Participants & Abstracts

Honor in Ottoman and Contemporary Mediterranean Societies: Controversies, Continuities and New Directions

March 21-23, 2013 at Central European University in Budapest



Nadia Al-Bagdadi (Central European University) 

TITLE: Shame, honour and taboo - Eros and etiquette in nineteenth century Arab writings

ABSTRACT: In my paper I shall address the emergence and assertion of new moral and sexual taboos during the Arab 19th century from the perspective of a radical change of Arabic ars eroticaand other related writings. Traditionally a central theme not only of erotological handbooks, erotic literature, moral and juridical texts, this topic disappears during the 19th century. It is replaced by a new prudery, which is considered to be either ofa genuine character (Arab/Muslim) or re-active (against the European gaze). I want to explore this transformation by way of pursuing two questions. Fristly, to address the question of representation of Eros and etiquette and to ask why an entire literary and semi-literary genre disappeared, making place for a new discourse on honor and shame. Secondly, and in conjunction with the first, to what extent the historical conditions and the colonial context of the 19th century impacted this process of redefining Eros, etiquette and taboo.


Dionigi Albera (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) 

Dionigi Albera is a senior research fellow at the CNRS and director of the Institut d’Ethnologie Méditerranéenne, Européenne et Comparative (Idemec, Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Hommes, Aix-en-Provence, France). He co-edited several volumes with a Mediterranean focus: (with Anton Blok and Christian Bromberger) L’anthropologie de la Méditerranée/Anthropology of the Mediterranean, Actes du colloque international, Aix-en-Provence, Palais des Congrès, 14-17 mai 1997, Paris : Maisonneuve et Larose, 2001, 756 p.; (with Mohamed Tozy), La Méditerranée des anthropologues. Fractures, filiations, contiguïtés, Paris, Maisonneuve et Larose 2005, 385 p.; (with Maria Couroucli), Sharing Sacred Spaces in the Mediterranean. Christians, Muslims, and Jews at Shrines and Sanctuaries, Indiana University Press, 290 pp. (New Anthropologies of Europe).

TITLE: Honor in Mediterranean Anthropology

ABSTRACT: The topic of honor is embedded in the history of the Mediterranean anthropology. Honor was the main concern of the anthropologists working in this area when this field of study experienced a rapid growth, between the 1950s and the 1970s. Later, honor has been the key focus of a set of internal criticisms that arouse in the 1980s and 1990s, generating a crisis of the Mediterranean anthropology. Some authors saw in the “Mediterranean artifact” the manifestation of an Orientalist vision, which would oriented the construction of a theoretical field around some strongly stereotyped federating themes, such as patronage, familism and, above all, honor and shame. Yet, on several respects, this debate produced the same “imperial” attitude that it criticized. Specialists of Europe have been prominently engaged in this dismantling, just as previous attempts to define a comparative perspective on the Mediterranean had been above all promoted by anthropologists working on the northern shore of the sea. Moreover this confrontation of different points of view concerned only the Anglophone production. In the last few years there has been a renewal of interest in a Mediterranean level of comparison in anthropology. New approaches aim at adopting a more balanced approach. This should imply an enlargement of perspectives via a conversation with national traditions of anthropological research that remained marginalized for a long time; a closer dialogue with other disciplines, first of all history; and a more systematic inclusion of Southern and Eastern Mediterranean historical and ethnographic data, which have been largely underestimated in the past generalizations on the Mediterranean (including the prolix debates on honor). The final part of this paper will tentatively explore the place of the notion of honor in this renewed field of study.


Ceren Belge (Concordia University) 

Ceren Belge received her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Washington. During 2008-2010, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies at Harvard University. Her research interests include state-minority relations, law and society, the politics of everyday life, and gender relations. Her dissertation, titled “Whose Law?: Clans, Honor Killings, and State-Minority Relations in Turkey and Israel,” received the best dissertation awards of the Law and Society Association and Israel Studies Association. The dissertation examines how the visions of national identity in Turkey and Israel shaped the modes of governance each state developed to control its minority population and the willingness and capacity of these states to administer a uniform body law of law over all citizens. Her articles have been published at International Journal of Middle East Studies, Law and Society Review, and Israel Studies Forum.

