6. Ambiguities of Sovereignty: Property Rights and Spectacles of Statehood in Tanzimat Izmir

Sibel Zandi-Sayek
The relationship between modern state power and geographic space, as evidenced in monumental constructions, institutional buildings, public works, and spectacles, as well as surveys, cadastres, and other mapping technologies, has received scholarly attention across disciplines. [1] While these studies have significantly underscored the importance of material spaces and practices to modern statehood—be it imperial, colonial, or national—they have generally approached the state as a self-contained territorial and political unit informed by a Westphalian notion of sovereignty. Accordingly, a single state is imagined to possess and exercise exclusive jurisdiction over affairs within its neatly demarcated territory. I would argue that such conceptualizations overlook a host of more ambiguous situations whereby multiple states claim the right to govern the same spaces, artifacts, and subjects, or a given state seeks to reinforce its claim to sovereignty through practices within the territory of another state. Despite recent calls in the fields of international relations, law, and politics for “unbundling territoriality” [2] to better elucidate the interplay of modern state power and space, the bulk of existing scholarship relies on the assumption that territory and power are neatly coterminous.
Using the late Ottoman Empire as a case study and probing specific urban practices and performances in the nineteenth-century seaport of Izmir/Smyrna, this chapter complicates such assumptions, exposing how multiple jurisdictions operated within the same imperial, sovereign setting. I examine a formative moment in the history of the Ottoman Empire just before the paradigm of nation-state territoriality, which we now take for granted, crystallized and gained general acceptance. I focus on two arenas of state action in Izmir: property rights, particularly those applying to non-Ottoman subjects; and celebrations of national holidays in which both the Ottoman and various European states asserted their sovereignty vis-à-vis one another and the Smyrniot audience. Although seemingly unrelated, both the control of property and the monitoring of ceremonial functions converged on the management of urban space, offering valuable lenses to investigate how fundamental aspects of modern state power were negotiated in everyday life. Moreover, together they allow us to span two distinct yet interrelated scales at which modern sovereignty is constituted: exclusive and legitimate control over a designated territory, and international recognition of this control. In particular, I probe how the Ottoman and various European states competed to carve out their own spheres of influence in the city; how territorial and non-territorial conceptions of authority, inherent in the Ottoman configuration of power, interpenetrated and reshaped each other; and how these partial and untidy processes played out in everyday urban spaces and practices. Through a historically specific case, this chapter expands our understanding of modern geographic space beyond that of a uniformly governed terrain, revealing the multiple and often contradictory territorialities and sovereignties that could be interwoven in it.
The largest Ottoman port for international trade and arguably the most cosmopolitan city outside Istanbul, nineteenth-century Izmir offers a particularly opportune site for this study. As with other multinational and dynastic polities, in the Ottoman Empire, legal pluralism and differential legal statuses—accorded on the basis of subjecthood, religion, or social rank—were the norm. Hence, Ottoman and various European jurisdictions existed alongside one another, governing matters related to their respective subjects. In some cases, these jurisdictions intersected and partially overlapped, sometimes even converging on the same person, or applying to parts of the same dispute. For example, while extraterritorial jurisdictions governed civil and contractual matters pertaining to foreign residents such as marriage and inheritance, Ottoman territorial jurisdictions controlled all questions related to their property transactions and security without exception. Such intersections and overlaps were characteristic of many cities across the eastern Mediterranean. But in a highly diverse and vibrant commercial center like Izmir—home to varied religious, ethnic, and national communities, and commanding the attention of several European nations vying for influence—they produced an exceptionally dynamic set of exchanges. While local actors maneuvered between different judicial spheres, sometimes taking advantage of poorly defined jurisdictions, Ottoman state officials and European consuls frequently disagreed and occasionally clashed about their respective spheres of sovereignty.
The decades between the 1840s and the 1880s are most revealing in this respect, as both the reformist Ottoman state and European powers were simultaneously refashioning themselves into modern sovereignties. On the one hand, Ottoman bureaucrats embarked on a series of reforms, the Tanzimat, to enhance state control over the empire’s territory and assets and forge a cohesive polity that transcended ethnic or religious affiliations; censuses, income registers, and cadastral surveys that tracked population distribution and resources; new Nationality laws that fixed the parameters according to which people were officially considered to be Ottoman citizens; and the lavish and more overarching character given to Ottoman imperial feasts and state ceremonials were some of the most salient manifestations of this process in Izmir. On the other hand, foreign powers competed with one another to expand their influence within the empire, while simultaneously trying to maintain the region’s stability within the context of the so-called Eastern Question. To broaden their economic and political sway in the empire, they tacitly permitted their legations to extend consular protections and immunities to various local groups. Indeed, the tremendous increase in the number of foreign subjects in Izmir—from about 10,000 in the 1840s to 50,000 in the late 1880s, while the total population only rose from an estimated 60,000 to 200,000 [3] —attests as much to massive immigration from beyond the Ottoman borders as to mounting numbers of Ottoman subjects, especially non-Muslims, who placed themselves under the protection of an interested European power to gain immunity from certain tax liabilities and local police control. Consular legations also asserted their presence in Izmir’s festive life. They engaged in increasingly elaborate diplomatic maneuvers and organized more ostentatious celebrations of their national holidays that drew enthusiastic crowds to the streets. In short, while Tanzimat statesmen territorialized their authority more systematically, European legations pushed back by expanding their long-standing extraterritorial agreements (or capitulations) within the empire, both parties seeking to enforce their respective jurisdictions in uncompromising and exclusionary ways.
