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Mediterranean Historical Review

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The late Ottoman port-cities and their inhabitants:

subjectivity, urbanity, and conflicting orders
Malte Fuhrmann & Vangelis Kechriotis
Published online: 10 Mar 2010.

To cite this article: Malte Fuhrmann & Vangelis Kechriotis (2009) The late Ottoman port-cities and their
inhabitants: subjectivity, urbanity, and conflicting orders, Mediterranean Historical Review, 24:2, 71-78, DOI:

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Top row: Christine Lindner, Faruk Tabak, Marc Aymes, Julia Cohen, Vangelis Kechriotis,
Nazan Maksudyan, On Barak; bottom row: Marc Baer, Malte Fuhrmann, Eyal Ginio.
Mediterranean Historical Review
Vol. 24, No. 2, December 2009, 7178

The late Ottoman port-cities and their inhabitants: subjectivity,
urbanity, and conflicting orders
In memory of Faruk Tabak (1953 2008)

Malte Fuhrmann and Vangelis Kechriotis

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A few words on Faruk

In March 2007 we gathered in Montecatini near Florence for the workshop set up in the
framework of the European University Institutes Mediterranean Meeting, which formed
the basis of what later evolved into this issue of the Mediterranean Historical Review.
As most of us had only in recent years achieved our PhDs, we were happy to have among
us a scholar who from the outset had played an essential part in the debate about Ottoman
port-city societies. At the time, none of us could of course have known that less than a year
later he would no longer be with us. On 15 February 2008 Faruk died from the effects of a
brain haemorrhage that had occurred on New Years Eve, mere weeks after he had sent us
his article for this volume.
While many of the workshop participants preferred other methodological approaches,
or focused on different priorities, we all agreed that the work Faruk and his close
colleagues had undertaken since the 1980s had been essential in establishing Ottoman
port-city society as a prime sphere of research on social structures, the role of the public
sphere and the Ottoman state, and the nature of imperialist antagonism and colonial
penetration in the Eastern Mediterranean. The diverse themes and analytical approaches in
the contributions to this volume show how wide the field Faruk helped to establish has
become in the meantime.
In at least one respect, however, the recent developments in Eastern Mediterranean
urban studies frequently fall short of honouring his legacy. The field has focused a great
deal on in-depth case studies, and, more recently, on micro-studies. This has led to
valuable new insights into Eastern Mediterranean urban lives. Nevertheless, there is still a
need for a new synthesis that will position the Levantine port-cities in a larger,
interconnected, trans-regional, and ultimately global context. Faruk never lost sight of his
goal of achieving a comprehensive approach to Eastern Mediterranean urbanity, as his
article in this volume shows.
A word is necessary for the tone of this volume. A number of us engage critically with
Faruks work, arguing for other perspectives. This might at first glance seem irreverent in
the context of a volume dedicated to his memory. However, the papers were written not as
an act of commemoration, but as part of a dialogue with a man who we all believed would
still live many years and have plenty of opportunities to refute our points of view.
We believe this is the best and most sincere way to honour the memories of our encounter
at Montecatini, where we experienced Faruks dedication as a researcher who would

ISSN 0951-8967 print/ISSN 1743-940X online

q 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09518960903487909
72 M. Fuhrmann and V. Kechriotis

passionately and convincingly argue with others for his point of view, but who remained
completely free of personal vanity, and would not hesitate at the end of the day to enjoy
together with us the wine, food and countryside of Tuscany. In this spirit, we often agreed
to disagree, all the while taking pleasure in our arguments, and hoping that they would
carry us further in our pursuits in a field that we have come to enjoy greatly.

The late Ottoman port-cities and their inhabitants: introduction

This volume seeks to reconstruct the common political and cultural space of the late
Ottoman Mediterranean urbanity through the experiences of diverse social agents. In order
to achieve greater insight into nineteenth- to early twentieth-century Eastern
Mediterranean urbanity, the contributors have followed different approaches related to
the urban phenomenon in this particular historical context. The Eastern Mediterranean
emerged as a particular space of modernity from the 1830s onwards. Still for the larger
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part pertaining to the Ottoman Empire until 1918, the region was subject to comparatively
slow and tentative colonization, but simultaneously exposed to intensive exchange with
the economically and militarily successful states of Western and Central Europe, thus
catalyzing a series of institutional innovations, identity formation processes and
migrations. In these processes, the port-cities of the Eastern Mediterranean were the nodal
points of exchange with the rest of the world, but, most importantly, also between
themselves, thus allowing us to speak of a common experience of urbanity although a
highly diverse one, subject to constant contestations.

