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Center and Periphery in the Ottoman Empire: With Special Reference to the
Nineteenth Century
Author(s): Metin Heper
Source: International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique
, 1980, Vol. 1, No. 1, Studies in Systems Transformation (1980), pp. 81-105
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
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International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique
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With Special Reference to
the Nineteenth Century
The article takes issue with two hypotheses often claimed in the literature-that the
Ottoman centuries extending from the sixteenth to the nineteenth evince a progressive
development from a centralized to a quasi-feudal polity, and that during the course of
the nineteenth century progress had been made toward a constitutional government. It
is noted that throughout the period in question, in fact, two types of relationship existed
between the center and the periphery: power politics and a degenerated form of patron-
client relationship. The change that took place has been no more than a segregative change.
Change in the periphery itself was not evolutionary, let alone revolutionary. At times it
showed signs of involution; any weakening of the central control led to maximum legal
The Ottoman centuries, extending from the second half of the
sixteenth to the early decades of the nineteenth century, are often
depicted as a progressive development from a centralized to a
quasi-feudal polity. The proponents of this view have in mind the
gradual weakening of the center and the growing "autonomy"
that the periphery acquired during this period. ' Another observa-
tion frequently made is that, during the course of the nineteenth
century, progress was made toward a constitutional government
in the Ottoman polity. The Sened-i ittifak (Deed of Alliance)
of 1808, the Guilhane Hatt-i Humayunu (Imperial Rescript of
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am grateful to the Social Science Research Council, New York, and
the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, for support and encouragement that made this study possible. I should also mention here the perceptive criticisms
of Engin Akarh, Carl Brown, Carter Findley, Serif Mardin, and Howard Reed on an
earlier version of this paper. Needless to say, I am solely responsible for the mistakes that
International Political Science Review, Vol. I No. 1, 1980 81-105
? 1980 International Political Science Association
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Guilhane) of 1839, the islahat Ferman
the creation of central and provincial "re
and councils throughout the Tanzimat (Regulations) period of
1839-1876, and the convening of the first Ottoman parliament in
1877 following the proclamation in the previous year of a consti-
tution are taken as milestones in this development.
Neither of these views, it is true, is advanced without qualifications. The fact is not denied that, after its final consolidation
during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror (1451-1481),2 the
political power of the center never dwindled completely. Similarly, the nineteenth century is not taken as the triumphant period
of pluralism, let alone liberalism. Frequently, reference is made
to sultanic and/or bureaucratic absolutism during this century.
Still, one is often left with the impression that from the sixteenth
century on, there took place a resurgence of the local notables
in the Ottoman polity who commanded significant political
influence, and that this group maintained and even strengthened
its position during the nineteenth century (see inter alia Aricanli,
1976; Sadat, 1972; Szyliowicz, 1977).
The Ottomans, in fact, succeeded to a legacy of feudalism.3
Maliksah of the Sejuks had compensated his mamluk officers
with estates where they had built their autonomous powers
(Weber, 1968: 1015-1016; Shaw, 1976: 7). Osman, the first sultan
of the Ottomans (1299-1324), was recognized by the Seljuk sultan
as a bey, as a person wielding political authority (Inalcik, 1976:
15). Even at this time, however, the social structure in Anatolia
was not genuinely feudal because the peasants were far from
being serfs. In the lands conquered by the Ottomans, they were
usually left in the status of a kind of a tenant (Karpat, 1973: 30).
This heritage is significant in that the class power of the feudal
lords in the West was directly at stake with the gradual disappearance of serfdom (Anderson, 1974: 19).
The Ottomans from the very beginning set forth to establish
a centralized polity.4 During Bayezit I's reign (1389-1403) and
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immediately thereafter almost all the tools and the structures of
a centralized administration were adopted: periodic surveys of
population and land, a central treasury, a bureaucracy which
sought from the capital to regulate affairs of state throughout
the provinces, and a system of control through the sultan's own
slaves (Inalcik, 1976: 28; Szyliowicz, 1977: 105).
Whereas the absolute monarchs in the West had usually drawn
their servants from among the small rural nobility (Beloff, 1962:
101; Rosenberg, 1958: 67), the Ottomans, like the Indian sultans
(Thorner, 1965: 218), opted for a royal household full of loyal
slaves. By successful deployment of the members of this group
to all the critical posts both at the center and the localities, the old
Turkish aristocracy was gradually removed from its position of
a ruling class. Although they were retained as an influential group
so that the sultan could play them off against his slave group
(Shaw, 1976: 58), their status could now be determined by the
center, a fact which shows the beginning of the dependency
The Ottoman land regime, too, manifested patrimonial characteristics. The whole country was a single oikos; the political
realm was identical with a huge sultanic manor (Weber, 1968:
1013).6 When the Ottoman administration was first established
in Anatolia, all agricultural land passed to the ownership of the
state. All local feudal rights which limited the state's control over
the land and the peasants were abolished. In 1475, a large part
of the land held by vakifs (religious foundations) and private
individuals was confiscated by the state and assigned as timars
(fiefs) to cavalrymen who, among other things, collected taxes in
the localities on behalf of the state (Inalcik, 1976: 34-35, 49).