Nowhere were these competing processes more evident than in the struggles over the control and meaning of property and festive practices in Izmir. As I show in the following pages, both the property of foreign subjects and diplomatic protocols were profoundly political arenas, contested sites through which the boundaries and scope of modern state power were constituted and challenged. Seemingly innocuous local disputes over rights and ranks sometimes triggered international confrontations, while broader geopolitical dynamics periodically affected the status and rights of local subjects or the format of a parade or celebration. What foreign states could or could not do in Ottoman territory depended not only on how they leveraged their extraterritorial agreements, but also on everyday interactions and local politics on the ground. In other words, the delicate balance that characterized the period under consideration simultaneously hinged on geopolitical rivalries and on the particularities of local processes. The negotiations I explore in this chapter reveal an ever-shifting geography of power, calling for a more dynamic understanding of imperial space, in which state authority is contingent on whom and where one was.

Property and Entangled Sovereignties

In the Ottoman Empire, real property held by foreign subjects was governed by a variety of discrete regulations and pragmatic arrangements based on a mixture of territorial and extraterritorial laws. [4] Although foreigners in the empire did not have rightful access to freehold property until 1867, through a careful manipulation of existing laws, many of them did find ways of holding property. [5] In a highly commercialized city like Izmir, property was more than a shelter or a source of rental income; it comprised a substantial share of the assets of individuals and families, who used it as a vehicle for securing credit and as collateral to increase their financial resources for doing business. Smyrniots of all descriptions exchanged property frequently and engaged in legally binding transactions that involved property. And when formal laws got in the way, people found ways around them. They maneuvered the legal processes and navigated between different jurisdictional spheres to circumvent obstacles. Hence, according to British consular records, foreigners held over one-third of the taxable property in the mid 1850s [6] —a staggering proportion given the legal obstacles facing foreign subjects.
The prevailing method was to register the titles in the name of a third party who was an Ottoman subject and that the kadı court (mahkeme) recognized as the actual owner. In Izmir, this front person was usually a female relative of the foreigner—the wife or the mother-in-law. Given frequent intermarriage between foreign men and local Greek and Armenian women, many wives were already Ottoman subjects (or rayahs). If the woman who served as a front was not already an Ottoman subject, then she often agreed, for the purpose of conveyance, to be considered an Ottoman subject, which made her in the eyes of the kadı court a legitimate property owner and a registered proprietress. [7] When the front person was a business associate, the title deeds were supplemented with yet another contract, made before the consular court of the foreigner, in which the front person declared that he was not the rightful owner but had only lent his name to complete the required paperwork before the kadı court. [8]
In Izmir, as in cities like Alexandria, Istanbul, and Salonica, frequented for generations by foreign merchants, property holding under borrowed names became a widespread de facto practice. [9] This arrangement sufficiently reconciled legal norms with the local needs of a commercial society and profitably met the demands of all concerned parties, which may explain its frequent adoption as a favored tactic. For one, it allowed foreigners to invest their money without compromising their foreign status and the important personal and tax immunities that came with it. It also worked to the satisfaction of Ottoman officials as it retained real estate transactions within the laws of the empire, attracted investment, and generated revenues through transfer fees and construction permits. Moreover, it conformed to the formal tenets and procedures of the kadı court and maintained the superiority of this court in the overall hierarchy of the legal system.
Property transfers involving foreign subjects reveal how the seemingly discrete and disconnected jurisdictions of the kadı and consular courts were inevitably intertwined. In principle, territorial claims affecting ownership or use rights—such as acquisition, alienation, and various forms of leasing that determined or limited the extent of rights to a real property—were matters for the kadı court. They had to be carried out in conformity with the information recorded on the title deed. [10] In contrast, contractual obligations between foreign litigants, as in the use of real property as collateral or in cases of bankruptcy, were presumably within the jurisdiction of the consular court. Thus, property cases were usually divided between two courts—the consular court settling the personal obligation and the kadı court completing the actual transfer and registration. In practice, however, since territorial claims could also be part of larger contractual agreements, these judicial spheres frequently overlapped and sometimes conflicted.
Consular records provide some useful insight into the arbitration of property disputes between litigants bound by different legal rules. The necessity of coordinating the settlements pronounced at each court and forging convergence between different legal norms and procedures raised problems, often complicating the settlement of property cases. [11] At the same time, ambiguity about the division of labor between courts and imprecision in legal procedures, especially within and across consular courts, created opportunities for manipulation. Sometimes, consulates framed the issue so as to assume competence over all personal matters related to the case, leaving only the actual writing of the title deed to the kadı court. At others, they categorically refused to interfere with any aspect of the question—ultimately making property disputes a convenient instrument for reciprocal arm-twisting. This was the case with the Austrian court during the division of a large house and warehouse complex, known as Frenkhane Fisher, between the British heirs of J.K. Fisher and the Austrian heirs of Mrs. Kramer, widow of Fisher. The British plaintiff, C. Fisher, opposed the division requested by the kadı court, maintaining that the molla’s (senior judge’s) jurisdiction “ceased when the question of ownership was decided by him,” and that “division of property of whatever kind among European heirs should be made by their own authorities.” [12] In contrast, the Austrian court, which generally played a more active role in similar cases, chose to declare itself incompetent and recognize the molla’s division, based on Islamic law, which dovetailed all too conveniently with the interest of its own subjects.
