When the Ottoman State was seeking ways to advance commercial activities and to remedy the problems in industrialization in parallel with global economic developments during the second half of the nineteenth century, it concluded that gathering the representatives of this sector under umbrella organizations so that there could be an exchange ideas, the prevailing trend in Europe, with them would be beneficial. The Bāb-ı ālī (Sublime Porte) began to look westward in search of new and modern examples that could be adapted to the Ottoman system, in the belief that classical organizational structures of the Ottoman guilds made it difficult for them to adjust to changing world conditions, modes of production, economic approaches and working methods. After some time, European chambers of trade and industry, in which merchants and industrialists came together within the same economic organizations, started to attract the attention of Ottoman statesmen; it was decided that Ottoman equivalents of these organizations should be established in order to encourage merchants and industrialists to gather in such chambers under state supervision.1
In support of the idea of establishing a chamber that would boost commercial and industrial growth like its European precedents, the Council of Ministers made a unanimous decision on Jan. 18, 1880 and forwarded it to the palace the next day for approval. Upon the endorsement of this decision by the sultan on the following day, “the Dersaadet (Istanbul) Chamber of Commerce” was established on paper.2 However, at that time, there was neither a building to house this chamber, nor an internal regulation specifying its working conditions or duties. It took nearly two years for the Dersaadet Chamber of Commerce to be fully established and begin operations in earnest. The work that began in April 1880 was completed on January 14, 1882; an official ceremony took place on the same day, marking the appearance of the Ottoman State’s first Turkish chamber of commerce.3 The Chamber of Commerce was to be the source of information for the government regarding Ottoman trade and merchants, while also ensuring communication and cooperation between the government and merchants. The chamber, on the other hand, was to carry out research and prepare projects for the development of Ottoman trade and industry, and to this end, it was to present to the government all of its ideas and suggestions through the Ministry of Trade. The administration of the chamber was to be comprised of first and second class tradesmen registered with the chamber, and it had the mandate to call meetings on a weekly basis under normal circumstances, and on a more frequent basis under extraordinary circumstances.4
The Chamber of Commerce had the typical qualities of Ottoman initiatives and experiences in modernization. The strong centralist tendencies that gained momentum in the nineteenth century during the Tanzīmāt era are immediately noticeable in the bylaws of the chamber; the general feeling was that the government wanted to assume a position from which it could supervise and control the chamber. Nonetheless, although the Chamber of Commerce was established during an autocratic regime, it incorporated some significant liberal motifs within its structure. Some of the liberal-democratic motifs that immediately stood out are, for example, the facts that the decisions within the chamber were taken according to a majority vote, that an election was sought in internal devolution of authority, that a half of the board members were appointed through an election, and that chamber membership was not compulsory.5
Apart from being a source of information for the government for issues that fell in its field, the chamber also functioned as an advisory board. This aspect of the chamber placed it among the few institutions of the period that were able to influence the shaping and application of economic policies in the Ottoman State. Even though making a direct contribution to demilitarization or democratization, or to the laying down of the groundwork for such developments was not among the goals or ideals in establishing the chamber, the chamber had an important effect in introducing the liberal economic thoughts of the age to Ottoman merchants and industrialists, as well as to a certain segment of the Ottoman society. Another fact was that these liberal influences were not confined to the economic or commercial fields; in the long term they also had an impact on the fields of politics and thought.6
Under the guidance and supervision of the state, the main duty of the Chamber of Commerce was to research and find out aspects that were beneficial to trade and industry, to determine methods conducive to economic growth and obstacles that would hinder this growth, as well as reporting to the government the necessary measures that needed to be taken to this end. It is significant, in this context, that the chamber considered setting aside a fund to reward those who came up with innovative ideas that would be of benefit to society and the country. When opportunities that allowed this thought to be put into practice arose, there would be important results in the development of trade and industry in the country; moreover, an incentive for scientific research in this direction was thus created.
The Chamber of Commerce was not a commercial body operating on an ethnic or religious basis. The moral and mystical rhetoric that we see in the directives of classical trade guilds did not exist in the bylaws of the chamber. With its ‘multi-colored’ and ‘international-’ composition, the chamber mirrored the understanding that formed the structure of the Ottoman nation. There were no prerequisites involved to become a member, such as being an adherent of a particular religion or sect or coming from a certain ethnic background. Muslim or non-Muslim, native or foreigner, any tradesman or industrialist could become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, provided that they lived in Istanbul and met the requirements.7 In its early years the chamber had around 250 members, but by 1913, it had become a major commercial body, with 1,316 registered members, consisting mainly of grain and firewood merchants, as well as iron, coal and leather merchants.8
Despite the colorful nature of the administrative teams, the chamber, acting on the classical Ottoman approach from the pre-Republican era, did its best to uphold the interests of the state and the country and ensured that moves were made in favor of Ottoman merchants against foreign capital. The general profile of the chamber’s managerial board was a typical reflection of the state’s ideology regarding ‘Ottoman citizenship’, which it had tried to make prevalent in the Ottoman society and institutions since the Tanzīmāt in 1839. This profile was indeed a result of the period’s political, economic, social and ideological circumstances, while carrying traces of long-established traditions that made it possible for Muslim and non-Muslim merchants and artisans to work together within the same guild in the pre-modern era.
