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Troisième partie. La recherche sur les migrations en Turquie et sur les turcs en Europe dans le cas français. État de l’art et mise en perspective historique

How Migration Institutions “Think”?: The Ottoman-Turkish Case

Fuat Dündar
p. 169-187

Texte intégral

  • 1 In this study, terms “immigration” and “immigrant” will include refugees, despite they were two dis (...)

1This article examines the history of official institutions, which were created to solve migration/migrant1 problems in the period extending from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. It demonstrates an interesting paradox; the tradition of institutionalization was very weak, despite the size and frequency of immigration. Indeed, the institutionalization in immigration issue was partly unsystematic, unstable, discontinuous, personal, exclusive, non-collective and insufficient. Yet despite these problems, the Ottoman and Turkish authorities managed to overcome issues related to immigration, and even succeeded in building a new state integrating these newcomers. The aim of the article is to find an answer to the following question : how did the Ottoman-Turkish governments solve the immigration problems in the absence of a tradition of established institutions.

  • 2 For instance see the bibliography of this article.
  • 3 I distinguish institutional thinking from ideology. While ideology is more totalitarian, the instit (...)

2The literature on Ottoman-Turkish migration has highlighted the inadequacy and the lack of institutionalization2. Nevertheless, none of them examined the paradox mentioned above nor asked about what aspects contributed to compensating for this inadequacy of institutionalization and about how the Ottoman-Turkish authorities overcame the massive problems created by migration. For the purpose of finding answers to these questions, this work will base on the formulation of the anthropologist Mary Douglas, who argues that the institution not only consists of physical aspects but is also made of institutional thinking, emotion and behavior (Douglas, 1986). This article will argue that the Ottoman-Turkish authorities coped with the immigration problems through institutional thinking and manner. They thus filled the absence of institutionalization and its weakness through the continuity in institutional thinking and behavior3.

  • 4 Only exception is Toumarkine’s work, in which he examines immigrant organizations. See Toumarkine, (...)
  • 5 Weberian approach is mainly based on the institutes of the existent states. However, the institutio (...)

3This article focuses on the official institutions, not the ones founded by non-state actors (i.e. immigrants4 and non-Muslims). The latter are excluded here since they are examined within the literature of « nationalist movements » and « diaspora ». The organizations/institutions created by non-Muslims communities outside of the Anatolia especially had a different kind of institutional process, practices and mentality. They cannot be comprehended by the Weberian institutional approach5. Even though the divergence between state-sponsored institutions and institutions founded by non-state actors in their functionality is minimal and both were created as a solution to migration problems, their differences cannot be ignored or minimized. Simply, the organizations by non-state actors were – in general – created to counter official institutions. Indeed, the institutions/organizations created by non-state actors especially by Ottoman non-Muslims had different impact on the migration issue. The Armenians and Greeks expelled from Anatolia initiated several associations in their “new” countries (“homeland” or “third countries”). These associations are often examined within the nationalist and diasporic literature.

4In the classic sense, the institution is an ensemble founded for/about a specific and routine problem, which has well defined duty areas and clear boundaries. Having a place in state hierarchy and admitting mandatory hierarchical relations (mainly with its superior and its inferior), the institution is responsible to solve the problems for which it was founded otherwise subject to sanction/penal by high rank institutions/individuals, by having a « stable » and « continuous » organizational structure. The institution is also capable of converting/transferring personal interests into collective interests, not leaning on leaders/individuals (im-personalization) but at the same time giving opportunity to individual initiatives and valorizing individual contributions in its organizational structures and capacities. Moreover, the institution is capable to transfer their knowledge and experience foremost their archival materials that provided unique functional continuity, by having most vital and necessary knowledges and experiences on/in its duty area(s) and thus include/produce expert in its domain. The institution eliminates as much as possible flexibility and uncertainty, having a place/address (with its buildings, cadres and headed papers).

5This study will firstly resume the magnitude of the (im)migrations in the Ottoman-Turkish history. Secondly, it will examine official institutions that created for solving the migration problems. The institutionalization process will be approached in three stages of development; the Commission (1860), the Directorate (1913) and the Ministry (1920). Despite this historical trajectory, the inadequacy in the institutionalization will be continuous in regard to the size and magnitude of the immigrations. Finally, it will expose the reasons of the inadequacy in institutionalization. Lastly, it will offer a synthesis in the aim to explain how the Ottoman-Turkish authorities filled this institutional inadequacy.

Migration Institutions: A Brief History from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic

6The transition period from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic witnessed mass migration. It was probably one of the largest migrations occurred during and right after the First World War, and as a result Anatolia became a sort of migrant-land.

  • 6 In fact, most immigration was inner displaced population, migrating from lost territories. However, (...)
  • 7 There was also immigration from other countries, for instance Jewish immigration in 16th c., 1830‑4 (...)

7In fact, way before this migration, around the time when the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca was signed with Russia in 1774 many and various population movements would head into the Ottoman territories, including the Balkans, Middle East and Anatolia in various magnitudes and for various reasons (i.e., migration, immigration, emigration, deportation, exclusion, internal displacement and so on). The two most important reasons for these population movements were wars and state policies. Their main directions were towards inner regions (and the Anatolia as a stationary land) of the Ottoman Empire6. There was a massive migration during or immediately after almost every Ottoman-Russian war. The other migrations took place because of the homogenization policy (anti-muslim, anti-turk) of the newly founded states and also the encouraging policy (celb) of the Ottoman government. The great majority of immigrants were Muslims7.

