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Peasant Protest in the Late Ottoman Empire: Moral Economy, Revolt, and the Tanzimat Reforms

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2012-08-01
This article argues that despite the different contexts of the Ottoman peasant uprisings in Vidin, Canik, and Kisrawan during the mid-nineteenth century, the attitudes and actions of peasants in the three revolts were remarkably similar. The moral economy of the peasants played an important role in determining their attitudes to the upper classes and to the state. During agrarian conflicts, the peasants received no support from outside but were well organized, used violence selectively, refused to pay taxes they deemed unfair, tended to radicalize, and preferred to deal with central instead of local authorities. Their preference for dealing with central authorities stemmed not from any naive monarchism, but from their realistic assessment of the local balance of power and a pragmatic desire to bypass it; and from their wish to have recourse to the moral authority of the sultan. The article will conclude that the rebels did not rise up against the Tanzimat reforms, nor did they simply misunderstand them; rather, they endorsed the reform programme, reinterpreted it through rumour, and strove to radicalize it.