Ground­work for the pe­riod of trans­for­ma­tions

Turkish Review - - REVIEWS - ASST. PROF. KAHRA­MAN ŞAKUL

Turk­ish public opin­ion cel­e­brates Sultan Se­lim III as one of the great­est re­form­ers in Ot­toman history. The tragic as­sas­si­na­tion of an al­tru­is­tic sultan as nar­rated in history text­books surely has some­thing to do with his pop­u­lar im­age. Un­like many other great re­form­ers (say, Peter the Great or Mah­mud II) he never was a cruel and un­com­pro­mis­ing au­to­crat -so the story goes. On the con­trary; an in­ven­tive mu­si­cian and ac­com­plished poet, he was a sen­si­tive and re­fined man. The hor­ri­ble demise of such a man at the hand of ig­no­rant fa­nat­ics has aroused much sym­pa­thy for him. This ide­al­ized im­age of a self­less re­former was an in­ven­tion of 19th cen­tury Ot­toman in­tel­lec­tu­als. Başaran takes is­sue with this ex­clu­sively af­fir­ma­tive ap­proach to history of Ot­toman re­forms, like many his­to­ri­ans of her gen­er­a­tion. She chooses to fo­cus on the first three years of Se­lim’s reign to un­der­line his pol­icy of so­cial con­trol and polic­ing in İs­tan­bul, which, she ar­gues, was based on a com­bi­na­tion of con­ser­va­tive and novel ap­proaches.

How to un­der­stand the tran­si­tion to moder­nity with­out re­sort­ing to the “de­cline” par­a­digm? This is the over­ar­ch­ing ques­tion of the book. The au­thor sees a neat pos­si­bil­ity in Se­lim’s poli­cies con­cern­ing public or­der and se­cu­rity as well as his mea­sures against the per­ceived threat of im­mi­grants.

The book opens with a short in­tro­duc­tion that lays out the plan of the book and ex­am­ines the theme in four chap­ters. It is sup­ported by a bib­li­og­ra­phy, a gen­eral in­dex, two ap­pen­dices about the shops, inns and trades in the south­ern Golden Horn, 15 ta­bles and six maps on pop­u­la­tion of İs­tan­bul as well as the dis­tri­bu­tion of (mil­i­tary) ti­tles and pro­fes­sions in the city and five il­lus­tra­tions of Sultan Se­lim III and sev­eral Janis­sary com­pa­nies with their dis­tinc­tive in­signias. The au­thor con­ducted orig­i­nal re­search in the Ot­toman Ar­chives and the Top­kapı Palace Ar­chives, both lo­cated in İs­tan­bul, as well as court records and a num­ber of Ot­toman chron­i­cles.

“The Eigh­teenth Cen­tury: Defin­ing the Cri­sis” (Ch. 2) is de­signed to give the frame­work to un­der­stand Ot­toman ur­ban poli­cies in İs­tan­bul in this cen­tury. Peren­nial con­cerns about sup­ply­ing the crowded city, main­tain­ing or­der, fires and epi­demics are ad­dressed in this chap­ter. The au­thor pro­vides the reader with the ad­min­is­tra­tive frame­work of polic­ing the city. There were var­i­ous func­tionar­ies in charge of main­tain­ing or­der in dif­fer­ent dis­tricts of İs­tan­bul; the chief gar­dener (the Top­kapı Palace, the Golden Horn-Karışdıran, the Bosporus, Şile and the Mar­mara shores as far as Yalova); head of the gun­ners (To­phane and Pera); the grand ad­mi­ral (Kasım­paşa, the left bank of the Golden Horn, Galata);

the chief ar­morer (Aya­so­fya, Ho­ca­paşa, Ahırkapı); and fi­nally the Janis­sary Agha (any­where that does not fall within the premise of the were im­por­tant fig­ures in polic­ing the city.

“Wartime Cri­sis and the New Or­der” (Ch. 3) fo­cuses on Sultan Se­lim’s will to re­store public or­der in 1789-1792, thereby cen­tral­iz­ing his per­sonal au­thor­ity. In many re­spects this young sultan did not dif­fer much from his pre­de­ces­sors in his poli­cies. The im­po­si­tion of sar­to­rial laws and sur­veil­lance over cof­fee­houses and wine shops are rem­i­nis­cent of pre­vi­ous eras. Se­lim III un­der­took a se­ries of leg­isla­tive re­forms part of which was the pro­hi­bi­tion of hand­ing pe­ti­tions di­rectly to the sultan. The au­thor views this as a clear break with the tra­di­tional un­der­stand­ing of jus­tice since it lim­ited sub­jects’

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