Cosmopolitan imperialists and the ottoman port cities. Conflicting logics in the urban social fabric
L'étude des cités portuaires ottomanes du XIXe siècle a amplement attesté l'existence d'une culture cosmopolite mais également de tensions interethniques antagonistes. La recherche a, jusqu'alors, souvent eu du mal à mettre en perspective ces deux dimensions du même phénomène. Je suggère ici à travers l'analyse micro-historique des habitants du port de comprendre quels éléments contribuent à des modes d'interaction cosmopolites et ceux qui peuvent conduire à des réactions nationalistes. Cette approche ne divise pas les habitants de la ville en deux camps nettement séparés, mais révèle la nature contradictoire des interactions sociales et la vie d'une société urbaine qui concilie des pôles opposés.
1In the autumn of 1914, the outbreak of war led to a tragically comical scene in Smyrna (Izmir). An Englishman who was boarding the tram discovered in one of the seats the German consul, Gustav Humbert, previously a frequent guest at garden parties on British estates in the suburbs of Buca and Burnabat (Bornova).1 The Englishman greeted Humbert warmly, sat down next to the consul, who remained silent and refused to take notice of him. Trying to lighten up a difficult situation, the Englishman began talking,
« Well, Mr. Humbert, what do you think of the war? I say, nothing is better than a good quarrel among friends. »
2At this point the red-faced German burst out screaming,
« Provided the quarrel be a good one! »2
3This little anecdote perfectly illustrates the conflicting logics that could arise in East Mediterranean port cities. When international relationships were peaceful, residents of the port cities would intermingle according to class; consuls of all states would be heartily welcomed at the festivities of the wealthy entrepreneurs and merchants. This feeling of being ‘at home’ amongst one’s own class was supported by the notion of sharing a common cultural superiority, of belonging to the ‘civilized nations’, juxtaposed to the uneducated or traditionalist strata of Ottoman society. However the logic of war disrupted this bond of shared class membership and common assumed cultural superiority and demanded a reconfiguration of solidarities according to decisions made in London or Berlin.
4These new logics of German-Austrian-Turkish and English-French-Armenian camaraderie locked in antagonizing conflict had not previously been dominant in the local context of Smyrna. The aforementioned nameless Englishman seeks to downplay the disruptive force the logic of war could have on Smyrna’s patterns of socializing by denying the antagonist nature of the war (”a good quarrel among friends”). The German consul however was not able to reconcile his previously amicable relationships with local British subjects and the anti-English sentiment, which the logic of war now demanded of him. When in a situation where the old and the new logic came into conflict, he simply stared at his shoelaces. A few months later he urged the governor of Aydın Province to stop the British and French from moving freely around Smyrna.3
5These conflicting logics – those of solidarities prescribed by the European capitals and those of solidarities reflected in local association according to class or ‘Europeanness’ – demand further analysis, because they reveal a more complex social fabric in the 19th century port cities than what some recent research would lead one to believe. How does the conflict between various loyalties in this particular urban society manifest itself ? How do we locate the dividing lines in the conflict? And how do we resolve the question of agency in this matter?
6Before explaining my approach to this phenomenon, I will briefly elaborate why research on Ottoman port cities has often neglected these conflicting logics and why I choose not to follow approaches which have been employed by other authors to fill this research gap.
7The late 19th century has long been seen exclusively as the formation period of radical nationalism and imperialism in the Eastern Mediterranean, leading up to a genocidal climax in the early 20th century. Thanks to the contributions of researchers like Robert Ilbert, Gilles Veinstein, François Georgeon, and many others, we now know that this period also saw a culture of ‘convivialité’ or ‘conscience citadine’ among the population or at least certain groups in such places as Constantinople (Istanbul / Carigrad), Smyrna, Salonica (Salonico / Selânik / Thessaloniki / Solun).
8However, analyses following this new interpretation often all to easily content themselves to juxtapose their interpretation of peaceful coexistence and interethnic exchange to the earlier descriptions of animosity and strife undertaken by historians of nationalism and imperialism. If a culture of cosmopolitanism existed, what led to its deterioration and cataclysmic end at the beginning of the 20th century? The obvious answer is the rise of nationalism, both in the form of imperialist expansionism as well as in its nativist forms, i.e. irredentism, separatism, and anti-colonialism. A region which had been subject to multiple inscriptions for a long time was now to take up an unprecedented singularity of meaning.
