İzmir/Smyrna 1826–1864

Greek-Turkish Relations in a Late Ottoman City

by Feryal Tansuğ (Author)
©2018 Monographs 286 Pages


This book aims to reveal communal relations in İzmir/Smyrna through the lens of Greek-Turkish relations during the age of Ottoman reforms. The primary sources used in this book, Ottoman-Turkish archival material and Greek newspapers of the period, demonstrate that these reforms did not disturb the social cohesion of İzmir, a city with a unique vibrancy that had been produced over many centuries. The historical evidence also indicates that the Ottoman Empire did not attempt to mould social relations in İzmir, instead benefited from the city’s pre-existing socio-cultural and economic norms, which were well suited to its modernization program. It uncovers the dynamics of coexistence and communal relations before being brought to an abrupt halt by the formation of the modern nation-states.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Note for Publication
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Transliteration, Pronunciation, Abbreviations
  • Abbreviations
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Why Study Communal Relations in İzmir?
  • İzmir Rums or İzmir Greeks?
  • Infidel İzmir or Turkish İzmir?
  • Chapter I: A Flourishing City
  • “The Flower of the Levant”
  • Claims Made on İzmir
  • The Meaning of İzmir to the Porte
  • The Governance of İzmir
  • The Social Order Disrupted, 1770 to the 1820s
  • Struggle for Legitimacy: Egypt, Russia and Balkans
  • Fires and Epidemics
  • Chapter II: Socio-Economic Networks in Nineteenth-Century İzmir
  • The City as an Organic Whole
  • The Unified Urban Space
  • Greeks and Turks amid Economic Vitality
  • Newspapers and Other Publications
  • Education
  • Social Clubs
  • Hospitals
  • Chapter III: Ottoman Modernization
  • Centralizing Reforms
  • Elements of Centralization
  • Chapter IV: An Enraged Sultan and “The Greek Intrigue”
  • Impact of Unrest on the İzmir Greeks
  • Strengthening Interaction, Increasing Control
  • Chapter V: Communal Relations in the Post-1840s Period
  • Greek-Turkish property relations
  • Social interaction among common people
  • Ottoman Attempts to Stimulate Political Loyalty
  • Local Government and the İzmir Greeks
  • Urban Development and Social Order of the City
  • Commercial Life
  • The Breakdown of Order
  • Conclusion
  • Select Bibliography
  • A Note on the Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Cited Secondary Sources
  • Appendix I: Further Reading
  • Appendix II: İzmir Municipality Publications
  • Index
  • Glossary of Terms

← 18 | 19 →

Introduction: Why Study Communal Relations in İzmir?

In summer 2003, while I was pursuing my PhD in Toronto, I visited my parents in İzmir. On the main commercial street in the Karşıyaka/Kordelio district a group of young people was chanting loudly and urging passersby to sign a petition to be sent to the Turkish parliament “in support of Turkish national borders and democracy.” When one asked me to sign, I admitted bemusement. What exactly was the cause, I asked. What did they mean by protecting “Turkish national borders and democracy”? His reply was interesting. He said that the Greeks were plotting to establish a Greek state in İzmir and its surrounding region, in the Aegean, and that Pontic Greeks would establish a Pontic Greek state in the Black Sea region. He was very serious and self-confident about such an outcome. But how do you know, I rejoined. To which he replied: We follow the Greeks’ activity very closely. I then asked whether he knew the Greek language. When he said he did not, I asked how he could possibly understand such developments without knowing the language of the supposed enemy. I walked away from this interaction mulling the detrimental impact of Turkish and Greek historiographies on schoolbooks and their readers, all for the sake of nation building. But I was also curious: after all these years of coexistence, why this odd campaign against Greek encroachment? I was just then deciding on a dissertation topic, and soon thereafter I settled on İzmir and its heterogeneous Greek-Turkish legacy. The rest of the story unfolds in the pages to follow.

The motivation behind this study originated in my concern with the way conventional historical studies of İzmir have depicted its Greeks and Turks as two separate and “conflicting communities” or “nations.” The use of ethno-religious criteria has engendered the categories commonly used to separate the population into Greek versus Turkish, Muslim versus non-Muslim and Levantine versus Ottoman (whether Muslim or non-Muslim). I believe this approach does not allow for a meaningful and complex analysis of the ethnically and religiously diverse Ottoman society. I wanted to know exactly when this perception of conflicting Greek-Turkish communities first began to develop in İzmir, whether it was a result of the oppressive policies of Sultan Mahmud II during the Greek ← 19 | 20 → revolt of the 1821,1 or perhaps of the Tanzimat, which created unrest among both the Muslim and non-Muslim populations in some parts of the Ottoman Empire.

