Tribal affairs in the province of Aleppo during 1850s-1914
Important segments of society in the province of Aleppo in late Ottoman times were of tribal structure. Some of the tribes were integrated into the Ottoman system of domination but most were not. Among the latter notably the great nomadic tribes such as the ʿAnīza and the Shammar that had arrived from the Nejd only comparatively recently posed a considerable challenge for the Ottoman administration.
In the mid- nineteenth century, the elites of those nomadic tribes who already had submitted themselves to the state authority were settling in the city of Aleppo and their tribes payed taxes. This arrangement protected the interests of the tribal elites while at the same time it played a significant role in the state's regional security strategy.
The challenge the non-integrated tribes posed for the Ottoman administration was that they tended to extract tribute from the peasant population [known in Arabic as khuwwa] or even directly attack them and involve themselves in intertribal warfare. These tribes, who were often nomadic, refused to pay taxes and were considered by the Ottomans to be a major threat to public order (asayiş). Especially since the Tanzimat the Ottoman administration typically was trying to extend their control over the Empire's periphery.
In this study, I will try to explore the tribal affairs in the province of Aleppo between the 1850s and 1914 that included the periods of rule of Sultans Abdüllaziz and Abdülhamid II, as well as, the Second Constitutional Period of the Ottoman Empire before the World War I. I will commence with the 1850s because in this period important events like the disturbances in Syria, the Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856, the Tapu-law of 1858 left their mark on the relation of the Ottomans and the tribes in the region. It is intended to trace how and to what extent the tribal elites succeeded in maintaining their influence and power within the Ottoman society during the second half of the nineteenth century, in particular, following the Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856 which promising full legal equality for all citizens of all religions and the introduction of the Vilayets Law in 1864, when the processes of change set in motion through the Tanzimat were at their peak. While the Ottoman domination as such and the political order in the Empire in general were seldom called into question, the relationship between the central state and the tribal elites was frequently an uneasy one constantly fluctuating between cooperation and confrontation. To this one has to add the element of intertribal conflict. Thus, while the social fabric in Bilād al-Shām changed considerably during the nineteenth century, the rivalry between the two Bedouin elites of the ʿAnīza and the Shammar remained a constant feature, the main issue of contention being control over territory, certain population groups, taxes and agricultural produce.
The dissertation will also examine in depth the measures that were undertaken by the Ottoman government to integrate and settle the nomadic tribes in Aleppo hinterland. A known examples here is the Aşiret Mekteb-i Hümayun (Imperial School for Tribes). This school has been rightly interpreted as part of a broader policy pursued by Abdülhamid II with the aim of integrating the Arab provinces more closely into theImperial centre. By the early twentieth century, many of the Bedouin tribal leaders had been educated there. The shaykhs of the Fidʿān and Sbaʾa, for example, who had been schooled in Istanbul, went on to serve in the Imperial Ottoman Army.
A central issue will be the question of how successful the Ottoman tribal politics in the province of Aleppo were according to their own standards and how far their control extended over the province both in terms of social stratification and geographical outreach. Another important question is what was the reaction of the tribal society to the Ottoman politics?