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Kurtuluş: The Working Class Heart of Istanbul


Kurtuluş, formerly known as Tatavla (ταταύλα) is a neighborhood in the Şişli district of Istanbul, bordered by Beyoğlu in the South. The neighborhood was a bustling example of nineteenth and twentieth-century industrialization and urban life while simultaneously boasting a rural and agricultural landscape, as it remained on the outskirts of Istanbul into the twentieth century.

(Source: Kultur Envanteri 2023)

The dual nature of the neighborhood is also reflected in its urban planning, with the neighborhood divided between the older quarter with its organic sprawl of streets and gardens surrounding Hagios Dimitrios Church, and the newer portion northeast of the old quarter developed in the nineteenth century reflecting a European-style grid like urban planning. The demographics of Tatavla were mostly poor and working-class Greeks with most of its population working in the local shipyard or handicrafts until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when wealthier Greeks working in banking, commerce, and education began to move into the neighborhood.

Portrait of Sultan Suleiman by Titian 1530 (Source: Wikipedia)

The neighborhood has its origins in the sixteenth century under the rule of Sultan Suleiman which saw the Ottoman Empire spread significantly into the Mediterranean leading to an influx of Greek sailors and pirates taken as prisoners of war to work in the shipyards. Many of these shipyard workers elected to stay in the city after release, growing into the neighborhood of Tatavla. Another large portion of the original neighborhood was composed of Greek dockyard workers who moved from their original neighborhood of Kasımpaşa due to their church's conversion into a mosque.

A neighborhood square (Source: Twitter)

Beyond its ethnic homogeneity, it also benefited from a fair amount of legal autonomy as there was no state police force presence in Tatavla. This stemmed in part from it being under the protection of the Kaptan-ı Derya (Chief Admiral) until 1821 when it was revoked due to the worsening Ottoman-Greek relationships before and during the Greek War of Independence (1821-32).


Everyday life in Tatavla (Source: Salt Research)
A list of streets that were renamed in Turkish (Source: Twitter)

The renaming from Tatavla, which comes from the Greek word for stables, to Kurtuluş - Turkish for liberation, - occurred after a fire swept through the neighborhood in 1929 destroying 207 houses, as a way to mark the rebuilding of the neighborhood. The neighborhood was prone to fires due to the majority of buildings being built from wood with major fires occurring in 1905, 1907, 1909, and 1912. Kurtuluş remained a mostly Greek neighborhood with a population reaching 20,000 until the 1955 Pogroms which forced most of its Greek residents to leave Turkey.


The different views of the neighborhood (Source: Salt Research)

Tatavla was a working-class neighborhood with a reputation for its liveliness, nightlife, and crime. It was famous for its Baklahorani carnival celebrated on Clean Monday, the Monday before Lent, by the Greek Orthodox community until 1943 when it was banned. The festival truly cemented itself into the culture of the neighborhood in the second half of the nineteenth century with street celebrations and parades growing to massive proportions. With this visibility came an increasingly negative association with the festival. In the twentieth century, due to worsening conditions for Greeks in Istanbul, the festival disappeared altogether from the public sphere, although private, at-home celebrations continued.


The Baklahorani Festival (Source: Archive of Irmak, Sula Bozis, İstanbul Lezzeti)

Mugshot and finger prints of Hiristo Anastadiyadis

Some notable residents include Hiristo Anastadiyadis, a gang leader and murderer accused of killing 21 people, Basil Zaharoff, a representative of the arms manufacturer Vickers’ referred to as the Mystery Man of Europe and Merchant of Death, and notable

Basil Zaharoff

athletes associated with Herakles Sports Club of Tatavla: Georgios and Nikolaos Alimbrandis (gold medalists in the 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games in Athens), Diyonis Sakolakis (the captain of its 1936 national basketball team), Dimitri Zafiroğlu (first Turkish shot-put champion), and Naris Halepoğlu, (Turkey’s leading Olympian in 1940s and 1950s).


Athletes from the Herakles Sports Club of Tatavla (Source: Spatial Organisation of Rum Communities in Istanbul: Urban, Architectural and Photographic Documentation)

Including the Herakles Sports Club some major landmarks are The Rum School of Tatavla (1896-2003) and the Tan Cinema. The main churches of the neighborhood are the Hagios Dimitrios Church, the first church of the neighborhood located on its tallest hill, and the Hagios Athanasios, constructed in 1885 which was one of the first domed churches built in the empire after the Tanzimat Reforms. Tatavla also boasts many more firsts: Orfeon Records, the first record company in Turkey, opened its factory in the neighborhood in 1919, Sabuncakis Etiler Flower Company established their first flower gardens in Tatavla, and Vakko, a clothing brand, founded in 1934 opened its first fabric printing factory in Kurtuluş.

 

References:


Dash, Mike. 2012. “The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World.”

Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-mysterious-mr-

zedzed-the-wickedest-man-in-the-world-97435790/.

Erin, Irem. 2014. Effects of Identity Construction Policies On Urban Space: Tatavla/Kurtulus

Case. Istanbul, Turkey: Istanbul Technical University.

“From Tatavla to Kurtulus” 2015. Cosmos Philly. https://cosmosphilly.com/from-tatavla-to-

kurtulus/.

Irmak, Hüseyin. 2017. Tatavladan Kurtulusa. N.p.: Aras Yayincilik. Kazaz, Gözde, Vicken

Cheterian, and Aylin Vartanyan. 2017. “Another world, Tatavla.” Agos.

https://www.agos.com.tr/en/article/19406/another-world-tatavla.

“Kurtuluş.” n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed July 3, 2023.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurtulu%C5%9F.

Pheiffer, Evan. 2020. “A Journey through Kurtuluş, a Mirror of Turkey Old and New.” Reset

Dialogues. https://www.resetdoc.org/story/a-journey-through-kurtulus/.


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