Session 5b: Turkey: Yesterday and Today
Chair: Peter Guy
Foster Child or Servant, Charity or Abuse: Beslemes in 19th Century Ottoman Empire
Department of History, Sabanci. University, Istanbul, Turkey
Besleme is a foster child (girl) adopted into a relatively rich household (not legally though) at a very young age and brought up as a servant. The orphans, abandoned children, and the daughters of the poor were the first prospects to become one. These girls were offered employment in the form of a charity: they had to perform the household chores, and the employers, in return, pledged to supply the child’s basic needs – shelter, food, and clothing. The employers paid no wage relying on the assumption that taking custody of a child was no less than a charity, a benevolent act that did not result in an employer-employee relationship.
In late 19th century beslemes were marginalized by Ottoman society as unchaste and indecent, since their ‘job description’ included a de facto form of concubinage. Due to their dependent and vulnerable position, they were frequently molested by their masters. In Ottoman court records, there are many cases of rape, in which, interestingly, the servants claimed to receive only a compensation, ukr (instead of Koranic penalty of stoning). This was applicable in cases where the rapist could reasonably assume that his sexual intercourse with his victim was legally acceptable. Then, intercourse with a servant was raising a similar legal doubt in the eyes of the judge.
Although abuse of domestic servants by the house lords is an exhausted theme in European historiography, its counterpart in the Ottoman context is still worth discussing, due to interesting nuances involved. First, these servant girls were foster children taken into the houses as a form of charity. Thus, sexual relation with them, though not literally, was a ‘social’ case of incest. Second, abuse by the employers was in fact embedded in the employment. In some cases, affairs were arranged (or overlooked) by the mothers, who search for beautiful girls to save their sons (or husbands) from prostitution. Moreover, the act was legitimized by the court by settling all the claims of the servants through compromise (sulh).
In late 19th century Ottoman empire, fostering girls as domestic servants was blurring the line between servants and concubines, between incest and taboo, and between charity and abuse. This paper, based on literary sources, Ottoman archives, and court records, is one of the first attempts to delineate these intricacies.
Mother, Husband, and the State: Sexual Education of the Masses in Late 19th Century Ottoman Empire
Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey
With the proclamation of the Reform Edict of Tanzimat, also known as Gülhane Hatt-? Hümayûnû, in 1839, an institutionalised process of modernisation officially began in the Ottoman Empire. The period between 1839 and 1908 was characterised by “purposive modernisations” through which basic institutions could be reformed in Ottoman society so that the social, political and economic challenge posited by “the Western hegemony” could be fought back. These purposively oriented reforms were chiefly centred on the critique and transformation of the key institutions not only in state apparatus, but also in the wider social surrounding. In the second half of the nineteenth century, “Ottoman Muslim family” and its reform became one of the most important components of this contemporary reform project, and commencing from the Tanzimat period onwards, a modern discourse on family, which included the critical appraisal of intra-family relations, gender relationships, procreation and sexuality, morality, hygiene and purity, was formed.
This paper firstly intends to examine the reforms, reform debates and subsequent policies addressing Ottoman Muslim families as sexual and reproductive units to be reformed and rehabilitated in the second half of the nineteenth century. Secondly, it will try to convey the polemical works, commentaries and advice literature which were produced to address and opt for change on “private issues” such as sexuality, fertility, sexual mores and sexual purity. Finally, the emergence of Ottoman State as a modern interventionist one, and the making of the new Ottoman intellectual will also be examined in the medium of these reform debates, policies and polemical literature to reveal how Ottoman society was re-conceptualised through a new form of power-repression axis, and a new economy of power and discipline
Prostituting Margins: A Study on a State Ethnography and Gendered Citizenship in Turkey
Bogazici University, Turkey and activist, Amargi, Istanbul, Turkey
This paper intends to shed light into the question of how gendered citizenship is constructed marginally in terms of exclusionary mechanisms, practices and lacking social rights in contemporary Turkey in the case of sex worker women, and how such kind of marginality shapes the production of sex worker women’s subjectivities. Instead of regarding sex worker women as the passive actors who are put into a marginal position, I suggest that their practices and experiences also determine the scope of marginality. That is to say, both their marginality and subjectivities are constructed at the same time and they are constituents of each other.
For prostitution is legalized and facilitated under state control in Turkey, I have conducted interviews with sex worker women relating to two categories as unlicensed and licensed. In this context, I will try to elaborate a comparative analysis of two categories of sex worker women’s accounts concerning their relations to the state or state actors in terms of citizenry.
On the other hand, since sex worker women in Turkey lay at the intersection of various kinds of discourses, practices and representations, it is very important to look at and understand what kind of categories and knowledges are produced about those women and how these knowledge and categories function to determine subject positions for them. Especially focusing on provisions related to the sex workers and brothels, this paper will continue with the discussion of political technology containing some rules and laws which encode certain norms and values that provide elements according to which society should be organized in a gendered way.
In short, in reference to both institutional texts and subjective accounts of sex workers, I will try to exemplify and analyse the marginal gendered subjectivities of sex worker women as citizens in Turkey context