Telechargé par henninlaura

Aytekin, E. Attila.Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period (1839-1876) and Before the Young Turk Revolution (1904-1908)

e . attila aytekin
Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
(1839–1876) and Before the Young Turk
Revolution (1904–1908): Popular Protest and
State Formation in the Late Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire underwent a slow but decisive transformation from the
early eighteenth century onward. The societal change observed during the
eighteenth century was accompanied by change in state structures during
the reign of Selim III (1789–1807) and Mahmud II (1808–39). The most comprehensive transformation of the Ottoman polity, however, took place during
the so-called Tanzimat period (1839–76). While the subsequent long reign of
Abdulhamid II (1876–1909) put a halt to some of the trends for reform, the
society and the state continued to evolve. The Hamidian period came to an
end with the Revolution of 1908, which made the empire a constitutional
The question of taxation was one of the issues the policymakers had to
deal with throughout the entire process of transformation. Tax-related
problems became especially pressing during two particular periods, first after
the declaration of the Tanzimat edict in 1839, and then during the last years of
Abdulhamid’s reign. State policies regarding taxation and the popular
reaction to them became one of the most important aspects of state formation
during the Tanzimat and pre-1908 periods.
This is not surprising given the significance of taxation for modern states.
First, the balance of state finances, therefore many of its capacities, depends
on the state’s ability to tax the population. A large tax base, a sound taxation
the journal of policy history, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2013.
© Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2013
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
system, and of course a quiescent population are therefore critical for any
modern state to function properly. Second, the ability to tax also reflects a
state’s legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Coercion might not be sufficient in
itself for taxation if the state does not enjoy a certain amount of legitimacy at
the societal level. Third, taxation is a class issue. Who is taxed how much and
who enjoys the benefits of the tax collected are questions that speak not only
to state structure, but also to the relations between upper classes and lower
classes. The latter often have a sharp sense of what is fair and what is not, and
that does influence their attitudes toward state attempts at taxation.
This article is roughly divided into two sections. In the first section,
I focus on the tax revolts that took place during the Tanzimat period; the
second section is about the tax revolts that preceded the Revolution of 1908.
In both sections, I describe the general characteristics of the period and the
most significant revolts and discuss the rebels and their demands. I also
analyze the Ottoman state’s responses to the two waves of revolt. The first
section also includes a theoretical discussion about the state-formation
approach. The Tanzimat period and pre-1908 revolts are comparatively
discussed in the Conclusion.
tax r evolts in the tanzimat p eriod: t hree p erspectives on
l ate o ttoman h istory
The Tanzimat is the name historians give to the period that began with the
declaration of the Imperial Rescript of Gülhane on November 3, 1839, and
ended with the promulgation of the first Ottoman constitution in 1876. The
reform program initiated and implemented by the Ottoman state in this
period is also known as the Tanzimat.
The Gülhane Rescript had a quite conventional preamble that attributed
the recent problems of the Ottoman polity to deviation from sacred law.
However, despite the traditional beginning and wording, the document was
indeed a radically original one, which set forth guarantees ensuring Ottoman
subjects security of life, honor, and property; called for a regular system of
taxation and specifically the abolition of the tax-farming system; a regular
system for military service that would include non-Muslim subjects of the
empire; and equality between Muslim and non-Muslims.
The rescript turned out to be the beginning of a great series of reform. In
the subsequent decades, a new, modern bureaucracy replaced the old one
and the number of state servants increased dramatically. Decision-making
processes were gradually democratized; a number of quasi-legislative councils
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
310 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
with real powers were constituted at the center as well as in the provinces. The
principle of equality before law was recognized, along with a new notion of
citizenship. There was a massive codification campaign in which either original
laws were enacted or foreign laws were adapted in the fields of civil law, penal
law, commercial law, procedural law, and citizenship law. A gradual but
decisive process of secularization began, seen most clearly in the religious
courts’ loss of jurisdiction to secular ones. As we shall see, not all of these
steps taken as part of the Tanzimat reform program were successful; yet the
Tanzimat as a whole irreversibly changed the nature of Ottoman polity. It was
in fact the most comprehensive attempt at modern state formation in the
Ottoman Empire to date. Scholarship, therefore, has shown a high interest in
the period. In contrast, despite such interest, the Tanzimat reform program in
particular and the late Ottoman reforms in general have not been adequately
This is partly related to the influence of modernization theory, which
has, until recently, dominated the field of Ottoman studies. The proponents
of this theory have seen in the emergence of modern Turkey a success story.
All the changes that took place in different spheres of life in the period,
from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, have been reduced to
“modernization,” according to which a couple of reformist sultans and a
handful of Western-minded bureaucrats tried to save the empire from collapse
by emulating the successful European model and restructuring its state along
those lines. In this story, the history of the Ottoman Empire from the late
eighteenth century onward becomes one of struggle between modernizers
and forces of reaction.1 Dependency theory has been developed as an alternative to the modernization approach. An offshoot of dependency theory,
the world-system perspective, produced by Immanuel Wallerstein and his
colleagues at SUNY Binghamton from 1970s, has had a short-lived, yet
important, impact on Ottoman studies.2 With their stress on economic relations,
world-system scholars have shown that the late Ottoman Empire cannot be
understood solely in terms of political modernization. Their works that focus
on the incorporation of the Ottoman lands into world capitalism have pointed
out those aspects of the transformation of Ottoman polity that had hitherto
been in the dark. In contrast, using world-system theory to analyze late
Ottoman history has its problems, some of which are related to its basic
concepts. The concepts of “incorporation” of the Ottoman Empire into the
world capitalist system, or, even more so, the “penetration” of capitalism into
the Ottoman territories, suggest that the process was essentially external to the
Ottoman social formation. Thus, the contribution of the studies influenced
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
by the world-system approach to Ottoman studies has been overshadowed by
the implicit assumption on which they are based: the internal dynamics of the
empire was not strong enough to create a profound change by themselves.
Although the world-system approach by and large lost its appeal among
Ottomanist historians, terms such as “incorporation” became staples especially
in the analyses of the nineteenth-century Ottoman economy.
In contrast to the world-system approach that made a strong entrance to
the field yet left the scene largely unnoticed,3 the modernization approach
has been subject to sustained criticism. As a result, the more open forms of
the modernization approach have been largely abandoned in the last two
decades. Many of its less-explicit assumptions, however, continue to exert
their influence on the study of the Tanzimat period. The Tanzimat is still
seen as just another step in a series of reform attempts that stretched from
1789 (the accession of Selim III) to 1923 (the establishment of Republic of
Turkey). Moreover, it is still common to consider the Tanzimat reform program as a state initiative formulated and implemented top-down by state
officials.4 In a similar vein, the social unrest that followed the declaration of
reforms is seen as mere reactions to it.5 Balkan nationalist historiographies,
by contrast, have tended to see the post-Tanzimat uprisings in the Balkans as
part of, or prelude to, the “national awakening” led by nationally-conscious
urban intellectuals and middle classes. Both approaches have relegated
cultivators to being passive recipients of (national or central) state-building
projects of the elite.
