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Comparative Studies in Society and History 2012;54(4):770797. 0010-4175/12 $15.

00 # Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2012 doi:10.1017/S0010417512000412

The Politics of Taxation and the Armenian Question during the Late Ottoman Empire, 18761908
Atatrk Institute, Boazii University, Istanbul This paper is dedicated to the memory of Donald Quataert. This article explores the social and political context of the Ottoman Armenian massacres that took place during the reign of Sultan Abdlhamid II (1876 1908), with a focus on the empires tax regime. Although important research has been done on the massacres of 18941897, little attention has been paid to the role played by the tax regime and collection practices in preparing the context for increased state and communal violence in the six provinces (vilayat- sitte)Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Mamretlaziz, Sivas, and Diyarbekir where the majority of Ottoman Armenians lived. A significant literature does exist on the political consequences of an ill-administered tax system in the Balkan provinces during the early to mid-nineteenth century. In these provinces, where Greek, Serbian, and Bulgarian non-Muslims constituted a major segment of the population, a poorly functioning tax regime produced social discontent with a tendency to from time to time escalate towards political mobilization with nationalist overtones.1 In contrast, the Ottoman states administrative practices in Eastern Anatolia have as a whole received little attention from Ottoman political and social historians; tax collection, in particular, has rarely been presented as an important part of the larger context of the Armenian Question.2
Acknowledgments: I thank Cem Behar, Selim Deringil, and evket Pamuk for reading a previous draft and providing insightful comments. Thanks are due also to the anonymous CSSH reviewers. I am indebted to Tracy Lord for her assistance in bringing the text into Standard English. This article was supported by Boazii University Research Projects Fund, through project # 6009. 1 Halil nalck, Application of the Tanzimat and Its Social Effects, Archivum Ottomanicum 5 (1973): 99127. Ahmet Uzun, Tanzimat ve Sosyal Direniler (stanbul: Eren Yaynlar, 2002); Cokun akr, Tanzimat Dnemi Osmanl Maliyesi (stanbul: Kre Yaynlar, 2001); Abdllatif ener, Tanzimat Dnemi Osmanl Vergi Sistemi (stanbul: aret Yaynlar, 1990). 2 Donald Quataert, The Massacres of Ottoman Armenians and the Writing of Ottoman History, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 37, 2 (2006): 24959.




One is tempted to conclude that Ottoman economic and nancial historians are reluctant to consider tax collection as politics. With their focus on international trade, agricultural production, and foreign debt, they have given little notice to the scal situation of the Hamidian era, particularly to taxation. Linkages between the tax regime and the social and political catastrophe it helped to create in the eastern provinces have been missed. The present study examines tax collection as politics in the everyday realm, and in doing so seeks to bridge two different elds of history: scal history, and social and political history. This approach offers a new window on the political disturbances in the six provinces of the empire that were populated mostly by Armenians and Kurds. I argue that considering the tax system as an instance of state administrative practices at the quotidian level, rather than as a mere legal and institutional apparatus, can illuminate the complicated realities of the late Ottoman state and society, and the Armenian Question. My study draws from conceptualizations of state and politics developed within the anthropological literature on state formation. Since Philip Abrams rst brought to light the difculty of studying the state in 1977, a strong trend has emerged toward abandoning the state as a material object of study, either empirically or in the abstract.3 Abrams took the problem of the state very seriously, and was clearly inclined to study it as practice. For him, The state was not the reality which stands behind the mask of political practice. It is itself the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is.4 Abramss contribution emerged from his concern to nd alternative theoretical paths for demystifying the states structural appearance as a collection of institutional consolidations. Almost two decades later, Timothy Mitchell, elaborating on Abramss propositions, maintained that we should examine the state not as an actual structure, but as the powerful, apparently metaphysical effect of practices that make such structures appear to exist.5 Since the publication of Mitchells articles, historians and anthropologists have usefully pressed the state effect into service as an analytical tool for studying societies both historical and contemporary. These scholars ultimately question the feasibility of conceiving of the state as a unied political actor. Abrams argued, The state is the unied symbol of an actual disunity6; Mitchell went further to claim that it was no longer to be taken as essentially an actor, with the coherence, agency and autonomy this term presumes.7
3 Philip Abrams, Notes on the Difculty of Studying the State, Journal of Historical Sociology 1, 1 (1988): 5889, 122. 4 Ibid., 125. 5 Timothy Mitchell, Society, Economy, and the State Effect, in George Steinmetz, ed., State/ Culture: State-Formation after the Cultural Turn (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 7697, 89. 6 Philip Abrams, Notes on the Difculty, 124. 7 Timothy Mitchell, Society, Economy, 7697, 84.



More recently, the states time-honored manifestation as institutional consolidation and unied political actor has been further challenged by a group of anthropologists working on state formation.8 A kind of consensus has emerged that states do, indeedwe could say phenomenologicallyappear in particular institutional guises, but that much of this quality dissolves on close inspection.9 These scholars have explored how various bureaucratic technologies, such as acts performed in standardized and impersonalized ways, are key to the monolithic appearance of states and their institutions. In one example, Iver Neumann analyzes a foreign minister s speeches to reveal that though they present a singular voice they in fact represent many separate working components of government with varying agendas. Neumann succinctly shows how, It is the task of Norwegian Foreign Ministry, which by denition consists of widely different units, to join [them] together in a higher unity in such a way that the seams between them come to be as invisible as possible.10 These two anthropological insights serve as a theoretical inspiration for my analysis here of the Armenian Question in the context of the Ottoman tax regime: I treat the Ottoman state and its tax system not as a thing or an institution, but rather as administrative practices felt in the daily lives of state subjects. My intent is to demystify the states appearance as a unied actor. I will argue that the Ottoman state during the Hamidian era can usefully be conceived not so much as an institutional structure but rather as practices in the realm of the everyday. Of these practices, tax collection offers a most compelling example due to its broad social and political implications. An appreciation of the complex social and political life in the eastern provinces of the empire, with its almost dizzying diversity of social and political actors, makes it hard to sustain a picture of the state as a single-minded actor orchestrating events that culminated in the Armenian massacres. Abrams would say that the Hamidian state of this period should be seen as the unied symbol of an actual disunity, that the ostensibly omnipresent and omnipotent Hamidian state is a mask that disguises the full complexity of political practice in the Armenian provinces. We need to lift an edge of this mask. I contend that when we do so we nd that the tax regime, including new collecting methods introduced during the 1890s, as experienced in the everyday life of the peasantry, tells

8 See articles in Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, eds., State Formation: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2005). 9 Penelope Harvey, The Materiality of State Effects: An Ethnography of a Road in the Peruvian Andes, in Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, eds., State Formation: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2005), 12341. 10 Iver B. Neumann, A Speech that the Entire Ministry may Stand For: On Generating State Voice, in Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, eds., State Formation: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2005), 195211.



us much about the nature of the Ottoman state and the political society it represented. Doing so elucidates the Ottoman state by spotlighting the state presence, and also reveals critical weaknesses in its administrative infrastructure and the limited possibilities for effective political control that resulted. The states material presence was felt everywhere in the eastern provinces, yet I will show that its instrumental power was far from hegemonic. In the late Ottoman context, government elites lacked, above all, the nancial means to create their vision of a manageable apparatus; day-to-day tax collection remained a complex and hazardous site in which social and political actors negotiated relationships among themselves and with the government on a chronically ad hoc basis. These negotiations were not always peaceablethey were frequently accompanied by state terror and communal violence. In seeking to explain these dynamics, it is not very helpful to draw a distinction between a government based on the rule of law and one often resorting to state terror in condoning communal violence as tool of government. That is because in the Armenian and Kurdish provinces these two propensities coexisted and intermingled. The Ottoman situation in these provinces reminds one of the intimate connections between chaos and order that Zygmunt Bauman so eloquently formulated: Order-making tends to be undertaken in the name of ghting the chaos. But there would be no chaos were there no ordering intention already in place. Chaos is born as a non-value, an exception. Ordering is its birthplace.11 In the present case, the Hamidian regimes very attempts to bring its order to the provinces as essential for systematic tax collection only exacerbated existing social and political antagonisms, state terror, abuses, and massacres. Against the anthropological approaches to state formation just summarized, Ottoman historiography has a deeply rooted tendency to conceptualize the state as a concrete political body and unied public actor. Historians are reluctant to identify fracture lines among the political elite, or even within different social and political groups. They tend to overlook the fact that concepts like the Ottoman political elite and the Ottoman bureaucracy are abstractions that mask a multitude of opinions, and this blind spot is particularly apparent in studies of the history of eastern provinces and the Armenian Question. Historians have been inclined to take on faith a Hamidian state as a supreme and ever-present political actor that orchestrated in ne detail events that led to the Armenian massacres. They have tended to construct narratives