9But nationalism, like all social phenomena, did not come from outer space. Who were the agents of this change from plurality to singularity? How did they interact with the partisans of cosmopolitanism? And what were the reactions when the cosmopolitan nature of the port cities was threatened, for example by the anti-Armenian riots in Constantinople 1896, the bombs of the Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization in Salonica 1903 or the outbreak of war in 1914?
10These questions are of course not altogether new and have been addressed in a number of publications, but in many cases the approach has been rather unsatisfactory. Many researchers on Mediterranean cosmopolitan cities tend to externalize nationalism. To them imperialism is seen to express itself solely through aggressive military acts, and nativism stems only from the uneducated rural population. One does not need to be outstandingly critical to realize the limited value of such simple explanations.
11Another attempt at reconciling this difference has been made by authors following a nationalist interpretation: one nation, e.g. the Greeks, was good, cosmopolitan and peace loving, the other, e.g. the Turks, was not, and because of this, aggression ensued. This is what one might call an abuse of the theme of cosmopolitanism, and it does not deserve a serious discussion in academic circles.
12Yet another approach at taking into account both the integrationist and the disruptive manner of social relations in the East Mediterranean port cities is to juxtapose them without synthesis. Unlike the two aforementioned angles, this is methodologically sound, but does not yield satisfactory answers to the questions posed here. For example, in her thorough study of late Ottoman Salonica, Meropi Anastassiadou describes in the first several chapters a city which has grown structures to regulate sociabilities across ethnic divides. Salonica, so it seems, is progressing towards a higher standard of living for all residents. In the final chapter however, we find the city ablaze with lynchings, terrorist acts, assassinations, boycotts, and bar fights, all along ethnic lines, and it is hard to reconcile the former image with the latter.4
13What is a feasible way to bring these two faces of the 19th century Mediterranean port city together and merge them into one? The first decision to be taken is whether to choose the micro- or the macro-historical approach. Although macro-historical approaches towards 19th century urban social conditions are possible, there is a high risk of arriving at very contestable results due to a wide margin for interpretation. Many of the general processes of change in 19th century port cities have been ascribed with various meanings by different historians, and by consequence, it becomes a question of perspective whether one wishes to recognize imperialism, nativism, or cosmopolitanism at work within them. For example, Robert Ilbert describes the superimposition of European-style architecture upon Alexandria (Iskanderia) with great enthusiasm :
« Il a fallu l’arrivée au pouvoir du vice-roi Muhammad Ali pour que soient entrepris les travaux nécessaires au rétablissement du port. Durant près de trente ans, entre 1810 (premières réalisations sur les fortifications) et 1839 (affrontement direct avec le sultan d’Istanbul), l’objectif du vice-roi ne s’est jamais infléchi. Il a sans cesse cherché à renfoncer une position maritime que son ambition rendait essentielle. En rendant l’eau douce à Alexandrie, par le creusement du canal Mahmudiah (1819), il en a fait la pièce maîtresse d’une double enceinte de murailles, de casernes et d’un arsenal (1829), Alexandrie a retrouvé sa place. Le village assoupi s’est animé: à la mort du vice-roi on comptait plus de cent mille habitants entre des murs devenues bien trop petits. » 5
14By contrast, Timothy Mitchell describes the superimposing of European-style architecture upon Egyptian cities as an act of aggression and disrespect towards the century-old tradition of Arab urbanity :
The ‘disorder’ of Cairo and other cities had suddenly become visible. The urban space in which Egyptians moved had become a political matter, material to be ‘organised’ by the construction of great thoroughfares radiating out from the geographical and political centre. At the same moment Egyptians themselves, as they moved through this space, became similarly material, their minds and bodies thought to need discipline and training. The space, the minds, and the bodies all materialised at the same moment, in a common economy of order and discipline.6
15This opposition is based on different attitudes towards modernization in general, and trying to resolve it would lead to a very general discussion, where again different ideological points of view would clash and we would not come much closer to resolving the questions posed.
