did not have an official workplace or an office of their own, at the time. The Kasap ƒlyas residents, therefore, had to pay a personal visit to Osman efendi’s home, situated at 8 Cami-i œerif Street, just behind the mosque, each time they needed an official signed document. And a closer look at the three thick notebooks Osman efendi filled with various official and personal annotations provides a different perspective on the intramahalle relationships at the end of the nineteenth century.
Legally, the only types of records the muhtars were officially required to enter in their books or to stamp with their seal of office were those of a demographic type. The Population Registration Regulation (Sicill-i nüfus Nizamnamesi) of 1883 had put all urban and rural muhtars under the obli-
gation of recording demographic events and of reporting them to a centralized population record. This permanent register was to serve for the updating of the results of the 1885 population census.49 All births, deaths, and marriages that occurred within the mahalle and the migrations to and from it were to be reported by the muhtar. The system established in 1883 did not meet with success, though, for the regulation offered no real incentive for officially declaring and recording these events, nor did it provide for any significant penalties for abstainers. A second regulation, established in 1902, was more stringent but, still, success was far from being complete.
Looking at Osman efendi’s notebooks, however, the number and the variety of entries, which went far beyond what the official regulations imposed, is truly striking. The average number of cases from Kasap ƒlyas that were brought to the Davudpaœa Court, for instance, did not exceed a yearly average of eight or ten during the nineteenth century. There were even some years with less than five cases. There is, by contrast, not a single year in which less than fifty records had been entered in Osman Efendi’s notebooks. Second, the variety of the entries in the muhtar’s notebooks was not commen- surate with what the law strictly required of him. As a matter-of-fact there are very few birth and death entries in the notebooks (a total of just about sixty, spanning a period of more than ten years). The entries that were related to demographic events (there were more than three hundred of them) mainly consisted of ex post facto justifications given to rural migrants who settled in Istanbul without regular travel documents (see chapter 3). These were, as we have pointed out, more informative of the web of intramahalle relationships and of well-established patterns of migration to Istanbul and of integration
to urban life than of purely quantitative population movements.


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