11 Zygmunt Bauman, The Fate of Humanity in the Post-Trinitarian World, International Political Science Review 25, 3 (2002): 28196; quoted in Ana M. Alonso, Sovereignty, the Spatial Politics of Security, and Gender: Looking North and South from the US-Mexico Border, in Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, eds., State Formation: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2005), 2752, 31.



using a simplied and abstract set of agentsthe state, the Kurds, the Armenians, the European powerswhich leave little room for either contingency or the variety of actual social and political motivations. In examining those policies of the Hamidian regime that contributed to social and political upheaval in the lives of ordinary peasant subjects, one cannot deny the logistical difculty of studying the local and the everyday without relying, to some extent and by default, on an abbreviated view of the state as a more or less solid and integrated political actor. Still we must resist the temptation to view governmental institutions and organs such as the cabinet and ministries, and departments of state such as the police, gendarmerie, and tax agencies, as possessing agency integrated with and subsumed within the state. Prompted by the aforementioned anthropological insights, we can instead study the state through its particular concrete and material effects in peoples lives. Tax collection lends itself well to this approach, and gives us a glimpse behind the states structural facade. In what follows, I will rst briey comment on the scal and military pressures under which the nineteenth-century government labored, pressures that resulted in an increased tax burden for peasant cultivators and made the already abuse-prone system of tax collection still more brutal and oppressive. After reecting on the broad administrative reform scheme of 1894 and the new taxation apparatus it called for, I will turn to actual collections to explore the actual workings of this governmental institution. I will concentrate on daily encounters between the Armenian peasant taxpayers and the gamut of local actors ranging from the personnel of the new tax apparatus, to the gendarmerie, to the Kurdish tribal groups that were incorporated into the governments new domestic security forces.
T A X C O L L E C T I O N A N D G E N D A R M E R I E D U R I N G T H E T A N Z I M AT E R A ,

18391876 From the late eighteenth century onward, the Ottoman central administration experienced considerable pressure from its neighbors the Habsburgs and Czarist Russia, and later from European nations, particularly Great Britain and France. Ottoman Governments were compelled to direct substantial expenditures at creating a new army based on universal conscription and equipped with contemporary war technologies, and at maintaining these forces in the eld. This was in addition to its project of constructing a new administration and bureaucracy with the necessary ministries and departments. Prior to the nineteenth century, a large proportion of taxes levied in the provinces had tended to remain with the various intermediaries, especially urban notables. Indeed, the Ottoman state suffered a series of military defeats and the territorial dismemberment of the empire from the 1760s to the 1830s in large part because of the resulting scal shortfall. Short-term solutions introduced to overcome



scal constraints included borrowing in domestic and international markets and resorting to paper money.12 These instruments were useful for covering emergency war expenditures, in the short run, but events induced central government bureaucrats to undertake long-term structural reforms, particularly in the eld of taxation.13 The reforms, whose implementation began in the 1830s, were largely a response to these scal and military pressures. And the strengthening of the Ottoman central administration they brought about did lead to increased revenues over the nineteenth century. While revenue in the 1780s was only marginally higher than it had been as far back as the 1560s, between the 1780s and World War I it increased by more than fteen-fold due to growth in the states tax levying capacity.14 However, expenditures rose faster than revenue, and with the Crimean War the Ottoman Government was borrowing ever-larger sums from abroad to meet its military costs. During the nal quarter of the century these outlays increased to 50 percent of total revenue, and close to 40 percent of total government spending.15 The default of 18751876 and the introduction of nancial scrutiny by European creditors in 1881 put further pressure on the treasury. Under the terms of the governments 1881 agreement with its creditors, major revenue sources of the state were placed under European supervision, and throughout the reign of sultan Abdlhamid II it was expected to maintain large surpluses in order to guarantee continued orderly debt repayment. During this period, 25 to 30 percent of Ottoman expenditures were dedicated to the service of the public debt.16 The treasurys ever-escalating scal difculties inevitably led the central bureaucrats to turn to the peasant producers, who contributed by far the greatest portion of revenue, mainly through the agricultural tax (tithe), livestock tax, and other new taxes introduced in the nal decades of the century.17 During this era, though Ottoman administrators occasionally discussed aspirations for an equitable income tax, they could not realistically consider such a change because they were always desperate for funds to cover growing costs.18 The enduring and deepening nancial straits felt by governments
12 Veli Aydn, Osmanl Maliyesinde Bir Borlanma rnei Olarak Esham Uygulamas, in Trkler (Ankara: Yeni Trkiye Yaynlar, 2002), 34050. Ali Akyldz, Para Pul Oldu: Osmanlda Kat Para, Maliye ve Toplum (stanbul: letiim Yaynlar, 2003). 13 Yavuz Cezar, Osmanl Maliyesinde Bunalm ve Deiim Dnemi, XVII: Yzyldan Tanzimata Mal Tarih (stanbul: Alan Yaynclk, 1986). 14 K. Kvan Karaman and evket Pamuk, Ottoman State Finances in European Perspective, 15001914, Journal of Economic History 70, 3 (2010): 593629, 594. 15 Engin Deniz Akarl, The Problems of External Pressures, Power Struggles, and Budgetary Decits in Ottoman Politics under Abdlhamid II (18761909): Origins and Solutions (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1976), 19091. 16 Ibid., 182. 17 Ibid., 155. 18 On income tax, see Nadir zbek, Osmanl mparatorluunda Gelir Vergisi: 19031907 Tarihli Vergi-i ahsi Uygulamas, Tarih ve Toplum Yeni Yaklamlar 10 (2010): 4380.



brought devastating consequences for the rural population, small peasant producers, and tenant farmers. The very legitimacy of the political regime was put at risk when mass resistance to payment became the rule of the day, raising the specter of mobilization on tax issues spreading to all the provinces. Throughout the nineteenth century this double menace was accompanied by political turmoil in various regions of the empire, especially the Balkans and the Armenian and Kurdish provinces of the east, with different specics in each region. We have noted that the peasants of the empire suffered not only from an unjust taxation system, but also from the oppressive and corrupt manner in which taxes were collected, subject as this was to the unremitting greed of tax farmers and ofcials. In the Armenian and Kurdish provinces, records show numerous abuses of this sort. For one thing, the peasants there were now made responsible for a special tax (vergi-i mahsusa) paid to government agents, muhtars (village headmen), tax collectors, and the gendarmerie, while they continued to pay out customary taxes to local notables, mostly Kurdish tribal leaders, as well as the tithe to tax farmers. The tax farmer and the notable were often the same person. Accordingly, peasants were now subject to ill treatment at the hands of not only Kurdish notables and tribal leaders, as had long been true, but also Ottoman provincial administrators and security forces in the form of the gendarmerie or government tax collectors. Some details on amounts of taxes paid by the peasantry and the methods of their collection will be useful. We can classify the taxes into roughly four groups, three of which lay under the authority of government tax ofcials. The rst group consisted of mainly the special tax (that is, the house and property taxes) and military service exemption taxes. The second was tithes, and other taxes whose collection was granted by the government to private individuals. The third group was comprised of tithes and taxes which, when no buyers were found, were collected by government agents. The nal group consisted of an excise tax on the manufacture of wine and spirits. It is important to notice that of these four groups three were collected directly by government agents who fell under the jurisdiction of gendarmerie or civilian tax collectors. The vilayet (province) of Ankara will serve as an example of the proportions of total revenue brought in by each tax. For the fiscal year 187879, the first tax group (special tax and military exemptions) brought 131,874 piastres; the second (tithes whose collection was granted to private individuals), 49,540 piastres; the third (tithes collected by government agents), 114,351 piastres; and the fourth group (wine and spirits), brought in 11,299 piastres.19 These

19 FO, 424/106, no. 151, encl. 1, Report on the Population, Industries, Trade, Commerce, Agriculture, Public Works, Land Tenure, and Government of City and Province of Angora, Anatolia, by Vice-Consul Gatheral, Constantinople, 27 Oct. 1879: 30627. From 1844 to 1914 the exchange rate of the British pound was 110 Ottoman piastres. For the exchange rates, see evket Pamuk, A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 191.