16The micro-historical analysis however is a more fruitful angle for exploring the dynamics of conflict between notions of cosmopolitanism and nationalism in the social urban fabric. Face to face contacts between city residents, such as those documented in the anecdote at the beginning of this essay, reveal which individuals were interpreted to belong to a collective Self and who was imagined as part of a collective Other; they also illustrate how this Other was faced.
17The sources used in such an analysis can effect the outcome. In her work, Marie-Carmen Smyrnelis has successfully employed a micro-historical perspective to reconstruct the interethnic relations in 18th and 19th century Smyrna. She claims that by reading the consulates’ archival materials, historians tend to mimic the inevitably nationally biased view of these sources and to overlook the urban social fabric below and beyond the consul’s gaze. The concentration on consular archival materials, according to Smyrnelis, has hitherto led historians to exaggerate the nationalist aspects and downplay the interethnic, potentially cosmopolitan ones.7 I claim that only a combination of perspectives on the micro-historical level will lead to an adequate assessment of 19th century sociabilities between the determinant poles of cosmopolitanism and nationalism.
18To illustrate this method for describing the interaction between these conflicting logics, I will undertake an exemplary study of three individuals. These three characters are Johannes Hochgraßl, inspector of the southern Oriental Railway (Chemins de fer orientales) network, living in Salonica 1874-1905; Carl Humann, director of the Prussian Royal Museums Berlin, living in Smyrna 1872-1896; and Johannes Mordtmann, German consul of Salonica 1886-1902 and of Smyrna 1903-1910.
19They all have in common that they were long term residents of Ottoman port cities believed to be settings for cosmopolitanism. However they were at the same time German subjects and as such partisans of their mother country’s attempt to gain influence in or control of the Ottoman Empire. Unlike other imperial powers, Germany had opted against a policy of overt annexation of Ottoman territories. Instead it supported the Empire’s integrity and attempted to gain influence in the political, economic, and cultural spheres.8 Hochgraßl, Humann, and Mordtmann can be seen as exponents of these three different angles Germany pursued in order to appropriate the Ottoman Empire.
20The sources I employ for this micro-analysis are in all three cases twofold: both material which can be suspected to follow the master narrative of their country of origin – consular and church archival sources, newspapers, memoirs, travelogues, necrologies etc., as well as less ‘tainted’ material – sources not intended for publication, mainly personal letters and other non-official correspondence.9
21If historians were judges, one could say the task here is to either prove these individuals guilty of complicity in German imperialism or to exonerate them by showing their active cosmopolitanism.
22To start with the railway official – Johannes Hochgraßl first worked as a construction engineer in Baron de Hirsch’s Turkish Railway Company. He helped build the Bosnian line and later, the first Macedonian line Salonica-Üsküp-Mitrovica (S.-Skopje-Kosovska Mitrovica). After its completion in 1874 he settled in Salonica and advanced to become the inspector, i.e. highest official, of the Mitrovica, Vranje and Monastir (Bitola) railway lines.10
23The transformation of the operating company into the Oriental Railway Company financed by Austrian capital, and the takeover later on by the Deutsche Bank largely increased the role of Germans and Austrians within the organization. Even as workers or minor officials, speakers of German were preferred.11 Beyond the company’s activities, Hochgraßl, being the German in the most prestigious position in Salonica, was president of the national association German Club12 and vice-president of the German School committee.13
24Even after leaving the city for his native Bavaria, he continued to dedicate a part of his assets to the German Club, the school, and despite being a Catholic, to the militantly nationalist and anti-Semitic German Protestant Church of Salonica.14 He even remembered them in his will.15 When the advocate of German colonization in the Ottoman Empire Hugo Grothe had appeared in Salonica around 1900 on his way to visit Western Macedonia, Hochgraßl had issued him a letter of recommendation demanding special attention for Grothe from all railway personnel.16
25From these sources, I could have easily been led to believe that the railway inspector was a fierce believer in German exclusiveness and superiority and not a candidate for interethnic social practices. But an article on Salonica’s early sports clubs should prove this assumption wrong. In it, I found the railway inspector’s wife, also German, heading the Salonica Tennis and Croquet Club, together with the wife of a local Austrian merchant, and the Ottoman Bank director’s wife. Meropi Anastassiadou describes this club,