  • 8 As it has been emphasized, this article focuses only on the immigration towards the Ottoman-Turkish (...)
  • 9 There is a rich literature, for the extended bibliography see bibliography of Dündar, 2008. Yet for (...)

8Some of the important immigrations were from8 the Crimea, the North Balkans, the North Caucasus (1864), the South Caucasia and Eastern Anatolia (1877‑8), the South Balkans (1912), the Eastern Anatolia (Şark mültecileri, 1916) and the Greek Kingdom (Mübadil, 1923). Many figures and estimations are put forward on the number of migrants. According to the numbers that circulated and were used in Turkish literature, about 1.800.00 Tatars migrated between 1783‑1922 in three waves (1789‑1800, 1828‑1829 and 1860‑1864). The number of Caucasian migrants is the most 2.000.000 between 1859 and 1879, an important part of them lost their lives through their migration routes. The number of migrants from Caucasus and the Balkans following the 1877‑8 Ottoman-Russian is around 1.500.000. It is also estimated that the Balkan wars (1912‑13) caused the immigration of around 640.000 individual. In May 1916, some 800.000 Muslims fled from the Russian army in the Ottoman eastern provinces (şark mültecileri). Finally, following the treaty of population exchange in 1923, hundreds of thousand Muslim-Turks were settled in Anatolia9.

9Paradoxically, the institutions founded with the aim to solve the problems caused by these migrations were inadequate given the number of migrants, the frequency of their arrival, the political, social and economical problems they created.

10Covering a long period, this article will also demonstrate that despite the difficulties, the institutionalization was an ongoing process. During the pre-institutionalization period, immigration problems were resolved spontaneously as they occurred, with local agents, individuals in charge and certain municipal administrations. Despite the fact that the post-institutionalization period was progressive, it was still disconnected and even chaotic. The institutionalization started at the beginning as a “commission”, later it turned into a “bureau” and a “directory”, and finally reached “ministerial” level. While immigration was taken more seriously and the bureau represented it with a higher level official in the government it went through several stages in due course. These stages could be also classified into five distinct periods, which were determined mainly by political developments: pre-institutionalization (pre-1860); initiative period (1860‑1875); Abdulhamid II period (1878‑1909); Unionist religious-nationalist period (1913‑1918) and Kemalist secular-nationalist period (post-1923).

First Institutionalization : COMMISSION (1860)

  • 10 An exception is the Hungarian immigration commission, which was founded in 1854 by Hungarian immigr (...)

11Despite the fact that migration started into the Ottoman territories by the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, Cuthell Jr. states that « somewhat ad hoc policies developed over the decades prior to the Crimean War » (Cuthell, 2005, p. 114). « Local » interventions were sufficient at the beginning of immigrations, which happened over long intervals, in fewer numbers and affected mainly borderland regions. Local authorities were intervening with instructions sent from Istanbul. During the decade before the Tanzimat period (1830s), the municipalities (Belediye) were occupied with problems of immigrants10. The most important non-state actor during this period was the local population (mainly Muslims), who hosted, and fed the migrants. They tried to overcome the migration problem through their social and religious solidarity networks. These networks would lay the foundation for state-sponsored institutions almost a hundred years later than the first migration started.

  • 11 For the Ottoman national budgets, see Güran, 2003.
  • 12 “ilim ve haber”, Tercüman-ı Ahval, 25 February 1861, No: 19, cited in Erdem, 2014, p. 78‑79.

12The institutionalization period started with the foundation of the first Ottoman immigration bureau (Muhacirin Komisyonu/Migrants Commission, 1860‑1865). Until 1875, three different institutional bodies (komisyon and idare) would be founded (Erdem, 2014; Cuthell, 2005). The first commission was established because of the Caucasian immigrants, escaping from the Russian invasion. In 1861, it included 30 central and 13 provincial staff members (Erdem, 2014, 74‑75). Its budget was 12,663 kuruş (piaster) in the years 1859 to 1865, when the state appropriation budget (tahsisat bütçesi) for these years was 8,650,000 kuruş11. The Commission was composed of the Trabzon Governor Hafiz Pasha (president) and Remzi Efendi (member of the Trade Union council), Refik Bey (member of Military Council), and İsmail and Hacı Pir Efendi. The commission was able to solve the problems of hundreds of thousands of migrants, despite the fact that they had few staff members and a limited budget. They were able to do so because of the choice the commission members and the support of the Muslim people. Cuthell Jr claims that the ethnic/religious identity was considered in the selection of these members. The commissioner, Hafiz Pasha, was of Circassian origin. He aimed at making the adaptation of immigrants to their new homeland easier and hoped “to smooth the process of acculturation of emigrants” (Cuthell, 2005, p. 104). The newspapers had an important function which was to attract support from locals. The press often called upon the people to support the Muslim migrants. Most of mobilized people were Muslims12.