figures for Ankara reveal that although the tax farming system remained, in principle, the system for tithe collecting, for this fiscal year government agents collected more than three-quarters of the total tax revenue. To provide a closer picture of taxes levied on peasants at the village level, we may consider two villages from the province of Diyarbekir, in 1905. Khoan, a village of 300 houses, was Kurdish, while Baghin, with 120 houses, was Armenian. Kurdish peasants from Khoan paid 15,000 piastres in tithes, 7,000 in property taxes, 3,000 in earnings/income taxes, and 4,000 in sheep and cattle taxes. The Armenian peasants of Baghin paid 5,600 piastres in tithes, 3,940 in property and earnings taxes, 3,250 in sheep and cattle taxes, and 16,183 in military exemption taxes.20 These gures reect only the ofcial record of taxes paid, and do not reect any sums powerful Kurdish tribal leaders collected, mostly by coercion or brute force. With such an oppressive regime of extraction, it is no surprise that tax delinquency became not the exception but the rule, making frequent intervention by security forces inevitable. Given the governments dependence on these tools for revenue collection, we can presume that the state came to be equated with a heavy-handed approach. The gendarmerie, which the Ottomans had initially named askir-i zaptiye, had been regularly employed to collect taxes since its creation in the mid-1840s.21 The limited infrastructural capacity of the Ottoman state, reflected in its dependency on security forces for tax collection, also found expression in legal documents. One of these is an 1869 regulation that defined the functions and organizational schema of the gendarmerie. It stipulated a double mission for them: to maintain law and order, and to ensure tax collection.22 The regulation did no more than bring the gendarmerie under the command of local administrators, and authorized the latter to employ regiments in tax collection when necessary. It seems that, for the government, establishing law and order in the countryside primarily meant securing the extraction of revenue from the peasantry. Even with this continued dependence on the police, one should not underestimate the governments attempts to establish a new civil system. Ottoman archival sources suggest that, starting in the early 1860s, central government bureaucrats tried to separate the two functions of the gendarmerie and create a new corpsinterestingly named police ( polis)dedicated to

20 FO, 424/210, no. 77, encl. 3, Taxes Paid by Certain Five Villages in the District of Diarbekir. Diarbekir, 28 Aug. 1906: 97. 21 For a detailed history of the Ottoman gendarmerie, see Nadir zbek, Policing the Countryside: Gendarmes of the Late-Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire (18761908), International Journal of Middle East Studies 40, 1 (2008): 4767; Nadir zbek, Osmanl mparatorluunda Gvenlik, Siyaset ve Devlet, 18761909, Trklk Aratrmalar Dergisi, 16 (2004): 5995; Ali Snmez, Zaptiye Tekiltnn Kuruluu ve Geliimi (PhD diss., Ankara niversitesi, 2005). 22 BOA, Nizamat- dare-i Zabtiye/, 1286.03.11/21 Haziran 1869.



tax collection alone.23 This program was first implemented in the Balkan provinces, where political disturbances could on occasion escalate into open riots with nationalist and separatist implications. In these provinces, the absence of a civil tax collection interface and the frequent resort to the gendarmerie for collections had the potential to turn the course of events in an undesirable direction.24 The rst attempts to implement the new system, in the province of Ni in 1863, made it obvious that the central government lacked the nancial resources it would require. The plan was pushed ahead anyway, which had the effect of limiting provincial administrators options. For example, the governor of Ni had to transfer a number of men from the gendarmerie to tax collection, which could only result in a weaker security condition and was hardly advisable given the chaotic political situation.25 These early experiments with new tax collecting apparatuses eventually found legal expression in the Provincial Administration Law of 1864.26 It reclassied functions previously assigned to the zaptiye corps under three headings, and required separate institutions for each: an urban police force, a gendarmerie, and a tax collection division. The goal, again, was to end the gendarmeries involvement in tax collecting and thus do away with the militaristic approach to it.27 However, it is one thing to propose such a scheme and quite another to put it into practice. That the treasury lacked the funds necessary for a new collection service is illustrated by the case of Aleppo province under the governorship of Cevdet Pasha, a particularly influential individual of the Tanzimat era. Lacking financial support from the capital, Cevdet Pasha followed a path similar to that of the governor of Ni; he restructured the zaptiye corps in order to produce savings that he then used to finance a separate tax collection corps.28 In sum, despite all of these efforts in the 1860s, achievements on the ground were extremely limited. Nonetheless, the objectives behind these efforts remained on government agendas through the 1870s and beyond. To this end, in 1871 the government increased the scope of the regulation that

BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 262/100, 1279.11.21 (10 Mays 1863). For the popular unrest resulting from issues related to taxation, see Halil nalck, Application of the Tanzimat; and Ahmet Uzun, Tanzimat ve Sosyal. 25 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 277/15, 1280.04.03 (17 Eyll 1863). For the details of this experiment in Ni, see Nadir zbek, Abdlhamid Rejimi, Vergi Tahsildarl ve Siyaset, 18761908, Dou Bat 52 (2010): 15997. 26 BOA, Vilayet Nizamnmesi/, 1280.06.07/26 Terin-i Evvel 1280/7 Kasm 1864. 27 BOA, .MVL, 559/25160, 1283.05.09 (19 Eyll 1866); BOA, .MVL, 560/25166, 1283.05.09 (19 Eyll 1866). For example, Cevdet Pasha prepared a regulation dening the functions and organizational schema of the tax collecting apparatus. 28 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 277/15, 1280.04.03 (17 Eyll 1863).
23 24



Cevdet Pasha had prepared for the province of Aleppo in 1866.29 Four years later, in 1875, the government issued yet another regulation that demonstrated again its rm resolve in the matter.30 This would not be the end of the story, however. Throughout the nal quarter of the century, the Ottoman Government published successive regulations and directives on tax collectionin 1879, 1886, 1894, 1896, and nally 1902all of them attempts to revise tax apportionment and collection methods.31 In the eastern provinces, these were intended to be part of a reform process aimed at alleviating the social and political problems of the Armenian population, though the Hamidian government was careful to give the process a broad scope and generality so it would not appear to be locally oriented or targeted at Armenians. Examination of the successive regulations reveals a government earnestly trying to resolve the dilemma between its desire for a civil tax collection system and the nancial challenges it faced.32 For example, the regulation of 1879, issued just after the Treaty of Berlin, had ambitious content, and stressed the need for a separate civilian tax collection corps. With the regulations of 1886 and 1894, though, the government took a step backward when it again became possible to employ the gendarmerie as collectors. Two years later, the 1896 directive was issued to resolve the problem once and for all, and the 1902 regulation went further still, calling for new apportioning and collection methods that it was hoped would make tax collection the basis for a new, more amicable relationship between the state and the people. Of course, issuing regulations and directives is no guarantee of their enforceability. Real steps toward a civilian tax collection system had to wait until administrative reforms were put into place in 1896, and even after that the governments achievements were far from impressive. During this era, provincial governors continued to resort to having the gendarmerie and even regular army units collect taxes. Tanzimat bureaucrats were aware that their failure to create a more humane system threatened to erode taxpaying subjects loyalty to the government. In the eastern provinces during the post-Berlin Congress era these scal and administrative problems entwined with broader social and economic issues, and gave birth to the Armenian Question.

29 BOA, Emval-i Miriye Tahsilat in stihdam Olunacak Tahsildarlarn Sfat ve Hareketleri ve Vezaif-i Memuriyetleri Hakknda Talimattr/, 1288.02.05/26 Nisan 1871. 30 BOA, Tahsil-i Emval-i Miriye Hakknda Talimat/, 1292.03.25/1 Mays 1875. 31 BOA, Emval-i Miriye Tahsilat in stihdam Olunacak Tahsildarlarn Sfat ve Hareketleri ve Vezaif-i Memuriyetleri Hakknda Talimattr/, 1288.02.05/26 Nisan 1871; BOA, Tahsil-i Emval-i Miriye Hakknda Talimat/, 1292.03.25/1 Mays 1875; BOA, Tahsil-i Emval Nizamnmesi/, 1296.11.25/10 Kasm 1879; BOA, Tahsil-i Emval Nizamnamesi/, 1304.01.19/6 Terin-i Evvel 1302/18 Ekim 1886; BOA, Tahsil-i Emval Nizamnamesi/, 1311.08.01/26 Kanun-i Sani 1311/7 ubat 1894; BOA, Tahsil-i Emval Nizamnamesi/, 1319.12.08/05 Mart 1318/18 Mart 1902. 32 For a study on these regulations, see zbek, Abdlhamid Rejimi, 15997.