(...) le Salonica Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, fondé vers la fin mars 1898, est une association mixte avec une nette prédominance féminine. (...) le Tennis and Croquet Club s’adresse surtout aux notabilités locales. Mais sa composition ethnique est plus diversifiée. À côté d’Européens (...) on y recense un grand nombre de Juifs et de Grecs.17
26Despite his financial contributions to anti-Semitic Protestant pastors, we find Johannes Hochgraßl and his wife organizing and enjoying champagne receptions with the local Sephardic and Greek notables. One of the local elite’s families affiliated with the Club, the Modianos, permitted the annual field trips of Hochgraßl’s German School to visit their lands in rural Macedonia.18
27A closer look at Hochgraßl’s activities in the German cultural institutions also speaks against excessive nationalist zeal on his part. In 1906 some leading members tried to change the German Club’s name and official purpose in order to transform it from a recreational association for German speakers to one more in tune with the nationalist intentions of Berlin. When the Austrian members subsequently threatened to leave, Hochgraßl tried (but failed) to find a compromise.19
28In following some remarks contemporaries made on his character,20 the impression is that a matrix trying to locate the railway director between the determinants of imperialist supremacism and cosmopolitan sociabilities fails to clarify the motives behind his actions. Hochgraßl strove for reconciliation and harmony, and did not consider the politics of the question whether to support a German partisan of colonizing the Ottoman Empire or to associate with the local upper class on amicable terms. However the fact that he was head of a national club and his wife the head of an elitist cosmopolitan association is symbolic for the ranking between these two different modes of social intercourse.
29The 19th century bourgeoisie’s social interaction and representation was mostly undertaken as a shared obligation of man and wife. But the man’s role in it was always considered of greater importance, whereas the woman’s role was seen to be supportive of her husband’s position, but of secondary importance. In the case of the Hochgraßls, this means socializing according to nationalist loyalties was of paramount importance; associating according to class was of lesser value.
30Carl Humann the construction engineer is a different case. Originally he left Germany in 1861 for the Ottoman Empire for health reasons.21 Like many residents there who had emigrated after the failed German democratic revolution of 1848, he initially renounced his emotional ties to his country of origin. Instead he took a strong liking to the personal and market liberties which foreign passport holders enjoyed in the Ottoman Empire.
31Here in Turkey one actually lives far more freely than in Prussia or any other German fatherland. For the European at least, freedom of press, assembly, and speech exist in full measure. The taxes he pays are relatively low, even though the state takes its share of every cigarette. One is not hassled with passports and other bothersome surveillance. Everybody can earn his money anyway he likes without the state interfering in a patronizing way to protect one or the other from competition. (...)
32Therefore long live Turkey! It is certainly better than its reputation.22
33But as at home the majority of Ottoman German expatriates were reconciled with their place of origin after the founding of the German Empire in 1871.23 Humann in particular had reason for renewed patriotism. Following on his hobby archeological diggings at Bergama in Western Anatolia, the Royal Prussian Museums agreed to start an excavation there and chose Humann to head it.24 The excavation revealed the Pergamon Zeus Altar, which was shipped off and then triumphantly presented in Berlin as a sign that the new Empire’s archaeological treasures were on a level with those of France or Great Britain.25 Humann was declared a national hero, received personally by the Kaiser and his son, and described as the « Viceroy of Asia Minor ».26
34But while in Berlin the intellectual and the general public were enthusiastically celebrating the new German Empire as the reincarnation of ancient Pergamon, Humann had second thoughts. Being a resident of Smyrna, he was well aware that by appropriating the Pergamon altar for Germany, he was curtailing the ambitions of Greek irredentists –
35We do not wish to scold the feeling of envy among some of the Greeks towards our acquisition of the finds, who would have preferred the ruins to have remained in the ground until they someday become the masters of this land. But even among the Greeks, some had the insight to consider Greek art the property of the entire educated world and to be happy for the new honors the Greek genius was gaining thanks to our discoveries...27
36This seemingly cosmopolitan but actually rather condescending reasoning is unconvincing, probably even to Humann himself. In this image, Greek art is denationalized as ”the property of the entire educated world”. However, it seems that imperial nations rank higher in this world than the little states such as Greece, and thus have the right to snatch world heritage monuments from their locale.
