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CEMS COLLOQUIUM: Urban Tanzîmât, Morality, and Corrupting Property in Nineteenth-Century Istanbul

Thursday, November 16, 2017, 5:00 pm

The Ottoman capital woke up to smoke-filled skies on the 7th of September 1865 after one of the biggest fires of the century engulfed the city throughout the night. It was a day of dispossession and calamity, and many found themselves hopeless against the merciless force of the catastrophe. Centuries-old tales of blazing wooden homes perishing in Istanbul probably did not help them to fathom the destruction sparked in the Hocapaşa district of the city. In less than twenty hours, about 1200 families were left in complete destitution. The fire only doubled their misery because an epidemic of cholera had already been raging through the city for some time. It was “a calamity as destructive to property as the epidemic has been to lives.” An enormous section of intro muros Istanbul was devastated: 2751 buildings in 27 neighborhoods burned to ashes.

Although the Hocapaşa fire was devastating for imperial Istanbul, it nevertheless presented an opportunity for urban reform to turn the capital into a ‘modern’ city. The lecture will focus on the relations between tanzîmât and corruption within the context of planning activities following the Hocapaşa fire. It will take corruption as a critical locus of analysis in order to understand notions of justice and morality that historical actors fashioned in the social production of urban tanzîmât and property relations. The aim is to illustrate that a theme of honor was central to both state institutions and real estate owners with regard to the positions that they took in property conflicts that emerged as a result of planning activities in the city. It will be argued that honor was not only a moral but also an economic theme that revolved around the question of locational values in this intense period of spatial restructuring.

Eda Güçlü is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Central European University. Her dissertation focuses on social practices of property in nineteenth-century Istanbul, and examines how property mediated personal, communal, and state-society relations in the process of urban planning and spatio-temporal restructuring that the Ottoman capital went through in this period. During her PhD, she was awarded fellowships by New Europe College in Bucharest and Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Istanbul. She is currently teaching both modern and Ottoman Turkish at CEU.