Arap Bacı’nın Ara Muhaveresi: Under the Shadow of the Ottoman Empire and Its Study
Arap Bacı’nın Ara Muhaveresi: Under the Shadow of the Ottoman Empire and Its Study
This essay is, in part, an attempt to consider how these real and imagined Ottoman geographies are underpinned by the histories and afterlives of exploitation, exploration, and conquest. I am less concerned with retrieving these histories to identify Ottoman-era diversity or to place the African diaspora within a mosaic of Ottoman Istanbul. Rather, I am interested in how reading Arap Bacı and her histories as intimately connected to the production of space might help reframe the study of Istanbul—as well as the Ottoman Empire—and its multilayered relationship to slavery and the African diaspora. Here, the production of space is understood to be co-constituted by both real and imagined geographies. That Arap Bacı cannot be located in Istanbul (and its study)—despite the city (as urban space/place, as seat of imperial power) being central to her domination (the slave market, the harem, the elite house)—but can be conjured within the theatrical shadows of an imagined Istanbul, perhaps, evinces the need to further interrogate the co-constitution of space and how geographies and knowledge production are interconnected.
- Momtaza Mehri, “The Consensus of Seasons,” Shubbak, June 23, 2021, accessed September 2, 2021, https://www.shubbak.co.uk/the-consensus-of-seasons.
- Karagözüm İki Gözüm – Karagöz, My Dear, September 15, 2020–April 25, 2021. Curator: Cengiz Özek; Cengiz Özek, ed. Karagözüm İki Gözüm (Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, 2020).
- The historical figure of Arap Bacı has yet to be fully explored, and thus what is presented in this essay constitutes as preliminary analysis which stems from my doctoral research project. Arap Bacı could be defıned as “Arab Sister” or “Arab Midwife” and considered akin to the US historical stereotype, “mammy.”
- Metin And, Karagöz: Turkish Shadow Theatre; with an Appendix on the History of Turkish Puppet Theatre (Istanbul: Dost Yayınları, 1987), 67.
- Ottomans often labeled Africans as Arap (Arab) or zenci (black), while acknowledging differences between them and Habeş (Abyssinians). Conversely, Ottomans were more informed on the origins of enslaved “white” persons, noting details such as which branch of the Circassian tribe one belonged.
- Saidiya Hartman, “The Plot of Her Undoing,” Feminist Art Coalition 2 ( 2020), accessed October 16, 2021, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c805bf0d86cc90a02b81cdc/t/5db8b219a910fa05af05dbf4/1572385305368/NotesOnFeminism-2_SaidiyaHartman.pdf.
- Elsewhere, I have described how recent interests in Afro Turkish history have attempted to enfold Afro Turks into nationalist narratives of citizenship and belonging by anesthetizing the past through multiculturalism. Zavier Wingham, “Rethinking Turkish Multiculturalism,” Central European History Journal (forthcoming 2021).
- In order to move beyond my own experience within the academy, I examined syllabi of the courses that were held within the past twenty years focusing either on the history of the modern Middle East or the Ottoman Empire, from several universities including, but not limited to, Columbia University, New York University, Swarthmore College, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, University of Chicago, and University of North Carolina.
- Turkish Republic, 1839–1980,” Academia.edu, accessed October 16, 2021, https://www.academia.edu/39530397/Syllabus_-_From_Ottoman_Empire_to_Turkish_Republic_1839-1980.; Cemil Aydın, “HISTORY 274 History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923,” Duke University, accessed October 16, 2021, https://sites.duke.edu/duketurkish/files/2014/09/History-of-the-Ottoman-Empire.pdf.
- Christina Sharpe identifies the ways in which a set of quotidian catastrophic events and their deliberate, repetitive reporting, and widespread circulation of Black social, material, and psychic death constitute a “dysgraphia of disaster.” She also points to a long history of Black lives being annotated and redacted in the Black diaspora.
- Gabriel Baer, ”Slavery in Nineteenth Century Egypt,” The Journal of African History 8, no. 3 (1967): 417–441.
- Eve Troutt Powell, ”Will That Subaltern Ever Speak? Finding African Slaves in the Historiography of the Middle East,” in Middle East Historiographies: Narrating the Twentieth Century, ed. I. Gershoni, Amy Singer, and Y. Hakan Erdem (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), 242–261.
- Arguably, there are three key periods within (primarily North American) historiography: 1) Baer’s 1967 article set the stage for the early study of race and slavery for those working in Egyptian, Ottoman, and Sudanese history; 2) in the 1980s, the works of scholars such as Ehud Toledano, Hakan Erdem, and Leslie Peirce drew attention more specifically to the issue of slavery in the Ottoman Empire; 3) in the early 2000s, work by scholars such as Eve Troutt Powell explicitly threaded histories of colonialism...