37Nonetheless as residents of Smyrna, Carl and his wife Louise Humann took an active part in upper class social life. He prided himself that their house was according to his claim the only one visited by all consuls.28 The list of his dinner invitations mixes German, Greek, and other local names,29 and supposedly he was a personal friend of the Catholic archbishop Andrea Timoni.30 When in Constantinople, Carl Humann was the guest of the museum director Osman Hamdi Bey. Especially the friendship of Carl’s daughter Marie to Hamdi’s daughter and her visits seemed remarkable to contemporaries,31 because the port cities’ predominantly Christian élites seldom included Muslims in their amicable relationships.32 Also Carl Humann stopped his over-enthusiastic German archeological colleagues, who would not even refrain from digging in Muslim graveyards if they spotted something ancient. He ordered them to respect Islamic piety.33
38Despite his pride in the academic and patriotic recognition he had received in his country of origin, Carl Humann still retained a positive attitude to the poly-ethnic and multi-facetted social order of the Ottoman Empire. This attitude revealed itself in the moment of crisis. During the anti-Armenian massacres of 1895-1896, his last written remarks on his deathbed were concerned with the precognition that this social order was falling apart. The murders, their negative consequences for trade and revenue, Abdülhamid’s excessive spending for his personal security, and the coincidental irresponsible handling of small savings accounts by the Ottoman Bank made him sum up –
39Never has there been a worse New Year in this country. Those who love this beautiful land look to the future with deep concern.34
40Carl Humann, one could summarize, tried to retain his early affections for the Ottoman social order despite his growing role in German cultural imperialism. He saw himself as a mediator who introduced guests from the Reich to the ways of the Levante. His role in both worlds depended on the political status quo including poly-ethnicity, the capitulations, and the semi-colonial order.
41Judging by the biographical data, the third personality included in this micro-survey would seem predestined to be an exponent of cosmopolitanism. Johannes Mordtmann was born in Constantinople in 1852. His father was Andreas David Mordtmann, envoy of the minor German states of Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, and Oldenburg to the High Porte, who later became a judge at Ottoman courts.35 Johannes Mordtmann, who had learnt modern Greek and Turkish in his youth, was later sent to Berlin to receive training for a diplomatic career and a thorough state-sponsored education in Oriental languages.36 He returned to Constantinople as Dragoman at the German consulate, and later became the German consul first of Salonica and later Smyrna.37 After his early retirement in 1910 he returned to Constantinople to devote himself full time to his passion – the study of Oriental languages.
42From 1915 to 1918 he taught historical methodology at Istanbul University.38 Throughout his consular career he had extensively published on a wide range of Eastern languages and considerably contributed to the interpretation of inscriptions located in all regions of the Ottoman Empire between Varna and Arabia.39 Particularly his works on the South Arabic languages such as Sabaean were seen as pioneering.40 He communicated with a wide range of academics both from within and beyond the Ottoman Empire, and in his personal archive collected reports in more than seven different languages on a wide range of contemporary Ottoman subjects from folklore to trade.41 His special personal interest was his native city, expressed by his membership in the ‘Cercle des amis de Constantinople’.
43But despite all these indications which would lead one to assume cosmopolitan tendencies, Mordtmann was one of the harshest partisans of German superiority. Following the logic of Oriental inferiority, which had been expounded by his father42 and which also figures prominently in the writings of other family members,43 he used his position as consul to further German exclusiveness.
