Isaac Hand talks to Jonathan Conlin about his current research into inter-war Turkish urbanism, particularly the contested role of the muhtar.

Isaac is Core Curriculum Post-Doctoral Lecturer at NYU.

Originally established in 1829, the office of muhtar together with its associated council of elders was originally intended to shoulder burdens of urban administration previously carried by the Janissaries. The muhtarlık performed a wide variety of functions, from monitoring population shifts and infectious disease to acting as matchmaker. Unfortunately there was no equivalent among those allegedly “modern” states which Late Ottoman and Republican-era regimes sought to emulate, which led to the office being seen as “backward”, as an obstacle to urban planning and improvement. In this conversation, recorded on 7 February 2023, Isaac explains how he came to tackle this topic for his recently-defended doctoral thesis. He considers the Young Turks’ 1913 attempt to abolish the muhtarlık, an episode which foreshadows Republican-era municipal reforms, which saw the office abolished in 1933, only to be reinstated in 1944 – itself the focus of Isaac’s recent contribution to the Journal of Urban History. Isaac discusses how he used newspapers to recover the story of an office which has left little by way of archival deposits, and notes some signficant ways in which his findings, based on study of Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara, differed from those of Zeynep Kezer’s 2015 book on municipalities in eastern Anatolia.

Episode 26 – The Missing Muhtar

Podcasts are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne Conference. The views expressed by participants do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.