Ethnographics Gallery University of Kent

Turkish Village

Copyright 1965, 1994 Paul Stirling. All rights reserved.

Paul Stirling


The Urban-Rural Divorce

Villagers live in a national society, which they share with people far wealthier, far more educated, far more powerful than they are themselves. In Turkey this wealthier and more powerful section of the society lives almost exclusively in towns. The villages are dependent economically on the national economy and formally subordinate to the administrative and party political machinery of both local and national government; and they are well aware of their dependence and subordination. Yet they have comparatively little to do with these people who control their existence, and see only a tiny proportion of them. Moreover, most urban people know little about the villages and fill the gap of their ignorance with unshakeable misconceptions. in a country where four-fifths of the people live in villages, where government expects and is expected directly to control the economic life and the general welfare of these four-fifths, and where they have the vote, these misconceptions have interesting consequences.

One of the most often repeated statements about Middle East society is that town and countryside are completely divorced. Yet obviously both sides are dependent on each other economically and politically, and the rulers must have a machinery for enforcing their rule, a machinery whose complexity and efficiency grows with the growth of the functions of government. All this implies considerable and complex social relationships. What is it then that people who assert the divorce of town and country wish to say? Firstly, they are struck by the great difference between relations between Middle East intellectuals and the countryside and the corresponding relations in Western
Europe, even those before the industrial revolution. Secondly, they are struck by the wide cultural differences between the westernised and sophisticated Turks of Ankara and Istanbul, the ones the foreigner meets, and the pious, hospitable, often illiterate villagers. Thirdly, they see that often, as I have said, the city dwellers really know nothing, unless it is a little romanticised folk-lore, about the actual life of the villages.

But none of this justifies the simple theory of the two separate worlds. Officials and orders reach the villages in an ever-increasing stream, and villagers visit towns for business, to find work, to make purchases and to sell their goods, and even to seek entertainment, also in an ever-increasing stream. A few even move to towns and marry with townsfolk. The question to be asked is not whether or not town and village are divorced, but how the significant relationships between them work.

The frequency of face-to-face contact through visits is one important measure of urban/rural contact. But it is quite possible for the town to be dominant in shaping village ways of thinking, and symbols of prestige, and even the village social structure, without great frequency of face-to-face contact, without the village being a direct imitation of the town, and without the town knowing much about the village. The most frequent contacts of the villagers are with the lowest ranks of town society; those which affect the village most profoundly are with the top.

The Government in the Village

The traditional Ottoman government, like most pre-industrial governments, was concerned with two main tasks: the maintenance of order, and the collection of taxes. For both, armed forces were indispensable, and were maintained by the taxes they helped to collect. Both also required a political hierarchy, a bureaucratic organisation and, at least in the towns, legal and judicial institutions. To the peasants such a government is a kind of legitimate robber, legitimate because of the superior social rank of its agents, and justified because it is ordained by God. Political obedience and loyalty is owed not to a social entity, the Empire, nor to specific officials, but to a remote individual, the Padishah.

The War of Independence created for the first time a Turkish nation state, demanding a new loyalty. Many villagers even today speak of this war as a religious conflict, a victory of Islam over infidels, but the Turkish government does now symbolise to the villagers a social entity to which they belong, their nation among the other nations. Nevertheless it is still seen as a legitimate robber and arbitrary interferer in village life.

The Republic added a new function to government; a concern with welfare, a duty to help and care for the people. In so far as such ideas existed at all at the centre in Ottoman governments, they were largely ineffective, and even under the Republic the new function took time to show any concrete effects. But now the state provides a great many benefits: roads, schools, waterworks, credit, seed, stud animals, public health and medical services, hospitals, factories, and so on, and people expect the government to do things for them. Sometimes, of course, what the government regards as welfare the village regards as wanton interference - forestry control, for example.

These government benefits are not seen as conferred by an impartial machine. No villager doubts that officials are all primarily interested in their own advantage. With some notable exceptions they are right; most officials in all bureaucracies are necessarily more concerned with their relationships to their immediate superiors than with anything else. For the villagers it follows that one has to please officials personally in order to get them to use their powers on one's behalf. And it is largely true that in order to get things done in Turkey it is best to use personal contacts.

The relations between village and hierarchy were greatly complicated by the introduction of party politics. Before about 1946 party and government were identified. Most villagers were more or less indifferent or ineffectively hostile to the Ataturk reforms. Some co-operated more actively than others. It was, for example, taken for granted that all officials, headmen, schoolmasters and so on had to be, at least outwardly, supporters. The appearance from 1946 onward of a legitimate opposition party campaigning in the villages, and then the subsequent change of ruling party in 1950, confused the issue. The villager assumed that a system of rival political patronage was about to be introduced. Party and government were still
to a large extent regarded as one. Stories were current immediately after the election about Republican People's Party supporters losing official jobs. It is more significant that these stories circulated and were believed than that, in many cases, they were founded on fact.

From the government end, once elections had become politically important, winning village votes became a major aim of policy. Very noticeably, after 1950, officials in villages became more polite, more concerned to please, more willing to discuss village needs and desires, and less peremptory and paternalistic. In other words, to the roles of maintainer of law and order, legitimate robber and arbitrary universal provider, the government added that of vote catcher.

Peace, Tax and Conscription

A sergeant and four gendarmes (p. 11) were stationed in Elbashï to control seventeen villages. Sakaltutan was over four hours' walk, and in 1950 a good hour by car or lorry, from Talas where their gendarmes were stationed. Most villagers possess fiearms. Yet the gendarmes are able to intervene to end fighting, to arrest murderers when they can find them, to enforce sequestration of property and so forth. The villagers are armed against each other, not against the gendarmes, and respect the forces that they represent rather than their four rifles. They have no direct quarrel with the state as such.