Under the Ottoman fief (timar) system, the granting of benefice
in return for service to the sultan did not bring with it extensive
political-territorial rights. Furthermore, there was an element
of compulsion in this relationship. One component of the fief was
no more than a dirlik, or revenue granted as a "living." Each
timar holder was given a relatively small land, ifitlik, for his
personal use. He extracted his "salary" from this land as long as
he remained in that area. When he was assigned to another area,
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he returned his qiftlik to the state. O
supervisory powers. He had to see to it that the peasants kept their
assigned lands under cultivation, and paid their taxes. The fief-
holder could not himself cultivate lands other than his own small
qiftlik, nor could he transfer them to other peasants as long as
the present tenants fulfilled their obligations deriving from the
centrally specified rules. The administrative and legal matters
were largely the responsibility of the other centrally appointed
governors, kadis (district judges), and the janissary units. Before
the law, the peasants were equals with the fief-holders; they could
make complaints about the fief-holders who never possessed
autonomous political powers (Szyliowicz, 1977: 108).
Autonomous political power implies among other things the
authority to make laws and regulations. This authority is exercised independently; it is not based on delegated powers. That
in the Ottoman Empire autonomous powers were not granted to
the localities is evident in the fact that, in the polity, one comes
across legal codes covering all aspects of government and society
in a manner that previous Muslim rulers had never attempted
(Shaw, 1976: 62-83, 101).7 The Ottomans for their part revived
the late Roman-Byzantine principles of ius publicum. They
adopted from the Persians what the Austrian nobility in the 1860s
had dubbed as "the dangerous procedure of personal decree ...
and the dubious principle that it can bestow and take away rights"
(Anderson and Anderson, 1967: 69). Drawing upon their drf-i
sultani, or sovereign prerogatives, the Ottoman sultans could
issue laws and regulations which could do away with precedents
(Mardin, 1962: 102; Shaw, 1976: 135); their edicts, therefore,
could be very different from the medieval practice that only
interpreted tradition (Weber, 1968: 1012).8 Through the granting
or withdrawing of berats (imperial certificates), the sultans could
also decide whether a person belonged to a tax-free or a tax-
paying group (Mardin, 1969: 272).
Thus, the existence of extensive rules and regulations was
devised for regulating the society from the center rather than for
granting rights. Further, the state's supremacy in the Ottoman
polity was propped up by the fact that Islam was never an autono-
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mous force or power vis-A-vis the state. The members of the
religious institution were appointed and could be dismissed by
the sultan (Shaw, 1976: 135).9
With the merger of the state and religion, the supremacy of the
state in the Ottoman polity was guaranteed. The welfare of the
society was identified with the free-floating resources at the
disposal of the groups which identified themselves with the state.
It was for this reason that soldiers were needed, and this in turn
necessitated money, the well-being of the subjects, and "justice"keeping everybody in his place and protecting the subjects
(inalcik, 1964c: 4243; Itzkowitz, 1972: 88). The state sought the
uncompromising loyalty of both the subjects and the ruling
It is tempting to identify the person of the sultan with the
state. One may be justified in doing so with respect to the classical
period when the sultans ruled as well as reigned. It becomes
difficult, however, to see an identity between the sultan and the
state in later centuries when at times the sultans became puppets
in the hands of military, civil, and/ or religious bureaucracies,
and/or of various cliques in the palace itself. The ruling groups
in time became the servants of the state rather than those of the
sultan. The sultans lost their charisma; charisma was gradually
attributed to the state.'0 The sultans could now be deposed in the
name of the state. The state was seen as the provider of nizam
By "center" we mean here those groups or persons who tried to
uphold the state's autonomy and supremacy in the polity. A
"proper" education and culture were useful, but not the only
avenue to become a member of the center. Though they were
exceptions, the Ottoman polity, too, had its own illiterate grand
viziers who were viewed as equally loyal servants of the state.
The most general mechanism which provided socialization to the
idea of uncompromising loyalty to the state was organizational.
Service in one of the central bureaucracies gradually inculcated a
loyalty to the state."
It follows that although the common characteristic of the
members of the center was an unswerving loyalty to the state, this
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did not mean that the members of the center always agreed on the
nature of state (is this a state of reason or of religion?) or on how
it could be saved (by reviving the traditional institutions or by
Westernization?). In fact, the center was always ripped apart by
both institutional and personal conflicts. Particularly after the
old Turkish aristocracy was relegated to a secondary position
and pushed to the ranks of the periphery, there remained no
countervailing power to check the slave bureaucracy. The Ottoman solution to this problem was the old method of divide and
rule (Timur, 1979: 180-181, 190). For instance, both the kazasker
(chief military judge) and defterdar (treasurer) of the earlier
centuries, and their counterparts in the nineteenth century, were
each responsible to the sultan, and not to the grand vizier. In the
localities, the fief-holder, tax-farmer, tax collector, local governor, and janissary commander were all played off against each
other. Also, in the face of such insecurity, personal cleavages
were superimposed upon the organizational ones. Each new
appointee at each level of government tried to get his own proteges
appointed to critical posts to safeguard his position against
future intrigues.
