EUME Workshop
Di 09 Jun 2015

Security, Crime, Punishment and Prisons in the Late Ottoman Empire

Convened by Ufuk Adak (University of Cincinnati / EUME Fellow 2014-15) and organized in cooperation with the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) Berlin

Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin

Ufuk Adak (University of Cincinnati / EUME Fellow 2014-15)
Nora Lafi (ZMO / EUME)
Ebru Aykut (Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul)
Nurçin İleri (Binghamton University / Istanbul)
Noemi Levi-Aksu (Bogazici University, Istanbul)
Yektan Türkyilmaz (Duke University / EUME Fellow 2014-15)
Ilkay Yilmaz (ZMO)


Recent publications on security, crime, punishment, and prisons in the Ottoman Empire are part of a broader trend to write social history of the Empire from below. The bourgeoning literature on these topics presents opportunities to explore not only new archival investigations and methodological discussions about the notion of criminality in the Empire, but also encourages us to re-think the relation of law, security, and penal policy in the late Ottoman Empire. Examining these entanglements further helps us to uncover the relationship between criminal codes, regulations, instructions, as well as ordinances and the implementation and practical realities of these reform efforts. Discussions around these themes may offer new insights into the governing mentality of the late Ottoman Empire.

The nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire saw the institutionalization of security forces and also the expansion of surveillance tools, such as passport regulations in order to track population movements. Most of these tools focused on hastening the processes of surveilling criminals as defined by the State. Furthermore, through administrative and infrastructural urbanization attempts, particularly in the imperial center, which aided in regulating street life, new understandings of criminality generated novel relationships between the city and its residents. This relationship was expressed through adherence, or not, to policies and the eventual construction of new prisons throughout the Empire.

This one-day workshop will present and discuss some recent examinations of the shift in the politics of security, crime, and punishment in the late Ottoman Empire and to offer new insights into these aspects of Ottoman social history by providing case studies from throughout the Empire. Scholars working on legal and penal institutions and their practices in the late Ottoman Empire will discuss the following questions: How did the Ottoman State define criminality in the late Empire? What kind of security measures did the Ottomans take in order to deal with criminality? What were the roles of newly built prisons throughout the Empire? To what extent were female criminals part of the new concept of criminality ? How did rapid urbanization shape security policies? How did the codes, regulations, instructions, and ordinances promulgated in the second half of the nineteenth century shape  Ottoman notions about security and punishment politics?

The workshop will be open to the public but will require advance registration via eume(at)



9:15 am – 9:30 am
Welcome: Ulrike Freitag (Director of ZMO / Member of EUME)

9:30 am – 11:00 am
Chair: Florian Riedler (ZMO)
Noémi Lévy-Aksu (Bogazici University), Martial Law in the Aftermath of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78: A New Tool against Banditry and Social Unrest?
Ebru Aykut (Mimar Sinan University), Promptness of Punishment or Procedural Correctness: Legal Reforms, Death Penalty, and the Meaning of Justice in the Late Ottoman Empire

11:00 am – 11:15 am: Coffee Break

11:15 am – 12:45 pm
Chair: Ethan Menchinger (University of Michigan / EUME Fellow 2014-15)
İlkay Yılmaz (Istanbul University / ZMO), Fear of Propaganda by the Deed in the Late Ottoman Empire: Surveillance through Hotel Registers
Nurçin İleri (Binghamton University), City as a Crime Scene: Fear and Anxiety in fin de siécle Istanbul
Nora Lafi (ZMO / Member of EUME), Policing the Medina: Patrols, Prisons and Justice in Tunis at the Time of the Ottoman reforms

12:45 pm – 1:45 pm: Lunch

1:45 pm – 3:15 pm
Chair: Nada Moumtaz (Ohio State University / EUME Fellow 2014-15)
Ufuk Adak (University of Cincinnati / EUME Fellow 2014-15 at ZMO), The Idealization of Ottoman Prisons: "Hapishane-i Umumi” in Istanbul and Izmir
Yektan Türkyilmaz (Duke University / EUME Fellow 2014-15), Collective Anxiety and Competition for Justice: The Mysterious Murder Case of Melkon Mir-Sakoyan in Van, September 1913



Ufuk Adak has just submitted his PhD thesis in History to the University of Cincinnati in 2014. He also holds a BA and MA in History from Ege University in Izmir. His dissertation examines the modalities of the social and political transformations of the major port cities, Istanbul, Izmir, and Salonica, in the Eastern Mediterranean world by focusing on crimes, punishment, social control, and prisons in the late Ottoman Empire. Adak presented several papers on prisons and prisoners in the late Ottoman Empire in various venues including the Great Lakes Ottomanist Workshop (GLOW) in Montréal and in Cincinnati, the Middle East History and Theory Conference (MEHAT) in Chicago, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in Washington D.C., and the Fourth World Congress for Middle East Studies (WOCMES) in Ankara.