- Recently, the problems that scholars of African slavery in the Ottoman Empire face have been discussed with increasing attention to the ways that archives, language, and nationalism have shaped research. See: Murat Ergin, Is the Turk a White Man? Race and Modernity in the Making of Turkish Identity (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018);
- Erdem, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire, 126–132; İsmail Parlatır, Tanzimat Edebiyatında Kölelik (Ankara: Yargı Yayınevi, 2012), 58–67.
- Ehud R. Toledano, ”Late Ottoman Concepts of Slavery (1830s–1880s),” Poetics Today 14, no. 3 (1993): 501.
- Bam Willoughby, ”Opposing a Spectacle of Blackness: Arap Baci, Baci Kalfa, Dadi, and the Invention of African Presence in Turkey,” Lateral 10, no. 1 (2021), accessed September 2, 2021, https://csalateral.org/forum/cultural-constructions-raceracism-middle-east-north-africa-southwest-asia-mena-swana/opposing-spectacle-blackness-arap-baci-kalfa-dadafrican-
presence-turkey-willoughby/; Faroqhi, Slavery in the Ottoman World.
- Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire: 1700–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), xii; M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650: The Structure of Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002);
- Omnia El Shakry, “Preface,” in Understanding and Teaching the Modern Middle East, ed. Omnia El Shakry (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020), xiii–xiv. Two other texts, which are featured in many Middle Eastern Studies syllabi as a semester-long guiding text, also pay marginal attention to the histories mentioned.
- Alexander Weheliye’s approach towards racialization and Blackness is instructive here, for reference, see: Alexander Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 3.
- Such dismissal is not unfamiliar to any scholar of the African diaspora, doubly so for Black scholars in Middle Eastern Studies. Eve Troutt Powell has called into question how “the specter of great American centrism” has haunted the field, at the cost of excluding the works of Black scholars.
- Mustafa Serdar Palabıyık, “Ottoman Travelers’ Perceptions of Africa in the Late Ottoman Empire (1860–1922): A Discussion of Civilization, Colonialism and Race,” New Perspectives on Turkey 46 (2012): 187–212; Selim Deringil, “ ‘They Live in a State of Nomadism and Savagery’: The Late Ottoman Empire and the Post-colonial Debate,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, no. 2 (2003): 311–342;
- Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 65–81;
- Here, I am thinking with K’eguro Macharia’s use of suture: “Blackness names, in part, the suture between Africa and Afro-diaspora.” See Keguro Macharia, “belated: interruption,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 26, no. 3 (2020): 561–573; Tapji Garba and Sara-Maria Sorentino, “Slavery is a Metaphor: A Critical Commentary on Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s ‘Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,’ ” Antipode 52 (2020): 764–782.
- As discussed in an earlier footnote, Arap Bacı is a multilayered figure. See Willoughby, “Opposing a Spectacle of Blackness“; Tunay Altay, “Is there really no anti-Black racism in Turkey?,” Bianet, July 4, 2020, https://m.bianet.org/english/people/226799-is-there-really-no-anti-black-racism-in-turkey.
- “But the margins have always been fertile.” Mehri, “The Consensus of Seasons.”
- BOA., A.}MKT. MHM. 2/80 (25 Zilkade 1263 [November 4, 1847]).
- Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 18–21.
- Located near the chicken market (Tavuk Pazarı) close to Grand Bazaar’s Nurosmaniye Gate, Istanbul’s slave market was the biggest and busiest in the empire. Its abolition in 1847 did not signal the end of slave trading, instead it moved slave trading into private homes. Ehud Toledano, The Ottoman Slave Trade and Its Suppression: 1840–1890 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 51–54.
- In an agreement between the British and Ottoman empires, the treaty contained a clause which stipulated that the Ottoman government would protect, look after, and provide for the livelihoods of those who were relocated. Moreover, it was also stipulated that enslaved Africans on land and sea would be settled in appropriate places and houses, and immediately given manumission papers and provided work.
- “Left-to-Die Boat,” Forensic Architecture, accessed September 3, 2021, https://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/the-left-to-die-boat.
- Éduoard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010)
- Scholars, activists, and artists in and around the Mediterranean, especially those in Italy, have begun to identify the Black Mediterranean and theorize it as a geographic and political paradigm with deep connections to African enslavement through historical and material relationships to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
- Charles MacFarlane, Turkey and Its Destiny: The Result of Journeys Made in 1847 and 1848 to Examine into the State of That Country (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1850), 162–166.
- Khaled Fahmy, In Quest of Justice: Islamic Law and Forensic Medicine in Modern Egypt (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018), 6.
- In the context of Ottoman Istanbul, Ehud Toledano has also pointed to a case wherein a certain Kamer, a manumitted African midwife, was placed in the medical school because Ottoman families were reluctant to send their daughters to Tanzimat-state schools, and then sent to the province of Erzurum to help reduce the high rate of mother and infant mortality.
"Arap Bacı’nın Ara Muhaveresi: Under the Shadow of the Ottoman Empire and Its Study".
YILLIK: Annual of Istanbul Studies 3 (2021