The state was somehow too overwhelming to be dominated
long for the benefit of any one ruling group. Even after the proclamation of Gulhane Hatt-i Humayunu in 1839 and the Islahat
Fermani in 1856, the posts of the bureaucrats did not become
safe (Karal, 1956: 342). In actual fact, even their persons were
not guaranteed. Given the inherent conflict between the members
of the center and their ambiguous position vis-a-vis the state, it
is difficult to refer to this group as an economic class. As will
be discussed below, even during the second part of the nineteenth
century the center tried to promote the economic interests of the
small landholders and the peasants.
An unchanging and common orientation of the center is, of
course, that of protecting "the flock," in particular the peasants,
so that the state would obtain revenues in a consistent manner
(Karpat, 1977: 90). In terms that foreshadowed Ataturk's com-
ment in the twentieth century, Suleyman the Magnificent (15201566) argued that the genuine master of the country was the
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protected flock, or reaya (Karal, 1954: 191). Whenever the
certificates of appointment were issued to the mutesellims or the
voyvodos, it was especially emphasized that they should commit
no injustice against the reaya. When they misused their authority,
the center increased its control over their appointments (Inalcik,
1977). 12
The center of the Ottoman Empire was never willing to come
to terms with the local notables at the expense of the peasants. As
already noted, the center always wished to use the local notables
for its own purposes. Earlier, the imperial orders were communicated by convoking the loyal ayan and efraf as well as the guildmasters and the district clerics (Inalcik, 1964c: 47; Davison,
1968: 96). Later, when the fief system became ineffective and wa
gradually replaced by tax-farming and direct tax collection
systems, the significance of the local notables further increased
(Bowen, 1960: 778). Their authority, however, was dependent on
rather than independent of the state. Hourani's (1968: 46) general
analysis of the political influence of the local notables is relevant
here. According to Hourani, the political influence of the notables
rests on two factors. On one hand, they must possess "access," to
authority, and so be able to advise, warn, and, in general, speak
before the authorities on behalf of the society or some part of it.
On the other hand, they must have social power of their own,
which is not dependent on the ruler, and which gives them a
position of acceptance and "natural" leadership. In the Ottoman
polity, the local notables' access to authority and usurping of
state authority seem to have been much more important than
their own social powers. The authority increased to the same
proportion that the authority of the state in the localities became
weakened. They filled a vacuum; they did not actively overcome
It is obvious that the Ottoman local notables did not constitute
a nobility, i.e., a juridical class to which man belongs by birth.
Were they an aristocracy, i.e., a powerful class able to exercise
an impact over the affairs of the state? Even this is very doubtful.
As inalcik (1978: 86) notes, the existence of qiftliks does not allow
them to be identified with central or eastern European forms,
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where developments took place within a totally different context
dominated by an aristocracy in absolute control of the land. As
Eisenstadt (1963: 180-18 1) notes, even after the old landed aristocracy was subjugated in the West, it still tried to increase its
power, prestige, and wealth by (a) attempting to monopolize
various strategically important positions within the bureaucracy,
(b) trying to guide many upper bureaucrats to aristocratic values
and ways of life, (c) initiating and organizing strong movements
opposing those of the monarch's policies that might benefit other
classes in the country, and (d) utilizing the economic facilities
and opportunities provided by the rulers to expand their own
economic interests. In the Ottoman case the first three types of
activities were absent. The new structures in the periphery did not
emerge eventually to take over the center (Birtek, 1978: 126). The
fourth type existed, but the local notables were not primarily
interested in becoming agricultural entrepreneurs and building
up autonomous power. They opted rather to be intermediaries
between the state and the peasants (Mardin, 1969: 263). Thus,
they became tax-farmers, acting governors, or members in governors' councils, and, later, in local "representative" councils.
Rather than rising to form a countervailing force, even at the peak
of their power they were willing to fill the slots that the center
saw appropriate for them (Sadat, 1972: 351). The center even
developed official descriptions of ayan: "A person competent,
well-known, honest, and wealthy, and whose words were listened
to by the people" (Inalcik, forthcoming). The title of ayan itself
was obtained by special charters issued by the center (Inalcik,
1977; Fekete, 1960: 1170; Karpat, 1973: 37). The fact that they
accepted such a regulated status, and that they competed among
themselves for official posts at the local level, did not help them
develop horizontal ties. They were rather in a vertical relationship
with the state, and this relationship was on an individual basis.
Each local notable tried to use his delegated power to enrich
himself at the expense of both the state and the peasants. This is
what Cook (1976: 8) must be referring to when he says that in the
Ottoman Empire minimum central control always combined with
local irresponsibility.
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As far as the center was concerned, the participation of the
local notables in local administration was a stop-gap measure.
