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The Newcomers and the Old-established: Creating Urban Life in Late Ottoman Istanbul

Dr. Florian Riedler

The project will focus on the linkages between migration and urban life in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Istanbul. ‘Urban life’ is to denote a certain quality of interaction of different groups in concrete spaces of the city like the neighbourhood, the workplace, the market or the coffeehouse. It gains its complexity from the diversity among Istanbul’s old-established and new arriving inhabitants. From the perspective of the state this diversity had to be harnessed by the city authorities including the officially recognised ethno-religious communities (millet).
Temporary labour migrants held a key position in creating diversity in late Ottoman Istanbul. They interacted with the established city population, with the authorities and among each other. Moreover, Greek and Armenian labour migrants got drawn into the process of nationalisation of ethnicities in the late Ottoman period. The traditional millet institutions gained a new significance as brokers of new arrangements of city life with the city authorities.

A contrastive group of newcomers are the Muslim refugees expulsed since the mid-nineteenth century in increasing number from the Balkans and the Caucasus. The project tries to ascertain how the refugees did create or disrupt city life in concrete circumstances. The efforts of the Ottoman government concerning the integration of this group offer the opportunity to explore the state’s attitude towards social engineering and population management as a conscious attempt to model urban life of the capital after a certain ideal. This ideal was subjected to change during the nineteenth century when traditional Ottoman-Islamic models of city life were overwritten with modernist later with nationalist ideologies.