Gaps and blind spots in legal procedures also offered openings that allowed litigants to sway the case in their favor. A case in point was the ill-defined provision of having a dragoman (official interpreter) accompany the foreign litigant at the kadı court. Extraterritorial agreements called for the presence of a dragoman in cases with mixed litigants. Property suits, however, were based on the assumption that all parties to the litigation were Ottoman subjects. Hence the presence of a dragoman was a contradiction in terms. This was, at least, the perspective of Ottoman authorities in a suit brought in 1851 by an Armenian Ottoman subject, Hripsima, against Manoli Vapopoulo, a British subject, who refused to appear at court without the presence of his dragoman. A few days prior to declaring bankruptcy, Vapopoulo had his friend, a Greek Ottoman subject—under whose name he had formerly bought a warehouse—promise the property to an unsuspecting Hripsima who had already paid the purchase price. Meanwhile, unaware of this deal, the British consulate authorized Vapopoulo’s creditors to seize his warehouse, making the same property subject to multiple claims. [13] Although the eventual settlement of the case remains unknown, Vapopoulo’s insistence on bringing his dragoman was clearly a delaying tactic that postponed an unfavorable sentence for more than a year. Notwithstanding these complications and ongoing demand for more clear-cut procedures on the part of consuls—especially when third-party ownership raised vexing problems for foreign subjects—the rewards seem to have far exceeded potential frustrations, enticing people to invest in property, hence creating sufficiently stable and lasting, albeit constantly negotiated, arrangements that acquired the legitimacy and authority of bylaws.
Against this fluid background, in the 1860s, property ownership and inheritance rights took on an undeniably political significance as the Tanzimat regime sought to bring within the remit of Ottoman jurisdictions all individuals whose extraterritorial immunities undercut tax revenues and impeded local police action. At the Congress of Paris in 1856, where the Ottoman Empire was finally inducted to the Concert of Europe, Âli Pasha, minister of Foreign Affairs and zealous advocate of modernization reforms, declared that such privileges were incompatible with the norms of modern sovereignty and European public law and constituted an “intractable obstacle to any kind of improvement.” [14] In a memorandum he sent in 1860, Âli Pasha announced to foreign legations that the Ottoman government categorically refused to recognize new protégés, asking such individuals either to leave the country within three months or to accept being treated as Ottoman subjects. He also required such individuals to sell their property prior to their departure and underlined that hereafter they would be denied the right to inherit from their Ottoman parents. [15] While these drastic measures were impossible to implement in full, they ushered in a series of crucial provisions that linked real property to Ottoman sovereignty in unprecedented ways.
In Izmir, Âli Pasha’s pronouncement stirred, most immediately, the question of third-party tenure, especially the widespread practice of using foreign female fronts. Ottoman authorities took an uncompromising stance and began to treat all proprietresses as bona fide Ottoman subjects. This procedure, wittingly or not, shielded foreign women from liability in the consular court, creating undeniable hurdles for these courts, when, for example, they had to issue a property repossession order in the case of the male relative’s bankruptcy. [16] In tandem, the central government introduced more stringent identity checks for property transfers and sales. Those who wished to purchase property had first to obtain from their religious leader a certificate (ilm-u haber) that established their Ottoman subjecthood and their membership in that particular ethno-religious community (or millet). Following successive official orders sent from Istanbul in 1862, the measure was enforced unequivocally, tightening the screw on property registration in Izmir. Thereafter, all real estate purchase and sale contracts effected through private agreement or before a foreign authority—such as a consul—would be considered null and void. [17]
Within a matter of weeks, the measure suspended the registration of scores of transactions, making it clear to foreign subjects and protégés that their hold on property was at the mercy of the Ottoman state. It also categorically closed a vital loophole in Izmir’s property market, cutting deeply into the interests of a significant portion of the population. In response, affected property owners forcefully argued their case in the local press to ensure the Porte heard their claims, insisting that the measure would inevitably lead to the collapse of the real estate market in the empire’s second city. The consuls implored their respective governments to intervene on behalf of their subjects. They claimed that the Porte was acting arbitrarily by halting a practice that it had “admitted and acknowledged for nearly two hundred years,” thus, in effect, denouncing the clear-cut procedures they had been demanding all along. [18] As Etienne Pisani, dragoman of the British embassy in Istanbul, declared, however, the Ottoman government had never knowingly admitted or sanctioned property ownership by foreign parties. The many foreign women who held property in their own names were “allowed to hold it under the fiction that they are subjects of the Porte.” [19] By abstaining from using their surnames in the title deeds, foreign-born women had willingly confounded themselves with their Ottoman-born counterparts, further sustaining this legal fiction. [20] Moreover, the Tanzimat regime countered Izmir’s affected property owners’ attacks by mobilizing Istanbul’s foreign language press. James Carlile McCoan, founder and editor of the semi-official weekly, the Levant Herald, commended the measure for rectifying a fraudulent practice and doing away with large numbers of “sham protected subjects,” blaming instead European subjects and protégés. [21]
Beyond its impact on Smyrniot proprietors, the measure changed the terms of the debate. Not only was a long-held property tenure practice recast as a legal fiction and an evasion of the law, but more importantly, it was also presented as a legitimate act of sovereignty by a modern state over its internationally recognized territories. Before long the issue escalated into an international crisis, forcing foreign missions to address what they had already been seeing as a difficult and complex question. [22] Eventually, in 1867, following long-drawn-out negotiations between the Porte, which wanted to sap extraterritorial jurisdictions, and foreign governments, which refused to relinquish them, an imperial decree recognized foreigners’ right to own land in their own names on the condition that they submitted to Ottoman laws and accepted to be considered as Ottoman subjects in all matters concerning land and property. [23] In other words, foreign owners would give up their privileges and comply with Ottoman territorial jurisdictions except for the immunities attached to their person and their movable goods.
