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“What Do You Suppose This Rain Is Worth?”: German colonialism, political ecology, and the founding of modern Turkey

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Over the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire lost its most agriculturally fertile territory to political upheaval in southeastern Europe (the Balkans), a devastating blow to state revenues and food production. To compensate for the lost tithe income of Balkan districts, Ottoman administrators turned their attention to Anatolia. Through tax policy, immigration policy, and other channels of state power, Ottoman governors familiar with Balkan environments imported to central Anatolia en masse varieties of flora and fauna native to Balkan landscapes; they implemented agricultural techniques practiced in the Balkans; adopted labor-saving machinery; organized Balkan-style forms of agricultural credit; and developed large-scale irrigation plans to imitate patterns of precipitation typical to southeastern Europe. Administrators aimed to transform fallow Anatolian steppe lands into facsimiles of lost Balkan landscapes. In other words, late Ottoman development was a specific and altogether novel form of environmental policy. Ottoman attempts to remake Anatolia in the image of southeastern Europe depended on economic entanglements with European business networks. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman government had found a chief partner in efforts at large-scale environmental reengineering. In 1903, led by managing director Arthur Gwinner, Deutsche Bank began negotiations to radically alter the geography of water on the Konya plain in central Anatolia. Guaranteeing profit from Anatolia's fertile soils meant Deutsche Bank would lay claim to the agricultural tithes from lands crossed by the bank's planned network of railways. However, maintaining these reengineered rural environments meant relying on continual injections of foreign credit and foreign expertise. As Deutsche Bank navigated this new kind of extra-territorial state-capital alliance, it unwittingly set a precedent that multinational financial firms would later use to profit from development policies of ostensibly sovereign postcolonial states.

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