In 1949-50 the villagers had to pay considerable animal taxes, a small land and house tax, and in addition every adult male had to pay a 'road tax' of T.L. 12 a year, in effect a poll-tax. The Democrat Party abolished the road tax and the animal tax; the land tax being a fixed proportion of a 1939 valuation, had become negligible by the operation of inflation, so that farming was left, and remained until 1961, virtually untaxed. But even in 1949 the tax collectors, unwelcome as they were, were treated with reasonable cordiality. I knew two while in Sakaltutan. Both were willing to give the villagers as much latitude as they reasonably could, but both claimed not to be fooled by village pleadings, and both were prepared, indeed I suppose forced, to take measures to distrain on property as a last resort. No one ever suggested they were corrupt or
corruptible - a remarkable fact, since accusations of this kind are easily and frequently made. The villagers showed no personal resentment.
Every man was called up at the official age of eighteen for service in the army or the gendarmerie. The responsibility for seeing that those called reported for duty rested on the headman. Some people sought to evade conscription by not registering the birth of sons, many to postpone it by registering it late. Some young men evaded the summons by going away, for shorter or longer periods, to take casual labour in the towns. Official postponement was granted in certain circumstances. But on the whole everyone did his military service and most young men looked forward to it. Those who had served remembered it with pride as an exciting and interesting period of their lives. Military attitudes were common. The villagers gave the sergeants and officers of the gendarmerie military respect; they called villagers who had become sergeants or corporals by these titles for the rest of their lives; they played soldiers at wedding festivities; they frequently gloried in Turkey's military record, and in their national prowess in Korea. Ataturk's official policy of firmly separating the military and the political functions had had little effect on the village view of government. Officials visiting the villages were given quasi-military respect, and they discussed with anxiety the dangers of exchanging the soldier Ismet Inönü, hero of the War of Independence, for the banker Celal Bayar, in 1950, as Head of State and ex-officio Supreme Commander of all national armed forces.

Undoubtedly military service was a major cause of the village's unquestioned identification with the national state, and a source, through indoctrination, of glory in Turkey's achievements. Almost all had an opportunity to see more of Turkey, and a few learned literacy and technical skills. None of this, in 1950 to 1952, made any great impact on village life.1

The Law

Villagers frequently talk about law, kanun, usually in the course of explaining institutions or behaviour, or in arguments about rights. These references imply a finality; the law is the

  1. Robinson and Lerner (1960) pp. 34-36 take a more positive view.

law and that is that. On the other hand they know that the law is often ignored in the villages, and are not impressed when an opponent uses law as an argument. `Kanun manun yok köyde, there is no law and all that stuff in the village' one of he men of Sakaltutan once remarked.

In fact, of course, the law affects the villages profoundly and in many ways. The main obvious impact is threefold. First, administrative law and regulations, and especially the Village Law, sets out the formal arrangements for village institutions and for relations between village and state. Secondly, the villagers are frequently charged in the criminal courts, mainly for breaches of the peace and acts of violence. Thirdly, rights to land can only be finally decided by the civil courts. As I have shown z] (p. 209) the effect of those parts of the Civil Code that govern marriage and the family have at present almost no bearing on the village.

All bureaucratic and political institutions are shaped by law, even though what happens never corresponds exactly to the intentions of the legislator, or even to the provisions of the law. The impact of general constitutional and administrative law on the village is relatively indirect; but one law does directly shape village formal institutions. The Village Law (No. 442), of March 1924 (Robinson, (1949) letter 24) was one of the earliest acts of the Republic. With a few important exceptions the law is remarkable for its irrelevance. It serves rather as a document of the attitudes to the villages of a paternalistic ruling class than as the legal basis of village organisation.

After a section defining a village and laying down regulations about boundaries, the second chapter contains two lists, one of things villages must do, and one of things which villages may choose to do, with legal power to coerce defaulters. This first list contains thirty-seven items, including such matters as the building of a covered drain, the type of privy to be used, the building of two village streets to cross in a village square, the separation of all living-rooms from stabling by a wall, the construction not only of a school but of a mosque, the proper maintenance of the land and property of orphans by the village authorities. It is even forbidden to tire animals unnecessarily.

The list of permitted activities, thirty-one items long, includes the setting up of various trades in the villages, the pro-
vision of books, help for the poor, and the organisation of sport. The law then proceeds to detail methods of election ofthe muhtar, headman, and the council of elders, ihtiyar heyeti; the sources, uses, and administrative control of village funds; the settlement of disputes in cases involving up to T.L.50; the arrangement for village watchmen and for a village imam; and a few miscellaneous details, including the requirement that the law itself should be posted publicly in every village and learned by heart by every village child.

This law is almost wholly ignored in the villages which I knew. The election of a headman and a council of elders, and the appointing of a watchman are enforced by the administration and are carried out. Boundaries are in fact registered. The headman's duties to arrest criminals and to question any stranger who appears in his village are known and enforced. But for the rest the law is a dead letter. The few points of the law that the village carries out, it carries out from custom, and not because they are in the law. I have never heard anyone in Turkey raise the question of the village using its powers under the law to enact local regulations. Even the District Officers did not give the impression of knowing the contents of the law. They did not even use it, as they could easily have done, to bring pressure on the village by threatening to enforce its more awkward prescriptions. In fact no one I met seemed to know more about it than that it existed.

Most prosecutions of villagers before the criminal courts are for assault or violence, and on the whole sentences are light. On one occasion the topic of Kayseri jail came up in the course of a guest-room conversation. Almost all the seven or eight men present had had experience of it, all for breaches of the peace. They complained of the discomfort, especially the sanitation, but prison has no social stigma, and a short sentence is a trivial matter. The social sanctions within village society which require a man to be intransigent and virile are incomparably stronger than the state sanctions against violence and disorder. Young men generally receive lighter sentences than older men, so young men are encouraged to carry out any necessary lineage business of a violent sort. Sometimes they are put up on false evidence to answer for the acts of their elders.

