Capitalism, Migration, War, and Nationalism in an Aegean Port Town

Busy Port of Eski Foca

A review of Capitalism, Migration, War and Nationalism in an Aegean Port Town: The Rise and Fall of a Belle Époque in the Ottoman county of Foçateyn, by Emre Erol.

Summary and Genealogy

Emre Erol’s PhD dissertation is organized in six main chapters with an introduction and an epilogue, all of which follow a chronological thread with thematic emphasis. In Chapter 1, Erol gives a general picture of the geographical and gradual historical changes that affected the agricultural region and small port in the 18th century, and he sheds light on the increasing economic integration that occurred in the 19th century. In Chapter 2, the author shows how the town turned into a coastal boom-town that benefitted from its proximity to Izmir. In Chapter 3, Erol explores the competing dynamics of bourgeois cosmopolitanism and nationalisms in the Hamidian and early constitutional period, during which time the appearance of modern Ottoman normalcy was maintained. In Chapter 4, he explores how this relative balance was threatened by the Balkan wars and the entrenchment of Turkish nationalism as the result of military defeats, massive influxes of muhacir (refugees) and the geopolitical transformation of the Ottoman Aegean coast into a border area seen as being under threat by Greek expansionism and Western colonial appetites. In Chapter 5, Erol focuses with erudite boldness on the destruction of the region that occurred in June 1914 and analyses how the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) organized chaotic outbreaks of violence that changed the flourishing Ottoman échelle into a small Turkish-Muslim town that was no longer connected with the rest of the world. The last chapter is devoted to the ultimate demise of the Belle-Époque during World War I and the inefficient Greek occupation and administration that followed with a final disruption in September of 1922.

Erol uses a vast corpus of bibliographical references and draws upon a comprehensive body of Ottoman history (including the work of Erik Jan Zürcher, Fikret Adanır and Suraya Faroqhi), local history (including Engin Berber) and general classics (such as Eric J. Hobsbawm). As far as I know, no such detailed historical examinations of Foçateyn had previously been carried out, and the sources and bibliographical references that Erol used are far more comprehensive than those that have been employed in other studies. Erol’s PhD dissertation fits in with the larger wave of historiographical research about (mostly larger) port-cities that has been carried out in the last twenty years. The author combines his expansive knowledge of economics with a firm background in sociological and cultural history to create a historical study that is academically very sound and rigorous.

Potential Impacts

Erol’s dissertation demonstrates that it is possible to create a united historiography of a place that had once been pluralistic but had previously been approached from a single, exclusivist point of view. His use of the language of the “other” (in this case, modern Greek) will require that future researchers do the same when they undertake studies of the region. His study is not an irenic beautification of the forms of diversity that once existed in Foçateyn, and the tone and presentation of past events and former representations in the dissertation strike a balance that is rare in historical works.

The study does not bear any traces of sympathy for one local group over the other and hence readers are free to draw their own conclusions, a reflection of the autonomy of the research that Erol carried out.

Erol’s text will have a major impact on research in related fields because it raises the standards in terms of knowledge (both in terms of quantity and articulation) and historiographical ethics.

Bodies of Sources

The range of sources and bibliographical material used in this dissertation is quite impressive.  In particular, I was impressed by the author’s use of both Greek and Ottoman archival material and secondary literature.

The richness of the testimonies that Erol used (in line with the methodology of oral history) further invigorates the study. Erol used a set of interviews that were carried out mostly in the 1960s and 1970s and which are stored in Athens (at the Centre of Asia Minor Studies) together with a collection of interviews carried out in later decades about Izmir (launched upon the initiative of Engin Berber; since they were carried out later, they are more limited in scope) (p. 79). The vivid memories of locals, even if they were recalled during interviews set in settings that were as serene as possible, did not stand in contradiction to one other at all.

Erol clearly does not have a positivist contempt for literature and he backs his stance by quoting from Doumanis as he takes an approach that includes unofficial and even fictional texts (p. 150). This confers upon the study a significant amount of human depth as regards the non-empowered segments of society who have too often been silenced. Furthermore, Erol is well-versed in the usage of translations, as indicated by his use of Félix Sartiaux’s book which was published in a bilingual edition, and this proved to be quite useful since that work constituted a key document in his dissertation.

Hervé Georgelin
Faculty of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies
University of Athens
hgeorgelin@gmail.com

Primary Sources

Başbakanlık Cumhuriyet Arşivi (BCA), Ankara
Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (BOA), İstanbul
British Foreign Office Archives (FO), London
Engin Berber Oral Historical Collection (EBOHC), İzmir
Newspapers: Ahenk, Hizmet, İttihad, Sebi-ül Reşad, Servet-i Fünun, and others

Dissertation Information

Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University, 2014, 379 pp. Primary Advisor: Erik Jan Zürcher, (co-supervisor) Jan Lucassen.

Image: “Busy Port of Eski Foça circa 1912,” Author’s personal collection.

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