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Gravediggers of the Modern State: Highway Robbers on the Trabzon-Bayezid Road, 1850s-1910s

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This article will explore the phenomenon of highway-robbery in the context of the Trabzon-Bayezid road during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Ottoman Empire initiated a broad-scale road reform in the 19th century. One of the major goals of this reform was to make provinces accessible to the imperial center and increase the state’s authority by unifying the imperial geography. This article will argue that the existence of better roads not only increased the Ottoman state’s ability to control its territories, but also that of the highway-robbers to challenge the state’s authority. In response, the central government experimented with a variety of ways in order to fight against highway-robbery: introducing an insurance policy for postal services, increasing the sedentary population in the region, building more khans and police stations along the road, extending the right to carry guns to the general populace, and employing watchmen and gendarmeries along the road. Ironically, these policies in particular, and a better road network in general, did not lead to increased levels of security in the region but to its further militarization.

Affiliations: 1: Akdeniz


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