The consulates were institutions existing in many regions with this or that form, from the early civilizations to the present day. Representation always existed, from Mesopotamia to Egypt and from America to Europe, even at a “primitive” state. All through world history, in every place where there was commerce the states began to establish consulates, first at a representation level and later on, together with the empires that evolved to modern states, as more organized and institutional consulates. [i] Especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the influence of political and financial events and more importantly with the developing capitalistic financial structure in Europe, [ii] the idea of “representation” gained worldwide significance. The consulates are the result of the “Great Powers”’ desire to observe more closely and control the markets in the periphery of Europe.
In the Ottoman Empire too, consulates were institutions known from early periods. Even if they were on 19th-century locations, foreign consulates existed on Ottoman territory. At the beginning of the 19th century the “Great Powers” established, in a much more organized manner, almost one consulate per province. [iii] The province of Trabzon, in this respect, was one of the centres in the Great Powers’ area of interest. Trabzon was the field of activity of many consulates or missionaries. If we look closely at the numbers, it is understood that Trabzon, with its 14 consulates, was one of the port-cities that bore great significance. This was the field of activity of all the big imperial states, like Germany and France, starting with England. The first consulate to open in Trabzon belonged to the French. [iv] They were followed by the British in 1830.
However varied the foundation purpose of the consulates might seem, at their basis priority was given to the observation of their countries’ commercial, financial and political interests. From the reports of the English consul we learn that it was with this purpose that together with England in 1830, other countries like Denmark, France and Sweden established consulates in Trabzon in the first quarter of the 19th century. [v]
The development that inaugurated the period of consulate establishment in the Ottoman Empire was the beginning of Levant Company’s liquidation at the time of English Foreign Minister Georg Canning (1822-1827) and the issue of a “law that linked the British consulates directly to Her Majesty’s government”. [vi] The English consul in Trabzon was not free from the aims we listed above. As a matter of fact, the first English consul (vice-consul) James Brant himself had come to Trabzon for trade and started the consulate. [vii] However, as Uygur Kocabaşoğlu has many times expressed, besides the recognized commercial and political activities of the consuls, it is possible to say that “they turned into a mechanism that supported the American missionaries, sometimes protected the rights of the non-Muslim citizens, sometimes intervened directly to Ottoman affairs and sometimes even controlling the conclusion and operation of certain treaties and agreements”. [viii] It is possible to prove these points by reading the reports of Trabzon consuls Alfred Biliotti and H.Z. Longworth.
Information that best describes the duties of a consul is found in the “memorandum” that N. W. Werry sent to Canning. In this memorandum, while it is noted that “the most important part of a consul’s duties is to ensure peace and order among dissatisfied elements” it is stressed that “it is necessary in order to achieve this, to be serious, vigilant and to have good and close relations with the pashas, the judges and the heads of the janissaries”. As for this, the “control over the folk in the Ottoman towns” will be achieved by “the personal and intellectual influence, the energy, personality and knowledge of their own leaders”. [ix]
Therefore, as it is understood by the passage above, it is necessary to address the relations that the consuls created with the local people [x] of Trabzon, the notables and high-level officials including the vali. In this context, the first thing that comes to mind is that the aspect of the relationships that will have priority is, naturally, the one that ensures their own financial and political interests. The consuls had an opinion about almost every event and topic that took place in Trabzon and they were even involved in some cases. In one way or another, they took part in almost everything, from the roads to be constructed, to the quarantined and the banditry. Of course, all this interested them greatly. For example, a delay in the construction of a road could cause financial loss to the consulate and to themselves particularly, as we saw above. [xi] Or, quarantine could prevent their boats from approaching the port and transferring goods. Naturally, if banditry spread in the mining region or in an area where they had commercial links, examples of which exist, again it could lead to financial and commercial damage for them. [xii]
Of course, the consuls in Trabzon also witnessed local political clashes and in some of them they even made mediation, listened to the different sides and established friendships with them. English consul Alfred Biliotti witnessed in quite a concrete manner the power struggle between Sırrı Paşa and Georgian leader Çürüksulu Ali Paşa and wrote about it in his reports. [xiii] Maybe the best example of these friendships is the one created between Kadri Bey, who was vali of Trabzon for ten years, and H. Z. Longworth, who served as English consul in the same place for almost thirty years (27 years exactly). [xiv] When the vali passed away, the consul wrote in his report to London that he experienced a deep shock. [xv] Of course, we should add that sometimes some consuls also went into quarrels with the valis. [xvi] As for the relations among the consuls that were in the region, it is understood that an exchange of information took place amongst them. From some examples we see that they informed each other about developments and events that took place in the region.