Following the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, the issue of administrative reform in the eastern provinces, particularly those that employed the gendarmerie as tax collectors, began to attract international attention. The European powers had embarked on a new strategy of exploiting the leverage offered by these issues to further their various interests vis--vis the Ottoman Government. Despite these pressures, the Ottoman Government, starting with the Treaty of Berlin and lasting into the early 1890s, did its best to deect any possibility of the eastern provinces being awarded a special status, since that might lead to demands for Armenian political autonomy or even independence. This is why the government consistently played down any regional aspects of the reform program and insisted that it had an empire-wide content and structure.33 Following the Sason massacre of 1894, and the Zeytun uprising and other massacres that occurred in various provinces in 18951896, the European powers increased pressure on the Ottomans to act in accordance with the Treaty of Berlin. In response, the Hamidian government announced a reform scheme (slahat layihas) for the six provinces of Eastern Anatolia.34 On 27 June 1895, Ahmet akir Pasha was appointed inspector general and made responsible for implementing the reforms. On 22 September 1896, the government prepared another reform package to be carried out across the empire, with the exception of Hejaz. However, these efforts failed to divert the European powers attentions from the social and political problems of the eastern provinces. Since the Armenian peasants considered the gendarmes principle agents of their oppression, the 1896 reforms gave prominence to reorganizing the gendarmerie and detaching it from taxation, and Article 30 forbade once and for all using them as collectors. In order to sever that relationship, three arrangements were proposed: First, funds for tax collection currently in the gendarmerie budget were to be transferred to the Ministry of Finance. Second, whereas in the previous system new collectors had been placed under local gendarmerie commanders, now provincial civil administrators would supervise them. Third, the reforms forbade new tax collectors from using badges, uniforms, or titles that might evoke the collections previous military character. For instance, whereas in the old system district tax collectors had been titled tax collector sergeants (tahsildar avuu) they would now be called chief tax
33 For details of the administrative reform program in the eastern provinces, see Musa amaz, British Policy and the Application of Reforms for the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia (Ankara: Trk Tarih Kurumu, 2000); Ali Karaca, Anadolu Islahat ve Ahmet akir Paa, 18381899 (stanbul: Eren Yaynclk, 1993). 34 For the text of the reform scheme, see Ali Karaca, Anadolu Islahat, 21722.



collectors (tahsildarba).35 Nonetheless, even the new regulation classified collectors as part of the gendarmerie, which seems to contradict the spirit of the reform. Ahmet akir Pasha prepared amendments, including thirteen articles, meant to rectify the problematic aspects of the 1894 regulation.36 The civil system that the Reform Commission under Ahmet akir Pasha sought to put in place in the eastern provinces appears modest in terms of scope and budget. The total number of men to be employed in the six provinces was 567, with 88 each in Erzurum and Mamuretlaziz, 87 in Diyarbekir, 81 in Bitlis, 155 in Sivas, and 68 in Van.37 Funding for the new organization totaled 1.670.520 piastres. The previous allocation for gendarmerie collectors had been only 503.416 piastres.38 However, the akir Pasha Commission faced an important problem regarding the monthly salaries for collectors, who traveled either on foot and on horseback. The salary schedule allocated 150 piastres for the former and 250 for the latter; the Reform Inspection Commission (Islahat Tefti Komisyonu) of the Ministry of the Interior in Istanbul found this inadequate and raised their salaries to 200 and 300 piastres, respectively. Yet the Ministry of Finance had already allocated funds according to akir Pashas schedule, and was reluctant to give more. One solution discussed was to decrease the number of collectors to match the smaller budget, an option that would handicap effective tax collection on the ground. The Reform Commission and provincial governors encountered many difculties in their attempts to implement the reform. The cases of Erzurum, Mamuretlaziz, and Sivas are indicative. The governor of Erzurum reported by telegram on 28 March 1897 that with the funds provided they were able to hire only seventy-eight collectors.39 akir Pasha had envisioned eighty-eight men for Erzurum, but the governor argued that, given the size of the province, ninety-six collectors were neededhe asked for money to hire eighteen more. As might be expected, the central government failed to produce the necessary funds and so the governor proposed the transfer of eighteen gendarmes into the collection team as an interim solution. This agrantly contradicted both the letter and the spirit of the reform, and the government rejected his proposal. So the governor instead reduced the salaries to 155 and 260 piastres, which enabled him to hire ten more men for the unit. The governor of Sivas struggled with similar problems, and complained to akir Pasha about the size of his team. He, too, said the prescribed 155 men would be insufcient for effective collection in his vast province. Following
35 BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 8/62, 1314.11.18 (20 Nisan 1897); BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 12/29, 1315.02.24 (25 Temmuz 1897). 36 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 679/25, 1314.06.07 (13 Kasm 1896); BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 4/41, 1314.07.08 (13 Aralk 1896). 37 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 679/25, 1314.06.07 (13 Kasm 1896). 38 Ibid. 39 Ibid.



the Erzurum governor s example, he proposed to reduce salaries to allow him to hire additional collectors. The same situation was repeated in the province of Mamuretlaziz, where eighty-eight men had been hired. Additional funds were needed to increase collectors salaries as required by the Ministry of the Interior. The governor and provincial administrative council complained bitterly that the collectors workload far exceeded their capacityin one example, a single collector was responsible for the taxes of more than forty villages. Such an undermanned crew could hardly be expected to collect properly. The governor requested fteen more collectors and funding for their expenses. While the situations in Diyarbekir and Bitlis resembled that of the three provinces just mentioned, Van was quite different. In this province Kurdish tribes located in the border region with Iran had maintained an ad hoc autonomous status. In this and other provinces with similar characteristics it was difcult, if not impossible, to carry out modern censuses of populations and wealth and collect taxes accordingly.40 When the reform program was launched in Van, a dispute arose over the number of collectors to be hired and their salaries. As in other provinces, the central government called for an increase in salaries but failed to send additional funds, at which point provincial administrators either reduced salaries to allow hiring more collectors or requested assistance from gendarmerie and regular military regiments. The latter occurred in districts of Van where Kurdish tribes were powerful.41 The Inspection Commission (Tesri-i Muamelat Komisyonu) in Istanbul initially opposed this option, but after an exchange of reports a compromise was reached and the temporary use of military units was allowed, though only in those districts where the tribes were relatively powerful.42 The case of Van, where the Ottoman Government was incapable of collecting taxes without the military, sheds light on its limited capacity. There was little doubt that, with its meager budget and insufficient personnel, the new tax collection apparatus launched in the six provinces would find it hard to fulfill its allotted task. The ill treatment of Armenian peasant farmers in the eastern provinces by Ottoman tax collectors, whether they were gendarmes or the new civilian collectors, was only one piece of a larger story. As we have seen, government collectors were mainly responsible for collecting the special tax, which included the property and the military exemption taxes, and they also handled

40 For a detailed discussion of the provinces on the Iranian border, see Sabri Ate, Empires at the Margin: Towards a History of the Ottoman-Iranian Borderland and the Borderland Peoples, 18431881 (PhD diss., New York University, 2006). 41 BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 7/42, 1314.09.25 (27 ubat 1897); BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 681/3, 1314.09.30 (4 Mart 1897). 42 The situation was no different in the provinces of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra, where Arab tribal forces had complete control over local politics. For details on these provinces, see Nadir zbek, Abdlhamid Rejimi, Vergi Tahsildarl ve Siyaset, 18761908, Dou Bat 52 (2010): 15997.