TITLE: The Rules of Difference: Honor and National Identity in the Courts of Turkey and Israel

ABSTRACT: This paper examines Turkish and Israeli courts’ approach to honor killings within the Kurdish and Palestinian communities as a foray into several broader questions about state power, gender, and national identity. Turkey and Israel followed different nation-building paths vis-à-vis their Kurdish and Palestinian minorities: assimilation in Turkey, and separation, in Israel. In concrete interactions between state officials and the minorities, however, the regulation of cultural difference and the negotiation of authority took unexpected turns. Despite the Turkish government’s program of forced assimilation, courts in Eastern Turkey developed a body of case law emphasizing the recognition that must be accorded to “regional customs.” And in Israel, where Arabs went to different schools, spoke a different language, and were subject to a different family law from Jews, Israeli courts asserted that no tolerance could be accorded to the “abhorrent” and “disgusting” custom of honor killing. Set in the context of contrasting state-minority relations, courts’ treatment of honor killings in Turkey and Israel raise a number of broader questions. First, how do conceptions of ethnic, national, or “cultural” difference translate into structures of authority at the local level? Under what conditions do states recognize or reject the norms and power structure of communities they regard as “different,” particularly when such difference is integrally linked with competing claims to sovereignty? Second, what norms of sexuality and meanings of gender are inscribed into national identity through state practices, such as court decisions and legal discourse on honor killings? This paper attempts to examine these questions through a systematic study of criminal court decisions in Turkey and Israel from 1970 on.


Isa Blumi (University of Leipzig) 

Isa Blumi, (NYU, Ph.D. 2005), Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University, is Currently Senior Research Fellow at Leipzig University. His work seeks to explain transformations in world history through observations of trans-regional exchanges in the context of collapsing political systems, be they in the Balkans, the larger MENA region or South China Sea. He has just completed a book Ottoman Refugees, 1878-1939: Migration in a Post-Imperial World (Bloomsbury Press, 2013) highlighting the daily adaptations to violence in such contexts. He is also author of three recent books covering many of the same themes: Chaos in Yemen (Routledge 2010); Reinstating the Ottomans (Palgrave, 2011); and Foundations of Modernity (Routledge 2012) and is co-editor of Lasting Political Impacts of Balkan Wars 1912-1913 (U. of Utah Press, 2013) and author of Rethinking the Late Ottoman Empire (ISIS, 2003).

TITLE: An Honorable Break from the Besa: Reorientating Violence in the Late Ottoman Mediterranean

ABSTRACT: In this presentation of ongoing research into the shifting fortunes of Ottoman western Balkan regions (represented here in their main towns) at the end of imperial rule, I will argue the evidence of certain internal dynamics compel us to reconsider what are the animating forces at work during a period of state reorientation. Using the cases of the Ottoman western Balkans as extensions of broader regional interactions between (not so neatly distinctive) state and subject actors, it becomes clear that the origins of certain kinds of social upheaval are linked to local socio-economic forces directly affiliated with administrative reforms adopted to harness local practices of conflict resolution. As argued throughout, these local forces engaging with presumably distinct state actions only later translate into new conditions that often manifested in terms of indigenous principles. The manner in which the eventual shifts in how state authorities try to co-opt these local practices are manifested, prove violent. Such violence invariably appears in the documents. Where this paper seeks to go, however, is to highlight how the violence alone cannot serve as our focus to better understand how change is brought to the region. Evidence of violent exchange may require a careful reinterpretation of what this violence actually reflects at several layers of social organization and institutional interaction. In the end, violent moments that appeared to mark the collapse of Ottoman rule in the western Balkans, often seen in regional historiographies as an ascendency of local practices, need deeper inspection. While local practices based on Albanian “honor codes” or BESA may have played a role, I wish to suggest an indirect one in order to correct an indigenous sourced essentialism. As such, this paper looks into tensions around the regulation of honor codes in Albanian territories through discourses of the native, as much as the manifestation of a product of policy or indigenous agency, the final product being violence. This complication of the interaction is one means I am continuously seeking to develop in order to suggest our greater sensitivity for intersections of tension may be but extensions of intricate domestic disputes that are themselves marked by gradations of possible violence. In the end, I hope this paper will initiate a new approach to monitoring social dynamics in Ottoman Balkan settings while discussing otherwise neglected cases of indigenous sources of systemic change that is obscured in the literature by the violence of the First World War.