The modernization approach, therefore, has refused to look into the
social dynamics of late Ottoman reform. The world-system perspective, on
the other hand, has conducted the analysis at too high a level of abstraction
and failed to address the internal dynamics of development. In this article,
I discuss the outlines of an alternative approach to late Ottoman history,
derived from the state-formation approach developed by sociologist Derek
Sayer (with his colleague Philip Corrigan and also Harvey Ramsay) based on
a close reading of the works of Marx and Engels as well Weber and Durkheim.
Their approach is particularly suitable for the empirical study of historical
phenomena as it assumes that concepts are empirically open-ended and
necessarily historical. This means that to define a social phenomenon, in the
final analysis, is to write its history.6 There is no ground for excluding any
kind of social relation from being a relation of production, or for assigning,
a priori, some social relations to “base” and others to “superstructure.”7
According to Sayer, the question of what is a relation of production could
only be resolved for particular historical forms using empirical criteria.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
312 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
Their approach contravenes both the liberal notion of state, which views
it structurally separate from the (civil) society, and the Marxian views that see
the state either as an instrument in the hands of the ruling class or superstructural. The state-formation approach stipulates that the state, instead, is
necessarily and internally related to capitalist economy. Although state forms
appear separate from the economy and above the society, the former appearance is a result of the fetishized nature of social relations under capitalism,
and the latter is related to the organizing role of the state under the capitalist
mode of production: “The State within capitalist production, regulates and
orchestrates—in short, organizes—in such a way that the defining material
characteristics of capitalist production relations (individualization, formal
equality, and a host of social forms) are made to appear the only way those
social activities could be conducted and arranged.”8 In fact, the state could
organize only by appearing outside economy and above sectional interests in
In their major historical study, The Great Arch, Corrigan and Sayer apply
this perspective, which sees the state not as a thing but as a reified, organized,
imposed, and regulated form of social relations of production to English state
formation.9 They underline that English state formation did not consist only
of repression. Legal regulation, that is, the law, and moral regulation also
played a significant part in the long process of English state formation from
medieval to modern times. Legal and moral regulation reduces all people
to individuals and delegitimizes and even criminalizes alternative forms of
existence. They create a sense of sameness and commonness while keeping
deep social divisions intact. During state formation, the nation as a politically
defined entity is also created. On the one hand, nationalism disintegrates
other identities and subjectivities.10 On the other hand, those who are deemed
worthy to be included in the political nation are included and those who are
considered unworthy or dangerous are excluded or disciplined through
jurisdiction.11 In the English case, this double process of inclusion-exclusion
was imposed most importantly on the working class and women.
Corrigan and Sayer show that state forms are extremely flexible and, as
such, they are constructed through struggle and contention between actors.
One aspect of this contentious process is “the constant ‘rewriting’ of history
to naturalize what has been, in fact, an extremely changeable set of State relations, to claim that there is, and has always been, one ‘optimal institutional
structure’ which is what ‘any’ civilization needs.”12 To turn to the Ottoman
case, the preamble of the Tanzimat rescript is quite revealing in this respect.
The authors of the text are at pains to argue that they are offering nothing new
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
and it is the same old imperial state that had some problems recently and
needs only some “maintenance” to return to its old glorious days:
All the world knows that in the first days of the Ottoman monarchy,
the glorious precepts of the Kuran and the laws of the empire were
always honored.
The empire in consequence increased in strength and greatness,
and all its subjects, without exception, had risen in the highest
degree to ease and prosperity. In the last one hundred and fifty years
a succession of accidents and divers causes have arisen which have
brought about a disregard for the sacred code of laws and the regulations flowing therefrom, and the former strength and prosperity
have changed into weakness and poverty; an empire in fact loses all
its stability so soon as it ceases to observe its laws.
The Ottoman state’s reaction to agrarian unrest is of particular importance for the present article. As Corrigan and Sayer write about the English
state: “The state is involved in regulating into silence, eccentricity, marginality
or crime all doctrines and practices within the realm of cultural life that
provide glimpses of an alternative set of social relations.”13 The Ottoman
state’s attitude to post-Tanzimat rural unrest was quite similar. The state tried
to marginalize all forms of protest, violent or otherwise, and to discursively
reduce social unrest to ordinary crimes through the use of terms such as
“fesad” (mischief) and “müfsid” (troublemaker). By contrast, it is noticeable
that the actions of protest and resistance themselves and the “ringleaders”
were criminalized, not the large masses who got involved in or supported the
actions in one way or another. In the revolts of non-Muslims, religious difference allowed the Ottoman state to blame foreign-agent provocateurs who
supposedly exploited the naïveté of peasants and incited them to revolt. This
gesture of the state served a double purpose; it made ignoring the root causes
of unrest possible and prevented the identification of large segments of
the population, or a definite ethnic/religious group, with the “crime.” This
material and discursive separation of the “crime” from those who committed
it also enabled the state to hold a small group of “instigators” responsible for
cultivator protest and severely punish them, while at the same time showing
imperial “mercy” and “benevolence” to masses.
As I have noted above, state formation is not limited to violence or
repression in general. Modern states provide services and improvements for
the general public, such as mass education, health system, and better urban
sanitation. The Tanzimat period witnessed attempts to improve the living
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
314 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
conditions of Ottoman subjects. Many signs of the existence of a modern
state, including mass schooling, postal service, railways, clock towers,
museums, censuses, passports and so on,14 were introduced either during the
Tanzimat or could be associated with the trends that the Tanzimat initiated.
These changes were most visible in urban areas, as a new urbanism approach
changed the face of cities.15 But these benefits of the modern state “were never
offered in vacuo as ‘social goods’; they were made available in specific social
forms of State provision which, moreover, marginalized and suppressed
pre-existing class and other alternatives.”16
According to the state-formation approach, a crucial component of
modern state formation is individualization. Only citizens could become
part of the political nation, and people could become citizens only by first
becoming individuals. In other words, people could enjoy the bundle of
rights associated with citizenship only by expressing themselves solely as
individuals. The individual, a politico-legal construct, comes into existence
through a process of abstraction, which forces human beings to exist only as
individuals, abruptly and arbitrarily isolated from their constitutive social
relations.17 The Tanzimat-period Ottoman state was also involved in a double
process of conversion. The principle of equality before the law, measures to
provide Muslim–non-Muslim equality, and steps such as the citizenship law
aimed to make subjects into citizens, but people had to “become individuals”
to enjoy citizenship rights. However, the individualization tendency of the
Tanzimat is most clear in the Land Code of 1858. The Code recognized only
the abstract individual as a legal subject and the entire realm of the new
Ottoman land law was based on this notion.18
Individualization was increasingly accompanied by state intervention into
people’s lives. This intervention often took the form of collecting information.
The modern state tries to collect, classify, and interpret as much information
about its citizens as possible. As a result, the areas of information collection
of the state and the number and extent of the records it keeps grow rapidly.