13Two years after the suspension of this commission, a new commission was founded (in 1867) and a new ordinance was prepared mainly because of the increasing numbers of the Abkhaz immigrants from Caucasia. New massive arrivals brought new problems on a chaotic level. Consequently, the need for a new commission became crucial. Yet this commission was only composed of 4 kâtips and one translator and it would cease to exist within a few months.

14The Migrants Commission, again a new commission formed in 1870, survived only for five years. The new commission would quickly slow down its activities on the pretext of the decrease of migrants’ number. When the chief commissioner Muammer Pasha died, the commission’s budget was restricted, its staff members were reduced to 15 members and it was attached to the Ministry of Police (Zaptiye Nezareti) on March 10th, 1875.

  • 13 The migrant studies in Turkey emphasize the chaos in immigration institutions. Literature talks abo (...)

15Just two years after the Ottoman-Russian War (1877‑1878) a new era started and several institutions for immigrants were founded as part of a relief commission. (Erdem, 2014, p. 93.) The municipalities and Security Ministry, which focused on their affairs rather than on migration issues, anymore administrated such massive migration. The reason of this surge in the institutionalization13 was not related specifically to the number and the tragic aspect of migration, it was rather about macro politics. Demographically, economically, politically and especially ideologically the empire was in transformation. The Islamism in state level and Turkism in intellectual (mostly produced by state-sponsored intellectuals) level constituted two emergent political ideologies. Abdulhamid II with the charismatic title Caliphate developed new macro political projects, in which the immigration commissions played an important role. Thereafter, the immigration issue was seen, besides its humanitarian crisis dimension, rather strictly as a political matter. Abdulhamid II, during his absolutist rule (1876‑1908), tried to overcome the crisis of administration by stabilizing bureaucracy, and maintained his Empire relatively in peace. The Migrants Commission became a major instrument as he developed his policies.

16Abdulhamid II himself was at the center of the institutionalization activity. Three commissions were founded and directed by him: General Commission for Migration (Umum Muhacirin Komisyonu), Commission for Muslim Migrants (Muhacirin-i İslamiye Komisyonu) and High Council for Migrants (Muhacirin Encümen-i Alîsi). The fourth commission. The General Administration of Migrants Commission (İdare-i Umûmiye-i Muhacirin Komisyonu) was in charge of the technical aspects.

17Umum Muhacirin Komisyonu (March 1877 – April 1878), founded by Abdulhamid II, was an umbrella organization, with its 10 members, empowered to stint the other state apparatus. Yet, in a month, it was abolished, on the ground that there would only be two commissions taking decisions about migration issues.

  • 14 In some other sources, the date of termination is 2 August 1893.

18The General Administration of Migrants Commission (İdâre-i Umûmiyye-i Muhâcirîn Komisyonu) (13 August 1877‑19 September 189414), which was one of the long-lasting commissions, changed its staff members, leaders and institutional structure several times. During its formative years, it was composed of five sub-commissions with 55 staff members altogether. Two years later one sub-commission was abolished, and staff number decreased to 27 (1879), one year later a new sub-commission was added and staff number increased to 37. Seven chief commissioners were changed in 16 years, because of their perceived inadequacy. Its budget was still undetermined. It was not clear how much the Commission took from the imperial budget between 1878‑1892. The only budget available is the one for 1893, and this was 1,750 million kuruş. This figure almost represents one per thousand of national budget spending (bütçe gideri) which amount to 1,828 million kuruş. This Commission was also abolished due to the decline in the number of refugees. Their institutional work was ceded to the Interior Ministry and municipalities.

19The regulation of 14 June 1878 laid the burden of migrant on local population. It projected the distribution of migrants to villages and town, a migrant family per ten local households. (Dündar, 2002)

20The other commission under the protectorate of Abdulhamid was “Muhacirîn Encümeni Alîsi” (in some sources Muhâcirîn Komisyon-ı Âli). It was founded after the 1897 Ottoman-Greek War and survived only one year. The commission was composed of ten members: four high ranking officers from the Ottoman army, two from the Ministry Interior, one from the Ministry of Economy, one from the Ministry of Commerce and one from the Ministry of Public Works and one from the Ministry of Forestry.

21One of the most important migrant commissions in the Ottoman history was the Commission for Muslim Immigrants (Muhacirin-i İslamiye Komisyonu, 1897‑1908), composed of 5‑7 members and led by Abdulhamid II. The commission would survive for ten years, despite the fact that there was no new war nor migrations. This commission was a sign of the change in the institutional thinking. The commission represented a rupture from its precedents, by its content, function and aims. This was the first official migrant commission that openly emphasized its Islamic character. The commission, which was founded following the advice of Şeyhülislam during the reign of Abdulhamid II, encouraged Muslims, who were under “foreign rules”, to immigrate to the Ottoman Empire and live in a Muslim country. The commission’s official aim was to determine the vacant and cultivable lands for their settlement and provide welfare for migrant families. Yet, the main aim of the Commission was ideological and political. The priority was given to the survival of the state rather than to the welfare of migrants. The relief campaigns (such as Muhacir Pulu and lottery) organized by the commission was one of the biggest and longest term public mobilization. Muhacir Pulu (1897) was a particular pad stamp that was used on all official correspondences. Anyone who had to deal with the state apparatus for an official document had to use this stamp. It was a kind of stamp tax. This type of tax, which aimed to rejuvenate religious feelings in the public and reinforce the bonds between Muslims, was also imposed on the Ottoman non-Muslim population. At the beginning, the Christian citizens living in rural areas were also made elligible to use this stamp. With the aim of collecting money for the migrants, several lotteries were organized between 1905 and 1910. Approximately 21 million kuruş were endowed, but because of the complexity of this method (revenue collection took a long time) it was abandoned.