Jean-Louis Briquet (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Paris 1) 

Jean-Louis BRIQUET is a political scientist and CNRS researcher at the Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France. His main fields of research concern unofficial politics (clientelism, corruption, and political criminality), sociology of local politics and élites, especially in France and Italy. His recent publications include: Mafia, justice et politique en Italie. L’affaire Andreotti dans la crise de la République (1992-2004), Paris, Karthala, 2008; Organized crime and the State, New York, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2010 (ed. with Gilles Favarel-Garrigues).

TITLE: «A matter of man to man». Moral obligations, political loyalty and clientelism in Corsica

ABSTRACT: While established on the exchange of material benefits (goods and services in return for political support), clientelistic relationships involve inter-individual links, often expressed in terms of friendship, personal attachment and solidarity, sense of duty, or gratitude. People are expected to act according to moral obligations (providing favours to their allies for politicians; returning these favours with political loyalty for their electorate), at risk of losing their reputation and social status. Based on a fieldwork research on local politics in Corsica, the paper analyses these moral obligations and the way in which they influence on the one hand the exercise and legitimation of political authority, on the other hand the conception of political commitment and loyalty among ordinary citizens. It is argued that clientelism doesn’t manifest a “traditional” culture antagonistic to modern democratic standards, but results of the appropriation and reshaping of modern state institutions and electoral mechanisms by the local society.


Berna Ekal (EHESS, Paris) 

PhD Student, Social Anthropology and Ethnology, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS – Paris)

TITLE: The Notion of Honor and Institutions: The Case of Public Women’s Shelters in Turkey

ABSTRACT: This paper aims to understand how the notion of honor serves to shape the relations between citizens and officials in the public institutions in Turkey today, through the example of public women’s shelters. As a point of departure, it dwells on my PhD research in two different women’s shelters that are established and run by municipalities and on the disputes and negotiations revolving around honor in these institutions. In other words, the article seeks to put forward the appropriation of the notion of honor either for disciplinary purposes by the staff of the shelters, or as a legitimation by residents as to their choice to stay in the shelters. If we look at the background of women’s shelters in Turkey, we can see that they are predominantly established and run either by municipalities or the Institute of Social Services and Child Protection. The reasons that lead to such a situation are multiple (such as the lack of funding in the case of the feminist and other non-governmental organizations in Turkey, which represents a different path than the countries of Europe and North America, since in these countries it is predominantly the NGOs which are involved in shelter work), but what has to be emphasized concerning shelters is the fact that they have their unique character as public institutions, with their specific hierarchical structures; whereas feminists all over the world originally have envisaged women’s shelter as a political space where non-hierarchical bonds of solidarity would prevail. However, academic researches have mostly focused on feminist women’s shelters, and the elements of the functioning of the public women’s shelters remains a question to be explored. In this, we can argue that the notion of honor constitutes the specificity of the hierarchical structure of the public women’s shelters. That is, women who stay in shelters usually say that they come to shelters for not having to live on the streets (which refers to being homeless but which also refer to prostitution) and hence to protect their honor. On the other hand, staff of the shelters also concern about the honor of women and also of the institution (i.e. shelter): they banish the use of portable phones under the pretext of security, inspect residents closely, and devote themselves to keep the “respectability” of the shelter intact. In other words, in the context of women’s shelters, honor can be argued to be 1) a disciplinary element over the residents, and 2) a quality of the institution as such. This image, in turn, doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect over the residents; they indeed perceive the shelters as a legitimate place to stay by arguing that it is a place where they can protect their honor. All in all, the everyday disputes over the honor of residents provide us an opportunity to discuss how honor becomes a dimension of the everyday encounters of residents and the staff in the shelters, and hence how it becomes a reference point in the institutional spaces.