Ottoman bureaucracy grew rapidly during the Tanzimat in terms of personnel, the areas it tried to cover, and the volume of records it produced.19
The number of documents preserved in the Ottoman archives attest to the
dramatic increase in the production of official documents after 1839. Needless
to say, this was not a spontaneous or neutral process. Michel Foucault has
shown through his concept of governmentality that the seemingly neutral
and routine practices of collecting and classifying information are actually
part of a discourse of power and techniques by which population groups are
rendered governable.20 As Corrigan and Sayer put it, “The power involved in
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
recording, preserving and retrieving ‘facts’—defining realities—is one that grows
rapidly by being used; behind the individual records is a formal authority
which establishes routines and rituals, each buttressing the other.”21 As such,
collecting and recording information were part and parcel of state regulation
of its citizens’ lives and bodies and one needs to look at the Tanzimat state
from this angle, too.
Finally, the displacement of religion as the basis of legitimacy was
observed in the Ottoman as well as the English cases of state formation.
Despite the mention of sacred law in the text of the Tanzimat edict, the reform
program itself included a tendency toward secularization. Secularization was
gradual and less visible than some other aspects of the reform program, but it
was unmistakable. Religious courts headed by the kadis increasingly lost
ground to newly established secular Nizamiye courts. Secular elements were
introduced in some of the new laws. The gradual erosion of the Muslim–nonMuslim hierarchy and the increasing recognition of the rights of non-Muslim
subjects were also elements of secularization. Religion was not immediately
sidelined as the main pillar of legitimacy but was gradually replaced by law,
citizenship, and allegiance to the state.
The Tanzimat-Era Revolts
The Tanzimat reform program was not implemented everywhere at the same
time. First the central provinces were included and then gradually more
remote provinces were incorporated into the coverage of reforms. Almost
everywhere that the new regulations concerning taxation were implemented,
there were instances of unrest, at times in the form of tax strikes and revolt.
Below I present an overview of some the major tax revolts that occurred in
the Tanzimat period.
The revolts took place in different parts of the empire, including the
Balkans and Anatolia. One such revolt occurred in 1840 in Akdağ in central
Eastern Anatolia. Although there were accusations of corruption against the
chief tax collector, and the populace complained about the requirement to
billet troops and tax collectors in villages, the main dynamic of the revolt was
the local people’s reluctance to pay the newly allocated taxes. It is interesting
that the revolt started with the townspeople’s argument that “the state has
forgiven our annual taxes.”22 Once the tax strike spread to rural areas, it
became a full-fledged revolt. The rebellion could be subdued only using
significant military force. The official report prepared after the revolt pointed out
several inconsistencies with regard to tax collection, including the deliberate
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
316 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
use of unsound devices to measure land and forcing technicalities in tithe
collection.23 These were not only instances of corruption on the part of local
officials, but they attest to one of the problems of the reform program. There
were “technical” obstacles to the Tanzimat all along.
There was another case of tax resistance in the Çarşanba (in present-day
Macedonia) district in the Balkans in the same year. The populace complained of excessive taxation in the new system, and wrote in a petition that
“not only don’t we have the means to pay this amount; there is no [imperial]
edict for its collection either,”24 both declaring their inability to pay and
questioning the legitimacy of the tax. In the Anatolian town of Tokat, there
was a tax-related incident in 1840, in which the chief tax collector was lynched.
Demonstrating an interesting sense of justice, the rebels not only killed
him but dragged his corpse to the court! There were shorter episodes of tax
resistance in the neighboring areas of Amasya and Zile.25
One of the biggest post-Tanzimat tax revolts took place in Niş (Niš), in
the northern central part of the Balkans, in 1841.26 The area was comprised
of fertile plains, which, along with the international route that linked the
Balkans to central Europe, made the city and the region surrounding it an
important center. The unrest began with the objections of Muslims and
foreigners against the new system of taxation in that they would be liable for
taxation for the first time. Then local Christians gathered in a church and
demanded to see the tax registers.27 The revolt soon spread to the countryside
and engulfed first the districts of Niş and Leskofça (Leskovac) and then the
district of Şehirköyü (Pirot). Interestingly enough, people living in places
where the new system of taxation had not been put into effect also rose up in
revolt, apparently preemptively. The peasants left their villages, gathered in
some villages, and positioned themselves around certain bridges and important
mountain passes, occasionally resorting to violence. The peasants insisted
that their revolt was by no means against the Sultan but rather against the
oppressive and exploitative actions of local magnates and functionaries. The
insurgents initially scored some military victories. Nevertheless, they were
eventually defeated through massive military response; 225 villages were
burned down and an estimated 8,000 people fled to Serbia.28
Taxation continued to constitute a major social and political problem in
the Niş area even after the end of the revolt. Around ten years afterward, a
single case in the Leskofça district created a big commotion. It was a dispute
between a certain Zekeriya Bey, bearing the title of sipahi, and the peasants
of at least seven villages.29 According to the latter’s claim, once they started to
pay their tithe to tax collectors instead of Zekeriya in accordance with the
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
new tax regime, he was supposed to get his stipend from the central treasury.
He, however, claimed the villages as his property and pressured the villagers
to pay rent in addition to tithe.30 In 1855, the peasants once more refused to
pay the amount Zekeriya claimed.31 Two years later, in late March 1857, the
confrontation was renewed. The cultivators in two villages refused to pay the
“rent” and the so-called kesim tax.32 An imperial order concerning the land
question in Niş and Leskofça was promulgated on November 7, 1858.33 Despite
this, the tax revolts in the area continued sporadically. In a separate incident,
by early 1859, a large group of peasants were noted for not paying taxes for a
year and a half. They had also reportedly formed an association to defend
their cause.34
The Vidin Revolts of 1849 and especially 1850 were perhaps the most
violent revolts during the Tanzimat period.35 In the nineteenth century, the
town of Vidin was an important economic center and a port city on the river
Danube in the northern-central section of the Ottoman Balkans. In rural
Vidin, an “archaic” land regime called gospodarlık, which was based on a
complex set of relations of exploitation, including corvée, and the exclusion
of Christian cultivators from controlling arable land was in effect.
Following the unrest of April 1849, a bigger and more violent uprising
broke out in 1850. Up to ten thousand people joined the insurgency.36 In
response, the governor sent out a group of negotiators composed of Muslim
and Christian notables and Christian clergy to listen to the rebels’ demands
and to try to persuade them to give up. The rebels, however, refused to talk to
people from Vidin. Although the central state ordered the governor to act
moderately and not to use excessive force, the landlords took total control of
the local council and dealt with the revolt heavy-handedly, using irregular
troops.37 Large-scale massacres of Christian peasants and even townspeople
Another tax-related conflict took place in Canik, a central Anatolian
region on the Black Sea coast, from the 1840s to the 1860s. The majority of
the population was Muslim, with a significant presence of Greek Orthodox
and Armenian populations. Due to the fertility of land, the main economic
activity in the region was agriculture, though the importance of the Samsun
port and customs increased in the second half of the century.39
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Hazinedar magnate family
controlled a number of bureaucratic posts, including the crucial one of
governorship of Trabzon, the jurisdiction of which covered Canik.40 The
family and their entourage had tax farming rights over wide tracks of arable
land. The already-existing tension in the region was intensified when the
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
318 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
Tanzimat reforms were declared applicable to Trabzon province.41 The former
tax farmers who had been authorized to collect taxes in the area before the
introduction of the new “a la Tanzimat” taxation system, now claimed to
own the villages that had fallen under their authority in the old system.
