Opium Smuggling in Interwar Turkey and Beyond

Episode 293

hosted by Nir Shafir
featuring additional material by Samuel Dolbee

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The Opium Wars and the massive trade in opium between South Asia and China over the nineteenth century attest to the prominent role of opium within the history of colonialism and globalization. But it is less well known that in the early twentieth century, the Republic of Turkey became the largest exporter of opium in the world. In this episode we speak with Daniel-Joseph Macarthur-Seal about how and why opium became an export commodity in Turkey and how Turkish citizens smuggled the substance out once it became formally illegal. Along the way we gain a glimpse into the economic history of the young republic, the legal life of its citizens abroad, and how these smuggling operations built new forms of cosmopolitanism from the ground up as the Turkish republic became less and less accommodating for non-Muslims.

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Contributor Bios

Daniel-Joseph Macarthur-Seal is a research fellow at the British Institute At Ankara and an affiliated post-doc at Middle East Technical University working on smuggling in the inter-war eastern Mediterranean. He was awarded his PhD at Cambridge University in 2014 for his thesis on the British/Allied occupations of Thessaloniki, Alexandria, and Istanbul during and immediately after the First World War, which he is now revising for publication.
Nir Shafir is a historian of the Middle East whose research examines the intersections of knowledge production, religious practice, and material culture in the early modern world (1400-1800). He curates Ottoman History Podcast’s series on history of science in addition to being one of the co-founders of hazine.info, a website that explores the archives and libraries of the Islamic world. He is currently an assistant professor of history at UCSD.

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Episode No. 293
Release Date: 14 January 2017
Recording Location: Rethymno, Greece
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: from archive.org - Istanbul'dan Ayva Gelir Nar Gelir - Azize Tozem and Sari Recep; Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for permission to use the composition "Istanbul"
Additional segments: "Turkish Hashish: Good for the Sole" by Sam Dolbee
Images and bibliography courtesy of Daniel-Joseph Macarthur-Seal

"Bodrum katında eroin imalı levazımı bulunan Boğaziçi’nde Sümmerpalas oteli ve yakalanan vesait, yukarıda İstanbul Gümrük Muhafaza Başmüdürü Hüsnü Bey, aşağıda ifadesi alınanlardan ecza deposu sahibi Aleko Efendi [heroin production materials found in the basement in the Summer Palas hotel on the Bosphorus and seized means of transportation, above Istanbul Customs Enforcement Director-in-Chief Mr. Hüsnü, below one of those taken for questioning pharmacy depo owner Mr. Aleko]" from the newspaper Cumhuriyet, 11 April 1933, p. 1.

"Satış: Manipülasyon — topak haline getirme" [Sales: Manipulation — shaping into cakes] from the book Afyon nedir? [Opium, what is it?] (Istanbul: Uyuşturucu Maddeler İnhisarı [intoxicating products monopoly], n.d. but likely 1935), p. 88.

Select Bibliography

Cengiz Erdinç, Overdose Türkiye (Istanbul: İletişim, 2004).

KT Evered, ‘Traditional ecologies of the opium poppy and oral history in rural Turkey’, Geographical review, 101 (2011), pp. 164-182.

Ryan Gingeras, Heroin, Organized Crime, and the Making of Modern Turkey (Oxford, 2014).

Özgür Burçak Gürsoy, “Losing wealth or restricting the poison? Changing opium policies in early Republican Turkey, 1923-1945”, Historia Agraria (61) 2013, pp. 115-143.

Liat Kozma, ‘White drugs in interwar Egypt: decadent pleasures, emaciated fellahin, and the campaign against drugs’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 33 (2013), pp. 89-101.

WTB McAllister, Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century: An International History (London, 2000).

Ibrahim Ihsan Poroy, ‘Expansion of opium production in Turkey and the state monopoly of 1828–1839’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, (1981), pp. 191-211.

Cyrus Schayegh, ‘The many worlds of `Abud Yasin; or, what narcotics trafficking in the interwar Middle East can tell us about territorialization’, American Historical Review, 116 (2011), pp. 273-306.

Jan Schmidt, From Anatolia to Indonesia: Opium Trade and the Dutch Community of Izmir, 1820-1940 (Istanbul, 1998).


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