Tolga Esmer (Central European University) 

Tolga U. Esmer is an Assistant Professor of Ottoman, Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean, and Balkan Studies in the Department of History at the Central European University, and he has also taught classes on Islam and Islamic history at Northwestern and Pennsylvania State University. A social and cultural historian of the Ottoman Empire, Middle East, and Balkans, Dr. Esmer earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 2009. He is the author of several articles, one of his most recent articles entitled “Economies of Violence, Governance, and the Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Banditry in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1800” is forthcoming in Past & Present. Dr. Esmer is currently working on a book that re-conceptualizes the phenomenon of banditry central to the narratives of disorder, decentralization and disintegration that dominate the historiography of the late Ottoman Empire by exploring how banditry and its attendant economies of violence mediated social relations. The book approaches banditry as a politicized site of contestation in which socio-economic, moral, legal, and religious concerns of various groups in Ottoman society converged to highlight new tensions and define new relations in processes that the fields of Ottoman, Balkan, and Middle Eastern history study separately.

TITLE: How to Read Acts and Words of Honor in Late-Ottoman Accounts of Banditry

ABSTRACT: This essay compares the self-narrative of the “irregular,” paramilitary cavalryman Deli Mustafa that records the campaigns he took part in between 1801/2 to 1832 with Ottoman archival sources written about and by Kara Feyzi, a savvy paramilitary soldier (sekbân) cum bandit leader who marshaled a successful, trans-regional organized crime network that pillaged Ottoman Rumeli from 1793 to well beyond 1808. In this sense, the comparison between these two social actors juxtaposes how one actor of a humble station in life fashions himself vis-à-vis his superiors and sundry communities throughout the Ottoman Empire versus how disparate imperial officials and communities described and explained their often compromising relationships with the much larger, controversial figure Kara Feyzi and his vast network. This essay revisits the notion of honor as a broader dialogical discourse that mediated encounters among these trans-regional networks of violence, local and imperial officials who were charged with repelling but often found it more lucrative to join them, and local populations throughout the Empire that were either forced to join or make a stand against these unruly men and their powerful networks. While it starts with assessing some of the ritualistic violence that these social actors either discussed in their own narratives or were attributed to them by other observers, this essay moves the discussion of honor from “acts of honor” to what I will argue are the more important “words of honor” embedded in these sources since much of the violence described in the narrative and officials sources utilized here are mediated by embellishments, biases, and agendas that distract us from understanding these types of sources’ more complicated stories. It is what I call the “leveling affect” that conflicting words of honor had on “class” and social distinction that makes honor such a fascinating and fruitful inquiry into historical studies. By manipulating notions akin to honor and shame, social actors of humble origins as well as entire communities could check and manipulate more powerful players in Ottoman society whilst legitimating their own contentious behavior in ways that have been overlooked in mainstream historiography.


