Economic Harbingers of Political Modernization: Peaceful Explosion of Rights in Ottoman Istanbul

69 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2019 Last revised: 22 Dec 2020

See all articles by Asli Cansunar

Asli Cansunar

University of Oxford - Nuffield College; University of Oxford - Department of Politics and International Relations

Timur Kuran

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 13, 2020

Abstract

Although radical institutional reforms that redistribute wealth usually involve violence, peaceful
transformations are not unknown. This paper explores the conditions under which fundamental
rights expand without major resistance. The empirical context is the start of the Ottoman
modernization drive, which is typically attributed to visionary officials and pressures they faced
from foreign powers. Fundamental roles were played, we show, by prior shifts in wealth toward
indigenous Christians and away from conservative groups, including Muslim clerics. These shifts,
all under way in the 1700s, motivated Ottoman political leaders to begin, with the Gülhane Edict
of 1839, to dismantle traditional institutions grounded in Islamic law and imperial customs of
governance. Despite its far-reaching provisions, the edict generated only minor pushback, because
it addressed widespread and chronic grievances, legitimated ongoing trends, and offered Muslim
political elites, who had been losing ground, opportunities to catch up with rapidly prospering local
Christians. The data, which come from Istanbul’s Islamic courts, point to changes in the sectarian
wealth distribution, as measured by the founding of waqfs (Islamic trusts) and ownership of
equities known as gediks. Evolving differences in sectarian economic opportunities and outcomes
allow the tracking of changes in political preferences in a context where records of parliamentary
votes and shareholder instructions are nonexistent.

Keywords: financial innovation, equity markets, legal reform, discrimination, property rights, redistribution, religion, Islam, Ottoman Empire

JEL Classification: N2, G10, P50, O1, K40

Suggested Citation

Cansunar, Asli and Kuran, Timur, Economic Harbingers of Political Modernization: Peaceful Explosion of Rights in Ottoman Istanbul (December 13, 2020). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 288, revised, December 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3434656 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3434656

Asli Cansunar

University of Oxford - Nuffield College ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Department of Politics and International Relations ( email )

Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Timur Kuran (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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