In 1786, for instance, the center attempted to replace the ayans
with central agents (Lewis, 1961: 441). The center continuously
played off local notables against each other. When the situation
seemed to get out of control and when it could muster enough
power, the center resorted to power politics in the case of ayan
and qsraf, too. In the eyes of the center, the usurping ayan was
essentially no more than a mutegallibe giruhu (gang of oppressors) (Inalcik, 1977).
The center's conception of the state and its attitude toward the
periphery did not change during the nineteenth century. The
modernization efforts that the center undertook were motivated
by the desire to strengthen the center itself. The efforts in question
were undertaken to curb particularly the authority of the ayan
(Karpat, 1968: 70, 1972: 251-252; Slade, 1854: 115). The ayan had
no allies in Istanbul through whom they could influence the
politics of the center and legalize their status.
Despite its outward similarities, the Sened-i Ittifak (Deed of
Alliance) of 1808 was not a Magna Carta, nor was it subsequently
used to further the cause of constitutionalism in the Ottoman
Empire (Shaw and Shaw, 1977: 3). In fact, as soon as Alemdar
Mustafa Pasha lost his power, the document was forgotten
(Inalcik, 1964a: 609). When the reformers later in the century felt
the need to refer to some pluralist precedents, they limited themselves to recalling that the early caliphate had been elective, and
cited the Koranic injunction to act upon consultation (Davison,
1968: 95).
In any case, the Sened-i Ittifak was not the product of a confrontation initiated by the periphery. Alemdar himself was at-
tracted to the capital to restore the power of the reform party
in the center (Inalcik, 1964a: 604). Alemdar's coming to Istanbul
and his instruction in the administration of the state were undertaken by a group of chancery officials who had escaped to the
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province of Alemdar during the turmoil of Selim III's deposition.
Alemdar himself later acknowledged that he was merely a military
figurehead used by the bureaucrats to obtain power for them-
selves (Mardin, 1962: 146; Karal, 1947: 91; Uzunqarlih, 1942:
82-83, 98, 102).
It is interesting that, although the center used Alemdar to
restore its power, it never attributed legitimacy to him. In his
discussion of Alemdar's regime, the historian aanizade maintained that the government at the time was in the hands of persons
"without fame and distinction" (bi-nam ve nishan). Even in the
opinion of the capital's populace, Alemdar's regime was usurping
legitimate authority (Levy, 1977: 5-6). Among the people of
Istanbul, Alemdar was referred to as haydut basi (head bandit)
(Karal, 1947: 99).
When Alemdar asked the other local notables to come to
Istanbul for the purpose of reviewing the crises facing the state,
some of them did not show up because they were envious and/ or
afraid of him (Inalcik, 1964a: 604). Their envy indicates the ongoing competition among the local notables for state posts. The
Deed of Alliance was not preceded by a firm alliance among the
local notables (on this last point see Shaw, 1971: 397ff.).13
The Aladdin's lamp effect that Mardin refers to when he discusses social mobilization in Ottoman society is also a good
analogy concerning the political orientations of the local notables
toward the state. In his opening speech at the meeting with the
local notables and in the Deed that was eventually drawn up,
Alemdar particularly emphasized the need to save the state
(Uzunqarsili, 1947: 96; inalcik, 1964a: 612). According to the
Deed, the local notables promised to be helpful in conscripting
men for the army and collecting taxes, both of which actions
would have strengthened the center's hand. The Deed also indicated that the center was not to take action against the local
notables so long as the latter did not violate its provisions. But
why should the center harm them as long as they helped strengthen
the center's hand?
The provisions of the Deed become more meaningful if it is not
seen as an agreement between two parties of nearly equal strength
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but as one between a center which was interested in maintaining
its dominance at all costs and a periphery which was only inter-
ested in preserving its influence in a limited sphere, i.e., in the
localities. The periphery was not interested in participating in
central decision-making; it only wanted to be left alone with
respect to its activities in the localities (Inalcik, 1964c: 52-53;
Davison, 1968: 95; Karpat, 1968: 80). If they were interested in
streamlining the central government, this was because they did
not want rivals in local exploitation. To the extent that the
center lost control of its agents in the periphery, these agents,
too, would become the plunderers of their own society (Sadat,
1972: 354, 360). It must be for this reason that the local notables
were not unwilling to help the center obtain more free-floating
resources. They must have hoped that in this way the center
would better control its agents in the localities. Since they were
not interested in participating in central politics and since they
thought that the Deed gave them adequate autonomy in the
localities, they remained indifferent to the potential strengthening of the center.