Under the Turkish Civil Code, as under the Swiss Civil Code
on which it is based, legal rights to land depend on a cadastral register. In Turkey no cadastre exists, and though registration deeds exist, in rural areas they are seldom up to date orcomplete (p. 51). Many villagers have expanded their cultivated holdings at the expense of the village pasture (p. 135) but they are in no hurry to register new holdings and thus incur tax; indeed, strictly, they cannot do so since the land oy becomes legally theirs after twenty years of undisputed possession. Hence a legal title to land is often, indeed usually, very difficult to establish. The complications are greatly increased by the ad hoc nature of village settlements of inheritance (p. 149)] (pp. 121 ff.). These seldom if ever correspond to the Civil Code. This legal confusion tends to be self-perpetuating since purchasers and heirs do not go to lawyers to register changes, because, apart from the trouble and expense, there would be too many questions to answer.

Turkish legal procedure for sorting out the confusion is itself complex and bureaucratic. Decisions are made on written evidence in Ankara, where all records are kept. This leads to slow and lengthy correspondence, and cases frequently last for years. The young men who act as judges in the local areas are in fact the subordinate investigating officers of a centralised judicial machine.

Village opinion condemns resort to the courts. It is shameful for kinsfolk to be unable to reach a compromise among themselves, and foolish to give lawyers a chance to eat their property. The range of questions and investigations, the time the whole business takes, and the numerous visits to the court, generally make it far more bother than it is worth.

A more serious objection which one might have expected from the villagers is that the decisions of the courts do not correspond to village notions of right and wrong. It is certainly true that legal rights seldom correspond to acknowledged customary village rights. But the villagers never complained on this account, and it is not hard to find reasons why they did not do so.

First, any one village uses the courts so seldom that the discrepancies do not become obvious. Secondly, in any dispute over land, both sides have a claim under village custom and believe themselves to be in the right. Whichever side wins will
be delighted and not bother itself with the reasons the court gives for its decision. Thirdly, the main provisions of the Code, equal division between children, with one-quarter for a widow are not strikingly different from traditional practices. Fourthly, the villagers regard landholding to a considerable extent as a matter of power and luck, and not as a matter to be settled exclusively by the precise application of rules. A powerful and incomprehensible arbitrator provides an enforceable and final decision; they would not expect this decision to correspond to their own notion of justice. Fifthly, law has prestige, and a decision of the courts even if odd is nevertheless kanun, law.

Threats to resort to law are extremely common. In argument villagers normally speak of the law as the source of all land rights, and of the courts as the source of justice. The imperfections in the Code, and in the judicial process, have not apparently undermined the respect for Law. Occasionally, when the stake is high or when the parties are more interested in victory over enemies than in economic advantage, villagers do go to law, and cases of this kind are sufficient to clog the national machine and keep it permanently in arrears. But in most cases the threats are idle, and only a tiny percentage of land disputes actually reach the courts.

Because of the total lack of village interest in official registration of marriage - less than half of all marriages were registered (Timur (1957) p.35) - many respectably born village children are legally illegitimate. Special laws have, from time to time rendered the legitimisation of such children extremely simple but many village wives remain without legal claims on their husbands or on their husbands' estates. In practice, so far, because the villages have recourse to law so seldom, the illegitimacy of many wives and widows has no consequences that I could discover.


Traditional village education was religious and local. The hoca or imam of the village was expected, among his duties, to teach the young; indeed hoca means teacher. He taught them Islam, especially the correct performance of prayers and rituals. He taught them to recite suras from the Koran in uncomprehended
Arabic and sometimes he taught them to read the Arabic script, so that they could read old Turkish, and read out without understanding the Arabic version of the Koran, pronounced according tolocal convention. In the past therefore, probably a few men in each village were literate. In Sakaltutan, in 1950, eight of the older men could read the old script.

The Republican government had very different ideas about village education. It set out to provide a state-imposed system of schools teaching modern subjects in the new infidel script. Up to 1949 religious teaching was specifically forbidden, and since then it has been a reformed and modern version of Islam which has been found in the official textbooks of religious knowledge (Lewis (1961) pi 412).

Teachers of the new sort were necessarily urban-educated, and mostly young. They were also few in number - 28,000 for the whole of Turkey in 1940, of whom 21,000 were primary school teachers (Ann. Stat. (1951), Tables 117, 119). Those who were available were mostly unwilling, indeed unable, to live in villages because of the vast cultural differences between town and village.

The government made two experiments to meet these difficulties. As a temporary expedient, suitable men doing their military service were picked out, given short courses, and sent back to their villages to teach. They took the village children in single three-year batches of mixed age, mainly in reading and writing. For these men this occupation was mostly a winter sideline to the main business of working their land. Ahmet (K) (p. 24) was doing this job in Sakaltutan in 1949-50.
The second experiment was on a much grander and more permanent scale. Between 1939 and 1946 twenty-one special boarding schools for village children were bullt, known as Village Institutes. All except one were outside towns and away from urban influences. Much of the construction work was done by pupils and teachers, some by more or less voluntary village labour. The programme aimed to give the boys practical as well as academic training and to send them back to the villages as leaders and reformers. The early Institutes worked at their task with enthusiasm and idealism. The boys who entered had to have completed five years of elementary school and were given a further five years, bringing them to at least seventeen
years of age. In spite of the stict regime and heavy timetable - they were only allowed two months at home in the summer each year - five years was too short a period to cover adequately the great range of subjects in the curriculum. Learning by rote was the rule rather than the encouraging of intelligent and critical thinking.