tithe-collecting positions that failed to nd private buyers. Yet an important portion of the tithe was still being farmed out to private individuals, in addition to which powerful Kurdish tribal leaders and notables continued to impose their own customary taxes upon peasants in villages under their control. Therefore, any serious attempt to alleviate peasant oppression was going to require special attention to the problems caused by a system in which the tax farmers were mostly Kurdish notables, and after 1890, often leaders of Hamidian Light Cavalry regiments. In his many reports from the region, Ahmet akir Pasha cited problems caused by tithe farming and drafted various schemes to solve them. He argued strongly that improprieties in tithe collection not only cut into treasury revenues but also and more importantly blighted the relationship between the government and the peasantssystematic tax farming reform was essential to restore the governments legitimacy in the eyes of peasants.43 With this understanding, Ahmet akir Pasha encouraged peasants to seek tax-farming rights within their own villages. This was an important proposition, particularly for the eastern provinces where bringing the system under control faced such great challenges. His approach brought promising results in villages of the Merzifon and Gmhacky subdistricts, even attracting the attention of peasants in nearby villages who requested similar arrangements.44 Signicantly, akir Pashas experiments in the eastern provinces would inspire and inuence the content of the 1902 tax regulation, which brought a long-awaited breath of fresh air to the Ottoman tax regime. Although creating a civil system and eliminating the military approach to tax collection seems to have been Ahmet akir Pashas major concern, he took other steps as well. For example, he tried to improve methods of tax assessment and apportionment within village communities and to reduce the role of village muhtars, who were often responsible for unjust tax levying. In the system akir Pasha proposed and partially tested in some districts, local branches of the treasury, rather than muhtars, were responsible for apportioning tax within villages. Each taxpayer was given a certificate prepared by the local treasury offices, and they would be liable only to the state, not to any intermediary agent. Though most of Ahmet akir Pashas efforts to restructure tax collection were stipulated by the 1896 reforms, others reached beyond it and aimed to alleviate the distress of Armenian and Kurdish peasants by stopping their mistreatment by tax farmers and collectors and the gendarmerie. In so doing, he sought to create face-to-face relationships between the state and the peasants and thus earn the government legitimacy.45 Yet the governments priority of
43 Engin Deniz Akarl, The Problems of External Pressures, Power Struggles, and Budgetary Decits in Ottoman Politics under Abdlhamid II (18761909): Origins and Solutions (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1976), 16468. 44 Ali Karaca, Anadolu Islahat, 11213. 45 I borrow the phrase from Yani Kotsonis; see his Face-to-Face: The State, the Individual, and the Citizen in Russian Taxation, Slavic Review 63, 2 (2004): 22146.



security concerns, its nancial constraints, and the need to increase revenue at all costs together conspired to hobble attempts at developing the sort of peaceful relationship akir Pasha envisioned. In incorporating Kurdish tribal forces within the Hamidiye Light Cavalry regiments, the Hamidian regime appears to have approached the problem from a narrow domestic security perspective.46 The government also looked to the Circassian immigrant communities recently settled in the region as a source of manpower for gendarmerie regiments. There is much archival evidence of atrocities committed by regiments manned mostly by these immigrants, in the eastern provinces and other parts of the empire. What is more, Hamidian governments generally shut their ears to the grievances of the local people, and answered protests and riots that were often tax-related with blunt repression. Through such actions the regime lost legitimacy in the eyes of the peasant masses. During the 1890s, events in the region spiraled toward increasing state terror and communal violence. In this context, Ahmet akir Pashas reforms seemed to present the regime with a more pacic alternative, but as I will detail below, in practice even the shift from gendarmerie to civil collection failed to bring signicant changes to the lives of poor Armenian and Kurdish peasants. During this period the governments overriding security concerns colored most of their policy choices, which increasingly led the region toward political chaos and instability.


In the years following the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, grievances over taxation, for so long a cause of unhappiness among both Kurdish and Armenian peasant communities, only increased as terror and injustice were visited upon the population by an assortment of public and civilian actors, government tax collectors, private tax farmers, and Kurdish notables. Ahmet akir Pashas new tax collecting system, far from providing relief, produced more oppression and abuse. If we examine the practices of government taxation agents after the 1896 reforms, we nd the government made little effort to win the hearts of its subjects. Even with the new non-gendarmerie personnel in charge of collections, peasants continued to suffer injustice, and many archival documents reveal a growing callousness and worse among collectors. In one case, an Armenian woman from Hamzaeyh, a village in the subdistrict of Bulank in the province
46 The Hamidiye regiments were conceived as an irregular force on the Russian Cossack model. For more on this, see Selim Deringil, From Ottoman to Turk: Self-Image and Social Engineering in Turkey, in Dru C. Gladney, ed., Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and the United States (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 21726. See also, Janet Klein, Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011).



of Bitlis, died after a severe beating by tax collectors. Ironically, the government in Istanbul learned of this incident through the British Embassy, which telegraphed the news from the British consul in Bitlis. The Interior Ministry responded with a ciphered telegram to the governor of Bitlis ordering an immediate investigation.47 It appears that deaths caused by tax collector brutality were not rare. One document reports that another Armenian woman, Elmas, from the village of Komes in the Mu district of Bitlis province, died after a brutal beating by collector Abdullah the Arab and his acquaintances. Armenian villagers complaints about this cruelty were brought to the governments attention on 10 April 1902 in a petition of the Armenian Patriarchate, which detailed Elmass case. The government established a commission in Mu to investigate, but even this failed to curb abuses by collectors and their gendarmerie escorts, and so the complaints continued. The Istanbul government, particularly the Prime Ministry, appeared to take this matter seriously indeed, and ordered the Interior Ministry to request immediate intervention, prevent ill-treatment of peasant taxpayers at all cost, and punish offenders. The ministry responded with a telegram to the governor of Bitlis on 23 April 1902 that reminded him of the new regulation prohibiting the use of the gendarmerie in tax collection, and stressed that the poor treatment of taxpayers was unacceptable. Then, however, the Inspection Commission in Istanbul forwarded to the prime minister s ofce a district governor s telegram that explained that the allegations against Corporal Abdullah had not been veried. The district governor had sent a medical inspection committee to the village and its report stated that the cause of Elmass death was not assault but pneumonia. The report further said that the governor later sent a second investigative committee that once again refuted the allegations. Despite the governments initial actions, one cannot fail to notice that its responses to Armenian complaints were ultimately passive. It sent no commission of its own, but rather left investigations to the very local administrators who had been accused of abusing peasant taxpayers. One is hardly surprised that the inspection committee exonerated the culprits.48 Archival documents show that even in the Eastern Anatolian provinces where reforms were implemented the peasantry found little relief from cruelties perpetrated by government tax collectors. One le in the prime ministry archive holds Turkish translations of telegrams sent by local British consuls after the massacres of 1895; dated between 8 August 1895 and 5 September 1896, they graphically describe atrocities carried out in villages of Harput subdistrict in Mamuretlaziz province.49
47 48 49

BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 621/1, 1315.09.15 (7 ubat 1898). BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 37/23, 1320.01.14 (23 Nisan 1902). BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 659/1, 1314.04.11 (19 Eyll 1896).



For example, a telegram of 8 August 1895 reported that in the villages of Sason and Mu gendarmerie regiments were collecting taxes as they had before the reform, and were subjecting men, women, and even children to various mistreatments. Tax collectors forcibly entered peasant homes, and to extract restitution for unpaid taxes they would seize household items and have them sold cheaply in local markets. Another telegram of 19 August said the situation was continuing to deteriorate in the villages of Mu and on the plains of Havran, where peasants were turned out of their beds in the middle of the night, dragged through muddy streets, and otherwise maltreated. The report blamed these atrocities on Lieutenant Reit Efendi of the provinces gendarmerie regiment. A week later, another telegram from the region reported that after villagers had led complaints against the collectors the latter became agitated and tried to exact revenge. It seems that in this case the government heeded the peasants pleas, since the British consul in Erzurum reported on 2 September that Lieutenant Reit Efendi and his collaborators had been dismissed. We learn from the British consuls telegrams that brutalities in Harput continued even after the disturbances of 18951896 had been brought under control. They show that villager complaints most often concerned violence they had suffered at the hands of collectors. In one example of 6 May 1896, government agents were reported to be demanding back taxes from villages where massacres had recently taken place and the people were said to be in desperate need of relief. In emikezek, collectors conscated the 3.000 piastres of relief money the central government had sent to help the victims of the massacres. When these allegations were veried, the central government took steps to ensure that the victims did receive the relief. Still, the collectors cruelties did not stop and a number of Armenian villagers, accompanied by the British consul, traveled to the governor to express their grievances and request immediate aid and a resolutionnamely, a postponement of their taxes until they had brought in their harvests. Local bureaucrats read their request as merely a tactic to avoid payment, and the provincial governor rejected it. Correspondence between various ministries and departments of state regarding the simple demands of the villagers reveals an ongoing and strenuous tug of war between provincial government agents and the peasant taxpayers.50 The correspondence concerning these incidents makes plain the attitude of the central government. First of all, the Interior Ministrys communications with the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister tended to deny allegations made against its local agents. They appear to have taken little notice of regional governors reports, and tried instead to show how orderly local ofcers were in carrying out collections and how rigorous they were in fullling the provisions
50 BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 6/117, 1314.09.06 (8 ubat 1897); BOA, DH.TMIK.S, 7/1, 1314.09.07 (9 ubat 1897).