Although granting foreign subjects the privilege of owning real estate may seem to be yet another concession to foreign powers, the conditions within which this decree was issued suggest that it was proactive. For the Ottoman government, the decree was a tactical move that unmistakably asserted its territorial sovereignty. As mentioned earlier, prior to 1867 foreign subjects could not officially own property, although in practice they did. By explicitly granting them this right, however, the decree brought foreign property owners and their property under greater state control. Compliance with police regulations, tax obligations, and Ottoman laws (article 2) now became uniformly enforceable on foreign subjects—albeit for issues pertaining primarily to their property. The decree also explicitly denied property rights to native-born Ottoman subjects who had acquired foreign naturalization (article 1). The Ottoman government had already been making concomitant efforts at checking consular protections and regulating dubious identity claims through a series of measures and countermeasures. The first of these came in 1863 as a result of international negotiations and brought strict limitations over the protégé status. Henceforth protections would only be granted with the approval of Ottoman authorities; they would no longer protect the entire household or be inherited. Rather, the benefits would be limited to a specific individual for the duration of his appointment. The new measure restricted further expansion of the protégé status, although it grandfathered those who had acquired it prior to the 1863 decree, resulting in two classes of protégés: permanent and temporary. [24] Most significantly, the 1863 measure triggered a considerable surge in the number of Ottoman subjects pursuing foreign naturalizations. [25]
Given these changes, the 1867 decree also constituted a strategic first step in deterring Ottoman subjects from acquiring foreign nationalities. While it brought foreigners on a more even footing with Ottoman subjects by granting them ownership rights in return for certain citizenship duties, it also categorically deprived Ottoman subjects who renounced their nationality in favor of another country from sharing similar benefits. In 1869, the Ottoman government went further and issued the Ottoman Nationality Law (Tabiyet-i Osmaniye Kanunu), which denied Ottoman subjects the possibility of renouncing their subjecthood without government authorization. The law also permitted the government to rescind Ottoman subjecthood from anyone who acquired foreign naturalization without prior official consent, thereby limiting their inheritance and ownership rights. [26]
Meanwhile, European nations made explicit claims over those they considered their own subjects. In signing the terms of the 1867 protocol—a process which took up to seven years for some signatory states—each foreign government ensured that except for questions of property and land, the protocol did not undermine their rights and control over their subjects. [27] Eventually, although the protocol did not entirely eradicate frictions and concerned parties often interpreted its provisions differently, it nevertheless placed Izmir’s foreigners in a curious legal position. By virtue of the property they owned, they became Ottoman subjects and were made to conform to the resulting obligations. Yet these new ownership rights and duties did not undo their foreign nationality. For other matters related to their person and movables, they retained their foreign privileges and immunities and, by extension, the rights and duties they held towards their respective governments. In short, they became part-Ottoman and part-foreign subjects, or in the language of Istanbul’s French-language press, “sujets Ottomans étrangers”–that is, foreign Ottoman subjects, as opposed to foreign subjects. [28]
This hybrid category, through which both Ottoman and various foreign states made claims, is telling in a number of ways. First, it articulated a new relationship between property and modern sovereignty. Accordingly, property was not only a source of socio-economic power for its possessor or a source of revenue for the state. It was also a strategic instrument through which the Ottoman state sought to extend its power onto groups that formerly eluded its jurisdiction. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this elaborately negotiated category points to the difficulty of arriving at the kinds of clear-cut demarcations that modern state rule demands. Through most of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman regime remained remarkably resilient, accommodating multiple claims—even over the same assets and individuals and despite the obvious asymmetry of power, in which foreign states were chipping away at its sovereignty and seeking to assert themselves within its own territories.

Diplomacy and the Staging of Sovereignties

Property was not the only arena in which competing state powers were played out in everyday urban interactions. In the mid-nineteenth century, as the world’s geopolitical realignment was in flux, diplomatic conduct and its repertoire of visual and material expressions were the means through which states preserved legitimacy and asserted their claims for recognition in the international arena. Flags and banners, uniforms and military parades, gun salutes and honor guards standing at attention acquired a new prominence in many parts of the world. [29] By moving international politics from the documentary to the spectacular, they gave a concrete character to diplomatic activity. As evidenced in official records and local newspapers, these tools were also deployed in Istanbul and major Ottoman urban centers to honor the national anniversaries or the birthday of the sovereigns of friendly nations and commemorate the sultan’s birthday and accession day.
