- The Ottoman Crisis in Western Anatolia by Emre Erol
There is a strong temptation to dwell upon the end of the Ottoman Empire solely as a moment of heartache and loss. Certainly there is enough reason for a historian to couch any treatment of the early twentieth century as a meditation on the origins and outcomes of mass violence. The extent to which bloodshed shaped the empire's fall begs obvious and important questions about the context of the Ottoman state's collapse and the legacies violence has over the development of the old imperial world. What is refreshing and novel about Emre Erol's The Ottoman Crisis in Western Anatolia is the book's willingness to take on the challenge of the empire's end with a much broader analytical and temporal framework. Through his focus upon the provincial port of Foça on the Aegean coast, Erol goes beyond the standard questions of why and how violence shaped the town's transition from empire to nation-state. He instead convincingly and insightfully analyzes what was precisely lost as a result of the empire's bloody demise.
Erol's choice of Foça as the focal point of his study is an interesting and compelling one. Although generally overshadowed by nearby Izmir, Foça is representative of a series of previously sleepy coastal communities that were transformed by the economic, political, and social changes that marked the proverbial "long nineteenth century." Using Cem Emrence's "imperial paths" framework of modern development, the book makes a convincing case for how Foça embodies the depth and limits of modernizing policies and trends of the late Ottoman period. Though small in size, Foça equally represents the social tensions and contradiction that beset other imperial port towns. The work advances beyond the lure of nostalgia or regret in documenting how the growth of the town's middle classes created both bonds and fissures during [End Page 247] this so-called "belle epoque." It follows a well-charted path in emphasizing the various contingent factors that helped define the town's descent into violence during the Young Turk era (particularly the impact of Balkan refugees or muhacirs). While avoiding any tilt towards historical determinism or inevitability, Erol succinctly, and credibly, frames Foça's demise as one principally defined by the struggle between emerging middle class elites (both Muslims and non-Muslims) and the ranks of the "imperial bureaucratic class." The book consequently traces how internal and external forces (be it the settlement of refugees, the CUP's nationalizing agenda, or the strains of war between 1912 and 1922) aggravated this socio-political rift, leading to devastating consequences for Foça and its peoples.
Studies like Ottoman Crisis offer students and scholars further points of consideration in terms of its structure and sourcing. On a theoretical level, a micro-study of this sort allows an author to test and improve upon a larger comparative framework (which is essential given the internal complexities of the Ottoman lands). The fact that the book foregrounds Foça as an Anatolian town further underscores an oft-underappreciated aspect within Ottoman and Turkish studies. One should not blindly accept the notion that all the lands that comprise the contemporary Republic of Turkey were destined to form the core of a nation-state. Every corner of Anatolia was forcibly transformed and reshaped in order to conform to the notion of a monolithic Turkey. Appreciating Foça's journey through the nineteenth and early twentieth century represents an earnest and necessary effort to understand the full mosaic of Anatolian life both before and after the empire's fall. Emre Erol's choice of source material similarly underscores the importance of understanding the intimate problems and implications accompanying the town's bloody evolution. Utilizing both Greek and Ottoman sources, Ottoman Crisis possesses a craftsmanship that emphasizes key conclusions. As a whole, experts and students in the field of Ottoman studies will do well to emulate the work's approach in unpacking the experiences of towns...