Accordingly, they tried to impose double the regular tithe and an additional
tax called kesim on villagers.42 The peasants responded in a number of ways
and employed different strategies in their struggle against the magnate
families, but tax strikes were the most important part of the Canik peasants’
protest. In certain cases, they were able to stop payments for years in a row.
The disturbances that began in late 1840s in Canik lasted well into the 1880s
without a real response given by the Ottoman state to peasants’ demands and
The Tanzimat State, Taxation, and Peasants
The Tanzimat was an ambitious reform program that aimed at transforming
important aspects and policies of the Ottoman state, including taxation. The
Tanzimat-era Ottoman state policies had two goals with regards to taxation:
to connect the individual with the state directly through taxation and to move
from collective taxation to individual taxation.44 The Ottoman state failed in
both objectives. The institution of chief tax collector (muhassıl), designed as
a means to eliminate intermediaries, failed because of excessive resistance.
Moreover, military force (zaptiye) got involved from 1840s into tax collection.45
The tax surveys of 1840 and 1845 were still based on collective taxation.46 The
tithe, which was traditionally collected in kind, could not be abolished until
as late as the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century.
These failures should not be seen only as technical ones, or problems
stemming from the “weakness” of the Tanzimat-era Ottoman state. True,
there were issues that prevented the implementation of some state policies.
We have seen above one example related to the problems created by the
absence of standardization in measuring devices. In addition, financial
shortage accompanied almost every move of the state. And third, despite
several successful campaigns against magnates and autonomous rulers of
peripheral areas in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the state was
far from enjoying a monopoly over the use of legitimate force. The frequent use
of irregular troops by local notables and officials against popular movements
clearly exemplified this problem.
Yet, rather than being unable to implement certain policies, the attitude
of the state toward the agrarian question itself was the source of much of the
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
problem. For example, Nadir Özbek argues that the Tanzimat-era state tried
to move the burden of taxation from the agrarian to the urban economy.47
But the actions and policies of the Ottoman state regarding peasants do not
suggest that there was such an attempt. Indeed, the state tried to solve problems created by its own policies, usually to the detriment of peasants. This
was especially true for non-Muslim peasants, who in general were more
vulnerable in their dealings with the state and the magnates. The real reasons
for the inability of the Tanzimat state to reform taxation, then, should be
sought less in its “weakness” or failure to modernize but in the class composition of the political support for reforms. The alliance that supported the
Tanzimat reforms as well as the preceding ones consisted of the central state
bureaucracy, the petty gentry, and the wealthier merchants.48 It was fragile and
there were groups within the alliance that could be adversely affected by some
of the reforms. The central state could not afford to alienate any element of the
alliance and as a result, its policy toward the upper classes was determined
by permissiveness49 and salutary neglect50 rather than weakness. As a result,
attempts to modernize taxation were hardly backed with an unambiguous
political will to restrain former tax farmers or local gentry, leading to violent
reactions on the part of the cultivators.
The problems in rural Vidin stemmed from the systematic exclusion of
Christians from land ownership. Perpetuating this ethno-religious exclusion,
however, became increasingly contradictory in the face of the Tanzimat principles that promised equality before law. Despite this contradiction, except
for a brief period after the rebellion, the government was determined to prevent land acquisitions by Christian cultivators, which was one of the prime
reasons why the conflict remained unresolved for a long while. The cultivators of Vidin reacted to this apparent contradiction by withholding tax
payments. Indeed, the first goal of the peasants who rose up in revolt was to
defend their livelihood. However, the revolt was not a desperate attempt for
survival. The Tanzimat was indeed an essential component of the background that paved the way for the peasant rebellions in Vidin and elsewhere.
Moreover, it figured predominantly in the way the rebels perceived the
conflicts and configured their demands. The Vidin peasants “read” the
reforms differently and argued that the sultan had given them the land.
Moreover, they did not accept the double taxation situation where they
would be paying the new Tanzimat taxes as well as the old dues. As a result,
they refused to pay and were able to avoid paying the claims of the landowners for as much as seven years. They thereby did not agree to extractions
they considered illegitimate.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
320 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
In Canik, the disturbances intensified after the Tanzimat program began
to be applied in the Trabzon province in 1857.51 In order to preempt the Tanzimat
decision to liquidate tax farming, old tax farmers and notables feeling the
threat of disenfranchisement under the reformed polity set out to claim
peasant land as their private estates. In the short term this entailed double
taxation for peasants, with worse potential result in the long run. The tax
revolt in this case was against a situation in which they not only could not
benefit from the reforms but actually end up worse off than the prereform
status quo.
Contrary to the widespread notion, tax revolts of Ottoman peasants that
took place in the Tanzimat period were not against the reforms. Instead, they
accepted the reforms and adopted the prose of the Tanzimat. The insurgent
peasants perhaps interpreted the Tanzimat in a more radical way than its
architects wanted. Yet this was much more than a case of misunderstanding
on the part of mostly illiterate peasants. Through tax revolts, the peasants
were indeed collectively pushing to get all of what they believed they deserved
as part of the reforms.
tax r evolts b efore the r evolution of 1908
The Ottoman Empire during the last years of the Hamidian reign was of
course much different from what it had been in 1840s and 1850s. Major
changes took place in the political and economic structures of the empire
between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century. The empire continued
to be the playground of the Eastern Question. The Eastern Question did not
bring about the disintegration and colonization of the Ottoman Empire and
the latter could protect its territorial integrity until after World War I. Yet the
borders of the empire did change. Although the Ottoman state retained large
territories in the Balkans until the Balkans War of 1912–13, it nevertheless
suffered from significant losses of territory in the late nineteenth century,
especially in 1878, which shifted the economic, political, and cultural center
of gravity of the empire eastward toward Anatolia.52 Moreover, in the meantime, the empire received millions of Muslim refugees from the Balkans and
from Russia, making a hitherto much more cosmopolitan society increasingly
a Muslim one. Such factors gave way to a gradual deterioration of relations
between ethno-religious communities.
There was also much change in the economic structure. During the
period, the Ottoman economy became increasingly internationally oriented
and the fiscal fate of the state came to depend on foreign sources. Agriculture,
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
the dominant sector of the economy, witnessed significant change. The
opening of the empire’s economy to external markets, and the rising Western
European demand for agricultural products, accelerated commercialization
of Ottoman agriculture. Especially in regions that could produce cash crops
and have transportation advantages, commercialization went further. As a
result, external trade of agrarian goods dramatically increased. In a similar
vein, one could see a sharp upturn in the production of crops such as cotton,
tobacco, grapes, and corn. The manufacturing sector was forced to operate
within parameters imposed by the international capitalist system. Such conditions did give way to a decline, but it was a relative one stemming from the
failure of Ottoman manufacturing to catch up with the booming economies
of countries such as Britain. Manufacturing, therefore, did not collapse and
managed to survive by transforming itself in terms of spatial organization,
organization of production, and the nature of the workforce.53
Another element of the opening up of the Ottoman economy was the
foreign treaties to which the empire was a party. After the Tanzimat, the
Ottoman state signed dozens of trade treaties with foreign states. Finally, a
novelty introduced in the Tanzimat period was foreign borrowing. The first
formal foreign borrowing took place in 1854 and the empire increased its debt
rapidly after that.54 The process resulted in the first fiscal bankruptcy of the
state in 1875. Such close ties with world capitalism in general and foreign
credit sources in particular were important determinants of the place and
role of the Ottoman state within the international system.