of the reform and related regulations. Yet when these same Interior Ministry bureaucrats corresponded with provincial governors, their message was very different. For instance, they rmly reminded them how important the reform was and that local ofcers should strictly avoid antagonizing Armenian subjects.51 This double talk was not necessarily disingenuous, and it may simply indicate the limited capacity of Ottoman state to execute its own regulations in the provinces, or to establish the sort of just administrative system that would have helped secure the loyalty of its subjects. The collectors well-documented ruthlessness toward Armenian peasants obviously had something to do with ethnicity or religion. But at times the excessive conduct of collectors, gendarmes, and troops had more structural causes. The nancial realities of the empire meant that much of the time the collectors received little or no regular compensation; when traveling or stationed in the countryside while on duty they quartered with locals and were generally housed and fed at villagers expense. As required by law, they more or less regularly supplied receipts for what they received, though these generally recorded much less than what was actually provided and consumed. The ofcers and men demand the best of everything, reported one observer, and sometimes force the people even to give them money, and beat and otherwise ill-treat them if their demands are not complied with.52 On one occasion, reported the British consul from Diyarbekir, it took a tax collector and four gendarmes several days to collect 1,180 piastres of tax in the village of Kasil. Over this period the villagers had to feed the men and their horses, which cost them not less than 30 piastres a day, and they were also beaten. The consul reported that since beatings so regularly accompanied tax collection, the peasants feared by tradition that if they pay without being beaten one year, the government will ask more from them the next.53 The onerous costs villagers incurred from so often hosting parties of tax collecting ofcials, soldiers, and gendarmes was, it appears, an integral part of the Ottoman tax collection system.54 The situation of the peasants in all six provinces was further aggravated by a serious loss of population from emigration, the massacres, and related causes during the 1890s. When local ofcials calculated taxes for villages, they often ignored decreases in the numbers of households and taxpayers. For instance, in 1901 the village of Arkevank in the Mu plain consisted of twenty households,
51 For a detailed study of correspondences between the central government and the provincial governors, particularly the latters tendency to misinform the center as regards local social and political issues, see Abdlhamit Krmz, Abdlhamidin Valileri: Osmanl Vilayet daresi, 18951908 (stanbul: Klasik, 2007). 52 FO, 424/106, no. 13, encl. 10, report by Captain Clayton on reforms in Van, Van, 29 Nov. 1879: 3440, 38; FO, 424/210, no. 77, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Shipley to Sir N. OConor, Diarbekir, 28 Aug. 1906: 9495. 53 Ibid. 54 FO, 424/106, no. 78, encl. 1, Major Trotter to the Marquis of Salisbury, Diarbekir, 7 Jan. 1880: 16770.



a third of its former size, but taxes were still demanded for the original sixty residences, in essence tripling the inhabitants tax bills.55 This same situation was found in many districts, with sums exacted remaining the same, sometimes for years, despite taxpayers being fewer.56 Grievous abuses were also reported in the apportionment and collection of the special tax (vergi) mentioned earlier, which was a combination of property and income/earnings taxes. Property assessments of land and dwellings could swing far above or below their real value, and it was known that influential persons often falsified records.57 The over-taxation that resulted from such irregularities devastated the peasants since they were also liable for the substantial military exemption tax. And even that tax was sometimes assessed for far too many people because, as I have said, population losses were left out of calculations.58 Among the causes of the ever-more-oppressive tax burden on the peasantry one should also mention the havale (preference order) system, an instrument used by the Ottoman treasury. Regional British consuls reporting on financial matters frequently highlighted the havale system as one of the clumsiest they had ever encountered, and it was surely detrimental to provincial financial administration and proper governance.59 According to this system, the finance minister in Istanbul could issue preference orders that allowed a province to spend its revenue before it had been collected. Moreover, these were often issued even though a province already had significant budget deficits in most provinces, deficits were allowed to grow too far in excess of tax revenues. The only way for local officials to cover expenditures incurred by such preference orders was to increase local taxes by any means available. So far, we have seen the many ways in which tax collection provoked confrontation between government agents and the taxpaying peasantry. In these confrontations Armenian peasants used various tactics, some closer to passive resistance, others more active. It seems that in many cases peasants chose not to pay the taxes demanded, presumably since they considered them unjust. As documented in one British consular report, every demand met passive resistance, which was often successful, resulting each year in

FO, 424/202, no. 41, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Satow to Sir N. OConor, Van, 10 June 1901: 39


56 FO, 424/106, no. 194, encl. 2, Lt. Chermside to Sir A. H. Layard, Kharput, 5 Apr. 1880: 419 25, 422. 57 FO, 424/106, no. 246, encl. 1, memo by Lt.-Col. Wilson on Anatolia and necessary reforms, Therapia, 16 June 1880: 498510, 506. 58 FO, 424/91, no. 171, encl. 1, Lt. Chermside to Sir A. H. Layard. Tarsus, 26 Nov. 1879: 213 19, 218. 59 FO, 424/106, no. 89, encl. 9, Lt.-Col. Wilson to Sir A. H. Layard. Sivas, 7 Feb. 1880: 19192; FO, 424/106, no. 100, encl. 1, Report on General Administration of the Vilayet of Kastamuni, 17 Dec. 1879: 20921, 215; FO, 424/106, no. 146, encl. 11, Lt. Chermside to Lt.-Col. Wilson. Diarbekir, 9 Feb. 1880: 297300.



considerable tax delinquency.60 Yet we should be cautious about such explanations for delinquent or unpaid taxes; one reason for their ubiquity was surely that the taxes levied upon peasants were far higher than they could reasonably be expected to pay. Besides the passive resistance of refusing to remit taxes, there was a high incidence of petitioning, and peasants also resorted to secret meetings and street demonstrations. In a telegram that Aleppos commander in chief, Ferik Edhem Pasha, sent to Istanbul on 8 October 1895, he reported that Armenian peasants of Sveydiye and Ermeni villages in the Antakya district of the province had organized a clandestine meeting at which it was decided not to comply with the tax collectors demands.61 According to Pashas telegram, local members of the Armenian revolutionary organization Hnchak had played a role in this meeting. He believed that their aim was to provoke an incident that would increase European pressure on the Ottoman Government. According to intelligence gathered, a majority of the villagers expressed loyalty to the government, but also agreed to resist tax collection outright. About two hundred decided to take a still more aggressive stance toward Major Mehmet Ali Bey. Peasant tax revolts had been frequent in the region even before revolutionary organizations such as Hnchak had come into being and formed relationships with the villagers. For example, in 1893 Armenian peasants in Sason stood up to a gendarmerie regiment that had arrived to put down a revolt and the standoff was broken only when the regiment was reinforced with Kurdish tribal units.62 The Ottoman Governments inability to provide a workable alternative to police involvement in tax collections, together with over-taxation and the brutality of collectors, certainly contributed to peasants alienation from the state. Even after the reform program was put into practice, the government remained unable to protect peasants from abuse at the hands of the very government institutions the program was supposed to have reformed. Yet they were also oppressed by other institutions. The social and political situations in the eastern provinces during this period were so complex that it is often hard to distinguish the administrative actions of government agents from those of local and non-government actors, tax farmers, notables, and Kurdish tribal chiefs, especially since they often collaborated with them. We need to look more closely at these complex relationships and the blurred lines between public and private. To begin with, the tax farming system was an important source of wealth and power, and Kurdish tribal forces, particularly those belonging to the Hamidiye Light Cavalry regiments, were energetic in obtaining and defending their shares in the system. Many
FO, 424/106, no. 151, encl. 1, Report on the Population, 321. BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 646/3, 1313.04.19 (9 Ekim 1895). 62 Hans-Lukas Kieser, Iskalanm Bar: Dou Vilayetlerinde Misyonerlik, Etnik Kimlik ve Devlet, 18391938, Atilla Dirim, trans. (stanbul: letiim Yaynlar, 2005), 21112.
60 61



documents describe these regiments brutality as tax farmers. A case in point is the many complaints against one Mir Ali Bey, commander of a Hamidiye Regiment in the province of Sivas. This regiment was formed from members of the Karapapak tribe that had migrated from the Caucasus and settled in Sivas. The government had decreed that the regiments chiefs could serve as tax farmers only in villages inhabited by the Karapapak tribe. Local bureaucratsdistrict and province governors, military units or gendarmerie regiment commanders, and new tax collection personneloften formed working partnerships with inuential local power blocs, including chiefs of various tribal units, immigrant community leaders, cavalry regiment commanders, and tax farmers. One such relationship, between zzet Pasha, chief commander of the Diyarbakir gendarmerie unit, and Bedo Aa, an inuential gure from the zolu tribe of Karacada, exemplies shared responsibility for the mistreatment of the peasants. According to complaints led, the two used violence to extract large sums from the villagers. Bedo Aa was reported to have provided his men with Hamidiye Light Cavalry uniforms and directed them to plunder Armenian communities.63 From such examples, it is plain that tithe collection was an important source of wealth for notables. In addition to purchasing tithe collection rights from the government, notables and inuential individuals, including village headmen (muhtar) and also imams and other religious leaders (sheiks), took every opportunity to gain wealth and power at the expense of both Armenian and Kurdish peasants, and unpaid or delinquent taxes presented one such opportunity. A British consular report details incidences of robbery, bribery, and corruption in the collection of late taxes. Sometimes the sum demanded had already been paid over to the headman of a village several times, but instead of crediting these payments to the government, the official had kept the money for himself or given it to a supporter or influential person. In other cases, a notable would agree to pay a villages taxes on the understanding that he would reap some advantage, such as high interest rates (pushing peasants deeper into debt), or a monopoly on a locally produced or traded product.64 Another consular report recounts the story of a certain Sheikh Mehmed, a tithe-farmer of a small village named Khambelchur, in Bitlis, who had been allowed an entirely free hand in enriching himself through the customary methods so long as he contributed the necessary quotas to the treasury. The village presented five successive petitions to the governor asking for protection against this Sheik, all to no avail.65

