Youth in Pre-Modern Turkey


Youth is the time of life between ones childhood and maturity (adulthood). The Ottoman Empire was founded at the present day Turkey; it also referred to as the Turkish Empire or the state of Turkey. According to Goffman, the Ottoman Empire had two main dimensions; these were the military and civil administrations. The Sultan was the overall leader and occupied the highest office. The civil administration consisted of the local administrative bodies based on the empires characteristics. In the early Turkish Republic, the Turkish leaders and social reformers/activists were divided into the children’s value and status. The children and youths were considered the key assets of a broader Turkish society and state. The sign of a strong state was seen in the healthy population of their children and their strength in undertaking societal activities in their early life depending on their sex and socialization pattern. The children had their own holiday, which had been institutionalized by President Mustafa Kemal, when he signed the Geneva Convention on children’s freedom and rights. 

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries marked an era in the Turkish history and society when the transition were being undertaken from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic in the mid 1800s and 1920s. The capital city Istanbul experienced more systematic decline in female fertility and then entire reorganization of families and general family life. Gradually the western system of nuclear family slowly replaced the traditional family system where there was extended family types and from patriarchal to egalitarian family systems. The comparisons in the study of childhood in the pre-modern days usually emphasizes the belief and impact of cultures and their variables that is the deeply held beliefs that governed the members of a particular society, community and or a home set up. In early civilizations most agricultural communities used child labor to supplement adult work in agricultural activities in the farms. In the patriarchal families boys and girls were taught different community tasks and assigned different tasks to perform. Boys were taught to be subservient to their fathers and their elder brothers, while girls were taught to be keen listeners to their mothers and their elder sisters, all these served as a prelude in their later marriage life. In most cases, the Polynesian traditions encouraged adoptions and shared parenting. This was a way of helping children who came from disadvantaged families and who could not meet their livelihood demands. Islam in pre-modern Turkey prohibited formal adoption, but encouraged charitable care for those children who did not have families.

In many cultures like the Greek and the Chinese cultures, there was widespread infanticide of a particular sex, that is a girl child but Islam forbade infanticide. Those in religious and governmental authority issuing did this and offered unusual number of legal and religious protections including the right to inheritance by both male and female children. The Confucius implied that family relationships were a microcosm of wider political arrangements and in all of them sought order and hierarchy. Families emphasized to rear their children and teach them obedience as well as emotional control. The children in the upper classes were taught elaborate rules of courtesy. The first-born son gained special privileges in the family and in communal representation, while the girls were taught to uphold humility and subordination as this encouraged them to be submissive to their future husbands and play subordinate roles in the society. Girls were taught to do domestic tasks. The Turkish culture also emphasized on stories that had a lot of drama and full of adventures, this would finally lead them into the world of literature that conceived to be one of the entertainment forms among the Turkish people and to their superiors during cultural celebrations. In their moral code, they urged duties to be appropriated particularly according to their class systems rather than a single set of obligations.

Different stories and drama illustrated different ways of behaving from expected warriors or likely from the merchants. This encouraged a subjective approach to reality and life full of imaginations, both in childhood and later adult life. In Turkey, education was given a great emphasis as a key to success in the examinations that opened commercial doors and access to government bureaucracy, which is one of the most prestigious employments in Turkey. Christianity and Islam played a key role in socializing children to the societal norms and values; they also had a significant impact on the experience of childhood. Like Islamic, Christianity also discouraged girl-child infanticide, and Christianity provided the first spur for formal schools in many regions in medieval Turkey, though they were not widely acceptable. Islam was the major beneficiary and acceptable religion that spread most of its teachings in many regions of the pre-modern Turkey with strong emphasis on the desirability of reading and writing/memorizing the holy text, the Qur’an. For several centuries this had a wider educational impact to the children and more so in large cities like Ankara.

Traditional identities and homogenizing forces in the pre-modern Turkey had a great impact to children as well. Some communities used children as active agents in the reservation of their distinct life-style, and this tremendously forced some people to draw children into violence. Some people often divided their children between accepting the western culture and life style while others made a consumer oriented childhood on the part where they had a commitment to religious schooling and this in some cases inflamed hatred and violence between differing groups. As Islam spread through Turkey, particular religious traditions merged with Islam customs, for instance, the traditional cultures of inheritance shifted to men as patrilineal models were strengthened, thus shifting the control of property to males than females. A girl child was then socialized about the importance of marriage as for their economic security and protection.

In pre-modern Turkey, marriage activities were performed very early in a girl’s life, ranging from a young age of about seven years to ten years. This tradition was widespread due to the influence of Islam. These activities included the identification and choosing of a marriage partner to their son or daughter by the parents and paying of pride wealth. Pride wealth was paid during early ages of a child in order to book for their son or daughter a marriage partner. Some girls were even married before puberty and this in other ways affected their formal kind of education that had just been introduced in their cultures. Even though marriage contacts and performance were performed early in a child’s life, sexual activities before marriage for both boys and girls were prohibited, and breaking this rule could make one liable to excommunication from the community and even his or her home by the parents. Virginity was highly valued as it gave back to commendable pride price and an appreciation to the girl’s parents for taking good care of her.

Baby boys had a better status than girls and this made every Turkish woman who gave birth to a baby boy to rejoice, because bearing a baby boy also added her some value in the society and the eyes of her husband. Boys spend much of their time close to their fathers and other males around while girls spend much of their time with their mothers and other female members of the community, learning domestic skills. During prepubescence, the relationships between boys (brothers) and girls (sisters) are free and easily intermingle. However, later in their life, their statuses change as older children in their youthful stage, take over their parents’ duties and some rights different from those of the younger children (siblings).

The older sister known as “abla” in Turkish language becomes like the second mother at home, she exercises her mother’s role of bringing warmth and affection to other family members. The older brother known as “agabey” in the Turkish language assumes the role of his father which entails some authoritarian status, but this is just done as a minor father. In the pre-modern Turkey, where there was an extended family, a good deal of childcare was provided. Grandparents, especially grandmothers also provided childcare and inculcated societal values through socialization. The youths in Turkey were socially stratified according to their sex. This led to different socialization in societal and communal affairs as girls were socialized in domestic chores, while boys had more privileges of inheritance and attachment of superiority values on them. All the Turkish youth entailed socialization in different aspects and this made it to be a stage of learning and socialization rather than working. The idea to be envisaged is the conduct and socialization process of other youths in other Islamic nations and regions.


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About the author: Amanda Hall is  a freelance writer at Essay Service. Her hobbies are reading and traveling. Amanda tries to spend her free time with the benefit. 

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