In Izmir, where 16 different countries—Britain, France, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, Greece, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Samos, Spain, Portugal, Persia, the United States, and Sweden and Norway—had official representation in the late 1870s, national days (yevm-i mahsus) were regularly observed through a range of formal and informal events. Foreign colonies held special religious services and dinners at their consulates, and set up street parties and theatrical performances to display national loyalties. In addition to social events, they performed diplomatic protocols appropriate to the size and prestige of the local colony. Generally, official celebrations began in the morning hours with an exchange of the royal 21-gun salute—the standard show of military power used in rendering the highest honors to sovereign states. Next, consulates hoisted their flags and received greetings from local Ottoman government officials, foreign consuls, their staff, and military commanders, all in their elaborate official uniforms. These symbolic enactments made state sovereignty and national community visible both within the borders of another sovereign country and in relation to other sovereign entities.
Although, in 1815, the Congress of Vienna prescribed consular dress codes and standard rules for diplomatic ceremonies to prevent the frequent controversies that occurred over the rank and precedence of states, rivalry for prestige and authority remained integral to diplomatic exchange in many parts of the nineteenth-century world. In Izmir, where all European powers had representation but none had managed to establish dominance, opportunistic appropriations of honors were not uncommon. Contending nations pulled rank and used diplomatic events to assert their superiority over one another. Given these competitions and increasing ceremonial regulations, ostensibly minor symbolic transactions could be magnified as expressions of national pride and rivalry. The importance attached to national flags during diplomatic ceremonies was a case in point. National flags had long been visible expressions of international presence in Izmir. They were flown over foreign ships at harbor, consulates, designated religious institutions, and similar buildings under foreign protection. These emblems, however, were also powerful tools to jockey for power and visibility in a multinational city. That France and Austria relentlessly flew their flags over two contiguous sections of the same Franciscan complex, the former over the Archbishop’s House and the latter atop the adjacent Church of St. Mary, is a good illustration of the competing claims these states made over the protection of the complex—and by implication over the Catholics of the empire. [30] In a low-rise cityscape that visitors and foreign dignitaries approached primarily from the water, flags were meant to be seen from afar. Like minarets and church towers, they organized the skyline and they stood against it as prominent statements of power. [Figure 4]
In the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, raising the national flag during diplomatic events became an essential device of political communication. Precisely because they lent themselves to quick changes, flag displays were effective indicators of the fluctuations in international politics as they happened. For example, on the coronation of Napoleon III in 1852, which was officially celebrated in Izmir, all consulates, with the exception of those of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and the United States, were reported to have raised their flags to honor France—although the Austrian and Prussian consuls presented personal regrets for having to refrain on the grounds that France had not yet accredited the ministers of their governments in Paris. [31] Similarly, in the years following the reunification of a large part of the Italian peninsula by King Victor-Emmanuel, only the consulates of governments that recognized the new Italian Kingdom hoisted their flag on the King’s birthday. [32] And when the Spanish consulate did not raise its flag on Queen Victoria’s birthday, the British consul refused to give his Spanish colleague the customary honors presented to diplomatic representatives when he came on the British ship in harbor. [33] The sheer number of consular and newspaper reports on this matter reveal the extent to which flags and corresponding honors were the means of choice for broadcasting adversarial or friendly messages between states on third-party soil.
Diplomatic enactments also provided occasions for foreign missions to enlist the sympathies of local populations and for local expatriates to express their allegiances to their home countries. On the birth of a male heir to the French throne in 1856, the French ship at harbor, the batteries on shore, and the Ottoman station-ship exchanged a rare 101 imperial gun salute and all consulates hoisted their flags. A detachment of French, Ottoman, and British squads marched in line through the streets, presenting an extravagant military feast, while the French consulate, illuminated for two nights, offered a glowing spectacle. Moreover, the consular gate and vestibule were decked with the French, Ottoman, and British flags and banners, shaped like trophies and topped with the imperial eagle. “Through the streets leading to the College and from the consulate to the French Church, one heard only good wishes and congratulations for the illustrious offspring of the great emperor,” rejoiced the reporter to the Journal de Constantinople, L’Écho de l’Orient (March 31, 1856). Such spectacular and sensory celebrations became increasingly more common in the later part of the nineteenth century, coinciding with parallel developments in Europe. Feasts in honor of the Duchess of Edinburgh’s visit to Izmir in 1876, the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, and Bastille Day celebrations from the early 1880s onward were reported in great detail and with great pride to the respective Foreign Offices of home governments, particularly on account of the crowds they drew and the good order and respect they instilled. Such patriotic enactments not only linked foreign colonies to their home countries, helping cultivate a “will to nationhood,” [34] they also created opportunities for foreign governments to extend their cultural influence in foreign lands.
To be sure, Ottoman statesmen were not indifferent to such displays on their land. In a world that was increasingly organized around the principles of modern diplomacy, they were quick to adopt new procedures in line with European norms and use them to claim diplomatic equivalence and reciprocity. They also banned diplomatic shows and military displays that could potentially undercut Ottoman sovereignty and make them look inferior on their own turf. For example, in 1859 central authorities notified provincial governors that the celebrations of allied sovereigns were limited to one day per year, either on their onomastic or coronation day. In the hoisting of flags, gun salutes, and other military honors in ceremonial occasions, the government prescribed the use of international codes, which considered all sovereign states equal. Accordingly, gun salutes had to be reciprocated either with an equal salute from sea or a similar salute from land in the absence of Ottoman vessels of less than 10 canons in harbor. [35]
Similarly, an 1870 circular abolished the ostentatious custom of displaying military honors to new consuls arriving at an Ottoman port city. Instead, it required the raising of national flags over the consulate in question and the local citadel, in conformity with contemporary European practice. [36] Furthermore, new regulations enacted in the following years streamlined the ceremonial honors accorded to ambassadors and diplomatic agents in light of the stipulations of the Congress of Vienna, although such actions drew vehement protests from heads of foreign missions who maintained that the Ottoman Empire had not been a signatory in the Congress of Vienna. [37] Whether or not these procedures could be entirely implemented in Izmir, they illustrate the extent to which Ottoman statesmen turned the new tools of diplomatic conduct to their advantage.
