Late Ottoman Concepts of Slavery (1830s-1880s)

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Except for the issue of equality for non-Muslims, the call for the abolition of Ottoman slavery was perhaps the most culturally loaded and sensitive topic processed in the Tanzimat period. Ottoman statesmen (from 1840), Young Ottoman activists (in the 1860s), and the Tanzimat writers (during the mid-1870s) were faced with the need to respond to Western abolitionism. In spite of their different reactions, all three groups rejected the Western image of Ottoman slavery by adopting a bifurcated strategy: to the outside world, they projected the image of kul/harem slavery as the only type of Ottoman slavery, while simultaneously, at home, they treated domestic and agricultural slavery as the only types of Ottoman slavery. This is a case of amplification and deletion as a measure of resistance to extracultural interference. The unpleasant, negative, disturbing manifestations of slavery-the traffic in and the lot of African menial slaves-were deleted from the representation of Ottoman slavery. At the same time, the realities of kul/harem slavery were amplified to serve in the intercultural exchange. Because of the rigidity of Western abolitionism, no alternative Ottoman counterstrategies were developed. In the West, a campaign to abolish only domestic and agricultural slavery-indeed, the predominant and most painful types-was never contemplated. As the economic value of slavery was not at issue, British abolitionism must have touched the very core of Ottoman elite culture, where the belief and value systems were most vulnerable to criticism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-506
Number of pages30
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1993


  • Slavery
  • Polygamy
  • Slave trade
  • Poetics
  • Viziers
  • Abolitionism
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Slaves
  • Slave women
  • Abolition
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Literature
  • prose
  • drama
  • Yeni Osmanlilar
  • slavery
  • 1830-1880
  • Turkish literature
  • 1800-1899
  • poetry
  • Ethnology
  • Generalities
  • Social structure
  • Social structure and social relations


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