Eastern Mediterranean port-cities: a rich historiography

Life on the shores of the Levant during the Age of Imperialism has often been described,
both in contemporary and historiographic assessments, as an exceptional experience.
Accordingly, within the past 20 years, the Mediterranean port-cities under Ottoman
sovereignty have been thoroughly researched and debated. In this respect, several
approaches have been employed, with varying results. Initially, port-cities drew attention
because of their pivotal position in the regions economy.1 They appeared as gateways to a
Eurocentric economic and social system and/or the integration of the Eastern
Mediterranean into the world economy. When this research raised questions about social
issues, scholars tried to grasp the role of the port-city inhabitants by tracing their structural
position in between international trade and the local society. Not directly related to this
tradition, but most pronounced in Turkish nationalist historiography and strongly
contested was the claim that the middle class in these locations formed a comprador
bourgeoisie. This interpretation was challenged on many grounds.2 Some did not see the
cities under discussion as sites oriented primarily towards European economic activities,
but as the foremost centres of the Empire, indeed as privileged sites for the consolidation
of Ottoman imperial hegemony.3 Another line of research dismissed both the emphasis on
multi-national networks and on the degree of integration into the state, choosing instead to
focus on the role that citizens performed in local institutions.4 Some of these studies
demonstrated a self-confident citizenry claiming its role in public affairs, and even went so
far as to pronounce the Levantine port-cities models of conviviality. More importantly,
they proposed a methodological configuration that takes advantage of the experience
gained by the individual cases, and proceeds not to a holistic approach that eliminates
differences and peculiarities, nor to one that derives from the perspective of the state, but
to an approach that tackles the emerging heterodoxies, that is, the ways in which
communities and individuals develop through their interaction with each other.5 These
Mediterranean Historical Review 73

interpretations, while putting into perspective earlier structuralist views through an intense
reading of local practices, in turn received criticism on the grounds that they painted too
rosy a picture of the late nineteenth century.6 This was, after all, the period of nascent
nationalism, in which ethnic or religious communities practised self-assertive ways of
dealing with other collectivities and with the state, and port-cities were no exception.7
However, studies focusing primarily on the role of individuals and less on institutions have
shown that city residents could navigate their social and economic relations fairly
untouched by state identity politics.8 If one follows the cultural studies approach to urban
history, and conceptualizes the city as an arena where cultural hegemony is contested, one
notices constellations that put into question the concept of nation-based communities, but
also the notion of an ordering power of the state or the world economy. What emerges are
communities that fall short of nation-building, individuals of indeterminate identity,
milieus based not on ethnic origin but on common practices or political convictions,
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characters marginalized because of their immoral or criminal behaviour, and so forth.9

While these discussions may seem to be of purely academic interest, the studies
mentioned have contributed to an increasing interest in the urban history of the Eastern
Mediterranean, leading to a great number of publications on individual cities that
successfully communicate these findings to a broader audience.10
The wide spectrum of interpretations is partly due to the sources that authors choose to
privilege (even though almost all researchers combine different types of sources). While
those who highlight the port-cities role in the world economy rely strongly on consular
reports on trade activities, those focusing on the cities relation to the Empire prefer
sources produced and stored by the imperial centre. Moreover, local archives have
supplied a wealth of material that allows us to rediscover the previously eclipsed role
municipal institutions have played, whereas community archives inform us
about communal activities. The focus on individuals would not be possible without
marriage registers, newspapers and court registers. But the realization that different
assessments are partly based on different materials only proves that, even in accounts
contemporary to that period, there was no monolithic image of late Ottoman
Mediterranean urbanity.

Bridging the gap: towards a new dialogue in the study of late Ottoman port-cities
Is there a way to meaningfully engage these varied approaches in a dialogue that does not
lead to the dead-end of simply valuing one perspective over another? One approach has been
to trace the steps of certain individuals through a variety of archival materials, and in this
way try to reconstruct how they managed to weave a path between the different social arenas
outlined above, and how they were able to reconcile the often contradictory logic that this
multiple lifestyle entailed.11 Such individuals often proved astonishingly flexible as they
sought to comply with the expectations placed on them by such varying sources of meaning
as Europe, the Empire, the municipality, the community and, not least, their personal ties.
This approach, however, is limited by the fact that few subjects of this type have left
significant traces of themselves among the wide spectrum of sources, with the consequence
that only very tentative generalizations concerning the notably heterogeneous port-city
population can be made. Therefore, a wider perspective is necessary if we are to conduct a
more meaningful investigation of the late Ottoman port-city.
Rather than debating which thread predominated within the complex interweaving of
identities, loyalties and orders characterizing this urbanity, we raise the question of how
groups and individuals navigated between the different milieus, and how they made their
74 M. Fuhrmann and V. Kechriotis