Among a body of teachers and pupils all in close contact with the desperate poverty of ordinary village life, it was not surprising that radical political ideas caught on. How strong these really were I do not know, but the government was alarmed. It first slowed down the growth of the Village Institutes, and then officially abolished their separate identity and merged them with the urban teachers' training colleges.

These Village Institutes were successful in rapidly producing a body of young men legally bound, able and in most cases willing to become village teachers. All the trained village teachers I knew, except the Travelling Headmaster resident in Elbashï, were products of these Institutes.

These young men had been taught that they were to act not merely as schoolmasters but as general missionaries of scientific enlightenment and progress. In fact they were far from adequately trained for such a task, and the social problems they faced would have daunted highly trained social workers. The point of the spartan regime and relatively remote position of the Village Institutes was to prevent the young men becoming irretrievably attached to urban life, and thus unwilling, even unable to settle back in the villages. But the result of this system was to teach them about a way of life very different from their own village upbringing, without giving them any first-hand experience of it. They were aware of ideals and values which made them despise the village, and yet had little realistic notion about urban life or about the possibilities of village reform, still less about Western society.

To the rest of Elbashï, the three young teachers were still members of the village belonging to familiar village households. Yet they had lost intimate contact through five years of almost continuous schooling. Their new ways and ideas and their pretensions created a social barrier between them and the village, and they symbolised to the village the hostile, outside urban world which had trained them and sent them back as its
apostles. They were of the village and yet not of it. The duty laid on them of acting as schoo attendance officers did not make their position easier.

These teachers faced a dilemma. Either they took their modernising mission seriously, caused offence without making any impression, and withdrew into ineffective resentful isolation, or they tried to lead a normal social life, yielding to the conservative pressures of the village community, and living as much like a traditional villager as the job of actually teaching the children allowed. Their difficulties are graphically portrayed by one of them, Mahmut Makal, who wrote a series of books, the first of which was Turkey's best seller to date (Makal 1950, 1952, etc.).

The primary course which they taught officially lasted five years, from seven to twelve, since altered to run from six to eleven. Children often began late, partly due to the irregularity of registration of birth, partly to the opposition of some parents to school altogether. Many failed to finish the course. The curriculum included reading, writing and arithmetic, history and geography, civics and some elementary science. But the subjects were taught largely by rote, and in spite of lip service in high places to making village education relevant to village life, in fact it appeared to the villagers to have no relevance at all. Reading, writing, and number apart, what was taught was largely mumbo-jumbo to the children. Education was something which belonged not to the village but to the outside world, where the skills and the knowledge it taught might conceivably serve some purpose.

Traditionally, knowledge is religious knowledge, and the learned in village eyes are always religiously learned. One hears stories of village sages in the past whose knowledge of books was so great that they could work wonders, and knew what was happening in other places without being informed. The new secular teaching in the infidel alphabet is not well regarded. But the recent production of cheap religious pamphlets in the new script which enables the new literates to memorise religious texts more easily has helped somewhat to make for its acceptance. And even in 1950 the strongest opponents of the new teaching had no serious hope of its disappearance.

Within the village literacy served little purpose. No news-
papers reached either village, except accidentally and occasionally. Yet people's attitudes were not uniform. Almost everyone admitted the advantage of being able to add up and subtract ecause one could avoid being cheated. And most households had young men away in the army or in the towns with whom they wished to correspond. Some of the children who could read were fascinated by old American or European magazines because they recognised the letters, and even more so when they found something in Turkish which made sense. Literacy is a great advantage to a young man during military service. A few families even thought in terms of the promotion of their young into the urban literate world. One ordinary middle-run villager in one village had sent a son to Kayseri schools by using kinship ties in the town and then eventually to Istanbul University, and several young men had been to the Village Institute to train as teachers. As a new largely literate generation grows up, the uses of literacy in a rapidly developing economy will surely become more obvious and education more acceptable. At the same time the status benefits of achieving higher education will become plainer.

Government Services

Education, once a community matter but now a government service, has far more direct effect on the villages than any other, and for this reason I have given it separate treatment. From the point of view of Sakaltutan and Elbashï in 1950-52, the remaining government services fall into three groups: public works, agricultural and veterinary services, and health services.

Government interest in providing villagers with roads and water supplies became conspicuously greater after the election in 1950. Public buildings, particularly schools which had once been village responsibility, were undertaken at government expense. This system provides the village not only with improved facilities but with paid employment, and became a major topic for lobbying the local powers through one's influential friends. A village like Sakaltutan stood to gain little from the new system since its contacts were few, but Elbashï had far more opportunities to play the game. While I was there the Public Works department paid for work on the village approach road, the
last two hundred yards or so of which were so appalling that the lorries ran through the fields on either ide to avoid the quagmire. Funds unfortunately ran out before completion, and the officials left with promises to return after the next year's budget.

I have already described the State Office of Soil Products (p. 73), which buys the grain crop and thus controls prices, and the generous working of agricultural credit. Neither of these involved more than direct face-to-face relationships with minorofficials, and both institutions were taken very much for granted.

The much more formidable problems of raising technical efficiency, and thus productivity, were hardly being tackled seriously in the area in which I worked. Clean, good quality seed was provided on credit, help with disease control was available for both crops and animals, and stud bulls, stallions and rams were provided to improve local stock. Except perhaps for curative veterinary services for animals, on which people commented favourably, these services though accepted as of right, and even used to some extent, are regarded with scepticism and constant criticism. The villagers had no conception of the possibility of a revolution in their techniques and economy, and did not expect the government to produce one.

Village health services had even less impact, with one major exception. As in many other countries malaria has been virtually wiped out in Turkey. One village which had suffered had been Elbashï. Malaria control continued in I951 but quite divorced from other medical activities.

