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  • Teaching Loyalty in the Late Ottoman Balkans:Educational Reform in the Vilayets of Manastir and Yanya, 1878-1912
  • Isa Blumi

Over the past thirty years scholars have paid a great deal of attention to how late-nineteenth-century educational reform affected the development of modern identities in Europe and the United States.1 Historians of the late Ottoman Empire have recently documented that the same theories of pedagogy that attracted much interest in Western Europe and America also influenced Ottoman thinking about education.2 Due to factors that I will discuss below, the Balkans in particular were the focus of educational reforms instituted during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909).3 The schools built in the Balkans, much like their European and American counterparts, were meant to inculcate a level of homogeneity over otherwise culturally diverse populations. While this interest in state-led education has subsequently influenced our understanding of the period, it may have obscured any potential appreciation for the very processes required for schools to actually complete their task of indoctrinating an entire population.4

To better understand the nuances of educational reform in the late Ottoman Balkans and how locals may have frustrated Istanbul's "social engineering" goals, this article will specifically focus on the empire's Albanian-speaking population based in the regions of Manastir and Yanya.5 These two areas are particularly interesting because Albanian-speaking Orthodox Christians and Muslims coexisted with other Christian communities there, creating the pretext for what would prove to be a substantial effort to distance Albanian speakers from each other along religious lines.6 As I will explain, schools built in the region became a central point of confrontation between local communities and their imperial patrons. Some historians have suggested that these battles over the regions' schools and school curricula marked a decisive period of constituting the modern identities of the Balkans. Contrary to the claims of Albanian historians, however, the activities of the local Albanian-speaking population were not limited to resisting the Ottoman and Rum Orthodox institutions that actively sought to subjugate them.7 On the contrary, Albanian speakers actively lobbied Istanbul to construct these Ottoman and Rum Church schools in their communities, not their closure.8

Such lobbying was used by local Albanian speakers to forge greater individual and group roles in regional political and economic affairs. However, as the frequent shifts in the focus of these local efforts will suggest, the activities of local communities should not be exclusively interpreted as "nationalist" in nature. Ultimately, therefore, this article disputes the association between schools, school curricula, and the mechanics of national development. At the same time, it suggests that we should be skeptical about the effectiveness local schools had in securing the "moral norms" or "loyalty" sought by the sultan and Rum patriarch. Simply put, schools

proved incapable of inculcating the loyalty Istanbul-based officials had envisioned. Knowing this, locals often used these "colonizing" institutions to dictate the terms of state penetration in their lives and thus maintain a balance of power between themselves and the outside world.

The Imperial Order of the Balkans: Pretext for Intervention

The factors that shaped the Ottoman Empire's policies on local education gained unprecedented significance during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as was the case with other empires during the period.9 The assertion, however, that these policies could have effectively and uniformly been realized in regions as diverse as the southern Balkans ignores the fundamental tensions surrounding the provinces in which schools were built.10 Much like other empires, which sought to assert greater central control over their diverse populations, the reformers in Istanbul frequently could not sustain their goal to create a uniformity in how the empire's citizens traded, communicated, or acted.11

Often, the impediments to the empire in the Balkans have been identified in terms of sectarian (and later ethnic) loyalties—Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim—among local communities. These assumed loyalties have thus been used by historians to explain the extent to which some people "resisted" Ottoman reforms, while others, supposedly did not.12 Unfortunately for the historians, the loyalties of many Balkan communities in the late Ottoman period were not...


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