Ottoman Councils and American Consuls: Debates on the Nature of Local Government in North-Central Anatolia, 1887-1920

John Bragg, New Jersey City University

The opening of new American diplomatic consulates in the Anatolian towns of Samsun and Sivas in the late nineteenth century coincided with the consolidation of institutions of Ottoman local government. Tanzimat-style provincial councils drew bureaucrats and local notables together on a common platform. The two parallel networks that emerged from this process – one American consular and one Ottoman bureaucratic-governmental – challenged each other for control in provincial governmental affairs.

Thus, from the start the roughly simultaneous establishment of consulates and local governments resulted in two contending bureaucratic networks. The U.S. consular network consisted of a motley consortium of foreign consuls, Protestant and Catholic missionaries, ex-patriot and local merchants, and their clienteles. The second coalition consisted of local notables, provincial Ottoman administrators, reserve military officers, and institutional religious figures. The interests of these contending networks so often clashed that the very appointments of individual American consuls and local Ottoman officials became a matter of contestation. The documentation of this rivalry in both American and Ottoman sources is very important to historians of the First World War in the Middle East, since the American consuls were often the last western diplomatic representatives in place during the war and first ones back after it.

Throughout the forty year period in question, American consuls seemed to have prided themselves in particular on their abilities to thwart the appointment of local Ottoman officials they disliked. The honorable Milo A. Jewett became the first consul of Sivas in 1887. The establishment of this new consular outpost was a response to the civilizing mission of ex-patriot U.S. missionaries rather than any commercial concern. This was an important distinction that made Jewett insecure in his position from the very start. Jewett could not document commercial relations between American citizens and Ottoman subjects in Sivas – a key stipulation of the capitulations – due to his lack of receipts for such transactions. The local Governor General of Sivas pounced on this shortcoming and questioned the need for Jewett to serve as consul in the town at all. As a result, Jewett’s procurement of proper papers became his omnipresent concern for the next few months (RG84 Record of Foreign Service Posts: Consular Reports of Sivas, Turkey: Volume 004, Page 9, Entry no. 4, dated Sivas, Jan. 18, 1887). Without proper papers, Jewett could not leverage his status as a representative of a Great Power into influence on policy measures produced by local Ottoman officials. However, Jewett repaid the “favor” of the Governor General many times over in subsequent years, as he lobbied hard to bar hostile officials from higher office, while promoting allies for reappointment such as Bahir Pasha, Mütesarrif of Tokat (RG84 Record of Foreign Service Posts: Consular Reports of Sivas, Turkey: Volume 003, Pages 4-5, Entry no. 277, September 6, 1899). Jewett’s lobbying efforts appeared in his correspondence with the Consul General in Istanbul.

Conversely, failure to secure proper appointment papers meant that American consuls had little to no influence on local officialdom. The honorable J. Pinckney Tuck Jr. was the first Great Power consul to return to the commercially and strategically vital port city of Samsun after World War I. He arrived to take his post 5 March 1920, only ten months after Mustafa Kemal had made his celebrated landing at Samsun on 19 May 1919 (RG84 Record of Foreign Service Posts: Consular Documents of Samsun, Turkey: Volume 2, pages 60-61). In his consular logs, Consul Tuck bemoaned the fact that he could not achieve recognition from local officials allied to the de facto resistance government in Ankara (Angora) (RG84 Record of Foreign Service Posts: Consular Documents of Samsun, Turkey: Volume 2, March 5, 1920, pages 280-281). Consul Tuck proceeds to list a panoply of local officials hostile to him including the mütesarrif, the chief of police, the commandant of the gendarmerie, a staff colonel, the mayor, two customs director, two bankers, the harbor master, and Greek and Armenian church leaders. In the face of such intransigence, Consul Tuck would leave within a few months in 1920. A longer term understanding of the interplay among local agents, networks, and institutions during the late Ottoman period will yield better explanations of mobilization efforts during the Turkish War of Independence at the end of World War I era.

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