22The commission budget was very small, and corresponded to a tiny portion of national budget. For instance, its starting budget (in 1897) was 321,000 kuruş while in 1897‑1898 the Ottoman state budget (tahsisat bütçe gideri) was 1,845 million kuruş. The 1907 budget was 467,000 kuruş while 1905‑1906 state budget was 2,196 million kuruş.

  • 15 An ongoing PhD work by Sinan Çetin of the Bilkent University in History Department under the superv (...)

23The commission was the first migrant institution that worked in certain discipline, and followed transportation and settlement of immigrants carefully. The commission produced in average 5,000 official documents per year, which was a substantially high number for the Ottoman bureaucracy during this period15.

24After the abolishment of the Muhacirin-i İslamiye Komisyonu in 1908, its sub-commission, Muhacirin İdaresi, was transferred to the Muhacirin İdare-i Umumiyesi Müdüriyeti (Directorate of General Administration of Migrants) of the Ministry of Interior.

  • 16 Max Weber, Economy and Society, V. 2, chp. 6, Univeristy of California Press, 1922, 956‑1005.
  • 17 Along with other sultans Abdulhamid’s name was also given to the villages constructed for immigrant (...)

25All commissions headed by Abdulhamid II became inactive after the oppositional members of Young Turks took power in the 1908 Revolution. Besides political reasons, the lack of institutional culture was also effective in the pacification of the commissions. As mentioned above, the individualism (not institutionalism) was important in some migration commissions, which functioned mainly through the charisma of their chiefs. When the head of a commission (mostly provincial governor or army commander) dismissed or passed away, the commission would be de facto abolished or lose its administrative power. As per Weber’s distinction between charismatic person and rational bureaucracy, the main obstacle standing in front of the institutionalization appeared to be the impact of charismatic individuals16. Thus, including the Abdulhamid II period, the institutionalization of the administration of immigration did not acquire a rational Weberian bureaucratic character. The individual charisma always played an important role17. Therefore, after the removal of charismatic leaders from the administration their institutional bodies also lost their function.

26From 1908 to 1913, the migrations institutions became inactive. The only exception was Trablusgarp Mülteci Komisyonu (Commission for the Tripoli Refugees, end of 1911‑18th February 1913), which was created for the refugees of Tripoli war, which was a small-scale yet a mystified and over-proportionally instrumentalized war by the governing party. For this commission, a sum of 2,000 liras was allocated to İstanbul Municipality and the commission was resolved following the settlement of few thousand migrants.

Progress in Institutionalization: DIRECTORATE (1913)

27A turning point in the institutionalization of the migration was the establishment of the İskan-ı Aşair ve Muhacirîn Müdüriyeti (Directorate of the Tribes and Immigrants Settlement or İAMM), which was founded in 1913. It was the first directorate founded for migrant issues. This meant that the migration issue became a part of the Ottoman policy making. In 1916, it was reorganized as Aşair ve Muhacirîn Müdüriyet-i Umumiyesi (General Directorate of Tribes and Immigrants or AMMU).

28This time the number of personnel was higher and their quality was better than their predecessors. The directorate with its organization, techniques, budget, sub-commissions, number and quality of staff members, their proportion to the number of migrants was better than ever. For instance, while the 1916‑7 state budget was 3.972 million kuruş, the directory’s budget for the same period was 20 million. Again, while the 1917‑8 state budget was 5.330 million kuruş, the directory’s 1918 budget was 2,000,000. The directory was transformed to a general directory in 1916. The number of its staff members and its responsibilities were increased. More experts were employed, more sub-commissions were established for various new purposes such as statistics, publication and propaganda.

29There were two main reasons behind this professionalization. The first reason was that most immigrant coming from the region, the Balkans where the governing party (Committee of Progress and Union or CUP, 1906) emerged and among immigrants there were CUP cadres’ relatives and social circles.

  • 18 The publication of İskan-ı Aşair ve Muhacirîn Müdüriyeti provides the details about this subject. S (...)

30The second reason was the fact that CUP’s ideology-politics was based on population policy. The settlement of migrants was a main tool in their nationalist-Islamism policy. The Directorate determined not only immigrant policy, but broader population policy, by overseeing deportations and forced settlements, including sedentarization of nomads. Being modernist, they believed that the Western colonization methods were better for the settlement of immigrants. The Western methods could solve the problems created by migrants and the immigrants could be seen as a useful tool to transform the society, and ethnic-religious issues. For this reason, general directory was interested in both migrant-settlement issue and ethnic-religious issues. The Directorate carried out several publications, partly translated from European languages, about migration and identity issues18. The Directorate planned and applied different deportation, settlement and subsistence policies for migrants who had different ethnic-religious identities. The victorious powers, following the First World War, considered the migration-settlement policy of non-Muslims by this directorate as war-crime during the Ottoman military tribunals (Dündar, 2002 and 2008).