Since it was not possible for small merchants and industrialists to be members of the chamber’s administration due to the bylaws, wealthy businessmen and industrialists vastly outnumbered the others on the administrative board. At that time, a large majority of the first and second class merchants and industrialists were non-Muslims. The fact that small merchants and industrialists were mostly Turks and Muslims naturally meant that this group was not represented in the chamber’s administration for many years, except for a few members, thus keeping their influence to a minimum. For instance, in 1887, there were only two Muslim members on the administrative board, the other 22 members were non-Muslim from the Ottoman Empire and foreign nationals. The representational ratios in the administration began to change over time, and in 1908, there were more Muslim merchants on the administrative board. In 1913, 21 members of the board were Ottoman citizens, with the rest being foreigners. The bylaws made participation of foreign nationals on the board, thus not constituting a problem in those days. However, in parallel with the developments after the declaration of the Second Meşrutiyet (Constitutional period) , the general picture in the administration of the Chamber of Commerce was to gradually change after 1915,9 and after the declaration of the Republic, the board would consist only of Turkish and Muslim businessmen and industrialists.10
The Chamber of Commerce not only tackled the issues troubling Istanbul’s capital circles, businessmen and industrialists, but also dealt with general economic problems of the country. And it did not limit itself to bringing the problems onto the agenda, but set guidelines for what needed to be done. In time, the proposals made by the Chamber of Commerce for the development of the Ottoman economy began to be effective in the shaping of the state’s economic policies.11 The Chamber of Commerce was at the same able to make its voice heard by the masses, as it was the owner of the first commercial newspaper ever published by the Ottomans: the paper, Dersaadet Ticaret Odası Gazetesi, was first launched on January 5, 1885 with subsidies from the government; this publication provided information and ran news on many issues that were of interest to the public from commerce to industry, and agriculture to economics and public works, as well as publishing articles on market conditions, investment opportunities, the government’s projects to develop trade, agriculture, and industry, as well as on measures to be taken to eradicate of economic difficulties.
The Chamber of Commerce took great care to operate in cooperation with the palace and consecutive governments,12 and duly stayed clear of political issues, devoting, instead, all its energy to economic and financial matters, in keeping with its organizational goals. This was particularly true before the declaration of the Second Meşrutiyet (1908). The chamber carried out important research projects and studies for the development of trade and industry and for the removal of obstacles in the way of this development; it presented the findings of these projects and studies to the Bāb-ı ālī as recommendations. Among the remarkable indicators of the level of importance and trust, and the reputation that the Chamber of Commerce had achieved in the eyes of government agencies was that the Ministry of Trade frequently invited representatives from the chamber to review commissions set up concerning economic issues and the government consulted the chamber about commercial and industrial matters. Even combating unemployment was one of the areas in which the chamber took interest.13
The Chamber of Commerce additionally took the lead in encouraging Ottoman merchants and manufacturers to participate in international fairs. For example, all the preparations for the Ottoman State’s participation in the Chicago Fair in 1893 were organized and made by the chamber, and the exhibition committee was also presided over by the chairman of the chamber.14
The chamber continued all its operations as the Dersaadet Ticaret Odası (Dersaadet Chamber of Commerce) until 1889, but as a result of a legal regulation made on February 28, 1889, it took the name the Dersaadet Ticaret ve Ziraat ve Sanayi Odası (Dersaadet Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and Industry). From that date on, it operated in the additional fields in question as well.15 In 1910, however, the name underwent another change, becoming the Dersaadet Ticaret ve Sanayi Odası (Dersaadet Chamber of Commerce and Industry).16 Up until the years preceding the First World War, the chamber maintained its liberal attitude, but this attitude shifted toward a statist and nationalistic understanding in line with the nationalistic financial approaches that prevailed in the aftermath of 1914.17
After the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire from the historical stage, with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, now having fulfilled its mission from the imperial era, took on a new economic understanding and installed a new administrative model. Through these innovations, the chamber continued its efforts to develop Turkish trade and industry. In 1928, of all the businessmen registered with the chamber, 8,481 were Turkish citizens, whereas 1,606 were foreign nationals. Greek merchants ranked first among the foreign nationals, followed by Iranians and Italians. The administrators of the chamber consisted of Muslim Turks; this was in keeping with the characteristics of the era. As a result of a number of regulations introduced in 1925, and particularly in 1943, the chamber ended up becoming an official state agency and lost its autonomy. Now businessmen had to be registered with the chamber. Although the new Law on Chambers, passed in 1950 in parallel with the liberal and democratic developments in the world after the Second World War, gave a relative autonomy to the chamber, registration continued to be obligatory. Meanwhile, the Istanbul Chamber of Industry separated from the main body of the Chamber of Commerce on May 30, 1952 and became an independent organization. The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce has preserved its identity as a chamber of commerce until today.