choices from among the range of possibilities. We aim to attain a more composite
understanding of the way various discourses were combined to shape social practices and
create new forms of urbanity, by focusing on individual and collective subjectivity. It is
our thesis that the competing orders did not produce neatly divided camps among the city
population, but rather a terrain permitting or even demanding individual interpretation
and adjustment.
One can look with a certain envy at the comparable field of social history of the Indian
Ocean, which never lost sight of how the maritime cities were part of a network.12
However, what we are attempting to do here must not be mistaken for a premature attempt
to reach a new synthesis on the late Ottoman port-cities. Rather, we intend to initiate a
dialogue between different methodological approaches to the history of the nineteenth-
century Levantine port-cities, while also eliciting more general observations by
integrating the findings based on single-city studies into broader contexts. Recent local
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and micro-studies have proven to be methodologically innovative and challenging beyond

the immediate area studies. Therefore, to assemble an integrated picture of Eastern
Mediterranean port-cities from its present somewhat fragmentary state requires a different
path from that currently undertaken by Indian Ocean historians, who have invariably
focused on the interconnectedness of their seascape.
But are subjectivity and urbanity really the adequate themes to initiate such a discussion?
No, argues Faruk Tabak in the opening contribution to the present volume. Revisiting the
debate about port-cities from a world-system approach, which builds upon established
scholarship, Tabak claims that maritime society and culture were determined by a specific,
short-lived conjuncture of global economic factors, rather than by its actors; on this
assumption, he appeals for a more global economic perspective. Sakis Gekas, on the other
hand, argues for a new stress on class formation processes in the Eastern Mediterranean region
that avoids the extremes both of outright economic determinism and of pure constructivism.
In doing so, he engages critically with Faruk Tabaks approach, and also with the recent
historiography on cosmopolitanism. From different points of view, each of these authors aims
to reconnect the debate on late Ottoman port-cities which in recent years has been
predominantly introspective to general debates on global social developments.
In what way did the global economy and the local market interact to create the
conjuncture mentioned by Faruk Tabak, that window of opportunity that allowed for the
port-city societys relative prosperity and freedom? In her case study, Elena Frangakis-
Syrett examines Izmirs banking sector. She affirms that, while imperial rivalry fostered
the conditions for creating a capital-intensive finance sector in the city, local entrepreneurs
were not passive recipients of Western investment; on the contrary, with their fund of local
knowledge and trans-European contacts, they managed to profit from relations with the
West, and in turn influence the development of the financial sector.
A view that has remained relatively unchallenged in Mediterranean Studies since the
days of Fernand Braudel is that of the perceived contrast between the port-city and its
hinterland, taken as opposites in social, ethnic and economic terms. Taking the improper
urbanity of the provincial port of Larnaka as a point of departure, Marc Aymes
demonstrates that this opposition between port and inland exists only at the normative and
not at the practical level, since the power structures, properties, and sociabilities of the two
were intimately intertwined.
One aspect that has for a long time received insufficient emphasis is the fact that, to a
considerable degree, nineteenth-century cities were characterized by a constant influx of
migrants. Taking a contrary view to the established accounts of millennia-old unchanging
national communities, Meropi Anastassiadou argues that the sheer numbers of immigrants
Mediterranean Historical Review 75

during the nineteenth century sufficed to (re-)constitute these purported communities;

focusing on the Greeks of Constantinople/Istanbul, she reconstructs their paths of
integration into the Greek community of Constantinople, using a source base that seems
difficult at first, but following a closer analysis proves to be substantial. Malte Fuhrmann,
meanwhile, takes his cue from the purported marginality of migrants in Levantine urbanity
to investigate the status of foreign subjects working in the portside bars and brothels,
which, he argues, played a notable role in familiarizing port-city inhabitants with
European consumer and entertainment culture. In particular, he focuses on immigrant
German and Habsburg entertainment workers, whom he describes as liminal rather than
marginal, vis-a-vis Levantine maritime society.
Until recently, the research on the built environment of the cities discussed here ran
separately from the debates undertaken by social historians. This research predominantly
followed the tenets of art history and urban planning.13 In keeping with the more recent
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tendency to bridge this gap,14 On Barak focuses on the city street itself, which he interprets as
an agent and not merely as an object of human social interaction, whereby changes in the
physical environment, and the emerging modes of perception that such changes entailed,
must be read in parallel with the new traffic conditions on the streets, and the modern
infrastructure being installed beneath them. In the study of port-cities, social conflict and
political controversies have at times been overestimated, and at others downplayed. In his
contribution, Vangelis Kechriotis seeks to overcome this deadlock by providing a close
reading of a dispute between municipal and local state institutions, focusing on the particular
subjects and language employed in the context of the Second Constitutional Period. The new
political exigencies related to the emergence of nationalism did not allow, he argues, for the
implementation of an urban modernizing agenda, as the division between Muslims and non-
Muslims becomes more acute, despite the declared intentions of the regime.
Finally Edhem Eldem takes a 1926 Egyptian consular list of personae non gratae as
point of departure to reflect on the terms of port city and cosmopolitanism. He pleads to
locate them predominantly on the fringes of the respective urbanities: more among the
underworld than among the middle strata; around the rue franque, but not as a
characterization of the city as a whole. Port cities, according to Eldem, should be read as
embedded in a set of contradictions, exclusions and socio-cultural hierarchies. Their
cosmopolitanism might not have been as elegant as previously imagined, but it went
beyond being a mere reflection of (semi-)colonial order.

