The Inner Workings of the Anatolian and Baghdad Ottoman Railway Company
Doktor Arhangelos Gavril
Translated by: Baha Coşkun, Fadime Ersin, Hamit ErdemBuy
Written in 1911 by Dr Arhangelos Gavril, an Ottoman Greek medical practitioner from Nevşehir, this insider’s account of the inner workings of the Anatolian Ottoman Railway- and Baghdad Railway Companies contains very vivid descriptions of the operation and working conditions within the Ottoman Railway administration, its unfair management practices, corruption and lawlessness. More specifically it reads as an eloquent indictment of the close-nit relationship and alliance of interests between various elites of Abdülhamit II’s administration and the company’s directors, with detrimental effects for the people and the country. Doctor Gavril, presents to the reader the corruption and lawlessness of the company through his own experience as a long-standing employee and his selections of official documents compiled with the meticulousness of a researcher. At the same time, Gavril raises serious accusations against the foreign-capital-orientated management of the Anatolian Railways Company, starting from its General Manager Huguenin. He contrasts their attitude with his own political position on the inspection and maintenance of the Ottoman railways which was in turn informed by notions of Ottoman patriotism and constitutionalism. In fact, a spirit of passionate patriotism emanates from every page of Gavril’s text, with its manifest emphasis on the interests of the Ottoman people, and especially his affinity and appreciation for the rail workers themselves, whom he describes as the real owners of the line. The efforts of railway workers to organize against the arbitrariness and tyranny of the company administration and Gavril’s first-hand testimonies as one of the chief organizers of the strike, constitute an invaluable resource for Late Ottoman labor and economic historiography.
This was the first, country-wide infrastructural project in Turkish history. Its execution relied on contracts, specifically designed to guarantee maximum mileage (and cost). Further support came from strategic, artificial fluctuations in tariffs for the benefit of the company, nepotism, unwarranted appointments, huge public resources transferred to the capital by the government, the intertwining of politics and commerce, and of course, brutal exploitation of labor. What a disheartening thought, that Gavril’s eye-witness account, written more than a century ago, remains relevant today and its observations all too familiar to the modern reader.
With a Foreword by Stefo Benlisoy…