BOA, Y.PRK.UM, 48/51, 1317.06.18 (24 Ekim 1899). FO, 424/106, no. 146, encl. 2, Captain Stewart to Sir A. H. Layard, Adalia, 8 Feb. 1880: 28688. 65 FO, 424/203, no. 90, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Freeman to Sir N. OConor, Bitlis, 7 June 1902: 9394.




Armenian villagers (and others) also suffered plunder and embezzlement in realms other than taxation.66 During the nal quarter of the century, the region, with other parts of the empire, witnessed what has been called a commercialization of the economy. With the Land Law of 1858, land increasingly became a major source of wealth, and property rights disputes and attempts by some to concentrate their land holdings became the focus of power struggles. In struggles for land, Kurdish tribes of the Hamidiye Light Cavalry regiments once again played a central role. Historians have recently emphasized the role of land appropriation in the unfolding of the Armenian Question.67 Here I want to highlight linkages between taxation, land ownership, and the role of Kurdish tribes, in the person of the aforementioned Sheikh Mehmed from Bitlis. According to a telegram sent by the British consul in Diyarbakir, on 25 August 1896, as villagers fell into tax indebtedness they were forced to sell their land to wealthy and powerful men. One such man was Sheikh Mehmed, who accumulated large tracts of land by exploiting peasants unable to pay their back taxes.68 Needless to say, the issue of land appropriation was very complex. For example, while a good part of the land in Palu appeared to belong to pious foundations, Kurdish tribal chiefs in the region sought to claim it and tried to expel Armenian peasants from lands they had customarily cultivated. In some cases tribal chiefs even demanded rent from Armenian villagers retroactively, for years past.69 While disputes over land rights were spiraling toward violence, the government in Istanbul did not sit idly by; there is evidence, though only a little, that it tried to check land expropriation by the Hamidiye Light Cavalry and the immigrant communities.70 Yet while the Istanbul government may have seemed eager to suppress such abuses, this was not the case in the eastern provinces, where there were many cases of ofcials and Kurdish notables joining forces to take control of local administrative bodies. During this period, Kurdish tribal leaders became large landowners and notables, and sought political power. They

66 The conversion of Armenians could also be considered in this context. See Selim Deringil, The Armenian Question Is Finally Closed: Mass Conversions of Armenians in Anatolia during the Hamidian Massacres of 18951897, Comparative Studies in Society and History 51, 2 (2009): 34471. 67 Stephen H. Astourian, The Silence of the Land: Agrarian Relations, Ethnicity, and Power, in Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Mge Gek, and Norman M. Naimark, eds., A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 5581. See also Klein, Margins of Empire, ch. 4, The Hamidiye and the Agrarian Question, 12869. 68 FO, 424/203, no. 90, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Freeman to Sir N. OConor, Bitlis, June 7, 1902: 9394. 69 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 659/1, 1314.04.11 (19 Eyll 1896). 70 BOA, A.MKT.MHM, 673/39, 1325.07.23 (1 Eyll 1907).



obtained title deeds for enormous tracts of land and pushed both Armenian and Kurdish peasant producers into tenancy relationships. As members of local administrative bodies, their public positions, when combined with their personal prestige, led government ofcers and particularly provincial governors to become their willing or unwilling instruments, or even partners in their misdeeds.71 The notables had access to tax farming rights, and they used these to provided tax and other forms of credit to tenant producers, thereby drawing them into debt relationships. They then claimed the villagers lands as their own and took whatever they liked from them in kind as rent.72 Furthermore, Kurdish tribal leaders demanded from the peasants a kind of protection tax in the form of an annual remittance of crops, cattle, agricultural implements, or textiles.73 Christopher Walker wrote, With the spread of government authority to the country areas, which always meant rst and foremost government taxation, these local exactions had not disappeared, so in many places the Armenians were being forced to pay double taxes.74 Kurdish nomadic tribes directed their aggression at not only the settled Armenian population but also other Kurdish communities, both settled and nomadic. Some historians have doubted that Kurds were so victimized,75 but the archives furnish considerable evidence that settled Kurdish peasants, too, were saddled with double taxation. It is also well known that intertribal rivalries and feuds were endemic to the region, and the Kurdish masses were not spared their effects. Almost all tribes at some point engaged in petty warfare internally or with neighbors,76 and there are many documented examples of nomadic tribes destroying Armenian and Kurdish villages.77 For example, British consuls reported that Mustafa Pasha of Botan seemed to be oppressing both Muslim and Christians without distinction.78 Kurdish tribal chiefs aggression towards Armenian villages was not due only or even mainly to their Armenian ethnicity. Most Armenian villages were under the de facto suzerainty of one of the tribal leaders, who were themselves in more or less continual conict and

71 FO, 424/91, no. 171, encl. 1, Lt. Chermside to Sir A. H. Layard 1. Tarsus, Nov. 26, 1879: 21319, 218. 72 FO, 424/91, no. 171, encl. 2, Lt. Chermside to Sir A. H. Layard, 2. Adana, 29 Nov. 1879: 21924, 222. 73 Astourian, Silence of the Land, 60. 74 Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (London: Routledge, 1991), 137. 75 Ibid., 130. 76 FO, 424/203, no. 11, encl. 1, Consul Lamb to Sir N. OConor. Erzeroum, 31 Dec. 1901: 12 13, 12. 77 FO, 424/203, no. 141, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Tyrrell to Sir N. OConor, Van, 7 Oct. 1902: 136 45, 141. 78 Ibid., 144.



attacked and plundered each other s villages, whether their residents were Armenians or Kurds.79 It is important, however, to avoid gross generalizations about Kurdish notables relations with Armenian peasants; there are examples of their granting them protection for a small tribute, after which the peasants were, as one consul observed, kept free from all the petty persecutions of the tax-gatherers and the billeting of soldiers and zaptiehs.80 Besides Kurdish tribal elements, another factor contributing to disorder and anarchy in the region was, as mentioned earlier, the Circassian immigrant communities that had been settled among the Armenian and Kurdish populations. The situation of these immigrant communities in respect to the political problems in eastern provinces was more complex than is reected in existing historiography. Circassians are generally portrayed as a group controlled by the government and employed to perform unpleasant or dishonest tasks from within the gendarmerie or as irregulars supporting the regular security forces against the Armenian population. Though there is some truth to this, the actual state of things was more complicated. Government circles often tried to use these groups to check disorder among the Kurdish tribal forces. Circassian immigrants were also subject to abuse by government ofcials. It is also true that, when some of these men were incorporated into the gendarmerie, mostly in ying battalions or as semi-military forces without proper supervision, they availed themselves of their position to rob and oppress both Armenians and Kurds.81 Reecting on the particularities of the situation in the eastern provinces means taking into account the varied preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of state ofcials, particularly those in the localities. One can get the impression from central government policy choices that an omnipotent and omnipresent Hamidian state was orchestrating events, according to detailed plans and strategies. This plan apparently called for the annihilation of the Armenian population, and included the use of Kurdish tribal forces and Circassian immigrants against them. However, the closer one gets to the true picture of everyday life in the region the more the Hamidian state takes on the qualities of a reication, one less helpful toward understanding the Armenian Question and its relation to the late Ottoman tax regime. For instance, there are denitely cases in which provincial governors and subdistrict-level administrators did their best to prevent the ill treatment of

79 FO, 424/203, no. 20, encl. 1, Report by Vice-Consul Anderson on the Vilayet of Diarbekir. Diarbekir, December quarter, 1901: 38. 80 FO, 424/206, no. 218, encl. 1, Consul Barnham to Sir N. OConor, Ourfa, 1 Oct. 1904: 2069, 207. 81 FO, 424/206, no. 39, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Heathcote to Sir N. OConor, Bitlis, 19 Mar. 1904: 3536, 35.



