The Legacy of Ottoman Millet System and Non- Territorial Autonomy in the Balkans

Home Institution: Marmara University
Host Institution: International Balkan University
Grantee Name: Ali Erken
Grant period: 15/03/2023 – 25/03/2023

Statement about the STSM:

The STSM was busy and productive where I could focus on my research question, met colleagues, and visited numerous locations. Being mostly in Skopje gave me time enough to arrange the programs, even in different towns. I visited the IBU various times and my colleagues were kind enough to offer their availability during this limited time frame. They also helped to arrange my meetings not only at the University campus but also outside the campus. Lastly, the ENTAN team was available at any time I requested to make sure that the STSM was run and completed successfully.

STSM purpose:

My STSM had two basic goals; one was to explore possible paths for my proposed research question and the other was to collect primary sources that I can find. I intended to see as many colleagues as possible to discuss the research and elaborate on their different suggestions. I also aimed to identify possible textual and oral sources available. Finally, I planned to share my initial findings with some colleagues and figure out in which ways future collaboration with the ENTAN network could be developed.

Description of the work carried out during the STSM:

I met Natalia Shikova twice and discussed how to formulate a framework for my proposed research topic. She emphasized the relevance of the Millet System on the current legal practices and power-sharing models, and that it needs further exploration as a model for the study of Non-Territorial Autonomy. She advised focusing primarily on the application of the Millet System in different regions, which could then provide a ground for specific case studies like the Romani community. Thanks to her suggestion I also met Sener Bilali, who teaches political science at IBU, and he held a similar opinion about the relevance of Millet system to the study of the NTA. Serdar Serdaroglu, whose expertise lies with the economic history of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and currently serves as vice-rector at IBU, found the comparison of Millet System to the NTA studies a promising research question. I also met Nikola Dacev, dean of the faculty of law, who was kind enough to offer
institutional support for my STSM.

I visited the State Archives of Macedonia and Skopje City Archives to explore possible sources of legal practices during the late Ottoman period. I discussed with Mumin Omerov and Irfete Ibrahimi, two of the experts in the archives, about the available sources in Skopje. I also visited some personal collections in Skopje. During my meeting with Dr. Petar Todorov, who works at the Institute of National History, he noted that most of the relevant sources could be found in Istanbul, and we agreed on setting a joint initiative that would bring historians specialized in legal and political aspects of the Millet System and scholars studying the NTA. Dr. Todorov underlined that the Millet System had its own dynamics in the Balkans, especially in the 19th century, and revisiting historical practices in light of current legal and power-sharing patterns would require nuanced analysis.

During my meeting with Prof Ivan Dodovski we dwelled on how to combine Millet System with the NTA and he kindly shared previous works produced throughout the ENTAN, as well as some of the publications that might be relevant to the topic. Especially the works of Eprahim Nimni would be of use in that regard.

I also held several interviews about the cultural and political autonomy of the Romani community. Mevludin Ibishi, who teaches political science at IBU, and Seyhan İbrahimi, who teaches literature at IBU, stressed the differences among the Romani community in Macedonia, especially in cultural and linguistic terms. Their reflections provided preliminary insight to explore the cultural practices of the Romani community. Lastly, in addition to Skopje, I visited the towns of Tetovo, Gostivar and Stip, and met representatives of the IRC and Romani community.

During my STSM I also stayed in contact with my colleagues who were of help in searching relevant sources in historical literature, and some personal collections in Skopje, so that I could arrange my programs and meetings accordingly.

Description of the main results obtained:

The STSM provided an opportunity to discuss different aspects of my research and helped me articulate how to frame the following works. It was important to see the feasibility of my proposed research, and I am glad to hear encouraging comments from Prof Shikova and other scholars. They found the applicability of the Millet System to the study of NTA as a promising topic and offered alternative paths in research. Being familiar with the ENTAN project, leading scholars and the idea behind it, and the wider scholarly network that goes beyond Macedonia, made it possible for me to think about the different ways of future collaboration. I also found out that there is a variety of rich archival sources, mainly in Istanbul archives, and specific research studies, but these sources and studies are not connected to each other. My initial proposal mainly lay with the case of Macedonia and the Romani community, but colleagues I met suggested having a broader discussion that would involve a wider historical perspective and theoretical approach. I plan to carry out these in two different lines.

As a next step, I plan to focus on the literature and get in touch with experts in the field. I will share my findings with Prof Aydın Babuna, Bogazici University, Prof. Abdurrahman Atcıl, Sabancı University, the leading scholars in the history of the Balkans, Ottoman legal history. I will contact Prof Evgenia Kermeli, Hacettepe University, who works on Ottoman legal history as well as inter-communal relations, and Prof Karen Barkey, who is currently at the University of California Berkeley, as her works dealing with Ottoman legal pluralism, power relations practices between the center and periphery, and particularly the connection between the Millet System and the NTA stand most relevant to my research. Working together with Dr Petar Todorov my primary aim is to organize a workshop bringing historians and political scientists around the topic of “legal pluralism” and “power-sharing”, where we can have roundtable discussions with a regional and periodical focus.

This multidisciplinary program would prioritize inviting panel discussions as well, which could be more useful to be able to discuss possible findings in a special edition of a journal. As the ENTAN is officially coming to the end, these activities might be organized either as a continuation of the project or in an independent form. My personal interest lies in the relevance of the Ottoman case in Macedonia to the current NTA practices, and I plan to publish on the topic.

The case of the Romani community stands as another major research topic, especially in regard to cultural and political autonomy. I found the works of Sevdija Demirova Abdullova, who is a prolific poet living in Macedonia, and Prof Marushiakova as primary sources in this field. Throughout my meetings with colleagues and the IRC representatives, I intended to collect information on the historical and current cultural practices of the Romani community, which were instrumental in the shaping of NTA practices in the field.