On occasion, diplomatic controversies erupted over the propriety of displaying national flags on local institutions—despite general rules that limited these displays to embassies and consulates. In 1862, for example, the display of the Austrian flag on the building of the Armenian Mekhitarist mission in the neighboring town of Aydın became a bone of contention between local authorities, foreign representatives, and the local mission. The deputy governor (kaymakam) prohibited the mission from using a foreign flag, as was ordinarily done in Izmir. Although the mission received Austrian support, the governor argued that the practice was unacceptable since both the missionaries and the congregation consisted of Ottoman subjects. [38] In assuming a direct correlation between a state’s national flag and the allegiances of the body of citizens on its territories, local officials shrewdly used the logic of modern territorial sovereignty against Austria to counter its efforts at staking claims over Ottoman subjects.
Admittedly, Izmir’s particular situation afforded more latitude for ceremonial innovation and expression. The semi-official press frequently decried the conspicuous breach of international norms in the city. “In every country of the world the national flag is privileged over foreign flags. In Turkey, it is different,” scathingly noted the Izmir correspondent to the Journal de Constantinople. “Foreign flags are favored at the expense of the national one” (July 21, 1860). Nevertheless, the risk of diplomatic friction and local authorities’ stance towards a specific event placed explicit and implicit limits on how such events should be performed in Izmir.
In conjunction with efforts at countering diplomatic displays in their territories, Ottoman officials introduced their own protocols that both affirmed the empire’s sovereignty over its domestic constituencies and asserted its rightful place within the emerging international system. During Abdülmecid’s reign (1839–1861), the central government encouraged celebrations of imperial power on occasions such as the anniversaries of the sultan’s accession to the throne (cülus-u humayun) and birthday (veladet-i padişah). [39] These celebrations were not new, but they acquired a new dimension as public events observed on an annual basis throughout the empire. While previously they structured the rhythms of courtly life in Istanbul, in the course of the second half of the nineteenth century they gradually spilled out to other provinces to organize time and space across the empire.
In Izmir, imperial events and most remarkably the visits of two consecutive sultans to the city—Abdülmecid in 1850 and Abdülaziz in 1863—eclipsed all other displays in size and scope. Diplomatic events were played out in clearly demarcated areas of the city, primarily along Frank Street where most consulates and foreign commercial establishments were located and along the harbor where foreign ships anchored. [Figure 5] In contrast, imperial celebrations took over the entire city to convey a sense of all-inclusiveness and Ottoman dominance at home. Street decorations and nighttime illumination overrode everyday divisions and boundaries, reinforcing the appearance of a unified people. On these occasions, every government building and consulate put out flags and illuminations. The residences of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs and Jewish Rabbi and the mansions of local notables and merchants across communities were adorned and similarly illuminated, as were the lavishly decked vessels at harbor. Major thoroughfares such as Frank Street and Kemeraltı Street (the ring road around the bazaar) also had their shops and houses festooned with myrtle and evergreens. [40]
Imperial celebrations went beyond temporarily appropriating the city’s existing public spaces to convey a message. They brought about permanent changes in the urban fabric. The arrival of Sultan Abdülmecid, for example, prompted the governor to repave all major streets and add an ornamental iron balustrade to the Caravan Bridge—the gateway to the city from its hinterland. [41] Moreover, until the late 1860s, there was no formally designed space for state performances in Izmir. The governor’s house consisted of an old timber-framed mansion adjacent to the bazaar area—the Kâtipzade konağı, built in 1804. On official days, most large-scale social events such as balls and receptions had to be carried out on board ships, as the size and condition of existing outdoor spaces and building stock could no longer sustain the pomp and circumstance that these festivities required. [42] The construction of a new government palace (or Konak) between 1868 and 1871, and the creation of a formal outdoor space around it, added to the prestige of state institutions and made the area more fit for stately and splendid ceremonial exercises. [Figure 6] In the following years, the displays created on imperial celebrations acquired a more sumptuous character. On one occasion, it was reported that specially made braziers, reading Maşallah (a word of praise, literally “God willed it”) when lit, were placed on every alley and thoroughfare; that fireworks were kept up from sunset till midnight; and that sightseers in small boats glided back and forth to admire the continuous line of illumination overlooking the harbor. [43] After most consulates moved from Frank Street to Izmir’s new quay, completed in the late 1870s, on festive days the waterfront was turned into a protocol strip. Framed on one side by the consulates raising their flags and on the other by steamers of different nations anchored at the harbor and flying colorful bunting, the area became a festive showcase. [Figure 7]
Most importantly, imperial events provided opportunities for the Ottoman state to demand the reciprocation of diplomatic honors parallel to the ones it offered foreign states with diplomatic representation on its lands. After the governor announced an upcoming feast, consuls and the consular offices had to conform to a set repertoire of requirements. For example, they had to decorate and illuminate the consulate for the duration of the festivities. They had to hoist their flag to reciprocate Ottoman gun salutes fired several times throughout the day. Consuls and their staff also had to take part in person in the official ceremonies. In the morning hours, they were the first group to present their congratulations to the governor. Their participation in ceremonial uniform (büyük üniforma) and in the company of their dragomans was integral to the new Ottoman ceremonial conventions.