The Regime of Abdulhamid II and Its Dusk
Many of the changes in the social, economic, and political structure of the
empire began, accelerated, or came to a head during the long reign of Sultan
Abdulhamid II (1876–1909). Assessing Abdulhamid has been one of the most
difficult problems of Ottomanist historiography. For the modernization
school-inspired historiography, it is an anomaly in that it does not fit into the
narrative about the gradual modernization of the Ottoman-Turkish state
and society from 1789 to 1923. Conservative authors have approached the
Hamidian era mostly uncritically, creating an almost saintlike figure in the
sultan. Recently, however, historians have begun to consider the Hamidian
period not as a deviation from but as part of the general trends of nineteenthcentury Ottoman history.
Abdulhamid’s regime was a highly oppressive and uncompromisingly
absolutist one, however. After the transitional period of 1876 to 1886, during
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
322 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
which time the constitution was suspended and military and civilian bureaucrats suspected of liberal ideas were eliminated, a full-blown absolutist regime
was established. The regime maintained an unmistakable hostility to all forms
of liberalism. There were heavy limitations on the use of personal rights and
freedoms, which were enforced by relentless censorship of the press and an
overdeveloped spy network accountable directly to the Sultan. Abdulhamid
established tight control over ministers, and central as well as provincial
bureaucrats, and tried to suppress all autonomist tendencies in the provinces.
The Hamidian Regiments, quasi-regular units recruited from certain Sunni
Kurdish tribes incorporated into the army, engaged in widespread massacres
against Armenians in Eastern Anatolia. An estimated one hundred thousand
Armenians died in the 1895–96 massacres, at best initiated by civilians and
ignored by state forces, but often provoked, facilitated, and even carried out
by them. In short, the reign of Abdulhamid put a long halt to the processes of
democratization of decision-making and enlargement of civil and political
liberties in the Ottoman Empire that had been initiated with the Tanzimat.
However, it is problematic to see the Hamidian period as a “stray
from the track” as a whole. There were serious attempts at economic and
technological progress, in particular in agriculture and transportation.
There was a significant increase in investment in education. Programs of
social welfare were initiated.55 The regime paid great attention to both
internal legitimation and international symbolic competition through
the emphasis on the Sultan’s title of caliphate, public displays of grandeur,
and elaborate ceremonies.56
Despite such attempts, however, the regime in its final years had
increasing difficulty containing discontent. The last period of the Hamidian
regime indeed witnessed much social unrest and growing political opposition.
The main opposition group was called the Young Turks, an umbrella organization that brought together diverse groups against the regime. Despite important internal tensions, the opposition made important headway in organizing
at home and unifying their forces. The 1907 alliance between the Committee
of Union and Progress (CUP) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation
was especially important in this respect. The liberal revolutions of 1905 in
Russia and of 1906 in Iran did not help the Hamidian regime either. They
caused a good deal of concern in the regime and inspired hope in the opposition. They were particularly influential in Eastern Anatolia.57 There were
several serious instances of mutiny in the armed forces, especially in the navy,
between 1906 and 1908.58 In addition to tax revolts, there were other forms of
social unrest. In Eastern Anatolia, there were uprisings against the notorious
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
Hamidiye Regiments.59 Food riots took place in Erzurum, Aleppo, and Beirut
in 1907 and in Sivas in 1908.60
The Pre-1908 Tax Revolts
A frequent form of social unrest during the last years of the Hamidian period
was tax strikes and revolts, which took place mostly in urban areas across
the empire. The first signs of discontent were seen in 1904 in Izmir and then
instances of tax resistance were witnessed in almost all parts of the empire:
Dersim, Van, Selanik (Thessaloniki), Edirne, İstanbul, Hınıs,61 İzmir,62 Midilli
(Lésvos), Basra, Trablusgarp,63 İşkodra,64 Musul, Bayburt, Narman, Hasankale,
Trabzon, Sivas, Giresun, Kayseri, Zeytun, Macedonia, Bitlis, Samsun, Ankara,
Muş, Van, Aydın, Muğla,65 Yemen, Albania, Prizren,66 and Kastamonu.67
Despite the large geographical extent of the tax strikes, there were more tax
revolts in Central and Eastern Anatolia than other regions and the former
ones tended to be more violent and to last longer.
The biggest and longest tax revolt took place in the eastern city of
Erzurum. The main goal of the revolt was to counter the two taxes the government introduced: hayvanat-ı ehliye rüsumu (animal tax) and rüsum-ı sahsiye or
vergi-i şahsiye (personal tax).68 What began as a tax strike in Erzurum soon spiraled into an open revolt; the people, including women, armed themselves.69
The rebellion acquired a revolutionary character in its second outbreak and
the rebels killed policemen and captured the governor himself, practically
ruling the town for weeks.70 In response, the government first tried accommodation and then switched to repression; neither worked to subdue the revolt.
Despite the central government efforts, the local garrison did not intervene
into the insurgency,71 echoing other instances of mutiny in the army.
Although the popular unrest that engulfed the empire from 1904 to the
Revolution had diverse causes and was a sign that the Hamidian regime was
losing its legitimacy in the eyes of Ottoman subjects, as in Erzurum, the main
reason of the big revolts was to oppose government attempts to introduce a
new tax, namely, the personal tax. The demand to abolish this tax was the
main rallying point of the rebels in many towns. The rebels condemned
the tax as excessive and unfair, arguing that it had not been set according to
the income levels of the population and the powerful and the richest were
finding ways to avoid it.72
The personal tax was introduced in 1903 as an attempt to change the
predominantly collective character of taxation in the Ottoman Empire. Interestingly enough, the Ottoman attempts at tax reform correspond to similar
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
324 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
attempts seen in major industrialized countries in the early twentieth century.73
Yet in its original formulation, the tax still retained its collective characteristic
and all peasants were required to pay the same amount.74 Faced with intense
protests and demands, the government tried to fix some of the problems with
two amendments. The 1905 amendment simplified the rules and, importantly,
exempted all peasants.75 The 1906 amendment, in contrast, laid out quite
detailed rules for the collection of this tax and apparently tried to render
it fairer.76
As I have touched on above, Özbek sees continuity in the general taxation policies of the Tanzimat and Hamidian states and considers this tax as
part of the attempts to remove the collective character of taxation in the
empire and move the burden of taxation from the rural to the urban economy.
There are certain problems related to this point. First of all, although the
peasants were exempted with the 1905 amendment, the original tax applied to
peasants as well. Moreover, Özbek argues that it was mostly the upper-income
groups in the towns that strongly objected to the tax. Yet, if it was the case,
why the Hamidian regime would want to tax the upper classes more heavily
needs to be elaborated. Such a shift in the tax burden from the upper to lower
classes might be a result of the changing balance of power among classes,
where the lower classes would come to exercise more political power or have
more political significance than before. Alternatively, a shift in tax policy
might reflect the views of the ruling groups about raising more revenues for
the state and at the same time being fair.77 Thus, the point that the Hamidian
regime changed the class character of its taxation policy might not be wrong,
but it needs to be accompanied by a discussion on the class composition
of the social base of the Hamidian regime and/or the attitude of the regime
on taxation issues. Unfortunately, the existing literature and the evidence it
provides does not allow for an adequate discussion.