44In Salonica he actively supported the call for a German Protestant pastor to stop ‘Levantinization’ among the local Germans, i.e. the process of hybridization and multiple identities due to mixed marriages, conversion, and social intercourse. Instead the pastor should promote national and confessional homogeneity.44 Mordtmann openly confronted the German School of Salonica, actually a German-Austrian joint venture, because it initially assumed a neutral position towards national and confessional loyalties. The consul denounced the school because of its tolerance towards the French, the poly-ethnic composition of its students, especially the numerous Jewish children, and tried to force it into extolling the German ruler and state.45
45In Smyrna he urged the German Protestant Girls School to cut down the time devoted to learning modern Greek, although this was the locally most common language.46 His fiercest vendetta however was against the German Protestant Orphanage at Smyrna. At the height of the Armenian massacres of 1896, the head organization in the Reich had decided to dedicate the Smyrna orphanage exclusively to massacre survivors and ”to serve the Armenian people.” Mordtmann’s imperialist sentiment found the thought of Germans serving Armenians outrageous.47 From 1905 until his retirement and even beyond, he urged the orphanage to abandon its commitment to the Armenians.48 His racism even led him to take offense at the orphans and the schoolgirls sharing the same playground. He wrote to his Berlin superiors :
(...) it would be strongly desirable that this activity, following in my opinion wrongly applied philanthropy, which predominantly serves the interests of American missionaries, dedicated to a people ethnically not related to us, would not be taken up again.49
46The dividing line between social practices inspired by nationalism and those inspired by cosmopolitanism does not reveal two neatly separated camps. Instead, the actions of individuals often followed both of these seemingly contradictory modes of social intercourse. Decisions on which of these modes should be followed were often made on a day to day basis. Some of these individuals, such as Humann, were aware of the conflicting logics of their acts and tried to reconcile them within some larger mental framework. Others, as apparently Hochgraßl, let their actions be dictated by the demands placed on them by their surroundings.
47Long and thorough exposure to Ottoman conditions could breed champions of cosmopolitanism, but could also lead to antagonizing reactions in form of national supremacism, as in the case of Mordtmann. Moments of crisis led some, as for example Humbert, to wholeheartedly embrace the nationalist paradigm and ignore all other obligations. Others, as in the case of Humann, were reminded by the crisis of their positive attitude towards the poly-ethnic and polyvalent Ottoman urban society.
48What has been shown here by example of a handful of German nationals is valid for many residents of Ottoman port cities. Most individuals of the times managed to various degrees to reconcile the seemingly contradictory discourses of nationalism and cosmopolitanism in their everyday life. Many residents of Ottoman cities did not feel there was something wrong with praising foreign monarchs one minute and amicably socializing with other local residents the next. The national aspirations of the various groups were often seen more like a competitive sport, which did not preclude praise for the other’s accomplishments, as long as they did not come into direct conflict. They did not realize until a very late stage that following the nationalist logic would bring a cataclysmic end to the Ottoman city as they knew it.
49For the study of cosmopolitanism, it is important to differentiate between various modes of contact and a possible weltanschauung resulting from them. The dimension of exchange on an economic or intellectual basis or the ethnic composition of a mahalle can tell us a lot about factually experienced interethnic contacts, but give us hardly any clue to the values attached to them by their agents. The number of languages spoken by an individual or the international character of his contacts tells us nothing about cosmopolitan leanings.
50For this we are in need of subjective testimony, such as proof of adherence to a political association or under the best of circumstances, written legacies. These are naturally very hard to obtain. Last but not least, when studying sociabilities on a micro-historic level, one should not forget the banality of everyday life. An individual might prefer the cosmopolitan ‘Sporting Club’ of Smyrna to his nation’s ethnically exclusive association because the ‘Sporting Club’ offers greater luxuries. Active membership in or abstinence from a political movement are also determined by personal friendships and antipathies. I believe these necessary differentiations can add to our understanding of this field of study.
Pour citer cet article
Malte Fuhrmann, « Cosmopolitan imperialists and the ottoman port cities. Conflicting logics in the urban social fabric », Cahiers de la Méditerranée, 67 | 2003, 149-163.
Malte Fuhrmann, « Cosmopolitan imperialists and the ottoman port cities. Conflicting logics in the urban social fabric », Cahiers de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 67 | 2003, mis en ligne le 25 juillet 2005, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://cdlm.revues.org/128Haut de page
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