The center's later efforts of transforming the omnipotent state
into one of omnicompetence that could effectively penetrate the
periphery once more brought the center and periphery into conflict. During the earlier centuries, some of the state functions
had been delegated to the ayan and esraf. Now, through the
policies of autocracy, centralization, and "decentralization"
(Shaw, 1968), there was an effort to revive, in a new form, the
traditional ideal of the center that there should be no intermedi-
aries of any sort between the state and its subjects (Mardin, 1973:
The political conception underlying the Tanzimat (Regula-
tions) period (1839-1876) has a close affinity to the rationalist
tradition of the eighteenth-century Western Europe. As elaborated by Rousseau on the eve of the French Revolution, this view
held the nation to be a homogeneous entity in opposition to the
estates. The group interests within society are eliminated and
replaced by general interest; the general interest in question is
best represented by the state. The only meaningful relationship
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is that between the state and people as individuals (Talmon,
1960; Palmer, 1959). The political conception underlying the
Tanzimat, too, was that of a direct and identical relationship
between the government and each of its citizens. This was com-
patible with neither the privileges of Muslim notables nor their
roles as intermediaries (Hourani, 1968: 54, 63). The aim of the
Tanzimat reforms was to establish a uniform and centralized
administration linked directly with each citizen, and working
with its own rational principles of justice, applied equally to all.
Such a refined conception of the state, and the pressures of the
Great Powers (see inter alia Cunningham, 1968; Bailey, 1942;
Akarll, 1976: 17) go a long way in explaining the relations between the center and the periphery in the nineteenth century
Ottoman polity. The equality of all citizens proclaimed in both
the Gulhane Hatt-i Humayunu in 1839 and Islahat Fermani in
1856 was considered by the center to be a practical means to
mobilize the masses behind the state and against the local notables
(Karpat, 1972: 258), as well as a strategy to appease the Great
Powers. Refit Pasha, who prepared the edict, hoped that the
people would now identify with their state, would not riot,
and that the economy would catch up, and thus the revenues of
the state would increase. He did not base the so-called "liberal
principles" of the edict on a theory of the natural rights of man
(Inalcik, 1964a: 620; Shaw and Shaw, 1977: 61; Mardin, 1960:
425). Ali Pasha and Fuad Pasha, both proteges of Refit Pasha
and both maintaining the Tanzimat tradition as they alternated
in the post of foreign minister and grand vizier, did not believe
in a representative system either (Davison, 1968: 101). Nor did
the Young Ottomans, who opposed the Tanzimat statesmen be-
cause the latter had introduced bureaucratic absolutism, advocate republicanism. They envisioned a representative assembly,
the sole function of which would be to act as a brake on the executive (Davison, 1963: 223).
At least two reasons behind the failure of the Ottoman experience with constitutional government as noted by Devereux (1963:
253) reflect well the implications of long Ottoman experience
with patrimonialism: the lack of "respect for law by both the
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rulers and the ruled and [of] understanding and acceptance of
their duties as well as their rights by all citizens, irrespective of
rank, position, or social or economic status."
The center perceived the Ottoman Parliament of 1877, as well
as the elective councils that preceded it, as being no more than
tools at its disposal for manipulating the periphery. Ahmed Vefik
Pasha, the chairman of the parliament, often stopped deputies
in the midst of their speeches, to tell them in true bureaucratic
fashion that they knew nothing about the subject and were talking
nonsense (Lewis, 1961: 165). The parliamentarians in turn hardly
resembled the members of the parlements of late eighteenth
century France who claimed the heads of Turgots, Neckers, and
others (Palmer, 1959: 453). The Ottoman parliamentarians
readily passed all the expenditures required for the war (and
thus produced a substantial deficit), and they approved increases
in taxes on income, property, and animals to compensate. They
also approved a compulsory internal loan requiring property
owners and civil servants alike to purchase government bonds
according to their wealth and means (Shaw and Shaw, 1977: 185;
also see Akarli, 1976: 212).
The rural delegates to the parliament were united in seeking
to restrict the powers of the administrators over these elective
councils at the provincial and local levels that were created after
the proclamation of the Gulhane Hatt-i Humayunu (Shaw and
Shaw, 1977: 185). These councils, founded as part of the decentralization policy, were seen in the same light as- the Parlia-
ment itself. Not unlike Peter the Great's city councils"'(Jacoby,
1973: 115), the primary motive behind them was to improve tax
collection (Ortayli, 1974: 4). The stipulation that in each of the
major subdivisions of the empire there should be an administra-
tive council was part of an imperial edict (January 1840) which
dealt with the reform of tax-collection methods in the Empire
(Davison, 1968: 98). The administrative councils so created had
only advisory powers. Often their members did not know whether
their decisions were advisory or final (Inalcik, 1964b: 634). Sometimes, their seals or signatures were gathered on blank documents
or on documents the contents of which were not disclosed to the
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signatories (Pinson, 1975: 114). When their pay was in arrears,
they resigned (Shaw and Shaw, 1977: 87). The meetings of the
councils were not open to the public so that the collusion between
the center and the local notables in question could be kept secret
(Ortayli, 1974: 21). All this indicates that the local notables were
not really interested in these local councils, which are often
presented as significant steps toward constitutionalism.
