One of the most profound Ottoman legacies to contemporary Turkey is the central role of private philanthropy as a vehicle for shaping culture and society. Two principal legacies of Ottoman philanthropy exist in Turkey today. The first is cultural, apparent in the thriving practice of elite philanthropy; the second is physical, readily discovered in the urban fabric of most Turkish cities, notably Istanbul. This article examines these legacies in order to analyze the nature of state building and society formation in modern Turkey from a new perspective. Both continuities and changes are apparent from imperial to republican times: in the identity of the donors, the sources and locus of wealth, the importance of foundations, the motivations for giving, the choice of projects, the physical impact of donations, and the identity of the beneficiaries. The dynamic contemporary culture of private charitable giving in Turkey results from a unique interaction of inherited Ottoman ideology and practices, themselves the result of combined Muslim, Turco-Mongol, Byzantine, and Arab influences; the observed example of modern Western philanthropy, notably that of the United States; and the specific experiences of the republican Turkish state and society since 1923. The economic elite have replaced the sultans and pashas as premier benefactors, with personal or corporate donations even rivaling government sources of assistance. The motivations for contemporary philanthropy echo the Muslim consciousness of Ottoman donors, while philanthropy functions more to legitimize wealth than to ensure political legitimacy. Nonetheless, philanthropy remains the means to contribute to a wider community, whether it is the community of Turkish citizens; of Muslims or another confessional group; or of a town, a neighborhood, or a profession. As in Ottoman times, the beneficiaries are not limited to the materially poor and needy. Rather, private elite philanthropy contributes to many segments of society and in this reflects the manifold motivations for giving.

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