Armenian peasants by local notables, Kurdish tribal chiefs, and tax farmers.82 Yet it seems likely that such men formed a minority of government ofcers in the region. Even the central government at times uctuated between moderation and contentiousness in its policies toward its Armenian subjects. The British consul in Trabzon reported, The year 1899 marked a very perceptible improvement in the administrative affairs of the province.83 The consul had in mind the situation of the provinces Armenian inhabitants and, no doubt, his hopes for the reform program. Again, in 1904, it seemed to another British consul that the Ottoman Government was sincerely desirous to see an improvement in the state of affairs in Armenia, and during recent events acted with promptness and vigor.84 As general inspector of the reforms of 1895, Ahmed akir Pasha, to all appearances, genuinely believed in them and was hopeful that they would restore the governments legitimacy in the eyes of the peasants. By contrast, during the same period a more aggressive policy toward Armenians was pursued by Zeki Pasha, commander of the 4th army stationed in Erzurum and responsible for incorporating Kurdish tribes into the Hamidiye Light Cavalry units. It seems from our examples that the Hamidian regimes incorporation of irregular Kurdish tribal units into domestic security forces produced only further chaos. The government created the cavalry forces in the pursuit of law and order, but they became a source of irritation and worse for the peasantry, and the government was ultimately forced to limit their activities. For all the reasons described earlier, even the introduction of a reformed tax collection apparatus did little to alter the ordinary Armenian peasants relationship with or view of the government. The problem was compounded when government ofcers colluded with local power holders. Again, in such circumstances it becomes difcult to sharply distinguish the administrative practices of a government based on the rule of law from open terror and predation. In the eastern provinces of the late Ottoman Empire, order and chaos walked hand in hand.

This study of the late nineteenth-century Ottoman tax regime and collection apparatus helps us understand the Ottoman state and society during the Hamidian period. I have taken up the social and political context of the provinces in Eastern Anatolia, in which events of the centurys nal decades unraveled toward political turmoil, and I have given special attention to the role played
82 FO, 424/203, no. 141, encl. 1, Vice-Consul Tyrrell to Sir N. OConor, Van, 7 Oct. 1902: 136 45, 136. 83 FO, 424/200, no. 17, encl. 1, Consul Longworth to Sir N. OConor, Trebizond, 1 Feb. 1900: 1417, 14. 84 FO, 424/206, no. 173, encl. 2, Sir N. OConor to Vice-Consul Tyrrelli, Therapia, 30 Aug. 1904: 161.



by central government administrative practices. The practice of tax collection, in particular, tells us much about the nature of the Ottoman state and the political society it represented. My perspective diverges from that of much of Ottoman historiography, which has tended to see the Hamidian state as an integrated and unied agent, an omnipresent and omnipotent political actor with the means and capacity to direct the course of events in the eastern provinces according to its designs. My approach of examining the states quotidian administrative practices has allowed me to highlight the multiplicity and sometimes unexpected historical roles of political actors and to demonstrate that possibilities for the exercise of centralized political control were quite limited. The Hamidian regime and its reform administration in Eastern Anatolia found it especially difcult to create a civil tax system that eliminated the police and police methods from collection practices. I have shown that police methods remained a distinctive feature of the Ottoman revenue extraction system throughout the nineteenth century; despite all efforts to the contrary, the gendarmerie continued to play an important role. Even after the administrative reform plan of 1895 strictly forbade using gendarmes as collectors, the government was unable to allocate sufcient funds for new civil collectors, and so the gendarmerie and regular army regiments continued to collect taxes. So long as the central government remained unable to exert its will over events in the region and curb local power holders, tax collection remained attractive to the latter. For example, Kurdish tribes in the region, once attached to the domestic security forces as Hamidiye Light Cavalry regiments, actively and sometimes brutally sought to extract a share of tax resources. Given all of this, it became difcult if not impossible to establish what Yanni Kotsonis has called a face-to-face relationship between individual taxpayers and the Ottoman state, a relationship more transparent and pacic. As taxation further lost legitimacy, mass resistance to payment became the order of the day. A broader consequence of this was that quotidian tax collection, whether executed by local actors or governmental institutions, turned into a political contest involving terror and violence. This makes it hard to assign any clear-cut responsibility for the economy of plunder that emerged, though most of it is attributable to Kurdish tribal forces and other local power blocks, and to administrative practices of the central government. I have shown that the Hamidian regimes attempts to establish order and security generated only further terror and communal violence; the reform scheme did little to change life on the ground. Who exactly collected the tax made little real difference, since those representing state administrative institutions and local non-governmental actors frequently collaborated. I have argued that the political catastrophe that unfolded in the eastern provinces had important social and economic dimensions. I have underscored the



role played by Ottoman administrative practices in spawning this catastrophe, particularly the oppressive and inequitable tax system and the brutal methods employed by collectors. In the eastern provinces, the late Ottoman scal and political crisis ultimately took on an ethnic dimension. A recent study by Gerard Libaridian has sought to identify actors responsible for the Armenization of the economic and political crisis.85 He argues, The failure to implement reforms promised under the Tanzimat, Abdlhamid II, and the CUP [Committee of Union and Progress], had led to the internationalization, as well as the radicalization, of the Armenian problem.86 Libaridian asserts that for Hnchak and Dashnaktsutiun, loyalty to the state had been possible. Even during the Hamidian era with its failed programmatic goals, Armenian revolutionary parties were ready to endorse the state.87 We have seen here that a more peaceable option was available in the reforms attempted by Ahmet akir Pasha. Yet that option was crippled by financial constraints on the Ottoman treasury, which prompted policies of extracting taxes from Armenian peasants at any cost, by any means. This difficulty was compounded by the sheer complexity of the situation in the region, with diverse social and political actors all struggling over resources. The concept of an omnipotent Hamidian state masterminding events in the region only hampers understanding of this highly complex political situation. Although the state might appear on the surface to have been a unied political actor, it was rather, to refer back to Abrams, the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is.88 Political practice in the Armenian and Kurdish provinces of the late nineteenth century sadly failed to offer alternatives to existing oppressive and brutal systems. Central government reforms introduced during the Tanzimat and the Hamidian periods were merely administrative technologies, one of which was the taxation system, focused narrowly on scal and security issues. The governments attempts to introduce order through taxation and a new legal and administrative system only exacerbated the bloodshed and oppression. The unfolding of events in the eastern provinces toward the Armenization of the social and political crisis was about more than the limited capacity of the Hamidian state. Returning to Zygmunt Baumans perspective, one could argue, There would be no chaos were there no ordering intention already in place.89 The efforts of the Hamidian
85 Gerard J. Libaridian, What Was Revolutionary about Armenian Revolutionary Parties in the Ottoman Empire? in Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Mge Gek, and Norman M. Naimark, eds., A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 82112, 106. 86 Ibid., 100. 87 Ibid., 105. 88 Philip Abrams, Notes on the Difculty, 125. 89 On the relationship between order and chaos, see Zygmunt Bauman, Fate of Humanity, quoted in Alonso, Sovereignty, 31.



regime, undertaken in the name of ghting chaos, produced only more chaos. This was a crucial piece of the social and political context within which the Armenian Question emerged and took shape.

Abstract: This article explores the social and political context of the Ottoman Armenian massacres during the reign of Sultan Abdlhamid II focusing on the empires tax regime. Although important research has been done on the massacres of 18941897, little has been written on the role the tax regime and collection practices played in preparing the context for increased state and communal violence in the six provinces (vilayat- sitte)Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Mamretlaziz, Sivas, and Diyarbekirwhere the great majority of Ottoman Armenians lived. Political and social historians have paid little attention to the Ottoman states administrative practices in Eastern Anatolia, particularly its tax collection practices, as part of the larger context of the Armenian Question. Perhaps Ottoman economic and financial historians have been reluctant to consider tax collection as politics. In any case, key linkages between the tax regime and the social and political catastrophe it helped to create have been missed. In this paper I establish a bridge between social and political history and fiscal history. I analyze tax collection as everyday politics to offer a new window into the political disturbances in the empires six provinces populated mostly by Armenians and Kurds. The study of the Ottoman tax system as an instance of state administrative practices at the quotidian level, rather than as merely a legal and institutional apparatus, illuminates the complicated realities of the late Ottoman state and society, and the Armenian Question.