Since 1923, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce has always cooperated with the government in Ankara to strengthen the national economy, to better promote Turkish export products on the foreign markets, to relieve economic hardship, to boost market confidence and stability, to highlight the importance of saving, to encourage the use of domestic goods, to develop the city, to consolidate foreign trade relations, to battle profiteering and speculation and, in particular, to increase railroad investments. The chamber has also prepared reports on the country’s primary financial and commercial issues, made recommendations, conducted market research, produced solutions and assumed encouraging roles in the development of Turkey’s relations with its neighbors and other countries. It has endeavored to help Turkish businessmen and industrialists play more efficient and active roles in the economic life and heartened them in this direction. It has financially supported young people by granting scholarships for education, in both domestic and foreign institutions, and has provided them with other opportunities so that there would be businessmen with university educations. It has either directly participated in exhibitions at home and abroad to represent Turkey, or directed Turkish businessmen and industrialists to participate in these exhibitions. The chamber has also organized or pioneered the large number of commercial exhibitions which have been held in Republican-era Turkey.
Another important economic service that the chamber carried out in the Republican era was to provide cost of living and wholesale price indices for Istanbul on a monthly basis, starting from the earliest years of the Republic. In addition to these services, the chamber has published statistics, market data, and news and analyses from world economies to inform the commercial and industrial sectors, and delivered these to businessmen and industrialists in its own journal and newspaper. With the help of the Law on Chambers, prepared in 1950, with a consideration of the democratic developments in the world, particularly after the Second World War, the Chamber of Commerce was able to dissociate itself from its former staunchly statist policies when the Democratic Party came into power; it began to position itself closer to liberal approaches, to attach greater importance to global financial and commercial ties, and overall, it began to monitor global affairs more closely. Prime Minister Adnan Menderes’s visit to the chamber in 1960 brought out a potential for intimacy and cooperation between the government and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce to a degree that had never been experienced before. The cooperation between the government and the chamber continued to grow after the visit of the prime minister, and upon a recommendation from the chamber, talks began over the prospect of amending some of the laws and practices from the single-party era which had hindered financial growth, and at the top of the list of amendments was the Milli Korunma Kanunu (National Protection Law). However, the military coup on May 27, 1960 prevented Turkey from experiencing the positive results of close cooperation between the Democratic Party government and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce.18
1 Ufuk Gülsoy and Bayram Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu: Dersaadet Ticaret Odası 1882-1923, Istanbul: İstanbul Ticaret Odası, 2009, p. 40; Zekeriya Kurşun, “Küçük Said Paşa (Siyasi Hayatı, İcraat ve Fikirleri)” (Phd thesis), Marmara University, 1991.
2 BOA, İ.MM, no. 65/3075.
3 “Odamızın 50’nci Senesi (1882-1932)”, İstanbul Ticaret ve Sanayi Odası Mecmuası, 1932, no.1, p. 1; Hakkı Nezihi, 50 Yıllık Oda Hayatı 1882-1932, Istanbul: Sanayi-i Nefise Matbaası, 1932, p. 63.
4 BOA, İ.ŞD, no. 30/ 3122.
5 Gülsoy and Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu, p. 53.
6 Gülsoy and Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu, pp. 53-54.
7 Nezihi, 50 Yıllık Oda Hayatı, p. 50.
8 Nezihi, 50 Yıllık Oda Hayatı, p. 184.
9 For the chairman and members of the executive board between 1882-1923, see: Gülsoy and Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu, pp. 209-215.
10 Nezihi, 50 Yıllık Oda Hayatı, pp. 263-264.
11 Gülsoy and Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu, pp. 60-66.
12 Dersaadet Ticaret Odası Gazetesi, 19 Şaban 1314 / January 1897; August 26 1316/ September 7, 1900; BOA, Y.EE, no. 57/3.
13 Dersaadet Ticaret Odası Gazetesi, 14 September 1307/ September 26, 1891; Nezihi, 50 Yıllık Oda Hayatı, p. 122.
14 Dersaadet Ticaret Odası Gazetesi, 12 Teşrînievvel 1307/ October 31 1891; 19 Teşrînievvel 1307/ October 31, 1891; 13 June 1308/ June 25, 1892.
15 Dersaadet Ticaret Odası Gazetesi, 4 September 1315/ 16 September 16, 1899.
16 BOA, DUİT, no. 21/15 lef 1, 2.
17 Murat Koraltürk, Türkiye’de Ticaret ve Sanayi Odaları (1880-1952), Istanbul: Denizler Kitabevi, 2002, p. 65.
18 Gülsoy and Nazır, Türkiye’de Ticaretin Öncü Kuruluşu, pp. 230-235.