The Turkish Village as a
Closed Corporate Community

Turkish village organization is representative of a social type that anthropologists classify as a peasantry. Peasantries are rural peoples who are integrated into a state level society but retain strong and often exclusive allegiances to local communities and parochial cultures. They contribute to the national economy through the export of agricultural goods to urban centres but benefit little from this participation because of unfavorable rents, taxes, or commodity prices and an absence of political rights and influence. Peasants react to the impositions of the national system by focusing inward on the village community for material and moral support. In extreme situations, the rural settlement assumes the form of a closed corporate community, a defensive organization which resists all external contact and influence (Wolf 1955, 1986).

Stirling depicts a typical peasant attitude to the outside world during the Ottoman period in Turkey as follows:

The vast majority of the inhabitants on whom this hotchpotch of political and social ideas [of the early 20th century Turkish reformers] was to be imposed were illiterate peasants, many living in places inaccessible to wheeled transport, for whom government meant the tax collector and the drafting officer, both foreign and hostile meddlers with village life (Turkish Village, page 5).

Turkey's subsequent political and economic development has succeeded in democratizing and modernizing the country in many respects and has introduced expansion of cash economies, migration to industrializing urban centers, introduction of education and literacy, and mass participation in national elections. Nevertheless, the 1950's reflected the retention of many old social and cultural patterns in the country's rural sector.

Stirling studied two communities which had experienced modernizing forces in varying degrees and different ways. Sakaltutan, the principal research location, was a small settlement of 600 people. The village was relatively isolated, and few of its inhabitants had any education. Elbasi was a an administrative center, twice the size of Sakaltutan, and boasted greater wealth and a small literate bourgeoisie. It was seemingly more outward looking, but Stirling remarks that

Elbasi's greater wealth, education and outside contact seemed to make surprisingly little difference to the way of life of the majority of its population, and the two villages were for the most part remarkably alike (Turkish Village page 24)

The fundamental retention of Turkish village identity, solidarity, and traditionism is based primarily on communal ownership and regulation of the use of land. Both communities depend primarily on grain cultivation and animal raising. Cultivated plots are owned by individual household heads, but pasture land is held in common, subject to village control. Furthermore, the application of the traditional "two field system" requires village coordination of each farmers' rotation of cultivated plots and fallowed land. The village also acts as a corporate group through the collective employment of some agriculture workers, including watchmen to guard the standing crops and shepherds to care for the village herds.

The main features of a closed corporate community order are reflected in village social stratification, political order, residential stability, and collective self characterization.

Social Stratification

Although there were important differences of wealth, status, and rank, long standing or widening differences in social class were not apparent in the villages that Stirling studied. Almost all inhabitants were farmers with adequate access to personally owned land and village commons. A tendency for richer men to have larger families and more numerous heirs mitigated against the transference of wealth inequalities across generations. (See Turkish Village, Chapter 10.)

Residential Stability

Village solidarity was maintained by the stability of population and the development of mutual interests and obligations on the basis of long standing friendships and kinship and affinal connections. Almost all the men of the community were born in the village, and those who migrated to the cities for work retained strong ties with their natal homes, almost always returning to resume their former roles in village life. Women tended to marry endogamously within the village, although a minority (approximately a third) were married off to husbands in other communities, usually a short distance away.

Political Organization

Turkish villages are officially governed under administrative arrangements and legal statutes imposed from the national level. Stirling's two villages were supposedly incorporated into this uniform system and dutifully elected local headmen and councils according to national provisions, sworn to promulgate and uphold Turkish law. These officials served reluctantly and scarcely ever met to perform their duties. Actual political decision making and dispute settlement were handled on an informal basis according to local standards of morality, authority, and justice.
..when something called for corporate action in a matter which the villagers considered important, the senior heads of households and lineage segments assembled either spontaneously, or on the initiative of any leading villager with sufficient prestige. (Turkish Village, page 31.

Village Characterization

Community members maintain a strong sense of their own identity and of superiority over neighbouring settlements.
The virtues of the village are an eternal topic of conversation with outsiders, and of banter between men of different villages. Every village has the best drinking water and the best climate. ..... Every village is more hospitable., more honourable, more virile, more peaceable, gives better weddings than any of its neighbours. Other villages are savage, mean, dishonourable, lying lazy, cowardly. (Turkish Village, page 29.)
Nevertheless there is an implicitly acknowledged status hierarchy among villages that appears in rates of outmarriage and other indices. (See discussion of marriage patterns.)

© Brian Schwimmer, All rights reserved
Department of Anthropology
University of Manitoba
Page created: 1995