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Producing Ottomans: Internal Colonization and Social Engineering in Ottoman Immigrant Settlement

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In the past decade, historians of the Armenian Genocide have productively explored broader trends in Ottoman population politics to situate the genocide within the totality of Ottoman social engineering techniques and to highlight continuities between the Second Constitutional Period (1908–1918) and the Kemalist era (1919–1950). This article contributes to the effort to understand state building, internal colonization, and state-enacted violence across regimes by examining Ottoman archival documents related to immigrant settlement. Rather than focusing exclusively on the Young Turk period, this article traces Ottoman conceptions of its territory and population from the 1850s forward. In 1857, concerns about population density and population productivity inspired the Tanzimat High Council to issue a new set of migration regulations, which encouraged immigration by promising free land, tax exemption, and religious freedom for colonists from Europe and the United States. The issuing of the 1857 regulations occurred almost simultaneously with the initiation of a decades-long mass Muslim migration from the Crimean Peninsula, Caucasus, and Balkans into the shrinking territory of the Ottoman state. In 1860, the Empire established a centralized Immigrant Commission (Muhacirin Komisyonu) for receiving, categorizing, and settling the Muslim immigrants. Most immigrants did not meet the selection criteria established in the 1857 regulations. Nevertheless, immigrant settlement became a key component in nineteenth-century Ottoman internal colonization and social engineering. Ultimately, settlement policies and data generated about the population and territory allowed officials to enact assimilative and expulsive policies based not only on ethnic or religious characteristics but also on tropes of productivity and civilization. Examining immigrant settlement as internal colonization situates the Ottoman Empire within global patterns of state building and imperialism and reveals continuity in how officials conceived of population productivity and population removal, allowing historians to understand better political, infrastructural, and ideological precursors to the Armenian genocide.
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Keywords: Immigration; internal colonization; population policy; social engineering; territoriality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, USA

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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