Istanbul 1918-1923: discovering the history of an occupied capital

Photo: Speed ​​limit sign, in English, French, Greek and Ottoman Turkish, in 1919. In the background, we can see the köşk Huber (Sarıyer district) / Imperial War Museum (London)

On the occasion of the centenary of the Republic of Turkey, the Istanbul Research Institute is presenting the exhibition « Occupied City: Politics and Daily Life in Istanbul, 1918-1923 », devoted to the particularly tumultuous pre-republican period .

occupied istanbul 1918-1923
Aerial photograph showing the Allied Navy entering the Golden Horn, August 3, 1919 / Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Collection

It is with the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, that the Istanbul Research Institute presents a rich overview of a city occupied, after the First World War, by the British, French and Italian armed forces, in accordance with the armistice of Mudros*.

The exhibition looks at the military, social and cultural aspects of the occupation, which lasted almost five years, from November 1918 to October 1923.

Istanbul Research Institute exhibition "Occupied City: Politics and Daily Life in Istanbul, 1918-1923"
Timeline, exhibition « Occupied City: Politics and Daily Life in Istanbul, 1918-1923 », at the Istanbul Research Institute

Official documents, paintings, illustrations, maps, photographs, music, testimonies… The exhibition offers a wide range of archives (many of them in English and French) which come from various libraries and collections in Turkey, France, Great Britain Brittany, Greece, Armenia and Russia. Most of these archives are presented to the public for the first time.

Occupied City: Politics and Daily Life in Istanbul, 1918-1923"at Istanbul Research Institute
Plan of Constantinople in 1918
The British flag sits atop Galata Tower, 1919 / Imperial War Museum (London)

Years of chaos, workers’ insurgencies, in a context of demographic change

During these years, the inhabitants of Istanbul (Constantinople), victims of economic instability and inflation, struggled to make ends meet. Fires that have ravaged different parts of the city have rendered thousands of residents homeless. The high demand for housing, following an influx of immigrants and asylum seekers, results in a cost of living that exceeds the world average.

It is indeed a period when the demography of the city changes radically. Istanbul’s population includes prisoners, refugees, workers, and emigrants who fled from neighboring regions of the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia.

Istanbul refugees
Russian emigrants next to the Dolmabahçe Palace and Russian women on the porch of a hat shop, 1920-1923

The exhibit shows city residents participating in mass demonstrations to protest against violence and occupation.

Istanbul demonstration
The newspaper L’Illustration covers a demonstration in January 1920

Moreover, with the hope of better wages and working conditions, strikes paralyze trams, ferries and gasworks. Fights between Allied soldiers and civilians in bars and brothels, assassinations, lynchings and kidnappings by armed gangs are commonplace.

Constantinople proclamation
Proclamation (relating to security) in 8 languages ​​to the people of the Vilayet of Constantinople in 1921 / British National Archives

Besides, « Istanbul under occupation » is also a city that suffers from epidemics such as the Spanish flu (which took the world by storm in the 1920s), typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis and cholera, epidemics exacerbated by unprecedented population movements; sexually transmitted diseases are also becoming a concern.

red light district istanbul prostitution
Pictures of the « Red light district » of Istanbul under the occupation (1923-1925)

Birth of artistic movements, enthusiasm for sports and leisure

The exhibit reveals that this was also a time when schools, institutions, and community and charitable organizations were born. Concerts, cultural events are organized with the contribution of various talents. New political, literary and artistic ideas flourished, reflected in a growing press.

istanbul under occupation after war

France in Turkey
Musical program for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Third Republic, November 1920 / Istanbul Research Institute Archives

The arrival of soldiers and refugees, including many influential musicians and patrons, breathed new life into Istanbul’s music industry. Classical music flourished under Allied and Ottoman patronage, and clubs such as the Maxim (located in Taksim Square) introduced new musical genres such as jazz. Both local and immigrant artists make a significant contribution to Istanbul’s art scene through their performances, especially in the field of painting. Many painters are inspired by the ongoing transformation of the city (with the representation of Allied soldiers for example).

occupied city istanbul allied soldiers
Karelin Mitritch, caricature of an Allied police checkpoint, 1923 / Zeynep Çulha Collection

Occupied Istanbul is also marked by sporting events, such as the Olympiad organized at the Taksimen 1922 stadium, which brings together local and international athletes.

A hunting club is created in Maslak, summer sports camps are born in Kilyos and Yeniköy. Sports competitions are stimulated by the presence of Allied troops, the latter wishing to recreate their sports habits. Horse racing, polo, cricket matches are held in Bükükdere (Sarıyer), attracting crowds of spectators. Football matches are regularly held at Taksim Stadium between teams from different military divisions, and/or local clubs. In the summer of 1923, Fenerbahçe won a match against a mixed British team, and won the « Harington Cup ».

istanbul busy sport
Goal by Zeki Rıza Sporel for Fenerbahçe against the British mixed team in the Harington Cup, June 29, 1923 / Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Collection

As Lukas Tsiptsios points out in the article « Istanbul from 1918 to 1923 », during these years of occupation, Istanbul « became for a time a large cosmopolitan metropolis where the occupying forces, refugees from Anatolia, exiled White Russians, idle Turkish soldiers and the many communities characteristic of the Ottoman city rub shoulders, which can once again assert themselves. In this between -two unprecedented, where no one can really predict the future of the City and the Empire, these multitudes of actors with the most diverse and often antagonistic strategies intertwine.

occupied istanbul 1918-1923

istanbul exhibition

The exhibition is visible until December 26, 2023. Free admission, Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Address: Meşrutiyet Cad. No:47, Beyoglu.

> More information on the Istanbul Research Institute website by clicking HERE


Signed on October 30, 1918, the armistice put an end to the participation of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War

Laisser un commentaire