Ceremonial uniforms and illuminations were considerable expenses that reveal the extent of the demands the Ottoman government placed on foreign legations. Ottoman ceremonial codes prescribed full uniforms and medals to be worn during all diplomatic visits. Ceremonial uniforms represented the status and authority of the bearer and indicated the level of honor accorded to the receiving party. Indeed, when the American consular uniform was revoked in 1853 to be replaced with the simple dress of the citizen, the consul of Izmir objected to the United States Secretary of State. Highlighting the profound political meaning attributed to uniforms in Izmir, he insisted that: “This regulation cannot be put in practice without some inconvenience particularly in the intercourse between the consulate and the local authorities, as they generally attach more importance to external distinctions than to anything else.” [44] Similarly, illuminations of consular buildings constituted an imposition that required the consulates to demand additional funds from their home country. The repeated requests by the consulates from their home offices indicate not only the ability of the Ottoman government to enforce diplomatic reciprocity beyond the limits of its capital, but also attest to Izmir’s increasing prominence as an arena for displays of international diplomacy.


The practices I examine in this chapter signal incipient shifts in Ottoman rule, from a permeable, imperial territorial regime, based on accommodative practices, to a modern territoriality premised on more exclusionary practices. Historically, the Ottoman state had used extraterritorial exemptions and similar group-based privileges to attract diverse peoples to live and work within the empire, benefitting, in turn, from their economic activities. But these exemptions were becoming increasingly disruptive for the centralizing Ottoman state and were undermining its position within the emerging international state system. Hence the 1867 protocol—signed with foreign powers and formally recognizing non-Ottoman subjects’ property rights—demanded, in exchange, subjections to Ottoman laws in all matters related to real estate, seeking to bring a highly differentiated group more evenly under state jurisdiction. Similarly, the Tanzimat government formalized and placed restrictions on diplomatic displays, aligning them with international norms to shore up its legitimacy in the domestic and international spheres.
While Izmir offers a telling case study, the challenges of implementing modern forms of territoriality were by no means unique to the Ottoman setting. Claiming exclusive control over a physical terrain and over the people living, conducting business, and investing in it, standardizing citizenship and property rights, and regulating ceremonial conduct are telltale signs of states territorializing their sovereignty. The struggles detailed in this chapter echo, if not replicate, processes elsewhere in the nineteenth-century world, and especially those in multinational empires. More importantly, however, the measures and tensions that are at the core of this chapter demonstrate how modern territoriality was intimately and reciprocally bound up with the city’s material resources and assets. To begin with, state sovereignty is neither experienced nor implemented in the abstract. Rather, it is enacted through the world of artifacts by granting certain people rights to or placing constraints on their access to certain resources and spaces. Moreover, the particularities of sovereignty depend not only on geopolitical considerations and interstate negotiations but also on the specificity of place and space. On-the-ground resistance and opportunistic actions trickle up to inform the issues that states may, in turn, take up and fight over. In sum, as the foregoing pages have shown, the nature of sovereignty, its boundaries, policies, and zones of contention are inherently fluid and negotiated through everyday spaces and transactions.


Imperial Geographies Sayek fig.4

Figure 4: View of flags from the shore, ca. 1850. Flags were an important aspect of Izmir’s panorama. On special occasions, foreign flags were hoisted on consular buildings, while the Ottoman flag crowned the citadel on Mount Pagus, the commanding hill rising behind the city.
From William Harrison De Puy. People’s Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge. New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1883. 


Figure 5: Map of Izmir, based on a map of the city by Demetrios Georgiades, 1880s.
From Demetrios Georgiades. Smyrne et l’Asie Mineure au point de vue économique et commercial (Paris: Chaix, 1885). Legend: 1. Frank Street; 2. Quay; 3. Kemeraltı Street; 4. Konak; 5. Caravan Bridge.


Figure 6: Postcard: View of Konak Square, showing the governor’s palace and the military barracks to the right. The clock tower was added in 1901 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Abdülhamid’s accession to the throne. 
Courtesy of the Suna & İnan Kıraç Research Institute for Mediterranean Civilizations.


Figure 7: Postcard: View of the quay during ceremonies for the accession to the throne, 1909.
Courtesy of the Suna & İnan Kıraç Research Institute for Mediterranean Civilizations.


CADN/FC Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes, Fonds Constantinople, Séries D, Correspondance Consulaire: Smyrne.
DUSCS Despatches from United States Consuls in Smyrna. National Archives Microfilm Publication, Washington, DC.
PRO/FO Public Record Office, Foreign Office, From Smyrna. National Archives, Kew.

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[ back ] 1. See, for example, Çelik 2008; Harris 2003; Scott 1998; Vale 1992; Anderson 1983.
[ back ] 2. Anderson 1996; Agnew 1994; Ruggie 1993.
[ back ] 3. Kütükoğlu 2000; Karpat 1985:122–123.