Although I was aware of the identity problems in multicultural Ottoman cities, my research for this study reminded me how interconnected the people of İzmir were and how misleading it is to look at the city’s society as one composed of clear-cut layers of ethnicities, whether Turks, Levantines, Greeks, Jews or Armenians.

A wonderful surprise toward the end of my research epitomized this fact: in the old Greek newspapers and some secondary sources, I had read about a certain Baltazzi (Baltacı) family from İzmir, one of the most prominent and beloved Ottoman-Greek families in the city at that time. While chatting in Samos with a friend of mine,2 I learned that a member of the Baltazzi family, Alex Baltazzi,3 still lives in İzmir and owns one of the biggest travel agencies in Turkey. I was very surprised to hear this, because all Greek families ought to have left İzmir in accordance with the forced Greek and Turkish population exchange agreement under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. I found his e-mail address and asked for an appointment, briefly explaining my interest in his family, which I characterized as a “Greek family,” according to my sources.

In his brief reply, Mr. Baltazzi wrote, “I am very interested in your study, and I definitely want to meet and talk with you, because I am against classifying the Baltazzi family in any religious or communal category.” I met with him in his office and we had a long conversation. Mr. Baltazzi was seventy years old, a very nice and respectable gentleman, fluent in five languages, English, French, Greek, Italian and Turkish, and very interested in history. He told me that his family was Levantine, not Greek, the progeny of a mixture of Venetian and Chian forebears. They were able to stay in İzmir by virtue of receiving Austrian citizenship, based on his mother being Catholic. His Greek father was an Orthodox Christian, but his mother was Catholic and wanted her son to be brought up in her religion, a desire that her husband accommodated. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to meet with a grandson of the Baltazzi family in İzmir. Talking with him made ← 20 | 21 → me realize just how much a superficial categorization of the city’s ethnic communities complicates getting a sense of the multiculturality of İzmir.

Many questions remain about the level of social, cultural and economic interaction between the Greek and Turkish communities of İzmir, and their relations with the central government, during the age of Ottoman modernization. How did a growing market economy and social tension, caused by the Greek revolt of 1821, affect social relations between the two communities? How were relations between Greeks and Turks affected by the economic development and social unrest of the Tanzimat period? To what extent were the Tanzimat principles of equality across sectarian lines applied in İzmir?

Such questions, I realized early on, could not be answered by considering İzmir solely within the context of a port city on the Eastern Mediterranean. Abandoning this category and its typical framework, I tried to examine various types of relations in light of significant historical events.4 Simply studying İzmir as a “port city” would have meant focusing on economic relations and mechanisms, the primary factors behind the existence of such settlements. The modernization paradigm looks instead at values, norms and culture and consumption patterns as a way of analyzing the diffusion process that was part of the urban development of port cities. It has been argued that the British and French economic expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean provided a network among the port cities and their hinterlands.5 Such an approach essentially focuses on the process that incorporated the Ottoman Empire into the expanding capitalist world economy of the nineteenth century, viewing port cities as the clearest manifestations of this development.6 Although this approach reveals important ← 21 | 22 → economic relationships, it curtails examination of other social, cultural and political dynamics of the ethnically and religiously diverse Ottoman port cities.

Edhem Eldem suggested using the concept of “contact,” in its broadest sense, to analyze the overlapping and intricate economic, political and social relations, as well as imperial features of İstanbul: the contact between different cultures and ethno-religious groups, the conflict between political aims and economic self-interest, and between beliefs and mentalities, the balance among contradictory tendencies, and, more importantly, the period of mediation between East and West, center and periphery, Islam and Christianity, state and society, modernization and tradition, the elite and the masses and the empire and the republic.7 Similarly, in approaching the urban social history of İzmir, I have tried to explore various types of relations: first, the impact of the Greek revolt on communal relations in the city; second, the relations between the Ottoman government and İzmir’s Greek community during the Tanzimat period; third, the relationship between the Greek state and the Greek community of İzmir; fourth, the impact of centralizing reforms on İzmir’s Greek community; and, finally, the impact of the modernizing state regulations on communal life in İzmir, especially on relations between Greeks and Turks in the city. In examining these relations, the picture I drew from my primary sources led me to think about the nature of the social fabric of the city, which also affected communal relations in the period of Ottoman modernization. Moreover, I realized that I needed to consider center-periphery politics and the internal socio-cultural dynamics of the city in order to understand İzmir society in its urban transformation during this time.