Since these councils were established as a facade of assent so
as to overcome the peasants' unwillingness to pay their taxes and
fulfill their other obligations (Karpat, 1973: 37), the center paid
particular attention to their composition. Suffrage was limited
by strict property qualifications so that presumably only those
with influence on the populace could vote. They voted for persons
on lists presented by the center. They elected twice the number
of representatives needed so that the center could choose those
who actually would serve. Despite all these restrictions the center
still did not want to leave the matter to chance. The bureaucrats
appointed by the center constituted more than half the member-
ship (Shaw, 1968: 35; Shaw and Shaw, 1977: 85).
The local notables resisted the Tanzimat reforms (Pinson,
1975: 104). As Davison (1963: 65) perceptively observed "they
resisted reform because they profited from disorganization and
inefficiency in the central government to maintain their political
and financial control." They must have been particularly interested in the persistence of the financial ineffectiveness of the
center in the localities, because then they could turn it to their
benefit. In the nineteenth century, as earlier, the weakening of
central control led to maximum local irresponsibility.
Ottoman local notables were therefore hardly risk-taking
aristocrats with self-confidence. In this sense there was a sharp
difference between them and English aristocrats. As early as the
second half of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth
centuries, the English aristocrats were risk-takers in new business
ventures, and they used their influence with the central government to obtain for the merchants or the industrialists the necessary patents or licenses (Stone, 1977: 162). In contrast, when
invited to the Extraordinary Assembly convoked in the capital in
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1845, the Ottoman local notables were surprised, and did not
know what to do. According to one account, they did express
their wishes "though apparently with trepidation" (Davison,
1968: 100). According to another account, the delegates seemed
to have been confused by the new and unfamiliar procedure, and,
not knowing what they were expected to say, preferred to say
nothing (Lewis, 1961: 111).
The 1858 Land Code and 1864 Vila yet (Province) Law were
further attempts on the part of the center to increase its control
over the periphery (Davison, 1963: 99, 147). Local notables nonetheless found a way to use the Land Code to their own advantage.
They bribed officials and obliged peasants to give false accounts
in the courts. The center was interested in increasing productivity
in agriculture, thus, its members hoped, enlarging the state's
revenues. The purpose was to protect the small landowners and
peasants. Ali Pasha in his will had said that the peasants should
be saved from the usurer (Aricanlh, 1976: 48; Akarlh, 1978: 37).
The specific intent behind the Land Code was to reassert state
control over the state-owned (miri) land, which over the centuries had passed by one means or another out of the state's
hands. This was an effort on the part of the center to legislate
the old traditions concerning land (Barkan, 1940: 419). The
Ottoman center in the second part of the nineteenth century
was trying to do what the Byzantine emperors had been pre-
occupied with throughout the tenth century: legislating against
the power of the magnates to buy up the land of the poor (Runciman, 1965: 83). A system of registration of titles was established.
It was hoped that the further illegal conversion of state-owned
lands into freehold property and then into vakif (religious foundation) property could be prevented by proper registration.
The transactions in land were largely dependent upon the permission of the authorities. It was especially legislated that one
individual could not hold the lands of an entire village. The clear
intention of the Code was to establish a form of peasant owner-
ship as against control of the land by the local notables, and
thus consolidate the power of the central government (Barkan,
1940: 376, 379-384; Davison, 1963: 99; Warriner, 1966: 73). Shaw
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and Shaw (1977: 115) arrive at the conclusion that a vigorous
application of the law would have indeed dispossessed many of
the new rural magnates in the countryside.'4
The 1864 VilAyet (Province) Law, too, aimed at promoting the
power of the center over the periphery. The Law was seen as a
means to extend to the provinces orderly and efficient administration. The scope of authority of the provincial governor was
increased. The center wished to use this new instrument to realize
the aims of the 1858 Land Code. While he was governor in
Baghdad, Midhat Pasha wanted to get land titles registered,
put land under state control, and by these means increase public
order as well as subject incomes to taxation. In 1871, the powers
of the provincial governor were further increased. The center
in the Ottoman Empire acted against the periphery without any
allies. It did so by extending itself. This is what distinguishes the
"real" centralism of the Ottomans from the "false" centralism
of the Tudors (Birtek, 1978: 151). This characteristic of the
Ottoman development also differentiates it from the experiences
of most other countries in that in the latter countries the accom-
modation of the landed interest with either the bourgeoisie or
the state constituted the central tidal flow of modernization
(Dennis, 1978: 185).
The local notables in the Ottoman society and polity were local
in the true sense of that word. Their wealth depended largely
upon their exploitation of the weaknesses of the center in the
localities. They were never able and/or interested in translating
their economic power into central political power. Thus they
could not, for instance, influence the center so as to have a more
favorable Land Code. Instead, to realize their aims they had
to find loopholes in the Code, bribe officials, and coerce the
peasants. Having to go through all these indirect channels is
costly and reflects a dependency relationship. It is difficult,
therefore, to accept the view that in the second part of the nine-
teenth century there developed an alliance between the old ruling
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families and the central government, let alone the view that the
elective councils were established as a response to the rising
significance of the local notables in the Ottoman polity. To use
Eisenstadt's nomenclature (1978: 75-77), the change that took
place was no more than segregative change. The newly constituted social strata, i.e., the local notables, did not come to im-
pinge directly on the center. These local notables tended not to
form well-articulated entities but rather were coopted by the
rulers into the existing political framework. The principles of
access to political power did not change. Coalescent change had
been alien to the Ottoman scene.
