In the Age of Freedom, in the Name of Justice": Slaves, Slaveholders, and the State in the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic, 1857-1933

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This dissertation concerns itself with the practice of slavery in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic in the second half of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries. It places slavery at the intersection of the new liberal political order that began to form in the mid-1850s, the expulsion of the Caucasian peoples and their subsequent transplantation in the Ottoman Empire, and the international anti-slavery law that was taking shape simultaneously. It examines the social and legal (trans)formations at this particular juncture, traces the legal making and perpetuation of “Circassianness” as an “enslavable” ethnic category, and consequently argues that slavery bore a key significance in defining what citizenship came to mean in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. Ottoman slavery comprised both male and female slaves, employed respectively for agricultural work in rural areas and for domestic and sexual services in the large urban centers of the empire. Their social destinies were markedly different from each other throughout the long course of the practice, but especially so in the “age of freedom,” which was laden, above all, with the Ottoman state’s promise of equality before the law. Male slaves demanded their “equality” in conspicuous ways by bringing lawsuits against their owners or through occasional armed resistance. Female slaves, on the other hand, whose flow towards the elite households of Istanbul did not cease at least until the second decade of the twentieth century, developed other forms of relationships both with their owners and slavery as a practice. Clinging on to the slave trade and at times wielding it as a weapon, they continued building extensive patronage networks across the empire, although their political participation became marginalized within an increasingly gendered political community, as the nineteenth century drew near its end. Based on slave petitions, slaveholding elites’ correspondences, police interrogations, legal records, and parliamentary minutes, this dissertation probes the entangled histories of slave emancipation and citizenship in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. Without dismissing its distinctive features, such as the multiple legal systems that governed it or the lack of its abolition, my aim is to place the Ottoman practice of slavery in its larger political context, not only within the Ottoman Empire but also the entire globe, and dismantle the categories of Islam and nationalism, which respectively essentializes Ottoman slavery and overcodes citizenship, along the way.

Eve M. Troutt Powell
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