31Additionally, a specific and interim commission named Muhtelit Mübadele Komisyonu (Mixed Commission for the Population Exchange) was established in 1914 in order to organize the exchange of population between Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire. The commission was abolished after solving the settlement issue of about 50,000 to 60,000 people.

32After the First World War similar institutions were founded by Kemalist parliament in Ankara. The institution that operated between 1920‑22, Ankara Aşâir ve Muhâcirîn Müdüriyet-I Umumiyesi, interestingly did not follow a migrant policy different from the previous government in Istanbul. Despite the fact that there was a political rivalry between Imperial Istanbul and Republican Ankara governments, their migration institutions shared similar policies and they even collaborated. Since both governments had the same way of thinking, having two parallel institutions did not constitute a problem.

Summit in Institutionalization: MINISTRY (1923)

33The summit in institutionalization dated 8 November 1923, when the Mübadele, İmar ve İskan Bakanligi (Population Exchange, Construction and Settlement Ministry) was founded. Two reasons were behind handling the migrant issue on the ministerial level. The first reason was the economical dimension. The population exchange involved a huge number of population, yet more importantly included properties with a high capital value (real estate, land). The ministry was necessary to distribute the capital that remained from 1,200,000 Greeks to 500,000 Turkish Muslims. The capital abandoned by the Greeks was seen as an important financial resource since the economy of the newly founded state was very weak. As the number of population involved was massive neither a small commission nor a directory could overcome this big issue, except for a ministry (Keyder, 2003). The second reason was the quality of immigrants. The migrants coming from Greece were more urban, Turkish speaking and more nationalist. They were coming from the Macedonian region, which was the birthplace of the CUP. After First World War the CUP staff members, many of them from Greece, switched their loyalty to the Kemalist movement. In other words, the migrants constituted the base population of the Kemalist government. For a while, migration from the Balkans was the most desired migration for the Kemalist regime.

34The Ministry would be abolished one month later, and transformed into a directory under the Ministry of Interior as the İskan Müdüriyet-i Umumiyyesi (General Directory of Settlement). Until 1935, several commissions were founded, and all would have a short life span. They would be transferred from one ministry or directorate to other one and it would be strictly a technical commission. For instance, the Bureau of Immigration was under the directory of the Ministry of Interior and was later transferred to the Directorate of Population Register in the beginning of 1930s.

35In 1935 an immigration ministry named Ministry for Settlement Affairs, Health and Social Relief (İskan işleri, Sağlık ve Sosyal Yardım Bakanlığı) was founded. The reason for the establishment of this ministry was the increasing nationalism in global as well as national levels. In the 1930s the Kemalist regime consolidated its power. In addition, as a result of the increasing nationalist/racist movements in Europe, Ankara increased its nationalist discourses and practices. Having a pro-immigration policy Ankara encouraged immigration of the Balkan Turks and Muslims, who would easily and voluntarily be Turkified. Settlement Law of 1934 (Iskan Kanunu), which was actually revised version of the Settlement Law of 1926, determined the regions of settlement in accordance with the ethnic characters of migrants and local population. The Law distinguished the migrants in several categories, each had to be settled in previously determined regions. Those categories were named as “Muhacir, mülteci, göçebe, gezginci çingene, naklolunanlar ve yerli” (migrant, refugee, nomad, wandering gypsy, transfers and locals). The commission would lose its efficiency during Second World War, and eventually transferred to the Toprak ve İskan Genel Müdürlüğü (General Directorate of Land and Settlement) in 1950. During this period, the main occupation would not be migrants but nomads from inside of the country, mainly Kurdish tribes (Gök, 2005).

Inadequacy in institutionalization

36This historical outline shows that the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic had institutionalization problems in terms of migration affairs, despite the fact that they were subject of massive immigration over a long time span. The institutionalization did not meet the quality and quantity of the immigrations.

37The most important institutionalization problem was the instability, despite continuous character of immigration. Cuthell Jr asserts that there was a “lack of continuity” (s.112) in the commission practices for the period of 1860‑1867. We can generalize this absence of continuity in institutionalization to both the Ottoman as well as the Republican periods.

38There were two types of commissions/institutions. One had strictly immigrant-oriented institutions, which were spontaneous and operational in character. They were founded during the immigration and dismantled just after the distribution of immigrants to the provinces, despite the continuation of the settlement. For this reason, such commissions had a short life span and lacked professionalism.

39The second type of commission was the ideological-political oriented commission, for whom the state interest was the priority. These became the main ideological apparatus for the state, rather than focusing on real immigration issues. The “Commission for Muslim Migrants” of Abdulhamid II was at the center of his “Islamist” project, while the IAMM/AMMU of the CUP was a main source of the “Islamist-Turkist” program. As for the Republican period, immigration policies produced by the “Ministry for Exchange, Construction and Settlement” and the “Ministry for Settlement Affairs, Health and Social Relief” laid the foundations of a “secular-Turkist” state and consolidated its ideological structure.