Who Were the Rebels?
The tax revolts that preceded the Revolution of 1908 were predominantly
urban revolts with limited peasant participation. The merchants and artisans
played a significant role in the revolts; indeed there is evidence that many of
the acts of protest were led by them. Petrosyan contextualizes the leadership
of merchants with the argument that after the 1894–95 Armenian massacres,
the bulk of commerce in Anatolia came to be controlled by Turkish merchants.78
One needs to be careful with this argument in that the Turkish merchants
were quite active in local and regional commerce well before the Armenian
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
massacres. However, the massacres might have eliminated some competition. In
any case, the role that wealthy merchants played in the revolts is unmistakable.79
Of course, other groups such as liberal intellectuals, members of the underground opposition, and some Muslim clergymen also participated in the tax
revolts. The coexistence of bread riots alongside the tax strikes in some cases,
and working-class participation in rare cases, suggests that urban lower
classes were part of the rebels in certain areas.80
A question that needs to be answered is whether urban aristocracies, for
example, the biggest merchants in the towns, were also involved in the revolts.
In one account of the Kastamonu revolt, it is reported that the rebels accused
the richest merchants of dodging the personal tax.81 Moreover, an account of
the Erzurum uprising reports that the wealthiest people in Erzurum were
forced to leave the city during the revolt.82 However, these points should
not be considered as evidence that the uppermost segment of the urban bourgeoisie was not involved in the tax revolts at all. The account of Kastamonu
rebels accusing the rich merchants is not corroborated by other contemporary
accounts. With regards to Erzurum, it seems that the rich who were forced
to flee had been engaged in intensive moneylending. Thus, that particular incident could be related to a specific anti-moneylender feeling. But more probably,
it was politics, especially the stance toward the Hamidian regime that determined
whether the bourgeois were for or against the revolts. The tax revolts were highly
charged political events that had clear anti-Hamidian-regime dimensions.
It is therefore logical to assume that the urban bourgeoisie in those cities
were divided along political, and not class, lines when the uprisings began.
Özbek’s criticism of Kansu suggests that more research is necessary on
the class backgrounds and political leanings of the rebels.83 The demands
of the different groups that participated in the revolts should be carefully
analyzed before assessing the general character of the tax revolts. Yet the
political character of the revolts should not be underestimated. First of all, on
a general level, taxation itself is a political issue that touches upon the moral
economy of the lower classes, class relations, the legitimacy of the state,
and so forth. Second, there is strong evidence that more was at stake in the
pre-1908 revolts than simply the complaints about taxation. In Erzurum, as
we have seen, despite the initial policy of accommodation of the state, the
revolt continued and did not stop even when the government offered important
concessions about the collection of the new taxes.84 In Kastamonu, the rebels
campaigned for a boycott of the municipal elections, arguing: “We don’t know
anything about our municipality. We don’t know about its income or
spending. How can we elect its officials?”85 Moreover, they implicitly threatened
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
326 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
a boycott of military service. Perhaps most important, the rebels directly
questioned the legitimacy of the state when they occupied the telegram office
and demanded that they be put into contact with the Sultan himself:
“We want our sultan; why doesn’t he come by the telegram? Perhaps we don’t
have a sultan.”86 Also significant is the fact that the empire-wide unrest did
not fade when the government totally abolished the personal tax in March
1907.87 Obviously what was at stake was more than just taxes. That so many
simultaneous tax revolts took place in different parts of the empire under
a highly centralized and autocratic government shows that by 1908, the
Hamidian regime had lost its ability to govern.
If the tax revolts had a directly political dimension, what, then, was the
role of the CUP and the Young Turk opposition in general in the revolts?
The few scholars who have worked on the issue have presented differing
views about the relative weight of the CUP / Young Turk organization and
propaganda in the outbreak of tax strikes and revolts in the empire. One can
conclude from the literature that the presence and activities of the opposition
in the provinces certainly influenced the tax-related events there. First of all,
although still based in exile and more powerful in Macedonia, the opposition
was engaged in intensive attempts to organize in the Anatolian provinces,
which witnessed the biggest uprisings. There was widespread underground
propaganda in the towns led by the CUP and other groups such as the Prince
Sabahaddin faction. This was especially true for the Eastern Anatolian cities
of Trabzon and Erzurum.88 Another factor was the presence of opposition
members who had been exiled in the Anatolian towns.89 There were a large
number of exiles in the town of Kastamonu, for example, where the second
biggest tax strike took place.90 Finally, among the points agreed upon by
different opposition groups in the Young Turk Congress held in Paris in 1907
were organizing revolts, acts of civil resistance, and tax strikes.
Such attempts on the part of the Young Turk opposition notwithstanding,
the tax strikes began earlier than the Young Turk opposition’s decision to
organize such actions or even before they intensified their attempts to organize
at home and in Anatolia. Second, it is not clear to what extent the CUP
endeavors to organize in Anatolia were successful, with the possible exception
of Diyarbekir.91 It seems that the level of support the CUP enjoyed in the
Balkans was still considerably higher than Anatolia. Indeed, there is no decisive
evidence that shows direct Young Turk or CUP involvement in the revolts.
For example, the biggest of the revolts, the one in Erzurum, was organized by
an obscure organization, which was more likely a local independent one than
a part of the Young Turk network.92 The CUP and in certain places other
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
members of the opposition tried to create a fertile ground for insurgency
through their pamphlets and other propaganda activities. They supported the
tax revolts and strived to strengthen and spread them whenever possible, but
they did not organize the revolts. That even Kansu, the most prominent historian who argues that the 1908 Revolution was a popular revolution initiated
by masses organized and led by the CUP, cannot present unambiguous
evidence about direct CUP involvement in the tax revolts is quite telling in
this respect. The strikes were mostly spontaneous crowd actions regulated
and led by certain groups and individuals in their course.
c onclusion
Several popular rebellions took place in the Ottoman Empire around the midnineteenth century. Many of these rebellions included a collective refusal to pay
taxes to the state and/or local magnates. In the literature, the revolts have mostly
been considered either as nationalist or proto-nationalist uprisings or conservative reactions to the Tanzimat reform program. Another crucial moment was
the wave of tax revolts that took place on the eve of the Young Turk Revolution
of 1908. From 1906, there were important tax revolts in several Anatolian towns
as well as Macedonia and Mosul, largely in response to attempts to introduce
two new taxes. Historians have not paid enough attention to those revolts. In
fact, the tax-related popular protest and state response in both periods were
crucial instances in the slow and painful birth of the Ottoman modern state.
Although taxation was the root cause in both waves of reforms, there
were four significant differences between the post-Tanzimat rescript and the
pre-1908 Revolution tax strikes and revolts:
The Tanzimat period tax revolts occurred in all of the three historicalgeographic regions of the empire, namely, the Balkans, Anatolia, and
the Arab-speaking provinces. The revolts were concentrated more in
the Balkans than the two other regions and the biggest ones seem to
have taken place there. The pre-1908 revolts, however, were largely
confined to Anatolia. In any case, the major ones occurred there.