[i] Uygur Kocabaşoğlu, Majestelerinin Konsolosları, İngiliz Belgeleriyle Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’ndaki İngiliz Konsoloslukları, İstanbul: İletişim Yay. 2004, p. 13-14.
[ii] Hentch points out that in this century (early 18th c) the interest for the peoples in Asia grew in Europe and that Europe’s view on an ‘imaginary’ East changed. See Thirry Hentch, Hayali Doğu, İstanbul : Metis Yay. 1996, s.93.
[iii] See, Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, p. 29, 53, 56-57.
[iv] “Mr. Brant was not the first foreign representative to establish himself in Trebizond. The French, who had always shown an interest in Turkey and the Levant, had appointed a “Comissioner” there in 1798 and by 1830...” See, FO 195/2474.
[v] FO 195/2474, 1942.
[vi] Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, s. 30.
[vii] “Mr. James Brant as first British Vice Consul with the object, as Brant himself wrote, of “making of Trebizond a depot for the Persian trade”. See, FO 195/2474.
[viii] Kocabaşoğlu,ibid, s. 30.
[ix] Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, s. 31-32.
[x] The consuls got in touch with Armenian citizens on topics such as the Armenian issue in particular, listened to their problems and reported them to London. They did not only report to London but also reached the point of informing the local authorities and warning them about finding solutions.
[xi] See, FO 195/1488, 13 September 1884, p. 163.
[xii] An operator of an alum mine belonging to an English operator in the sub-district of Şebinkarahisar in Giresun fell victim to bandits’ attack and harassment. The bandits’ attack on the mine led to the mine being moved to the port and to the muleteers’ that carried the minerals quitting their jobs. In the end, the consul tried to take an active role for the capture of the bandits in the area and pressed the vali and the central government on this issue. As a result banditry in this region remained highly ineffective. See“Hamdi Özdiş, “Myths, realities and the practice of local politics: Eşkıya Micanoğlu Hüseyin” Kebikeç, 34, 2012; FO 195/1584. Documents on this subject in The National Archives cover the period between 1886-1888.
[xiii] Sırrı Paşa who had quarrelled with Çürüksulu Ali Paşa, could not refuse his invitation and went to Çürüksulu Ali Paşa’s house in Vona-Perşembe and Biliotti met Sırrı Paşa there. Biliotti in his report notes that Sırrı Paşa received a covered death threat by Çürüksulu Ali Paşa. See, FO 195/1457, 12 September 1883 and 10 May 1883.
[xiv] The start of Longworth’s mission was 27 April 1885. FO 524/25, 4 July 1906.
[xv] See, FO 369/513. Longworth’s date of death was 28 January 1912.
[xvi] At an earlier date English consul in Trabzon F. J. Stevens had a misunderstanding with the vali of the time, the vali complained about him and the case reverberated in the Sublime Porte. A.}MKT. 18/97, 19 December 1844.
The National Archives, Foreign Office (FO)
FO 524/25; FO 195/2474; FO 195/1584; FO 195/1488.
Kocabaşoğlu, Uygur ; Majestelerinin Konsolosları, İngiliz Belgeleriyle Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’ndaki İngiliz Konsoloslukları [Her Majesty’s Consuls, English Documents for the English Consulates in the Ottoman Empire], İstanbul: İletişim Yay. 2004
Gökbilgin, M. Tayyib; “Konsolos [Consul]”, İslam Ansiklopedisi, C. VI, MEB, İstanbul 1985, pp. 836-840.
Hentch,Thirry ; Hayali Doğu [Imaginary East], transl. İstanbul : Metis Yay. 1996.
-----------------; “Power Struggle in the Province of Trabzon under Abdulhamid II: Notables, Politics and State (1876- 1909)”, PhD Dissertation, Ankara, 2008. Hacettepe Ünv.