The history of İzmir contains a number of significant historical moments just prior to and in the middle of the nineteenth century that affected the nature of relations among the city’s communities and their relations with the central government. These include the instigation of an urban riot by the janissaries in 1797 (resulting in many Greek causalities), the oppressive policies of the central government during the initial years of the Greek revolt along the Aegean Coastline and Islands, the declaration of the Tanzimat with the 1839 and 1856 Imperial Edicts and the continuing fires and epidemics throughout the middle of the nineteenth century. All these might be termed “keyholes”8 through which ← 22 | 23 → we can to understand communal relations during the urban transformation of İzmir society.

There is a vast literature concerning the urban socio-cultural histories of the Middle Eastern and Balkan cities9 and the general socio-cultural10 and economic history of İzmir.11 The recent Middle Eastern and Balkan urban histories and urban histories of İzmir12 explore social relations and communal interactions within the context of Ottoman modernity, transcending the borders of local histories. The urban social histories of the multi-religious Middle Eastern cities are generally analyzed by considering two pivotal historical events in the region: the rule of Mehmet Ali Paşa between 1830 and 1840 and the ethno-religious tension ← 23 | 24 → leading to sectarian violence under the intense European intervention in the 1840s through the 1860s.

As far as the histories of Balkan cities are concerned, rejecting conventional ethnic or national awakening or resistance paradigms13 has presented different approaches to analyzing urban history. Rural uprisings, the foundation of the independent Greek state and the autonomous rule of Serbia were the crucial historical events that shaped the urban transformation of the Balkan cities. The administrative and social structures and relations in the Arab lands and the Balkans were quite different from those in İzmir and Western Anatolia in general, areas that did not experience anything similar to the civil violence that occurred in the Arab territories and the Balkans in the mid-nineteenth century, although İzmir did experience similar violence between 1919 and 1923, the era of nationalism. The ethnic violence in the period between the 1840s and the 1860s and the overlapping and complex relations caused by civil war in the Arab cities were major influences on the direction events took in those cities. Similarly, the ethno-religious clash among Orthodox Christian communities and their conflict with the Ottoman government in the second half of the nineteenth century affected the political, economic and social development of the Balkan cities for many years to come.

Because there were no such events in İzmir and Western Anatolia until the Young Turk rule began in 1908, the socio-cultural history of İzmir did not attract the attention of scholars for a long time. But İzmir, the commercial center of the Eastern Mediterranean and the port city of Western Anatolia, which had maintained its ethnic diversity for centuries, experienced an upheaval in its ethnic composition beginning in the 1910s. By the mid-1920s, it had been transformed into an ethnically homogeneous Turkish city. This process of demographic change, which was not unique to İzmir, was shaped by a number of factors, including the incorporation of the region into the world capitalist economy, the modernization of the Ottoman Empire through the Tanzimat reforms of 1839 to 1876 and the birth of nationalist politics in the 1910s, in other words, the onset of modernization. ← 24 | 25 →

Some scholars have recently showed interest in the period of ethnic conflict in İzmir and Western Anatolia between 1908 and 1922, writing Ph.D. dissertations on the subject.14 Reşat Kasaba, an expert on the region, also examined this period of ethnic violence and its historical background.15 Very few of the works on the socio-cultural history of İzmir deal with the social relations and communal interaction during the period this study covers.16 The urban, social histories of İzmir that look at the period covered by this work have dealt with communal relations from different angles. One historical-architectural study, based mostly on French newspapers of the time and to some extent the Ottoman archival materials, examined how relationships between the people of İzmir cut across ethno-religious lines by studying the physical organization of the city.17 Another study concentrated on communal relations between the European and other ethno-religious communities of the city in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, using largely Ottoman historiography from French sources.18 A final study focused on Levantine identity and life in the Ottoman Empire, using examples from İzmir and the Pera and Galata districts of İstanbul.19

This study rejects Eurocentric approaches like the decline thesis20 and modernization or westernization theses and makes a contribution to the recently written Ottoman, urban, social histories. What differentiates this study from the ← 25 | 26 → others is that it concentrates specifically on Greek-Turkish communal relations between 1826 and 1864.21 These communities are usually examined as two “conflicting nations” by much of the conventional Turkish and Greek historiography of the post–WWI years. By also delving deeply into Ottoman-Turkish archival material this study aims to contribute to the urban, social history as it is currently being written all over the former Ottoman Empire.

İzmir Rums or İzmir Greeks?