The main health interest of the villagers is in cures for current illness. Here the government did virtually nothing. Free hospital services existed in Kayseri but the resources were so limited that villagers did not even think of using them. When they wanted a doctor they had to go and find one in Kayseri. An official doctor resided in Bunyan (Fig. 2), but the village disregarded him. In Kayseri there were about fifty. The fare to Kayseri, the doctor's fee, and the expensive medicines, often involving injections, which were normally prescribed, provided a strong deterrent in all but urgent cases. If the cure was not noticeably and rapidly successful, the patient would try another doctor rather than go back to the first. The notion of a family doctor was completely lacking. The doctors, overwhelmed with
patients who were mostly poor, suspicious and unsophisticated, can hardly be blamed for not offering a better service.
Around 1950, the government was attempting to provide health workers for the villagers. These were of two kinds, Health Officers and midwives. No trained midwives had been posted to the area in or near which I worked, but those of whom I heard were not highly successful. Being young, unmarried, and without training in the social and educational problems they would have to face in the villages, they had little hope of leading a normal social life in a village, let alone of establishing influence and inspiring trust.

The Health Officers were young men who had undergone the same initial training as the teachers and been selected for special courses in hygiene and related subjects for the last two years. Their job was vague. It included some specific tasks, vaccination and inoculation for example, and the giving of injections when necessary. In fact some of them, so I was told, charged illegally for these services. It also included supervision of sanitary arrangements, latrines for example, the destruction of superfluous dogs, and general health education. But they had neither efficient repressive sanctions to back them up in enforcing irksome regulations, nor the slightest training in, or equipment for, persuasion and propaganda. A young man with seventeen villages to attend to had little hope of achieving anything; indeed it was impossible for him to know where or how to begin.

The main health need from the village point of view is immediate and cheap relief from illness, both chronic and short term. We ourselves faced an incessant demand for medical help, to meet which we could do very little. But a Health Officer -who was not even permitted to carry aspirins, and who could do nothing about illness, was completely disregarded by the village. The only Health Officer I knew personally appeared to me to do in fact almost nothing at all, and to be acutely unhappy about his ineffectiveness.

The Political Parties

The villagers had been asked to vote for Deputies to the Grand National Assembly regularly every four years since the founda-
tion of the Republic. Before 1946 the candidates were all approved by the Republican People's Party, and very often ther was no choice at all. In 1946 a genuine opposition was permitted, but the villagers, confident that the result was a foregone conclusion, had not apparently taken the election seriously. As the 1950 election approached, it became clear that the Democrat Party was truly to be allowed to make a serious challenge to the government. Both sides visited the village and seemed more eager to explain that the law had been changed, and that the election would be genuine and the ballot really secret, than to win votes for their respective parties. Sakaltutan had recognised but ineffective village leaders of local sections of both main parties. People discussed the matter ceaselessly, but the new line-up did not coincide with any existing social divisions. Very roughly, the skilled migrant labourers tended to be supporters of the Democrat Party; those who remained permanently in the village as full-time farmers tended to support the Republican People's Party, partly perhaps because they did not see any point in changing, partly because they were impervious to the current argument about more private enterprise and economic freedom, and partly because they were more afraid to oppose the established government. But people were quite willing to waver openly, and members of a single household would argue opposite cases. At a wedding which took place in the winter of 1949-50, the men dressed up as Democrats and People's Party and played a game resembling `cops and robbers'. This argumentative and lighthearted attitude was not typical. Elbashï, if my conjectures are right, represents a more normal case. Two sharply defined factions already existed. The reigning faction had necessarily already identified itself with the existing government, so that the headman and his supporters were automatically R.P.P. Those who opposed them were thus committed to the D.P. No one can be certain in a secret ballot how people actually voted, but on the whole it is probably safe to assume that most votes follow public affiliations, and affiliations for most villagers follow, not national lines, but local ones. So long as the two-party system continues, the votes of each village and small town are likely to be split in this way, giving the opposition a certain minimum number of votes more or less regardless of national issues.

This conversion of existing local factions into local sections of the national parties made possible the very rapid establishment of a two-party political system in full-scale activity. Outside urban intellectual circles, the R.P.P. was an alliance of all factions who happened to be on top in 1950, the D.P. an alliance of all the local oppositions. During the time of the election rioting or disturbances between the parties were reported in the press, as though these were due to the new political activity. In fact, it is highly probable that in almost all cases these were old local factions with new political affiliations for whom the election provided an excuse for active hostility.

This analysis implies that the D.P. in fact captured the support of most of the local oppositions which existed in every town and village in Turkey. Once this had happened third parties had relatively little chance of becoming established in rural areas on a national scale. Most communities have two main rival factions, even if these are loose confederations of smaller groups and somewhat unstable. If third forces exist in some communities they are neither numerous nor strong enough to enable a third party to weld them into a national force offering serious rivalry to the two main parties.

Of course, this analysis is not true for all people nor for all communities. Some people in every community would be uncommitted, and some vote in national elections differently from their explicit affiliation. Some communities possess internal structures permanently or temporarily unlike the simple two-faction model I have assumed. Moreover, if the system is to function in this way the people must feel a reasonable degree of confidence in each of the two parties and in freedom from persecution for political activity.