Although there were instances of noteworthy Muslim participation
in the Tanzimat revolts, most rebels were non-Muslim. In contrast,
the rebels in the revolts that occurred before the 1908 Revolution
were by and large Muslim.
The post-Tanzimat uprisings were peasant revolts with limited
townspeople participation. The early twentieth-century tax strikes,
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
328 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
however, were manned and led by the urban middle classes. Rural
participation in those instances of unrest was quite negligible.
Contrary to the assumption that the insurgent peasants reacted
against the Tanzimat, the rebels in some of the major revolts rather
endorsed the prose of reform, often referring to the promises of
equality and protection of the well-being of subjects. They often
rebelled not to halt the reforms but to preempt a particular way
of understanding them. Peasants and other cultivators in several
provinces in fact comprehended the transformation the reforms
entailed, endorsed them, and the tax revolts were part of their
endeavors to reinterpret the Tanzimat. In response to the midcentury revolts, the Ottoman state strived to delegitimize the revolts
as foreign instigation or agitation by a handful of ill-intentioned
people, criminalized what it saw as their ringleaders and often used
excessive force to subdue them. Because of the fragmented and
fragile structure of the ruling class, it could not oppose the local
gentry and, given the harsh reaction of some segments of the population to double taxation, it was forced to abolish the new taxation
system after a short while. Thus, the midcentury peasant revolts
and the state’s response in the form of legal regulation, moral regulation, and concessions to the upper classes should be considered
as an integral part of Ottoman state formation during the Tanzimat
period. The 1904–8 revolts, in contrast, took place amid intense
agitation by political opposition toward the end of the autocratic
reign of Abdulhamid II. The revolts shook an increasingly oppressive regime. The state responded to those revolts with a mixture of
violence and helplessness. It was soon forced to abolish the newly
introduced taxes, but it was not enough for the survival of the
already weak regime. The tax revolts thus paved the way for the
constitutional revolution of 1908.
The differences between the two waves of tax revolts attest to three dimensions of the relationship between late Ottoman social change and state formation. First, it seems that in the mid-nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire the
biggest part of the social question was the agrarian question. In the early
twentieth century, however, the agrarian question was not as important as it
used to be. Instead, the urban bourgeoisie was ready to assume the leadership
role in the new wave of tax revolts. The latter fact indeed shows that the
socioeconomic development of the empire in general and capital accumulation
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
by the urban middle and upper classes in particular had advanced beyond a
certain degree by the first decade of the twentieth century.
Second, that Tanzimat was adopted by peasants who did not refuse the
reforms but indeed tried to radicalize it show that the Tanzimat-era state
enjoyed a large degree of legitimacy among the rural lower classes, Muslim
and non-Muslim alike. The revolts preceding the Young Turk Revolution,
however, show that the ancient regime had lost legitimacy even among
Muslims, whom it had considered as its main social support base.
Third, around the mid-nineteenth century, the discontent of non-Muslims
could still be voiced in non-nationalistic terms. Yet, as a result of certain
important political developments, this situation had changed by the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century. The significant loss of territories in
1878, the development of the Macedonian Question as a burning problem
facing the empire and its citizens, and the emergence of the Armenian question
as a national question and the subsequent massacres of Armenians in the 1890s
all made the emergence of non-nationalized social movements very difficult.
As it happened in important central and Eastern Anatolian towns, only
among Turkish-speaking Muslims did the tax strikes not acquire a national
or at least an ethnic character.
Middle East Technical University
n ot e s
1. Some of the well-known works produced within the modernization paradigm
are: Stanford Shaw and Ezel Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey
(Cambridge, 1976); Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (New York, 2002).
2. Some representative works that use the world-system perspective to understand
Ottoman history are: Donald Quataert, Social Disintegration and Popular Resistance in
the Ottoman Empire, 1881–1908: Reactions to European Economic Penetration (New York,
1983); Resat Kasaba, The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy: The Nineteenth Century
(Albany, N.Y., 1988); Immanuel Wallerstein and Resat Kasaba, Incorporation into the
World-Economy: Change in the Structure of the Ottoman Empire, 1750–1839 (Binghamton,
N.Y., 1980).
3. One exception is the criticism that the world-system-inspired approaches was
subjected to in relation to the so-called çiftlik debate. See E. Attila Aytekin, “Historiography
of Land Tenure and Agriculture in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire, ” Asian
Research Trends, New Series 4 (2009): 1–19.
4. Even otherwise good and innovative studies reproduce this notion of Tanzimat.
For example, see Ussama Makdisi, The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and
Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2000).
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
330 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
5. The classical example of this approach that reduces post-Tanzimat unrest to
(conservative) reaction to reform is an article by Halil İnalcık, arguably the foremost
Ottomanist historian. In this article, although İnalcık recognizes the social-reformist aspect
of some of the uprising in the Balkans, he nevertheless generalizes post-Tanzimat unrest as
conservative resistance of the privileged strata of the old regime, such as notables,Christian
çorbacıs, Muslim landlords, and ulema. Halil İnalcık, “Tanzimat’ın Uygulanması ve Sosyal
Tepkiler, ” in Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Türkiye Ansiklopedisi, vol. 6 (İstanbul, 1985),
6. Philip Corrigan, Harvie Ramsay, and Derek Sayer, “The State as a Relation of
Production, ” in Capitalism, State Formation, and Marxist Theory, ed. Philip Corrigan
(London, 1980), 1–25, 21–22.
7. The state-formation approach is against both the reductionist approaches, which
elevate the metaphor of base-superstructure to a theoretical model, and the Althusserian
correction to it. Sayer argues against those versions of Marxism that consider relations of
production to consist solely of economic relations and, together with productive forces,
to form the “base.” According to him, Marx himself includes “superstructural” elements
into “production relations.” In Marx’s analysis of the feudal mode of production, for
example, it is clear that the relations of personal dependence are essential relations of
production. Jurisdiction can be conceived in similar terms, too. See Derek Sayer, The
Violence of Abstraction: The Analytic Foundations of Historical Materialism (Oxford, 1987),
63, 72–75.
8. Corrigan et al., “The State as a Relation of Production,” 15.
9. Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, The Great Arch: English State Formation as
Cultural Revolution (Oxford, 1985).
10. Ibid., 195.
11. Ibid., 30ff.
12. Corrigan et al., “The State as a Relation of Production,” 17.
13. Corrigan and Sayer, The Great Arch, 41.
14. Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of
Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876– (London, 1998).
15. Sevilay Kaygalak, Kapitalizmin Taşrası: 16. Yüzyıldan 19. Yüzyıla Bursa’da
Toplumsal Süreçler ve Mekansal Degişim (İstanbul, 2008).
16. Corrigan et al., “The State as a Relation of Production,” 18
17. Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, “How the Law Rules, ” in Law, State, and Society,
ed. Bob Fryer et al. (London, 1981).
