World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


OTTOMAN PERSPECTIVES - 1/4. Historical Approaches (027) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: MON 19, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English / Français

· NOT_DEFINED description:

Paper Presenter: E. Attila Aytekin (Assistant Professor, Middle East Technical University, Turkey), “Forms and Strategies of Peasant Protest in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire”
The historical literature has largely treated Ottoman peasants and other rural direct producers as either passive recipients of state policy or pawns manipulated by the central state, local notables, rich merchants, or foreign powers. Likewise, several researchers have argued that peasant revolts in the Ottoman Empire were rare, insignificant, or simply non-existent. Yet, even a cursory look at the nineteenth century social history will reveal that there were many peasant revolts in the period in different parts of the empire, some of which had important consequences. This paper will discuss three of such revolts in a comparative perspective. In 1849-1850 the revolt of direct producers in Vidin (in present-day Bulgaria) occupied the Ottoman state for quite a while, and the failure to resolve it was one of the factors that contributed to Bulgarian independence in the middle run. In the Canik region in Anatolia, the peasants engaged in a long struggle from 1840s to 1860s with the notables who claimed to own the peasants’ land as their private estates. Finally, the Maronite cultivators in the Kisrawan region in Mount Lebanon revolted against their Maronite landlords in 1858-61 in a successful rebellion. The paper will focus on the strategies of resistance of rural direct producers who participated in these major cases of peasant insurgency. While the rebels engaged in direct actions such as refusing to pay taxes and expelling the landlords, they did not posit themselves as in revolt against the state and reiterated their loyalty to the Sultan. Contrary to the approaches that regard such behaviour as 'naïve monarchism', I will argue that it attests to realism and calculation on the part of the peasants when dealing with the state. The insurgent peasants had a clear sense of what was just and what was not, which suggests the notion of 'moral economy'. Of course, their immediate goal was to prevent practices that jeopardized their livelihood. Yet, their petitions, quarrels with officials and the increasingly radical steps they took indicate that they went well beyond mere 'subsistence ethics'. Contrary to the assumption that they rose against the Tanzimat reform program, they indeed endorsed the prose of reform, often referring to the promise of equality. Moreover, the peasants 'willingly misunderstood' the reform edicts and attempted to push them in a radical direction that would bring about social equality as well.

Paper Presenter: Johanna Nykanen (Research Assistant, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland), “Focalising Ilinden: (Mis)Representing an Uprising in the Late Ottoman Balkans”
It is essential to pay attention to who focalises an event, Thucydides once wrote. A representation of an event is often consciously or unconsciously shaped by political or moral viewpoints of the author. This paper discusses one such representation, that of the Ilinden Uprising in Ottoman Macedonia in 1903. The rebellion broke out on St. Elijah’s Day and spread rapidly across different Macedonian towns, causing havoc in the region and prompting Western powers to get actively involved in the Ottoman Balkans in general and the Macedonian Question in particular. By comparatively analysing press coverage of three British newspapers from the time (The Manchester Guardian, The Times and The Observer) the paper presents two different Western narratives of the causes behind the uprising. The first narrative, put forward by the politically right-leaning press and reproduced by most Western historians, emphasises anti-Ottoman and nationalist causes. The second narrative, by the politically left-leaning press, presents the uprising as a class struggle resulting from economic grievances. Despite evidence pointing towards the latter narrative, it is the first narrative that has become the dominant representation of the event in Western history writing. This paper argues that by representing the event as an anti-Ottoman nationalist struggle rather than as a class struggle, the right-wing establishment was able to use the Ilinden Uprising instrumentally to advance its political viewpoints and in particular (1) to downplay negative effects of capitalist market economy; (2) to portrait the Ottoman Empire as a barbaric and oppressive entity vis-à-vis Western civilization; and (3) to justify a deterministic approach to nationalism. The representation of the Ilinden Uprising is an example of both Orientalist and Balkanist tendencies in a Western political tradition. The paper suggests that there are, as Todorova (1997) argues “substantial differences within and between the different ‘Western’ discussions of the Balkans”. People, as Thucydides wrote, adapt their memories to suit their sufferings but they also adapt them to suit their politics.

Paper Presenter: Shingo Yamashita (PhD. Student, Tokyo University, Japan), “Ottoman Historiography with the Example of Ahmedi's "Book of Alexander"”
The paper deals with Ottoman historiography in the light of general history genre, with the example of ‘Book of Alexander (Iskender-name)’ written by an Anatolian poet Ahmedi who lived in the 14th-15th century. Ottoman historiography is a very popular and long studied theme. But most of the studies focused on only ottoman period in historical works written by the Ottomans, although these works often contain a large volume of general history which is consisted of the histories of dynasties. The reason why these general histories were neglected is that they were thought to have no source value because of their utilization of older sources written in Arabic or Persian. It is true in the aspect of source value. But yet they have value in the aspect of the authors’ historical view points. The work that best exemplifies this point is Ahmedi’s ‘Book of Alexander’ that contains a general history. This general history explains the deeds of the rulers of ancient Iranian dynasties, Islamic dynasties such as the Umayyads and the Abbasids, and the Ottoman dynasty. The paper explains the influence of the part of general history upon the part of Ottoman history through focusing on stylistic and thematic similarities between these two types of parts. In this context, it has a preponderant importance how Ahmedi put the part of Ottoman history into the context of the general history. Ahmedi who evaluates the deeds and virtues of each ruler by praising or criticizing them through the general history, compares Mongolid rulers with the Ottomans claiming the latters superiority. This superiority is explained by the two kinds of virtues: conducting Gaza’ a term which means war against infidels’ and justice. Moreover Ahmedi seems to think that the Ottomans are superior over all other dynasties because according him the rulers of other dynasties are rarely equipped with both these two virtues. Ahmedi explains that the rise of the Ottomans owes these two virtues.Then the paper explains a continuity which is seen between Ahmedi’s work and other works written in the 15th century. Historical writers such as Shukrullah, Ashikpasha-zade, Neshri also expressed the Ottoman superiority, and that this superiority caused the rise of the Ottomans. The paper can be concluded that the general history in Ahmedi’s ‘The book of Alexander' is a valuable source in order to understand Ottomans’ historical view point in the 15th century.