Anastasia Falierou (University of Athens)

Anastasia Falierou is an Adjunct Professor at the department of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies at the University of Athens. She studied at EHESS and in the Ataturk Institute for Modern Turkish History, in Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. She defended her Ph.D thesis concerning the transformations of Ottoman clothing in Istanbul (1826-1925). Anastasia Falierou worked as fellow in the French Institute for Anatolian Studies in Istanbul (IFEA) and as instructor in the University of Bahçeşehir. She is currently working in the Department of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies in the University of Athens. Her research interests concern social and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire, gender studies in the Balkans, history of Modern Turkey. Recent publications: "From the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic: Ottoman Turkish Women’s Clothing between tradition and modernity" in C. Vintilă-Ghiţulescu (ed.) From Traditional Attire to Modern Dress: Modes of Identification, Modes of Recognition in the Balkans (XVIth-XXth Centuries), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, pp.175-193 and «La révolution jeune-turque de 1908, une révolution de la condition féminine dans l’Empire ottoman?» dans F. Georgeon (sous la dir. de) L’ivresse de la liberté: la révolution de 1908 dans l’Empire ottoman, Peeters de Louvain, Belgique, 2012, pp. 221-237.

TITLE: The Female Body as "Social Disorder": Morality and Honor in Ottoman Muslims Womens' Public Appearance

ABSTRACT: Woman’s honor and respectability is one of the favored topics in the field of gender studies. These questions do not concern of course, only Muslim women but seem to preoccupy all ethnic and religious groups in the Ottoman Empire. My paper will focus on the study of the intermingled connection between Muslim women’s clothing and the notions of respectability, purity and honor in the late 19th century and early 20th century Istanbul. By scrutinizing several documents from the ottoman archives of Başbakanlık I shall try to analyze a) the vocabulary of honor used in the official documents and its connotations, b) the important role of Islamic principles in shaping the clothing habits of Muslim women c) the relation between the female body and State policy during Abdulhamid II’s reign and finally, d) the similarities with other ethno-confessional communities such as the Greeks.


Orit Kamir (Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem) 

Dr. Orit Kamir is an Israeli professor of Law, Cultureand Gender. She specializes in jurisprudence, law and film, feminist law, andhonor and dignity. She has written two books and many articles (in Hebrew) on honor and dignity in Israeli society, law and gender politics. She is the headof the Israeli Center for Human Dignity (a non-profit organization).

TITLE: Honor as a Driving Force in Israeli Politics: Israeli Political History Told through the Lens of Honor

ABSTRACT: In my book Israeli Honor and Dignity, 2004 (inHebrew), I showed that Political Zionism aimed to redeem Europe’s Jews from their “unmanly lack of honor” by forging the New Jew and constructing a new Jewish culture of honor, modeled on central Europe’s 19th century codes of national honor. The book argues that the Zionist settlement in Palestine/Israel over the course of the 20th century succeeded in fulfilling this revolutionary vision, and Israel's Jewish community indeed became an honor society. It garnished its 19th century German notions of honor with local Palestinian honor and sprinkles of Iraqi, Syrian and North African honor, as adopted by Jewish immigrants to Israel from these countries. This unique Zionist honor comes into play in daily life in Israel and underlies many basic notions and patterns of conduct (including gender politics). It has also been a predominant, fundamental feature of the Israeli state in its dealings with friends and enemies near and far. In contemporary Israel, a shift can be noticed mostly among educated, middle and upper class Jews of European descent ("the oldelites"), away from the prevailing Zionist honor culture. This trend was launched in 1992, with the legislation of Israel's "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty", often hailed as the country's Bill of Rights. Human dignity was meant by the initiators of this bill to become the country's fundamental, liberal, universal value, thus undercutting the privileged status of Zionist honor. The legal system, particularly the Supreme Court, widely associated with "the oldelites", quickly embraced human dignity, making it the foundation of Israeli law. Two sectors of Jewish Israeli society, traditional Jews of Middle Eastern descent and the Nationalist Orthodox Jews, re-embraced Zionist honor, now enhanced with religious Jewish motifs, vowing to repudiate the ongoing establishment of human dignity's new hegemony. Present-day Israeli politics, both internal and external, represent this fierce battle surrounding Zionist honor and human dignity.


