Protecting Rights for Productive Ottomans: Religious and Economic Belonging in Muhacir (The Immigrant) Newspaper

By Ella Fratantuono
Submitted to Session P5007 (Genocide and the Unmixing of Peoples: the Ottoman Empire and Its Aftermath, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
From December 1909 to December 1910, the Society for Rumelian Muslim Immigrants (Rumeli Muhacirin-i Islamiye Cemiyeti), based in Istanbul, published the Muhacir (Immigrant) newspaper as its official gazette. The newspaper’s range of didactic and political articles discussed religious practice, education policy, foreign politics, and unity among the Muslim population within and outside the Empire. Muhacir reflected the Society’s mission to defend Muslims’ rights and encourage successful immigrant settlement, agriculture, industry, and trade. Despite renewed interest in immigration within the late Ottoman period, historians have overlooked the Society and its newspaper as a source to evaluate how immigrants and their descendants articulated their role within Ottoman society in the Second Constitutional Period.
This paper argues writers for Muhacir conflated religious identification and economic worth in defining Ottoman belonging. The newspaper served as a venue to articulate Ottomanism and social rights from a Muslim and immigrant perspective. Over the course of the paper’s ninety-issue run, editors and reporters relied on “the immigrant” to define the ideal Ottoman subject as an individual who would contribute to the Empire’s economic and civilizational progress. In the pages of its newspaper, the Society promoted education as a way to augment migrant productivity and to foster the social cohesion of Muslims within and beyond the Empire’s territorial boundaries. Strengthening trans-imperial religious ties and fashioning productive subjects served in tandem as the route to save the Ottoman Empire and Islamic civilization. Editorials juxtaposed the shared plight of destitute migrants in the Empire and their oppressed Muslim brethren in the Balkans and emphasized education as the solution for both populations. Writers for Muhacir adopted a blend of moral, emotional, and economic rationalizations to advocate for immigrant rights, and the economic value of immigrants to Ottoman society enhanced writers’ argument for defending Muslim compatriots in the Balkans. Though Muhacir promoted a trans-imperial community of “Rumelian” Muslims, writers for the newspaper delineated membership in Ottoman society by linking notions of productive capacity to religious identity.