40The other important institutionalization problem was inadequacy of institutions founded throughout the Ottoman and Republican periods. Their authority and thus their influence on the immigrants were limited. They were mostly under the control of higher official bodies, such as ministries, army, etc. Their personnel, comparing to the volume of the immigration paperwork, were generally insufficient and were mostly non-expert who were transferred from other state offices. After 1913, the state valued the expertise on the immigration issue. However, the state cared more about ideological-political views rather than an ethnographer’s perspective from an immigration expert. The budget was also inadequate. The commissions’ budget clearly shows that in proportion to the national budget it was small, insufficient and did not meet at all the need of immigrants (housing, food etc.). In the course of time, the budget increased not necessarily because of rise in the number of immigrants but because of the ideological-political character of governments.

Reasons for the inadequacy in Institutionalization

41Before examining the ways how the state overcame these institutional weaknesses, it is necessary to look at the reasons behind the lack of institutionalization, which are wars, economy and bureaucratic insufficiency. The empire lost almost all wars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which had a big economic, political and demographic impact. As it is emphasized above, the migration commissions had been generally founded during disaster periods caused by military and territorial losses. Thus, their fate was very much related with the war. Some of them were closed just after the war.

  • 19 For Ottoman debt see E. Kıray, Osmanlı’da ekonomik yapı ve dış borçlar, İstanbul: İletişim, 2007.

42Being already in economic difficulty (particularly due to the Capitulation19), the long wars deepened the crisis further. One of the first victims of the economic crises were the immigration commissions, as they were considered less important and secondary institutions. Some commissions were shut down because of budget constraints and their staff members were appointed to other governmental offices.

43The third reason was bureaucratic insufficiency. It is well known that the Ottoman Empire started to modernize and Europeanize its bureaucracy after the Tanzimat in 1840s. It was naturally a long process, during which the institutionalization of immigration practices was also affected. One could not expect the establishment of stable migration institutions, especially from a state that had not yet accomplished its institutional reconstruction. Yet, there were some institutions, which were already established with a successful career path such as the military, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior Affairs (Findley, 1980 İnalcik & Seyitdanlıoğlu, 2011).

44One may say that the main reason behind the lack of institutionalization was more complicated. The real reason was not the late modernization but the lack of sample migration institution in the West that could easily be adapted by the Ottomans as a model. The Ottomans imitated the European institutions, its military, economic, bureaucracy, and several other institutions. Though, since immigration was not a big problem in the Western Europe, there was not a well-established migration institution there during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As there was not an á la franga model, the Ottomans created their own á la turca model. Eventually, the Turkish model of migration institutions turned out to be unsteady, reactionary, crisis centered, spontaneous, built on charismatic leaders, and lacking organizational memory and continuity.

  • 20 In fact, regarding to the institutionalization, the Russian impact was important. During the Caucas (...)

45By 1913, the methods by Western colonizers were taken as a model for the immigration methods, which were not migrant centered but territorial20. This meant a change in state logics. Ottoman authorities started to see its territory and population from the eyes of French, German and British colonizers. Paradoxically, the Western colonization methods of immigration that was seen as a proper model, would be later considered as part of war crimes committed against the displaced population in the Ottoman Empire. The immigration institution would be put on trial by the victorious European powers as the main perpetrator for organizing deportations and massacres (tehcir, taktil).

Concluding Remarks: Institutional Thinking versus Institutions

46Despite the structural reasons mentioned above, taking into consideration the magnitude and continuity of immigrations, one would expect a more professional and institutional approach to this issue. At that point one should recall the initial question: Despite institutionalization problems, how did the state overcome the chronic immigration problems? Two responses may be given to this question.

47Firstly, it was not necessary to have a stable and serious institution since several state institutions were interested in the issue, a kind of partout et nulle part situation. Indeed, the Empire turned into an « Empire of migrants ». Migration was not taken only as a simple humanitarian crisis. In macro level it was also considered as an essential element of the very existence of the state. Not only migration institutions but – whenever it was necessary – other governmental offices were also interested in the issue of immigrants and immigrations. The resources of other institutions were mobilized when there was a need for the establishment of a migration commission.

48Actually, the anthropologist Mary Douglas gives a well-grounded answer to our question. In her study How the institutions think? she argues that the institution not only consists of physical aspects (text/documents, cadres, place/buildings), but is also made of institutional thinking, emotion and behavior (Douglas, 1986). The institution is actually a thinking method, a cognitive partnership and reconciliation. The institution could be reviving the mental and behavioral codes. For this reason, Douglas argues that the institutions teach/dictate us how to think and how to behave.

49Indeed, the Ottomans and the Kemalist Turkey coped with the migration problems with institutional mentality and institutions. The institutions inculcated the population (mainly Muslims) how to look at their Muslim brethren and how to treat them. Thus, despite the institutionalization problems the massive immigration did not create uncontrollable problems as might have been expected.