The system as I have outlined it strengthens the tendency towards a local spoils system. If people support a national party because they want the existing office holders in their local community out of office, then when that party wins they expect to replace them. The motive for remaining loyal to one party is not intellectual conviction, but the realisation that in order to reap political rewards, one must not only be on the winning side but have a reputation for being a trustworthy supporter So the parties, like the parties in the U.S.A., become alliances of local factions each contending in its own area; overall
ideology and national policy become relatively less important.1

Urban and Rural Social Rank

Social relations between a particular villager and a particular townsman are plainly a matter of the structural position each holds, both in his own section of society and in the larger society of which town and village both form a part. The most important single element in this relation is rank. In some contexts people speak as if the village ranked below the urban system altogether. Even the poorest of established townsmen is proud of his urbanity, and the words köy village, and köylü, villager are used as terms of opprobrium. Villagers are well aware of this collective inferiority, and are often explicit about their lack of civilisation, medeniyet, and their uncouth, kaba, way of life. Yet it is obvious that this simple model of a single scale ending in the town, and beginning its downward path again in the village is absurd. The bulk of the town population, petty traders, artisans, porters, labourers, overlaps in rank the bulk of the rural population. Only the high school and university graduates, and the owners of really substantial property, that is, every one from the middle-range officials to the cabinet ministers and the Istanbul élite, rank unequivocally above the village. Roughly one might say that the village poor correspond to the labourers and porters and the urban unemployed; the better-off villagers, those of middle position in Sakaltutan and Elbashï, correspond to the artisans, the stall-holders and petty traders, and the upper end of the village, especially the upper end of Elbashï to the lower end of the educated stratum, the junior officials, the petty merchants, the contractors, the small hotel keepers.

In spite of this correspondence the ranking systems are very different. The total span of social distance between the top and bottom of the village hierarchy is much less than the corresponding social distance between the corresponding ranks in the towns. This is fundamentally a matter of a shared way of

  1. Turkish politics since 1960, in spite of the army, have tended to return to the basic division between R.P.P. and the successors of the Democrat Party; this trend strengthens my analysis, in that thetwo-party system is re-emerging in the teeth of attempts to break it up; but national factors are perhaps more important than my model allows.

life and culture. The village watchman visits the guest room of the village a§a,just as his wife uses he same methods of cooking, fetching water, bedmaking, child care as the a§a's wife. Both are interested in the same gossip, the same set of people. Both see themselves primarily as members of their village. In the town, by contrast, the poor and the rich live different lives in very different styles, with different interests, a different material apparatus, and a different language. A single village household may occasionally have kin ties which span the urban hierarchy, without any feeling of embarrassment. But if these same persons through their village connection bring their urban worlds into contact, the class differences will at once assert themselves.

I have already said (p. 222) that ranking differences in the village do not produce social classes, but rather pyramids in which vertical relations of sociability are as easy as horizontal ones. Ranking differences in the towns on the other hand, inibit vertical relationships of sociability.

This difference in quality between rural and urban stratification, is, I think, at least partly responsible for a phenomenon commonly remarked by foreign observers, and spoken of with pride by the Turks themselves. Villagers often conduct themselves with remarkable dignity and self-respect, and are outspoken in the presence of important people. These egalitarian manners are said to prove an absence of social class, or class consciousness. This is a false conclusion. Such behaviour is typical only of a minority of vocal village leaders: the majority are respectful, silent and unnoticed before their urban betters. In fact, Turkish society is almost military in its hierarchy. But to the villager social intercourse and hierarchy are not mutually exclusive, because in the pyramidical structure of the village, hierarchy is not the social barrier it is in the towns.

In spite of this widespread impression of egalitarianism, the general inferiority of the village to town profoundly affects relations between town and village. The villager, even the man who is pre-eminent in his own village and proud of his urbanity and connections, is in fact ignorant beside his urban kinsman. Most village leaders were not literate in 1950, at any rate not in the new Latin script. Thus, while town and village may meet for a large number of purposes, official business, temporary urban employment, visits of kinsmen to the village, and so on, they
do not share a common life. Vertical sociability within rural society is greater than horizontal sociability outside it, and a gulf of mutual strangeness and mistrust is fixed between townand village.

Although, therefore, the village ranking system has a certain correspondence to the dominant urban ranking system, the two systems do not fit together easily. Relationships between individuals on the two sides reflect these somewhat inconsistent elements: the general inferiority of village to town, the rough correspondence of the two systems, and the gulf of unsociability between them.

Villagers and Townsmen

We can divide face-to-face relationships between town and village into two types; the personal relations of kin and friends who treat each other more or less as equals, and the single stranded relations of villagers with officials, merchants, or professional men, where the villager requires one specific service or owes one specific obligation. The first of these two classes of social relations corresponds roughly to relations with the lower strata of the town, where there is the greatest degree of mutual comprehensibility and shared culture; the second to those with the educated, the culturally distant, whom the villagers treat with deference.

Sakaltutan had very few relationships of the first type. One close agnate of K lineage was living in Ankara with an Ankara wife. He visited the village during my stay, bringing her with him. He apparently ran a permanent stall in a street market. He and his wife dressed like townspeople, and he spoke of the blessings of a town education for his children. Otherwise Sakaltutan's social contacts with town consisted mainly of those formed by the migrant labourers (p. 64). As far as I was able to judge, he social life of these migrants in town was largely spent among other villagers. The system of contracting and subcontracting (p. 65) meant that often the immediate employer was another villager. The migrant labourers seem to have formed their own ub-system within the town, and to have lived very largely within it. For the six men who worked in the factory in Kayseri on a permanent basis the situation was perhaps
different; yet they too lived in bachelor quarters with other villagers, and one showed any eagerness to move their families to town. A few others had special town connections. One man, old and very poor, regularly went to town as a porter, which implied that he was accepted among the Kayseri porters. Another man with a similar profession had been living; for some years in Kayseri; he had had a Kayseri wife but divorced her, and replaced her with a village wife. During my stay he moved his village wife and family back to the village saying that life in town was too hard, but he continued to spend his time portering in Kayseri, allowing his brother to work his land as a share-cropper.