The tension between the center and the periphery was never
resolved by means of a compromise. If there was any agreement
at all, it was an implicit alliance of the local notables and some
members of the bureaucracy to exploit the resources of the state.
If some of the policies of the center eventually benefited the local
notables, it was unintentional. The center never doubted its
ability to implement the legal measures it took. Those measures,
however, were easily distorted. The goals of the center were
almost always displaced.
It is significant that the initiative for the reforms always came
from the center and from the Great Powers. The center's initiative
for these measures is usually given less than adequate attention
while that of the Great Powers is overemphasized. It should
not be forgotten that the policies of the center during the nineteenth century were not out of line with its traditional orientation
concerning the roles and functions in the Ottoman polity of the
state, the center, and the periphery.'5
This state of affairs was reflected in the social prestige of the
local notables, which was high only in the localities. Even there,
however, their prestige was dependent on the state. They had
prestige because they had access to the central authorities or
because they protected the people from the authorities. They
also amassed their wealth by exploiting the peasants through
the use of powers delegated to them by the state. In the eyes of
the center, they were always inferiors. Even in Russia, where the
aristocracy had entered into the service of the state, men in the
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top brackets of the military and the civil services thought of
themselves as members of the aristocracy (Blum, 1971: 350). In
Ottoman society, the prime source of prestige as well as authority
continued to be service to the state (Karal, 1947: 3). At the end
of the nineteenth century, the local notables were sending their
sons off to the Ottoman professional schools, and from there into
the civil or military service (Hourani, 1968: 65).
When one looks at Ottoman political development, particularly from the perspective of relations between the center and the
periphery, there is an unmistakable continuity from the classical
Ottoman period to the centuries of decline and into the nineteenth century. The Ottoman political culture has been closely
affected by the nature of this relationship, the most distinguishing
characteristic of which was an ever-present tension. This tension
produced suspicion, distrust, arbitrariness, and unethical ma-
neuvering. Anderson and Anderson's (1967: 236) observation
concerning an aspect of German political culture, which they
attribute to authoritarianism in that polity, is true for the Ottoman polity, too: "instead of accepting the utilitarian belief of
constituting each individual his own policeman, they regarded
law as a separate entity for the administration to apply and
enforce, not as a body of common rules to which all should
conform. They thought themselves entitled to outwit the bureaucracy if they could do so with impunity."
If there is any substance to the argument that in the Middle
Ages all the real advances made in independence of character,
safeguarding of rights, and limitations of force were due to the
role played by the hereditary aristocracy (Jouvenel, 1949: 319332), then one is obliged to take exception to Ziya G1kalp's
assertion (cited in Karpat, 1968: 79) that the local notables in
the Ottoman polity were instrumental in imbuing some people
with a feeling for freedom and dignity which undermined the
prevailing slavelike relations between the sultan and his subjects
and eventually prepared the ground for the idea of popular
sovereignty. How could a group, itself dependent, furnish an
example of successful struggle against absolutism? In fact, only
the opposite would be true. The Ottoman political scene was an
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appropriate ground for the development of the authoritarian
personality. It was assumed that the very existence of the realm
depended on the sultan's threat of punishment and that public
order would break down if the people did not live between fear
and hope (Heyd, 1973: 195). This authoritarianism must have
exacerbated the "feudal" relations between the local notables
and the peasants in Ottoman society.
Mardin (1973: 171) referred to the continuing tension between
the center and the periphery in the Ottoman polity when he noted
the former's traditional nervousness toward the latter. Its implications for the Ottoman and, for that matter, Turkish political
structure and culture, however, have not yet been adequately
analyzed. When they become the premises of social organization,
then arbitrariness, distrust, suspicion, and maneuvering sap
the energy of a society. This fact may go a long way to explain
Ottoman-Turkish underdevelopment above and beyond socioeconomic factors of internal and external varieties. In the light
of the Ottoman experience, Anderson's argument makes sense:
The determinant of the transcendent success of industrial de-
velopment in Europe, including its conquest of the rest of the
world, must be sought in the political and legal structures that
alone distinguished it (Anderson, 1974: 403).
As already noted, the change that took place on the Ottoman
polity was segregative. The political approach of the center
remained the same despite some changes in the periphery. Change
in the periphery itself was not evolutionary, let alone revolu-
tionary. At times it showed signs of involution: any weakening of
the central control led to maximum legal irresponsibility.
1. "Center" refers here to those groups which try to uphold the state's aut
supremacy in the polity; "periphery" refers to those who try to escape from the
of the state. These definitions are elaborated below.