Noémi Lévy-Aksu (Boğaziçi University) 

Noémi Lévy-Aksu is an Assistant Professor at Boğaziçi University, Department of History. She got her PhD in History from the EHESS-Paris, in 2010. Her main research interests are in late Ottoman History, public order and social control in urban contexts. She has recently published a reworked version of her PhD dissertation, entitled Ordre et désordres dans l’Istanbul ottomane (1879-1909) (Karthala, 2013).

TITLE: Building Professional and Political Communities: The Value of Honor in The Self-Representations of the Police during the Second Constitutional Period

ABSTRACT: My paper will focus on the use of honor and related concepts in self-narratives written by members of the police active during the Young Turk period. I argue that the concept of honor emerged as a central value around which the promotion of individual, professional and political identities was articulated at a time when the police institution was deeply reformed. Referring to personal qualities and political values, the notions related to “namus” were used by the authors of short self-narratives or more detailed autobiographies to legitimize both their role in the police institution and the activity of the police institution in the society. This twofold dimension was based on a rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion, constantly opposing the honorable policemen of the new regime to various categories supposedly lacking honor, such as the policemen of the previous regime and the strong-arm men of the present. My paper aims to highlight that multi-dimensional use of the notion of honor and its social and political signification in the definition of a professional identity for the police forces. The first part of my paper will concentrate on the role of honor in the affirmation of a positive police identity. The value of honor was very instrumental in the emergence of a discourse on police ethics during the second constitutional period. Parallel to the efforts put into the professional formation of the police members, the stress on the moral qualities which were required to be part of the police served two purposes: it aimed to mark the rupture with the turpitudes of the previous regime, while enhancing the legitimacy of the new institution, whose activities were to be shaped by the principles of the new regime: freedom, equality, justice and service to the people. Honor was promoted as the central value which would allow the policemen to perform their duty properly and to become essential intermediaries between the state and the people. In the second part of my paper, I will show that this emphasis on the value of honor was also a way to stigmatize and exclude some categories, an aspect which, though less explicit than self-promotion in the narratives under study, was at least as central in the construction of a professional community. Focusing on the characters depicted as shameful, I will point out the convergence of the different sources in defining moral, political and ethno-religious criteria supposedly incompatible with honorable behavior. I will argue that, beyond being a literary way to emphasize the virtue of the authors confronted to dangerous enemies, this negative approach to honor should be one of the elements to take into account in the evaluation of the political orientations of the police institution and its relationship with the people during the second constitutional period.


Leslie Peirce (New York University) 

Leslie Peirce is Silver Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University, where she directs the Program in Ottoman Studies. She received her Ph.D. in 1988 from Princeton University, and also taught at UC Berkeley and Cornell. Peirce specializes in the history of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is the author of The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (1993) and Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (2003). Both books have been translated into Turkish and both won the Köprülü Prize of the Turkish Studies Association; the second also won the Middle East Studdies Association’s Hourani Prize Peirce is also the recipient of fellowships from NEH, ACLS, Fulbright, Guggenheim Foundation, Koç University RCAC, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

TITLE: Honor as a Social Contract

ABSTRACT: Honor in its usage today is typically defined by its constituent qualities: defines it as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions”. Reputation on the other hand is a relational concept: “the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally”. It takes observers to bestow or deny reputation. Looking at reputation and how one gained a good or bad one is arguably the most productive avenue for understanding how people in early modern Ottoman times understood honor. Having explored this point briefly in previous publications, I would to use the opportunity of this paper to explore its ramifications. My paper argues that the preservation of honor—of the person, the community, even of the empire—is a kind of social contract. It is an agreement on the meaning of certain acts (or an agreement to agree) for mutual benefit between individuals or an individual and his or her community. Studying honor as a relational phenomenon, as the process of censuring or validating a person or group’s actions or inactions, allows us to appreciate the capacity of Ottoman subjects and Ottoman authorities to talk to each other about honor, even to accuse one another of the disgrace and suffering precipitated by one side’s failure to uphold the contract.