Throughout this study the terms “Ottoman Greeks” or “Greek subjects,” rough equivalents of the Turkish word Rum is used for the Orthodox Christian, Ottoman-Greek subjects in İzmir. For the Greek citizens in the Greek state, the terms “Greeks of the Greek state,” “Greeks of Greece” or “Greek nationals” are used. However, identifying who was who in İzmir proved a difficult task. After the foundation of the Greek state in 1831, the identification issue concerning Greek Orthodox Christians became even more complicated. It is known that the Greek consulate in İzmir was actively selling Greek passports in 1860. To have a Greek passport was advantageous for Orthodox Christians since it was easily exchanged for its Russian equivalent.22

The identification of non-Muslims — Greeks, Armenians and Jews — was complicated by the increasing number of people who were granted protection by the foreign consulates (beratlı merchants)23 in İzmir and its surrounding regions, which gave them extraterritorial status. Therefore, Orthodox Christians, Armenians and sometimes Jews are first seen as Greek, British, Russian or French protected subjects or nationals. As far as the Ottoman Greeks in İzmir are concerned, the mere change of their identity cards does not indicate that they were not among the Ottoman Greeks who had inhabited İzmir for centuries. A group of Greek merchants and tradesmen, for example, who migrated from Greece to İzmir and its surrounding region at the turn of the nineteenth century and ← 26 | 27 → during the Tanzimat period, played, along with the Ottoman-Greek subjects, a crucial role in the formation of the middle, or bourgeoisie, class in İzmir and Asia Minor,24 which I will discuss further in chapter IV. Therefore, for the purposes of this study, I have defined the three groups of Greeks in İzmir in this period — Ottoman Greeks, protected (beratlı) Greeks and migrants of the Kingdom of Greece to Anatolia — as “İzmir Greeks.”

As far as Muslim Turks in İzmir are concerned, I have used “Muslim” and “Turk” interchangeably, since the term Muslim referred to Turks in the Ottoman Empire. I preferred not to use the pair of terms “Muslims” and “Orthodox Christians,” since, although the two terms are religious categories, an Orthodox Christian in İzmir might be a Greek, a Bulgarian, a Serb, or a Russian.

Infidel İzmir or Turkish İzmir?

Before turning to İzmir in the period from 1826 to 1864, it is worth reviewing the historiography of the city. I benefitted from the extensive works of Reşat Kasaba, Elena Frangakis-Syrett and Daniel Goffman, who studied how the city grew and the important role it played at different periods in the long history of the Ottoman Empire. I also used the publications of the İzmir Municipality. Of these, I benefitted most from Mübahat Kütükoğlu’s works. The works of some other Turkish historians, including Adnan Bilget,25 Çınar Atay26 and Rauf Beyru,27 also provided clues with which to explore communal relations in İzmir in the nineteenth century.

The İzmir series by Chrestos Sokratous Solomonides provided extensive and detailed knowledge about various aspects of nineteenth century İzmir. Solomonides was born in İzmir in 1897 and died in Athens in 1976. His father published Amaltheia, the most influential Greek newspaper in İzmir for many years (1838–1922). Some of his books that I used in this study include The Hellenic Character ← 27 | 28 → of Smyrna, 1821–1922,28 Journalism in Smyrna, 1821–1922,29Smyrna Trilogy: Smyrna during the Awakening, Easter of the Unredeemed Greeks and Independent Smyrna30 and Theater in Smyrna, 1657–192231 Solomonides did not use any archival material — he was not a professional historian — and dedicated his efforts to proving the Greek character of his hometown through extensive use of travelers’ accounts and Greek books from the pre-1922 era. Although his works include a lot of information about the relationships among the communities of İzmir, he did not analyze Greek and Turkish relations in an objective manner.

Solomonides represents the Eurocentric approach, where Ottoman history is examined through a comparison of Islamic civilization with Western civilization, which is always presented to the latter’s advantage by emphasizing Muslim backwardness. Some professional and amateur local Turkish historians, by contrast, have contested this approach in writing the history of İzmir, producing works that gave rise to the idea of a multicultural İzmir, even though they themselves did not emphasize the multiculturalism of the city or approach it as a multicultural Ottoman society.32 Tuncer Baykara is among those who criticized the conventional Western approaches.33 In rejecting the arguments of the Eurocentric approach, he emphasized the “Turkishness” of the city and the destructive influence of non-Muslims over the “true,” native Turkish inhabitants of the city.34

General histories of İzmir, like that of Baykara, that attempted to reveal the “Turkish İzmir” strongly oppose the general perception that the presence of a ← 28 | 29 → considerable number of non-Muslims made İzmir an “infidel” (gâvur) city.35 Moreover, to view the Turkish population of İzmir as the “real owners” of the city is a mistaken and inaccurate starting point, if one wants to begin to understand this religiously diverse society. In addition to Baykara, Rauf Beyru calls the Turks of İzmir the “real owners of the city,” (kentin asıl sahipleri)36 when discussing the communities and population of İzmir in his book Life in Nineteenth Century İzmir.37 Not only professional and amateur historians, but also European travelers, called the Turks of İzmir “the real owners of the city” or “of the country.”38 Since they shared a religion with the ruling Ottoman dynasty, it is understandable how these nineteenth century travelers may have seen the Turks as the representatives of the state and thus the real owners of the city.