2. Dates in parentheses here and below indicate the years the person reigned.
3. The following analysis focuses on the "home countries" of Anatolia and above
all Rumelia. lt was in Rumelia that the new Ottoman social system had been systematically implanted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and then expanded to the
Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Beyond Anatolia, however, the traditional
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land and taxation systems did not change much (Hourani, 1968: 46-54; Anderson, 1974:
368, 379; Shinder, 1978: 503).
4. On the potential for the development of an aristocracy in the early and later
Ottoman society, see Mardin (1967: 121-122).
5. On the other hand, the Turkish-Moslem groups were never effectively and com-
pletely barred from holding political positions (Itzkowitz, 1962). The old Turkis aristocracy under pressure sometimes opted for a new protected status. Thus, in central
Anatolia, in Beyiehir, the dynasty of Esref Ogullari found the stratagem of establishing
a religious trust to which the eldest son of the family was appointed trustee in perpetuity
(Mardin, 1967: 122).
6. The Ottoman land system resembled in this sense the situation in the Roman,
Incan, and Indian empires.
7. lt is revealing that the Ottomans called hiikUmet (government) those provincial
districts in the eastern borders of the empire. These were the districts that the capital
could not control closely (Yucel, 197'.: 669).
8. 6rfi Sultani refers to the will or command of the sultan as a secular ruler (Heyd,
1973: 169). According to Lybyer (1913: 152), it represents "the sovereign will of the reign-
ing sultan." The institution is similar to the Roman lex rather than the Romanjus, because
in matters of public law the Ottomans were in the habit of transforming the problems of
law into simple questions of administration. Even in the earlier Islamic states, the sov-
ereign in practice enjoyed virtually unlimited discretionary power to complete the sacred
law in matters directly affecting the state-above all, war, politics, taxation, and crime
(Schacht, 1964: 84-85). The Ottomans in addition maintained the earlier. Turkic-lranian
state traditions (Inalcik, 1958: 107); if the public interest or raison d'etat required it the
ruler could take measures that would conflict with the sacred law (Heyd, 1973: 192). Based
on the view that "God deters people [from transgression] through the ruler rather than
through the Kuran," the Ottoman rulers could pass more severe penalties in criminal
matters than the sacred law allowed (Heyd, 1973; Mumcu, 1963). Even after 1839, that is,
after the imperial decree which guaranteed immunity from arbitrary punishment, penalties were inflicted sivaseten, i.e., as an "administrative punishment" for administrative
or political reasons (Mumcu, 1963: 174). During the reign of AbdUlhamid 11 (1876-1909),
too, a grand vizier could reprimand the sheikhulislam if the matter under discussion was
political and not religious (Pakahn, 1940-1948: 335-337, cited in Alar!, 1976: 111). The
sultan's responsibility toward the religious law always remained ambiguous (Karal,
1947: 5).
9. The state and religion were considered to be one and the same entity: The state
was conceived to be the concrete manifestation of religion, while religion was viewed as
the substance of the state (Berkes, 1964: 6-7).
10. Shils (1965: 203) notes that the charismatic propensity is a function of the need
for order whether it be God's law or natural law or scientific law or positive law or the
society as a whole. or even a particular corporate body or institution. Whatever embodies,
expresses, or symbolizes the essence of an ordered cosmos or any significant sector thereof
awakens the disposition of awe and reverence.
1 1. On organization and work groups as socializing agents sometimes more dominant
than education and socioeconomic background, see Langton (1969: 144-159) and Almond
and Verba (1966: Ch. 12).
12. The center also issued adaletnames (justice decrees), and warned those who
abused their rights and exploited the people (Ozkaya, 1974).
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13. Even at the level of leading families the Ottoman social structure does not evince
alliances. Findley (forthcoming) draws attention to consistent inequalities between the
bride and bridegroom in Ottoman marriages.
14. Western legal concepts were only fully applied to land ownership without con-
ditions and stipulations for the first time in 1926 (inalcik, 1955: 226-227).
15. Theorists of peripheralization posed a paradigm with two elements: the industrial
metropole (Europe) aqd a dependent economy (Ottoman). (See inter alia Islamoglu and
Keyder, 1977.) 1 agree with Birtek (1978: 174) that in fact the paradigm constituted three
elements: the Ottoman political center, the Ottoman agricultural periphery, and the
industrial economies of Europe. I also find persuasive Birtek's argument that the political
center borrowed from the metropole in order to spend it on strengthening its own bureaucratic and administrative position (ibid., loc. cit.).
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Metin Heper is Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at
Bogazic,i University, Istanbul. Professor Heper has published seven books in Turkey, and
contributed to such collective works and journals as Public Administration Training
for the Less Developed Countries, Planning the Development of Universities-111,
Charisma and Political Idolatry in the Twentieth CenturY', International Journal of
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Middle East Studies, Middle East Journal, International Social Science Journal, Journal
of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Asian andAfirican Studies, forthcoming, and
Administration and Society, forthcoming. Professor Heper has been a visiting professor
at the Southwest Texas State University, and a research associate at Harvard University.
Presently, he is a research associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His address
is: Social Sciences Department, Bogazici University, P. K. 2 Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey.
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