Migrant labour apart, the range of urban contacts in Elbashï was much greater, both with the local town Bünyan and with Kayseri itself. One past and three existing marriages in the village had brought wives in from Bünyan, and two past and three existing marriages had brought wives from Kayseri. One woman was said to have married out to each of these towns. At least some of the villagers had agnates in Bünyan, and one refugee household head had a brother in Kayseri. Another man who had come as a child with a widowed mother from Kayseri to Elbashï had a brother who was a secondary schoolmaster in Kayseri. Another villager had a house in Kayseri and a post in the administration, and the tax collector's two sons, both doing their military service as officers, were also from the Kayseri administration. Of the more lowly villagers two had lived in Kayseri, one as driver of a horse and cart, and the other in an attempt to survive on a state disability pension. The first gave up, so he said, on health grounds, though his wife's version was different; and the other because it was impossible to make ends meet. Another villager had been employed by the Kayseri town watch, a locally organised adjunct of the centrally controlled police.

The relationships of these two villages with town were typical. Larger, more central villages have a much more developed set of links with town than poorer and less sophisticated ones. The top people in Elbashï had links with the local town and with the local bureaucracy. Sakaltutan had no such links. The most urbanised in Sakaltutan were those with established economic connections as migrant craftsmen. Except perhaps for
one or two even poorer villages, Sakaltutan and Elbashï represent the extremes, and other villages in the area mostly seemed to fall in between them in the degree of their urban contacts.

Within relationships of this personal type some degree of intimacy, exchange of ideas, and mutual help is possible. But this is not the case with the single-purpose relations, those with officials, professional men, politicians and merchants. Even these vary according to context. When the villager, often shabbily dressed and usually uncertain of himself and his village manners, visits the townsman he is very much at a disadvantage. It is easy in Turkey for anyone to walk into any office, including that of the Vali, with a request, but a villager is unlikely to receive much consideration unless he has a pull, or an exceptionally well presented case. Doctors, dentists, and lawyers too, treat village clients with a lofty air.

When the official visits the village, where he is more or less compelled to receive village hospitality, he is on more equal terms. He automatically meets the village leaders, men confident of their local superiority, and he is not surrounded by telephones, desks and messengers. Under these circumstances, even the Vali or a member of the National Assembly may appear to be on easy terms with his hosts. But such visits are rare, brief, and so covered by a formal politeness on both sides that the degree of real communication is strictly limited.

While senior officials, especially after the Democrat victory in 1950, were often polite, junior officials were more obviously paternalistic. On my first visit to Sakaltutan, the local District Officer who accompanied me explicitly and publicly spoke of the assembled company of village elders as his children, whom he, on behalf of the government, cared for like a father. After the 1950 harvest, which was poor enough to justify a moratorium on debts due to the Agricultural Bank, the visit of an official commission to assess crops for this moratorium coincided with a routine visit of the tax collector, who complained by way of conversation that he was having some difficulty in a neighbouring village. The senior official of the visiting party promptly lectured the villagers present as if they had been schoolboys, on the moral duty of paying taxes, threatening that if the tax collector had occasion to complain about them he would see to it that there would be no moratorium.

For most villagers, and for the village community as a whole educated urban people are best avoided. No one likes the humiliation involved in making visits to doctors and lawyers and everyone is suspicious of and opposed to any official interference in village life. Normally, the outside world is called in only when specific benefits are known to be obtainable, for example the stemming of an epidemic among village flocks; or when specific sanctions are likely to follow a failure to pass on information - about for example serious injury or homicide.

Such an attitude towards social superiors, especially when they are also outsiders, is normal. It has the consequence of preventing all but highly selected information about the villages from reaching the urban world which controls them, and thus aiding the preservation of current illusion and mutual misunderstanding.

The Foreshortening of the Outside World

Understanding is limited by experience. People anywhere can only interpret that part of their society that they do not see or do not live in, in terms of the society they do live in. They are therefore bound to misinterpret what goes on in other parts of their society or in other societies, in terms of what goes on in their own. People in a small-scale society are bound to fail to grasp the size and diversity of the larger society in which the small-scale society nests. The tightly knit, stable rural communities which I studied constantly foreshorten social distance and underestimate social complexity in the outside world.

In the present-day village, the degree of grasp varies very greatly from individual to individual. All village women know that towns exist, and a few of them have been to Kayseri. Yet they normally asked us what village we came from, and many seemed to find it difficult to take in the fact that we did not come from a home like theirs in a village like theirs. At the other extreme the most sophisticated men were used to doing business in Ankara, and knew a great deal about national and international affairs.

The commonest form of this foreshortening is the constant assumption that one educated man knows and can influence all other educated men. I was believed to be able to obtain favours
if not of all educated Turks, at least of all educated foreignes in Turkey. This implies that the villager sees the educated world as a small network very like his own rural network, in which by kinship and friendship one can find a link with anyone if one only takes the trouble. Disclaimers are not believed. They were convinced that we refused not because we were unable, but because we were not prepared to take the trouble, or out of personal spite.

Most villagers realise more or less clearly that urban educated society contains a very large number of roles that are distinct both socially and in the skills they demand. Yet they do not apply this knowledge systematically. They expect the highly educated to know everything, to be able to cure the sick, mend radios, give legal decisions and so forth. In particular, they assume that all educated Turks are knowledgeable about Islam, and frequently asked educated visitors questions about religion.

This foreshortening has an interesting effect on changes in taste and techniques. The urban world itself happens to be changing very rapidly, particularly the world of the local towns. In these many people still live more or less traditional urban lives, using the customs and the material culture which the village has for generations associated with the towns. But at the same time Western dress, schoolgirls with uncovered heads, motor-cars, blocks of modern flats and a host of other things represent a new and totally different tradition. This tradition is European and still to most villagers infidel. This unstable blend in urban society is misleading and confusing to the villagers. On one occasion a man of Sakaltutan brought his wife to town. I met him and offered him and two companions tea, and embarrassed everyone by offering tea to his wife also. She turned away into the corner to drink in order to uncover her mouth without being seen. I pointed to two educated Turkish women in Western dress and cosmetics who were passing. `They are not Turks,' she said, `they are foreigners.'