Nora Lafi is a French historian of Algerian origin, born in 1965 in Istres, near Marseilles. She is currently a researcher with the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin. She is a specialist of the history of the Ottoman Empire and specifically of Arab towns of North Africa and the Middle-East during the Ottoman period. She chairs, with Ulrike Freitag, the research field "Cities compared: cosmopolitanism in the Mediterranean and beyond", part of the EUME programme at Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin. She is co-founder and editor of H-Mediterranean (H-Net, Michigan State University). Nora Lafi is a significant expert in the following fields: History of the Ottoman Empire History of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria The notion of old regime Comparative history Urban Studies Middle-East.

Ebru Aykut received her Ph.D in 2011 from Boğaziçi University, Atatürk Institute with her dissertation, entitled “Alternative Claims on Justice and Law: Rural Arson and Poison Murder in the 19th Century Ottoman Empire.” She holds a BA in political science from Boğaziçi University and an MA in sociology from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. She is currently Assistant Professor at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Department of Sociology in Istanbul. Her specialization and research interests include the history of crime and punishment, customary law, gender, and the history of medicine in the 19th century Ottoman Empire.

Nurçin İleri started her PhD study in 2008, in the History Program at Binghamton University where she also worked as a teaching assistant for various courses such as Middle East since 1453, Modern World History, Science and Technology in Modern World and World Environmental History. She also taught her own course titled “Comparative Cities: Disenchantment and Delight in the Modern World City” in Summer 2012. Her areas of interests are the history of Late Ottoman Empire and Early Republican Turkey, urban history/sociology, history of science and technology and environmental history. She published articles and gave lectures on urban technology, policing, crime, and punishment in the Late Ottoman Empire.

Noémi Lévy-Aksu is assistant professor at Boğaziçi University (Istanbul), Department of History. She received her Ph.D. in history from the EHESS-Paris in 2010. Her main research interests are urban history, public order, and legal transformations in the late Ottoman Empire. Her current research project, funded by the Boğaziçi University BAP committee, examines the codification and application of the state of siege (örfi idare) in the Late Ottoman Empire. She has published "Ordre et désordres dans l'Istanbul ottomane, 1879-1909" (2013, Karthala) and several articles and book chapters on policing, public order and justice in the late Ottoman Empire.

Yektan Türkyilmaz is currently a EUME Fellow and lecturer at Sabanci and Bilgi Universities. He received his PhD from Duke University Department of Cultural Anthropology. His dissertation, “Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915”, concerns the conflict in Eastern Anatolia in the early twentieth century and the memory politics around it. It shows how discourses of victimhood have been engines of grievance that power the politics of fear, hatred and competing, exclusionary claims to statehood and territory by Turks, Armenians, and Kurds. Grounded in extensive archival research in American, British, Turkish, and Armenian historical repositories, Türkyilmaz traces how discourses of communal victimhood were generated around the traumatic ordeals in the two decades that preceded the Armenian genocide of 1915-1916, carried out by the Unionist government. Türkyilmaz’s work pays special attention to the nature of political tension and debate among Armenians on the eve of the genocide. His analysis here goes beyond deterministic, escalationist and teleological perspectives on the antecedents of the Armenian genocide; instead, it highlights political agency and enabling structures of the war, offering a new perspective on the tragic violence of Eastern Anatolia in the early twentieth century.

Ilkay Yilmaz obtained her PhD at İstanbul University (2012) and works at the same university Faculty of Political Science as assistant professor. Her fields of interest include Ottoman and Turkish political history and state institutions. She has several publications on security policies and state structure. She is the author of the book “Serseri Anarşist ve Fesadın Peşinde -II. Abdülhamid Dönemi Güvenlik Politikaları Ekseninde Mürur Tezkereleri, Pasaportlar ve Otel Kayıtları” (Pursuit of Vagrant, Anarchist and Mischief: Internal Passports, Passports and Hotel Registers Through The Security Policies During the Abdulhamid II Era).  She is currently TUBITAK research fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient.

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