[ back ] 4. I use real property in a broader sense to mean both freehold property (mülk) and various kinds of leasehold property (such as gedik and vakıf) that by the 1840s had become akin to freehold, permitting exchange, transfer, and inheritance. On the transformation of gedik property, see Akarlı 2004; Anastassiadou 1997. On vakıf property, see Barnes 1987.
[ back ] 5. Foreigners held mülk in their name only on the rare occasion that they were equipped by a special order (firman) from the sultan. Collas 1864:80; Aliotti 1900:118–134.
[ back ] 6. Taxable property included both mülk and gedik property. In 1854, the value of such property held by foreigners amounted to 82,250,821 piastres (PRO/FO 195/720, “Valuation,” Blunt to Bulwer, August 2, 1862) while total taxable property in Izmir was assessed at 194,000,000 piasters (PRO/FO 195/447, “Report,” Brant to de Redcliffe, July 20, 1854).
[ back ] 7. On the rationale of third-party ownership, see CADN/FC 50, “Note,” February 3, 1872; DUSCS “Memorial,” July 20, 1872; Collas 1864:127–129; McCoan 1879, 2:195.
[ back ] 8. Smyrnelis 2005:291.
[ back ] 9. Van Dyck 1881:56. Different transfer strategies were used in different localities. For example, in Damascus a foreign lessee purchased a building through an indefinite lease of possession, under which the former proprietor could regain the property only on repayment of the money advanced to him (Reilly 1989:524).
[ back ] 10. Until the creation of a land registry in 1850s, title deeds for mülk were prepared at the kadı court in presence of the parties. Long-term leases for vakıf property were drafted by endowment administrators (mütevelli) and then delivered to the kadı court to complete the transaction.
[ back ] 11. For example, while the kadı court had a more procedural cast of mind and sought to settle the case in a language compliant with the precepts of Islamic legal tradition, the consular court saw property in terms of granting or prohibiting absolute rights.
[ back ] 12. PRO/FO 195/389, Fisher to Brant, April 30,1853.
[ back ] 13. PRO/FO 195/389, Âli Pasha to Canning, December 10, 1851 and Brant to Canning, December 18, 1852.
[ back ] 14. Transcript of the Congress of Paris in PRO/FO 78/1787, enclosed in Erskine to Russell, November 12, 1862.
[ back ] 15. Pélissié du Rausas 1902, 2:36–40. The memorandum had repercussions across the empire. For its impact in Aleppo and Damascus, see Rafeq 2000.
[ back ] 16. See the cases collected in PRO/FO 78/1787, 1861–1863.
[ back ] 17. L’Impartial, July 14, 1862, enclosed in PRO/FO 78/1902, Lee to Russell, July 26, 1862.
[ back ] 18. PRO/FO 195/720, Blunt to Bulwer, August 2, 1862.
[ back ] 19. PRO/FO 78/1787, Pisani to Bulwer, November 5, 1861.
[ back ] 20. RO/FO 78/1787, Bulwer to Hornby, November 13, 1861; CADN/FC 50, “Note,” 1872.
[ back ] 21. Levant Herald, July 16, 1862.
[ back ] 22. PRO/FO 78/1787, Bulwer, de Moustier, Prokesh-Oster, and Sohanov to Âli Pasha February 15, 1862.
[ back ] 23. Aristarchi Bey 1873, 1:19–25. The 1867 decree applied throughout the empire, with the exception of the province of Hicaz.
[ back ] 24. Pélissié du Rausas 1902; Steen de Jehay 1906; Brown 1914:93–95.
[ back ] 25. Testa et al. 1864, 7:542–545.
[ back ] 26. Testa et al. 1864, 7:526–527.
[ back ] 27. Susa 1933:83–84n39. Britain, France, Austria, and the Netherlands signed the protocol by 1869, followed reluctantly by Russia, Greece, and Italy, who had the largest numbers of protégés, and eventually by Prussia and the United States in 1874.
[ back ] 28. La Turquie, June 6, 1871.
[ back ] 29. Cannadine 2001; Goodman 2000; Anderson 1983; Smith 1987.
[ back ] 30. CADN/FC 46, Mure de Pélanne to Moustier, September 6, 1862.
[ back ] 31. CADN/FC 44, Pichon to Lavalette, December 22, 1852.
[ back ] 32. Journal de Constantinople, March 23, 1864.
[ back ] 33. PRO/FO 195/1075, May 27, 1876.
[ back ] 34. Renan 1882.
[ back ] 35. Aristarchi Bey 1873, 4:22–44. These and similar instructions were sent to all diplomatic missions and consulates. See e.g. PRO/FO 195/720, December 2, 1862; CADN/FC 46, February 28, 1863. On maritime international codes, see Testa 1886:113–121.
[ back ] 36. Young 1905, 3:42n1.
[ back ] 37. Young 1905, 3:42.
[ back ] 38. CADN/FC 46, September 6, 1862.
[ back ] 39. Karateke 2004; Deringil 1998.
[ back ] 40. Gardey 1865:230–235.
[ back ] 41. CADN/FC 43, Pichon to Aupick, June 28, 1850.
[ back ] 42. Levant Herald, July 5, 1865.
[ back ] 43. Levant Herald, July 9, 1873.
[ back ] 44. DUSCS, Offley to secretary of state, August 5, 1853.