50The most important institutional thinking was that being immigrant was seen as a temporary situation. They had to be transformed into subjects (tebaa), settled and become tax payers quickly. Being immigrant did not provide any privilege or a separate identity from Muslim locals. The authorities thought that the existence of a specific immigrant institution could delay the normalization and adaptation of the immigrant to the society. Being immigrant was not a permanent situation, but a transient one. Besides, the expectations of the state from immigrants were not precise. Immigrants who settled in Muslim-Turkish region had to assimilate to the locals. On the contrary the immigrants who settled in non-Muslim, non-Turkish regions had to influence the local people. In the latter case, immigrants were colonizers, not immigrants and they transformed from passive to active agents of the state. As agents they did not need state’s help anymore, rather they “paid” their “debt” to the state. By Islamizing and Turkifying the ethnically mixed regions the state hoped to pacify society.

51Douglas argues that state institutions routinize, mechanize and thus naturalize the routine problems. Indeed, as the immigration increased, solutions to problems of migrants were more routinized. For this reason, probably, the flaw in institutionalization was not felt very much. Therefore, I believe that some of the issues concerning transfer and settlement of immigrants were not specified in regulations. For routine problems routine solutions were offered. Solutions were routinized and normalized, and, for this reason no one objected them. For instance, the methods that were elaborated in the first regulations (such as distribution of settlements and placement of immigrants into the commissions) did not find a place in later regulations. Their absence meant nothing, since many rules were still applied de facto.

52Douglas maintains that institutional mentality and practices form and shape citizens and more importantly create a resemblance or social homogenization between them. Indeed, the immigration commissions (mainly through newspapers, officials and local Muslims) aimed to integrate immigrants to local Muslims and vice versa. Indeed, local Muslims were adapted to immigrants while immigrants were adapted to local Muslims. The discourse that « one day all Ottoman Muslims would be immigrants » because of wars waged on the Ottomans by Western powers was circulated among Muslim subjects by state authorities, commissions and press. Aimed at creating stronger bonds between the old and new population this would create fear among Muslim subjects and fuel the motivation to struggle for their migrant fellows’ dignity.

  • 21 For instance in 1860 Immigrants Commission included Circassian Hafiz Mehmed Pasha (the head of the (...)
  • 22 For the impact of strategy of including migrants into immigration institutions see also Toumarkine, (...)

53The other institutional behavior was the composition of the commission, which was related to the background of the immigrants. Even though there was no written rule, the Ottomans were very attentive to include immigrants, who shared similar ethnic or religious background with them, and more importantly their leaders and prominent figures of the community. At the beginning Tatars, Circassians and Georgians, and later Turks and Muslims from the Balkans played a significant role in the commissions. This method facilitated adaptation of immigrants into their new Muslim society21. As Cuthell Jr states that Circassian and Tartar migrants were incorporated “into the elite stratum of Ottoman Society (s.263)” and “Ottoman establishment itself, in particularly in the military” (Cuthell, 2005, p. 26222).

  • 23 While the powers aimed immigrants forget their past (as a place of identity), used their sufferance (...)

54The last (but not least) most important institutional thinking and behavior was the character of settlement, more precisely the dispersion method. The Ottoman and Turkish authorities wanted to settle immigrants while spreading them out as much as possible. The magnitude of dispersion depended on the identity and loyalty of immigrants. The more they resembled the local Muslims and the more they were loyal to the state the less they were dispersed. The state assured that the ratio between the immigrant and the local families was l to 10 or 10% of local population in the distribution23. One did not need an institution; institutional logics was sufficient enough to do the numbers and solve routine problems. Such solutions were placed in laws, especially before the period of institutionalization, but state authorities successfully solved immigration problems.

55The settlement method intended to prevent the spatial concentration. One reason behind dispersing of immigrants among the locals was to accelerate their adaptation and assimilation, but also assure the migrant-ization (feeling like a migrant) of the local and settled Muslims. Once the local people started to sense that they could also be an immigrant one day, they became more persuasive to help immigrants. With such a policy, the state also aimed at in macro level to mobilize them in political, military and economic affairs. The symbiosis between immigrants and locals facilitated the diffusion of institutional thinking outside of institutional circle.

56The state gave overwhelming responsibility to the local population. At the beginning of the immigration, when there was no institution, the locals welcomed immigrants into their homes, lands and even life. This would be a continuous and routine behavior. When the relief commissions were inadequate and short-lived, local people continued to provide help to the immigrants. In other words the difference between the former and the latter was the temporary physical institutions versus permanent institutional mentality.

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1 In this study, terms “immigration” and “immigrant” will include refugees, despite they were two distinct categories. In Ottoman law, refugees were arrivals from the territories lost. Once the territories were ceded as a result of a war followed by a treaty and settled into the Ottoman territories, they were considered as immigrants. Yet, the term “migrant” was broadly used, even for the internally displaced person by the force.

2 For instance see the bibliography of this article.

3 I distinguish institutional thinking from ideology. While ideology is more totalitarian, the institutional thinking is about a problem that is more limited, private, concrete and routine. The latter is inspired by a concrete case and/or precede an action. Ideology covers institutional thinking, which cannot exist alone, and depends on a political (sometimes an ideological) apparatus.