Will Smiley (Harvard University) 

Will Smiley received his PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cambridge in October 2012, and expects to receive his JD from Yale Law School in 2014. His dissertation focused on the evolution of a system of international rules governing the capture, enslavement, and release of prisoners of war between the Ottoman and Russian Empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; more broadly, he is interested in Ottoman history and the histories of Islamic and international law. Will currently serves as a Graduate Research Associate at the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University, as a Student Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at Yale, and as an Articles Editor for The Yale Journal of International Law.

TITLE: Freeing "The Enslaved People of Islam". Treaty Law, Religious Rhetoric and Inter-Imperial Honor in Russo-Ottoman Relations, 1739-1815

ABSTRACT: My paper, based on Ottoman and Russian archival sources, examines the changing Ottoman state responses to the captivity of its subjects in Russia during and after each of the two empires’ eighteenth and nineteenth century conflicts. I explore the relationship between captivity and honor, focusing especially on Ottoman subjects held in Russia, arguing that the Ottoman state increasingly came to see this as a matter of honor—and came to use treaty law to vindicate that honor. I trace this process across four wars: 1735-1739, 1768-1774, 1787-1792, 1806-1812. The Ottoman state, I argue, attempted to protect individual (usually male) slave owners’ honor by resisting Russian attempts to free that state’s own captives, and also saw the conversion of Russians to Islam as a vindication of the honor of the Ottoman state and the Muslim religion. At the same time, the Porte—in particular, Sultans Selim III and Mahmud II—increasingly felt that, in the face of military defeat, the release of Ottoman subjects held captive in Russia was vital to their own personal, political, and religious honor. The Ottoman state therefore became far more involved in liberating its subjects than it had been previously, and Ottoman ambassadors to Russia became increasingly methodical and aggressive in using treaty law to advocate for captives’ release. This culminated in Mahmud’s nearly obsessive concern for prisoners during the 1806 War, and in the frantic response to the Russian massacre of several hundred captives after the end of that conflict. I conclude by posing the question: what was the conception of honor that emerges from this story? Was it based on a conception of the Ottoman state as fundamentally Muslim? On concerns for the sultan’s standing among the monarchs of Europe? Or on a view of the sultan as the patriarchal head of the imperial “family”?


Başak Tuğ (Bilgi University) 

Başak Tuğ is Assistant Professor of History at Istanbul Bilgi University. Her areas of research are gender history and theory, Ottoman legal culture, Islamic law, and the social history of violence and crime. She is currently working on her book entitled Politics of Honor: Sexual Violence and Socio-Legal Surveillance in Early-modern Ottoman Anatolia.

TITLE: Protecting Honor in the Name of Justice

ABSTRACT: The “violation of honor” (hetk-i ‘ırz – عرض هتك) is one of the most frequently encountered concepts in eighteenth-century Ottoman legal documents. The association of sexuality with honor was not of course a novel phenomenon for Ottoman society. However, the recurring presence of honor in the correspondence especially between the central power and the Ottoman subjects reflects the development of new parameters between the early-modern state and its subjects in moral terms. The Ottoman central government’s claim to protect the honor of its subjects reflects a dialogic process in which subjects started to use new types of legal terminology and concepts in order to request the intervention of state in local matters that threatened their well-being. This paper argues that such a relationship or claim based on honor started to establish state-society relationship based on citizenship rights over the protection of life, honor and property well before the so-called reform era, the era most scholars maintain began with the Tanzimat Edict of 1839. Following this continuity in Ottoman legal discourse on honor from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, this paper aims to trace continuities and changes in governmental and punitive techniques of the Ottoman power over moral order from the mid-eighteenth century to the early decades of the Tanzimat era, namely the 1840s and 1850s. In doing so, it will trace the utilization of the term “violation of honor” in the Ottoman legal practice and discourse in order to explore the importance of honor in conceptualizing sexual offences and sexuality in different periods. Secondly, it will concentrate on the discourse of the “protection of honor” as a legitimizing motive behind the interventions of the political power in the sexual sphere.