1. See for example Berov, The Course of Commodity Turnover; Frangakis-Syrett, Commerce
in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Implementation of the 1838 Anglo-Turkish Convention.
2. Fundamental in this respect is the critical account in Kasaba, Was There a Comprador
Bourgeoisie?. Kasaba, being himself one of Immanuel Wallersteins disciples, together with
the economic historian Sevket Pamuk and the sociologists Caglar Keyder and Faruk Tabak,
apart from their contributions to the Review of the Fernard Braudel Center (see for instance
Keyder, Ottoman Empire: Nineteenth-Century Transformations), later played a leading role
in the Research Working Group on the Ottoman Empire and the World Economy coordinated
by Keyder and Wallerstein; see Kasaba, Keyder and Tabak, Eastern Mediterranean Port Cities
and their Bourgeoisies. Keyder with Donald Quataert and Eyup Ozveren later published the
special issue, Port-Cities of the Eastern Mediterranean.
3. See for instance Anastassiadou, Salonique 1830 1912; Eldem, Goffman and Masters,
The Ottoman City Between East and West; Hanssen, Philipp and Weber, The Empire in the
City; and Raymond, Arab Cities in the Ottoman Period.
76 M. Fuhrmann and V. Kechriotis

4. In this respect, the debate was already initiated in Rosenthal, Foreigners and Municipality
Reform in Istanbul. For a more recent account see: Lafi, Municipalites mediterraneennes.
5. Among the earlier accounts, see Abu-Lughod, Urbanization and Urbanism in Beirut. Later
on, however, the volumes edited by Georgeon and Dumont, Villes ottomanes a la fin de
lempire, and Vivre dans lempire ottoman, would set the state of the art even until today. See
also Ilbert and Yannakakis, Alexandrie 18601960.
6. Criticism of an all-comprising notion of cosmopolitanism has already been articulated in Ilbert,
Alexandrie cosmopolite?. The author, however, does not consider ethnic nationalism as a
parameter in the particular patterns of urban development. For contemporary accounts
regarding this issue, see Fuhrmann, Meeresanrainer Weltenburger?, and Sakis Gekass
article Class and Cosmopolitanism in this issue.
7. See for instance Keyder, Peripheral Port-Cities and Politics; Trimi-Kirou, Quel
cosmopolitisme a lere des nationalismes?; Georgelin, La fin du Smyrne.
8. Schmitt, Levantiner; Panzac, Les villes dans lempire ottoman; Smyrnelis, Une societe hors de soi.
9. See for instance Zandi-Sayek, Orchestrating Difference; Kendall, Between Politics and
Literature; Exertzoglou, The Cultural Uses of Consumption; Rogan, Outside In; Gorman,
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Foreign Workers in Egypt.

10. For Salonica, see Veinstein, Salonique, 1850 1918, and Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts;
for Istanbul/Constantinople, see Yerasimos, Istanbul, 1914 1923, and Mansel, Constanti-
nople: City of the Worlds Desire; for Smyrna/Izmir, see Smyrnelis, Smyrne, la ville oubliee,
and the publications of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality,
asp?menuID 66.
11. Anastassiadou, Elites urbaines et savoir scientifique. In this volume, a series of individual
cases that cover the entire Ottoman dominion shed light on the role of the educated individual
in the process of urban development and social emancipation; for instance Kechriotis,
Between Professional Duty and National Fulfillment. See also Fuhrmann, Cosmopolitan
Imperialists and the Ottoman Port Cities.
12. Deutsch and Reinwald, Space on the Move; McPherson, Port Cities as Nodal Points of
Exchange; Rothermund and Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Der indische Ozean; Simpson and
Kresse, Struggling with History.
13. Celik, The Remaking of Istanbul; Oberling, The Quays of Izmir; Yerolympos, Urban
Transformations in the Balkans (1820 1920).
14. Zandi-Sayek, Struggles over the Shore; Frangakis-Syrett, The Making of an Ottoman Port;
Hanssen, Fin de Siecle Beirut; Bodenstein, Domestizierter Wandel.

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