18. E. Attila Aytekin, “Agrarian Relations, Property, and Law: An Analysis of the Land
Code of 1858 in the Ottoman Empire, ” Middle Eastern Studies 45 (2009): 935–51 (936–37)
19. For the standard account of Ottoman officialdom, see Carter Findley, Ottoman
Civil Officialdom: A Social History (Princeton, 1989).For a prosopographical study of
high-level bureaucrats, see Olivier Bouquet, Les pachas du sultan: Essai sur les agents
superieurs de l’Etat ottoman (1839–1909) (Paris, 2007).
20. See Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect.
21. Corrigan and Sayer, The Great Arch, 21.
22. Ahmet Uzun, Tanzimat ve Sosyal Direnişler (İstanbul, 2002), 23.
23. Ibid., 26.
24. Ibid., 16.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
25. Ibid., 31.
26. C.DH 1810. Hereafter, unless otherwise noted, all archival references are to Prime
Ministry Ottoman Archives, Istanbul.
27. Uzun, Tanzimat ve Sosyal Direnişler, 47.
28. Ibid.
29. A.MKT.NZD 4/45; A.MKT.UM 51/10; A.MKT.UM 103/55. By that time, the title of
sipahi (prebendal cavalryman) had become anachronistic.
30. A.MKT.UM 103/55.
31. A.MKT.UM 189/36.
32. A.MKT.UM 279/10.
33. C.DH 1523.
34. I.DH 28069.
35. I have discussed the agrarian unrest in Vidin and Canik in detail in E. Attila Aytekin,
“Peasant Protest in the Late Ottoman Empire: Moral Economy, Revolt, and the Tanzimat
Reforms, ” International Review of Social History 57, no. 2 (2012): 191–227
36. Halil Inalcik, Tanzimat ve Bulgar Meselesi, 2nd ed. (Istanbul, 1992), 47.
37. Ibid., 50–52. See also G. Arbuthnot, Herzegovina; or Omer Pacha and the Christian
Rebels (London, 1862), 122.
38. FO 195/296 04.09.1850, from Bennett to Neale; FO 195/296 08.09.1850 from
Bennett to Neale. [The National Archives, London.]
39. Emin Yolalıcı, XIX. Yüzyılda Canik (Samsun) Sancağı’nın Sosyal Ekonomik Yapısı
(Ankara, 1998), 116–17.
40. Canay Şahin, “Ondokuzuncu Yüzyıl’da Samsun’da Çiftlik Sahibi Hazinedarzadeler
ile Kiracı-Köylüler Arasındaki Arazi ve Vergi İhtilafı Üzerine Bazı Gözlemler ve Sorular, ”
Kebikeç 24 (2007): 75–88(78).
41. Ibid., 79.
42. HR.MKT 98/85.
43. Şahin, “Ondokuzuncu Yüzyıl’da Samsun,” 85.
44. Nadir Özbek, “‘Anadolu Islahatı,’ ‘Ermeni Sorunu’ Ve Vergi Tahsildarlığı, 1895–1908,
” Tarih ve Toplum Yeni Yaklaşımlar 9 (2009): 59–85, 61–62.
45. Ibid., 66.
46. Ibid., 52–53.
47. Nadir Özbek, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nda Gelir Vergisi: 1903–1907 Tarihli
Vergi-i Şahsi Uygulaması, ” Tarih ve Toplum Yeni Yaklaşımlar 10 (2010): 43–80(51).
48. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see E. Attila Aytekin, “Cultivators, Creditors,
and the State: Rural Indebtedness in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire, ” Journal
of Peasant Studies 35 (2008): 292–313 (305–8).
49. Corrigan and Sayer, The Great Arch, 91
50. Rifa’at Ali Abou-El-Haj, “Geçiş Dönemleri Üzerine Bir Not, ” in Tarih, Sınıflar ve
Kent, ed. Besime Şen and Ali Ekber Doğan (Ankara, 2010), 31–33.
51. Şahin, “Ondokuzuncu Yüzyıl’da Samsun,” 79.
52. The Ottoman Balkans was of course one of the theaters of the Eastern Question.
Yet one should not exaggerate the role of imperialist politics in the emerging Balkan
nationalism and the subsequent independence of Balkan states. The economic and
social dynamics of the region, especially the class structure, played an important part in
pre-nationalist uprisings and the later nationalist ressitance to the Ottoman central state.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
332 | Tax Revolts During the Tanzimat Period
53. Donald Quataert, Ottoman Manufacturing in the Age of the Industrial Revolution
(Cambridge, 1993).
54. Seyfettin Gürsel, “Osmanlı Dış Borçları, ” in Tanzimat’tan Cumhuriyet’e Türkiye
Ansiklopedisi (Istanbul, 1985): 672–87.
55. Nadir Özbek, “The Politics of Welfare: Philantrophy, Voluntarism, and
Legitimacy in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1914” (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York
at Binghamton, 2001).
56. Selim Deringil, “Legitimacy Structures in the Ottoman State: The Reign of
Abdulhamid II (1876–1909), ” International Journal of Middle East Studies 23 (1991): 345–59;
and Deringil, Well-Protected Domains.
57. H. Zafer Kars, 1908 Devrimi’nin Halk Dinamiği (İstanbul, 1984), 21.
58. Ibid., 112–16; Yuriy Aşatoviç Petrosyan, Sovyet Gözüyle Jöntürkler(Ankara, 1974),
59. Ibid., 22.
60. Aykut Kansu, 1908 Devrimi (İstanbul, 1995), 90–91; Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 22, 38.
61. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 73.
62. Ibid., 73; Kansu, 1908 Devrimi, 38.
63. Ibid.; Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 64.
64. Kansu, 1908 Devrimi, 38; Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 65.
65. Kansu, 1908 Devrimi, 43–44, 52, 53, 54, 71, 90.
66. Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 63, 65, 67.
67. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 64.
68. Ibid., 24ff.
69. Ibid., 143.
70. Kansu, 1908 Devrimi.
71. Kars, Halk Dinamiği.
72. Ibid., 64ff., 146.
73. Sven Steinmo, “The Evolution of Policy Ideas: Tax Policy in the 20th Century, ”
British Journal of Politics and International Relations 5, no. (2003): 206–36 (209–10).
74. Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 61.
75. Ibid., 66–67.
76. Ibid., 71–72.
77. Steinmo, “The Evolution of Policy Ideas,” 210.
78. Petrosyan, Sovyet Gözüyle, 234.
79. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 12–13.
80. Agrarian workers and porters joined shopkeepers in Bingazi protests against the
personal tax in 1905. Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 64.
81. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 166.
82. Ibid., 147.
83. He criticizes Kansu for generalizing the rebels under the name “people” and
for simply seeing the revolts, especially the one in Erzurum, as a revolutionary uprising
against the established order. Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 76.
84. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 36.
85. Ibid., 64.
86. Ibid.
87. Özbek, “Gelir Vergisi,” 136.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at
e . attila aytekin |
88. Kansu, 1908 Devrimi, 61, 74, 59, 67, 78.
89. Petrosyan, Sovyet Gözüyle, 234.
90. Kansu, 1908 Devrimi, 40.
91. Kars, Halk Dinamiği, 46–47.
92. Even the name of the organization is not clear. It was either Canveren or Canverir.
See ibid., 40–41.
Downloaded from Fribourg ARCHIVE use - do not de-dupe, on 28 Jan 2019 at 15:12:50, subject to the
Cambridge Core terms of use, available at