Justice and Corruption in Late Ottoman Aleppo: The Tenure of Cemil Pasha

By Benjamin Smuin
Submitted to Session P4973 (Law, Legitimacy, and Laziness in Late Ottoman Imperial Culture, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire; Syria;
19th-21st Centuries; Ottoman Studies;
In 1882, Cemil Pasha, the Ottoman Vali of Aleppo, ordered Nafi Efendi Cabirizade into exile in Elbistan. The incident created a great deal of controversy, especially as Nafi Efendi sought recourse under Ottoman law and appealed via petitions to Ottoman and Western officials resident in Aleppo. Nafi Effendi argued that the root cause of his exile was personal; he wasn’t guilty of an actual crime, but had simply run afoul of the Vali. British officials expressed similar sentiments, and described Cemil Pasha as a man driven almost entirely by a desire for power and authority. These British officials commented often on the corruption associated with Cemil Pasha’s time in Aleppo (1878-1886), and many of these characterizations are supported by Ottoman archival materials. In fact, according to Ottoman records, the ‘poor administration’ of Cemil Pasha was being discussed long before the end of his term in Aleppo.
Based on Ottoman and British archival materials, this paper attempts to reconstruct conceptions of justice and proper rule in late Ottoman Aleppo through a case study of the rule of Cemil Pasha. As has been argued elsewhere, petitions were a primary means through which individuals were able to interact directly with the Ottoman state and the time period for this paper is no exception. Countless petitions were submitted as Ottoman subjects presented their opinions concerning the governance of Aleppo. This project relies not only on individuals’ petitions, but the internal documents that illustrate just how effective petitions were in instigating change in the Ottoman context. The case of Cemil Pasha is particularly interesting, as it gives us a great deal of information of how Ottomans, often of various social and political classes, believed their local governments should function. In addition to petitions like those written by Nafi Efendi Cabirizade and other disgruntled individuals, the Ottoman archives contain numerous petitions submitted in favor of Cemil Pasha, thanking him for his service to the state and local institutions. Within this historical framework, this paper analyzes the importance of petitions in the construction of concepts like authority and justice, and pays particular attention to how these constructions related to the implementation of mid-nineteenth century reforms in Ottoman Aleppo. It is often noted that Ottoman governors rarely remained in place for substantial amounts of time, but relatively little is said of the day-to-day events that may have played an important role in the rapid rate of governmental turnover.