4 Only exception is Toumarkine’s work, in which he examines immigrant organizations. See Toumarkine, 5th chapter.

5 Weberian approach is mainly based on the institutes of the existent states. However, the institutionalization of stateless peoples has another process and bottom-to-top direction…

6 In fact, most immigration was inner displaced population, migrating from lost territories. However, the historical migration literature do not this separation, this article will not neither distinguished them.

7 There was also immigration from other countries, for instance Jewish immigration in 16th c., 1830‑40 Polish, 1854 Hungarian immigration, but their number were few and their social impact was ignorable.

8 As it has been emphasized, this article focuses only on the immigration towards the Ottoman-Turkish territories, not from the opposite direction. Especially between 1913‑23, millions of non-muslims were forced to emigrate from Anatolia. For more details see Dündar, 2008.

9 There is a rich literature, for the extended bibliography see bibliography of Dündar, 2008. Yet for the most influential one that examines from the Turkish point of view see McCarthy, 1995.

10 An exception is the Hungarian immigration commission, which was founded in 1854 by Hungarian immigrants. Eren, 39‑40.

11 For the Ottoman national budgets, see Güran, 2003.

12 “ilim ve haber”, Tercüman-ı Ahval, 25 February 1861, No: 19, cited in Erdem, 2014, p. 78‑79.

13 The migrant studies in Turkey emphasize the chaos in immigration institutions. Literature talks about numerous commissions during Abdulhamid II era, for instance Muhâcirîn Komisyonu (1881‑1886), Muhâcirîn İdâre-i Umûmiyye (1888‑1892), Muhâcirîn Komisyonu (1892‑1894), Umûm Muhâcirîn Komisyonu (1899‑1906), Muhâcirîn Komisyon-ı Âlîsi (1897‑1902), Muhacirîn İdaresi, Muhâcirîn İdâre-i Umûmiyyesi (1903‑1906). In this article, the commissions that were mentioned by Erdem, will be taken as reliable references.

14 In some other sources, the date of termination is 2 August 1893.

15 An ongoing PhD work by Sinan Çetin of the Bilkent University in History Department under the supervisor of Oktay Özel will contribute with its new sources and framework to the literature on the institutionalization process in migration issue.

16 Max Weber, Economy and Society, V. 2, chp. 6, Univeristy of California Press, 1922, 956‑1005.

17 Along with other sultans Abdulhamid’s name was also given to the villages constructed for immigrants in order to stimulate their support and contribution to the immigrants. Such villages would be named as Hamidiye (Abdulhamid), Aziziye (Abdulaziz), Muradiye (IV. Murad), etc.

18 The publication of İskan-ı Aşair ve Muhacirîn Müdüriyeti provides the details about this subject. See Dündar, 2008.

19 For Ottoman debt see E. Kıray, Osmanlı’da ekonomik yapı ve dış borçlar, İstanbul: İletişim, 2007.

20 In fact, regarding to the institutionalization, the Russian impact was important. During the Caucasian migration, the Ottomans and the Russians collaborated in institutional level. This collaboration has not been well studied in order to reveal the Russian impact. For the Ottoman-Russian collaboration see Khorava & Tsurtsumia, 2016.

21 For instance in 1860 Immigrants Commission included Circassian Hafiz Mehmed Pasha (the head of the commission), settlement agent Circassian Nusret Pasha, Kâmil Pasha’s son Muhlis from Shavshat/Batoum and Georgian Muslim scholar İsmail Efendi. Besides, Georgian Ali Pasha, who was “fahri iskan memuru” (honorary settlement officer), was also assigned to settle the Georgian immigrants. Özel, 2010 and Toumarkine, 2001.

22 For the impact of strategy of including migrants into immigration institutions see also Toumarkine, 2000, ch. 4/A.

23 While the powers aimed immigrants forget their past (as a place of identity), used their sufferance distribute among the Anatolian local Muslims. Transporting their sufferance to mixed regions, increased the inter communitarian tension.

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Fuat Dündar, « How Migration Institutions “Think”?: The Ottoman-Turkish Case »Anatoli, 9 | 2018, 169-187.

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Fuat Dündar, « How Migration Institutions “Think”?: The Ottoman-Turkish Case »Anatoli [En ligne], 9 | 2018, mis en ligne le 05 décembre 2020, consulté le 21 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Fuat Dündar

Associate Professor in the TOBB-ETU University in Ankara. He mainly focuses on the relationship between politics-identity-population, of whom migration is a main changer, in the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. He has been conducting his academic activities in different disciplines and departments in more than ten universities and research institutes in the different education systems (such as the USA, Turkey, France and Germany). He completed his dissertation at the EHESS in Paris, which published in Turkish (Iletişim, 2008), entitled Modern Turkey’s Cipher: The Ethnic Engineering of the CUP. His other works, Türkiye Nüfus Sayımlarında Azınlıklar (Doz, 2000), İttihat ve Terakki’nin Müslümanları Iskan Politikası 1913‑1918 (Iletisim, 2001), Kahir Ekseriyet: Ermeni Nüfus Meselesi 1878‑1923 (Tarih Vakfı, 2013), StatisQuo: British Use of Statistics in the Iraqi Kurdish Question 1919‑1932 (Brandeis Crown Papers, 2012), Measuring Assimilation (BJMES, 2014) and Empire of Taxonomy (MES, 2015).

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