chapter  13
14 Pages

‘I would rather be in the Orient’: European lower class immigrants into the Ottoman lands


The EasternMediterranean was in the nineteenth century strongly inter-connected with Western, Central and Southern Europe. In recent years, a number of case studies have highlighted that the influx from ‘Europe’ into the regions de facto or de jure pertaining to the Ottoman state was not limited to factory-produced commodities, academic or technical knowledge, and a limited number of upper-class merchants, trade agents and consuls.1 Thanks to a growing number of mostly recent case studies, we now know that workers and providers of low-key services originating from Italy, France, Germany and the Habsburg lands migrated to the South and to the East of the Mediterranean throughout the long nineteenth century.2 Work opportunities in or around the large infrastructure projects, the desire of upper-class families in the Levant to educate their children and run the household in Western manners and languages, the economic stagnation of some rural areas in the European states and a desire to see more of the world than the West, as well as many other disparate factors, all combined to create a ‘European’ migrant population in the Ottoman lands of presumably several tens of thousands. Although this cannot compete with other mass migratory phenomena of the period, such as the countless movements to the Americas, these Europeans were numerous enough to make an impact in the towns and cities where they concentrated and occasionally were the subject of diplomatic, political and social debate. What created a particular anxiety for the states concerned was the matter of these expatriates’ or new Ottomans’ place in international relations, specifically concerning the ‘Eastern Question’: did they support their home countries’ attempts to expand their influence into the Ottoman domains, or did they feel more attached to their place of residence? The loyalties of temporary residents and immigrants are, of course, often a point

of particular concern for states and societies. Their respective positioning of ‘home’ can be deciphered in three different ways. First, it can be defined as the locality where a certain person stays the de facto largest amount of his or her time (the spatial dimension); second, it depicts a locality that recognises the individual as a legitimate user of a particular space (the legal dimension); third, it is the locality to which the individual attaches a predominant degree of his sense of belonging (the subjective dimension). Ideally, all three localities coincide, but in the case of migrants, this is rarely the case. Within the respective dimensions, the locality

designated as ‘home’ is, of course, not in itself stable, but is contested and the contestation becomes more powerful if the aspiring locality dominates one of the other dimensions. The potential conflict, for the migrant who seeks to locate him-or herself in these localities and their respective communities, between the migrant and the states involved, and between the states concerned, is considerable. It is the third definition of ‘home’, the subjective dimension, that this chapter intends to explore in more detail. Can we reconstruct how the lower-class ‘Europeans’ settling or travelling in Rumelia and Anatolia (mostly concentrated in the big cities on the Aegean and Marmara Seas) in the Hamidian period related to the country they had left and the one in which they now found themselves? The feasibility of such an endeavour naturally hinges on its sources. Lower class

actors are less likely to have recorded their views in memoirs or travelogues, nor are their personal letters likely to have survived in an accessible form. However, in the case of the large Ottoman cities, this is more than compensated for by the rich documentation in consular and church archives. But can such documents lend insight into the subjective views of the people about whom they were written? It seems that such insights are rare but not impossible to find. But before I discuss the four examples I have chosen in detail, I must first sketch the identities that ‘Europeans’ in the Levant were offered. The Ottoman state was not truly hospitable to its new residents. It was

traditionally suspicious of people moving of their own accord and upheld a system of internal passports long after other European states, believing in the capitalist benefits of freedom of movement, had abandoned them.3 The state institutions registered with unease that the number of de facto inhabitants with foreign passports was growing (although predominantly due to the common practice of Ottoman subjects adopting foreign nationality) and stipulated that any foreigner arriving with the intent of settling down in Ottoman lands should take on Ottoman nationality.4 Also, any foreigner on Ottoman soil who had forfeited his homeland’s nationality (which mostly occurred if they had neglected to reregister with their consulate over a longer period of time) was considered a naturalised subject by default. However, the state’s possibilities to implement these stipulations were limited due to the strong role of the Great Powers and internal problems of the administration. The so-called Great Powers on the other hand, to further their position with

regard to the ‘Eastern Question’, made ample use of the so-called capitulations. These treaties with the Porte, originally negotiated to facilitate trade between the Ottoman Empire and its neighbours, had been successively developed to exempt European foreigners frommany taxes and in several cases provided indemnity from Ottoman executive measures and judicial prosecution, assigning this task to the respective consulates instead. In their struggle to gain influence in the East, the capitulatory powers put great emphasis on their subjects’ rights on Ottoman soil and additionally tried to harness their loyalties and shape them into ‘storm troops’ for their imperial interests.5 While such attempts to rally one’s expatriate citizens or subjects around the motherland concentrated primarily on the ‘respectable’ members of society, they did not ignore the sometimes considerable concentrations

of working class or sub-proletarian ‘Europeans’ in the Ottoman Empire, especially in the major ports or working in large-scale infrastructure projects, such as railway or port construction or operation. Moreover, to promote the standing of the respective foreign state, it was necessary that all its subjects on Ottoman soil were respected by the local authorities, so the Great Powers in some cases did not shy away from protecting subjects who in their mother countries might have been the object of pressure or prosecution. On the other hand, creating an aura of respectability also meant that individuals or groups who cast a bad light on the mother country were urged by the consulates to leave the Levant or at least its major cities or in rare cases were forcibly extradited to the motherland.6