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