One of the villagers had recently completed a new guest room. It was a modern one, with a divan running right round the wall. `It's the new style,' I was told, `alafranca (i.e. European), like the towns.' A style of building already out of date among town Turks was justified by a villager as being town-like, and a typical Middle East room was called European.

Anthropologists have recently stressed two points of theory; first, that people must all carry a home-made model of the society in which they live in order to be able to conduct social relations at all; and secondly, that it is often illuminating to analyse social behaviour in terms of the manipulation, conscious or otherwise, of the social system for private ends. These two points taken together have a corollary. The more inaccurate the home-made model the less successful will be the manipulating. One consequence for villagers of their simplifying of urban society is their inability to control and manipulate it. In general we may often be able to understand puzzling conduct in these terms; namely, that people are seeking to manipulate but failing. To be sure of this we must know exactly how they view the structure in which they live and be able to show how this view influences conduct. Unsuccessful attempts at manipulation may be difficult to detect.

Most villagers' views of how the administration works are inaccurate. The less sophisticated are more or less completely baffled, and in spite of the existence of a modern type of state in which theoretically everyone has the right to approach the administration as an individual, most of them keep clear of it if they can, and thus to some extent leave the village leaders with their traditional role of go-between. Even the more sophisticated have a strictly limited grasp of the working of the bureaucracy. This ignorance limits the effects which follow from the direct relationships which now legally exist in theory between each villager as a citizen and officials as representatives of the state.

Pressures and Change

Peasants are proverbially conservative. The reasons for this are plain. They live normally in societies in which many of their main contacts are with people like themselves who share their values. They are bound to put more weight upon the good opinion of their kin and neighbours with whom they are in daily relations, and on whom they depend for essential help in times of stress or crisis, than upon the values of people superior in standing but remote from the village.

In these Turkish villages the social controls are as strong as one would expect. Any signs of unusual conduct will
immediately lead to detailed and widespread discussion. If people take, as they are almost certain to do, the view that the innovaion is malicious, pretentious, dangerous, impious or absurd the innovator, if he persists, has to face criticism, ridicule or even ostracism.

The importance of this conservatism is two-fold. First, it slows down directly the acceptance of most, but not all, technical improvements such as hygienic habits, improved agricultural techniques, and so on. Secondly, in so far as people's ideas about the behaviour appropriate to the various roles in village society is reinforced, the traditional social structure is prevented from adapting itself to changes in the larger world of which it is a part. Traditional relationships persist in social situations to which they are no longer appropriate.

But the forces for change are stronger still. The very great increase in communications with the outside world is at the root of the changes. Increase in law and order makes it possible for anyone to go to town for political or economic purposes with no danger of physical attack. Lorries and buses make possible much cheaper and more rapid transport between town and village not only of people but also of goods in quantity. The vast new market for casual labour draws a constant stream of men out of the rural area sending them back armed with much information and some new ideas. At the same time the national government is concerned for national reasons with village productivity and welfare, and sends an increasing stream of officials to the village to impose unfamiliar rules of conduct for a host of different purposes.

The villages I visited were tightly knit communities. But once they must have been a great deal tighter. Not long ago, individual villagers only approached officialdom with the special protection of their village superiors, or in the company of the headman. The village rulers ruled largely by a monopoly of contact with State sources of power, which both conferred and depended on a dominant position inside the village. Almost every man in those days was dependent on his father's land for his daily food, and if people did leave the village to seek their fortunes, they did not write, nor send money through the post office, nor turn up in person at frequent intervals. It was possible for the village to lead a much more isolated and
autonomous life, and virtually to ignore its obvious inferiority to the town.

The effect of the vastly increased contact between town and village which I have just described is two-fold. By greatly increasing the range of social relations even the poorer villagers have with people outside the village it has decreased the solidarity of the village, weakening the strength of the social controls on which village conservatism is founded. The villagers are no longer necessarily dependent on their leaders. At the same time they come to depend on the good-will of a host of other people outside the village with different assumptions and ideas. The village community is pulled apart by multiplying relations between its members and the outside world. This process so far is no more than begun, but it has already brought the village into the nation in a much more definite and inescapable way. Even if he pays his taxes without argument and keeps out of the way when involved in violence, the villager can no longer hope to ignore the authorities. He is constantly, through the radio reminded that he and his village are a part of a much larger social unit, the nation. He has become aware also that the village is despised by townsmen, and that most villagers have a vastly lower standard of living than the urban educated.
The village is all too clearly at the bottom of the national hierarchy. Once the village was a social foothill to the distant urban peaks, proud in its semi-autonomy and more or less able to ignore them by looking the other way. Its social world was centred on itself. Now it is acutely aware that it is only the peripheral lower slopes, uncomfortably forced to face or evade the constant stream of interference and scorn which pours down from the urban peaks of national power.

The old attitudes are not gone. The village is still proud; each village still knows itself to be the best of all communities and, like most rural communities, at times writes town society off as corrupt and decadent. But contradictions are a normal part of any society, and the opposite is heard even more often - that the village is backward, uncouth, poor, dirty and violent. Such contradictions can, of course, live more or less permanently in a society. But though I have no empirical first-hand evidence of the village attitudes two generations ago, I am confident that its pride and independent spirit are
declining and its diffidence and sense of inferiority increasing.
Changes in this direction are inevitable, and serve humanitarian as well as national ends. A higher standard of living can only come with more technical efficiency, more controls, more education, more taxes, more intervention by national organisations in local politics, and so on. Eventually the full weight of all this may narrow the gap, and by destroying the tightness of the local community, integrate its members more effectively in the nation. But the initial effect of attempts at reform and betterment, by their more or less unintended transformation of the social structure, are likely to be an increase of tension between the villagers and their urban rulers, both local and national.



Maintained by Michael D. Fischer

Updated Friday, October 23, 1998