Ziya Somar, a Turkish literary figure, described intellectual and literary developments in the Turkish community of İzmir in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.39 Zeki Arıkan called Somar’s study a valuable and successful attempt to reveal cultural change in “Turkish İzmir,” in addition to gâvur İzmir. In his memoirs of İzmir, Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil, another Turkish literary figure, noted the influence of the missionary schools in İzmir, the culturally and intellectually advantageous position of the non-Muslims and the Turkish community’s absence in the economic, social and cultural life of the city.40 Hence, the presumed economic and socio-cultural predominance of the non-Muslim and European communities in İzmir has motivated native historians and writers to seek out the “Turkish İzmir,” as they called it, and to demonstrate the Turkish character of the city.41 However, they have not discussed the issue in the framework of the ← 29 | 30 → likely existence of multiculturalism or harmonious coexistence and interaction between the various ethno-religious communities of İzmir.

It is true that the Eurocentric approach often ignores and silences the Muslim-Turkish communities of the empire. However, I argue that without freeing ourselves from nationalist or nativist attachments, as expressed in studies that try to demonstrate the Turkish or Greek character of the city, social histories cannot contribute to revealing a more accurate picture of the multi-religious Ottoman cities. Even in the studies that have dealt with the social history of İzmir, intercommunal relations have been neglected. In examining this issue, I prefer to view the society of İzmir as an organic whole, with both Muslims and non-Muslims populating one city, rather than dividing it into two parts — gâvur and Turkish.

İzmir’s history has gained considerable attention over the past ten years through the publications of scholarly studies by the İzmir Municipality, a series that has revealed various unknown aspects to the city’s history.42 In the present literature, the best known works on İzmir deal with its economic history in the sixteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Relying exclusively on Ottoman archival material and some consular reports, Kütükoğlu produced studies mostly dealing with economic histories of İzmir in the fifteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.43 While she does not examine the data in terms of social and cultural history, her studies do enable us to understand the city’s economic development and demographic structure during this time period. ← 30 | 31 →

The other three basic studies on the city were carried out by Reşat Kasaba,44 Elena Frangakis-Syrett45 and Daniel Goffman,46 all of whom emphasized that the cosmopolitan population of İzmir served the city well. İzmir grew as a major commercial center and managed to resist or recover from the external assaults and natural disasters that beset the city persistently and regularly. They argued that that economic wealth and the strength of local commercial networks played a key role in allowing the people of the city to become the agents of a long period of growth. In their analyses, the political and economic seats of power worked at cross-purposes, with the latter trying to contain the former. All agreed that the collaboration of the people of İzmir, especially the city’s Ottoman Greek and Turkish residents was indispensable for its long-term prosperity. However, none addressed the nature of the communal relations among the people of the city and the relationship between the central and local governance.

In trying to fill this lacuna, this study has examined communal relations in the city through the lens of Greek-Turkish relations. In doing so, it both challenges the current literature on the Ottoman reforms and reinterprets these reforms. Rather than seeing them as a set of Western-imposed policies that led to a radical break with the pre-Tanzimat regulations and favored the empire’s non-Muslim populations, it argues that the reforms actually opened up new ways of coexisting and reinforcing each other to the different ethno-religious communities in İzmir. As this study argues, by not interfering in the social and cultural relations among the people of İzmir and by controlling the social order and cohesion of the society in a way that benefitted from both Tanzimat and pre-Tanzimat principles, the central government played an important role in creating the prosperity of the city.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (June)
Intercommunal Interaction Multireligious Multiethnic Western Anatolia
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 286 pp., 32 fig. b/w, 3 tables

Biographical notes

Feryal Tansuğ (Author)

Feryal Tansuğ received her PhD in the area of Ottoman History at the University of Toronto. She teaches at Bahçeşehir University in İstanbul. Her research interests include intercommunal and multireligious interactions in the Mediterranean, transnational history and Aegean islands.


Title: İzmir/Smyrna 1826–1864
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288 pages