MESA Banner
Carnival Festivities in the Early Turkish Republic: Social Expansion and Changing Public Discourse
Carnival festivities in late Ottoman and early Republican Istanbul were important opportunities for public revelry and reversal of everyday life. These pre-Lenten festivities, taking place annually at the end of February or beginning of March for three weeks, were often referred interchangeably as Apokries in Greek, Apukurya in Turkish or as Baklahorani, the name for specific fair taking place on the last day of the period exclusively in former Tatavla and today’s Kurtuluş. According to personal and collective narratives, it is believed that carnival festivities were banned by Turkish state in 1941. They have recently came to light especially due to various revival efforts between 2009-2014 and 2020-2021, as part of the increasing interest in and nostalgia for the cosmopolitan past of Istanbul. Drawing on oral history interviews, memoirs, textual and visual material from the early Republican Turkish press, Son Posta, Akşam, Milliyet and Cumhuriyet, this paper explores the period that lead to disappearance of carnival festivities from the public sphere in Istanbul in the period between 1923 and 1945. The first part of my paper focuses on the social and spatial expansion of the festive and carnivalesque atmosphere by exploring the increasing visibility of women and participation of people from remote parts of Istanbul as well as the appropriation of the period by the new regime’s institutions such as Red Crescent, Press Association and People’s Houses to organize costume balls and raise funds. I will also focus on the specific cases from 1929, 1930 and 1931 when carnival and Ramadan festivities overlapped. In the second part of the paper, I will explore the discourse employed in the Turkish press, which associated carnival festivities with Christianity, Greek nationalism and criminal activities despite its popularization and expansion. Finally, I will problematize the assumption about the state ban and suggest that it might rather be a conscious attempt by the Greek-Orthodox people to retract in private spheres with concerns over their lives and security. This paper aims to first construct the history of carnival festivities in a systematic manner and secondly contribute to the understanding of early republican society through the lens of carnivalesque which offer a unique opportunity to ordinary people for unusual manifestations and encounters. It also offers an opportunity to problematize nostalgia and complicate the early Republican period in modern Turkey by underlining Greek-Orthodox experiences.
Geographic Area
Sub Area
19th-21st Centuries