Email Vladimir Alexandrov
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Entries in Allied Occupation (2)

    A Young Turk’s Disdain for Western Popular Culture, or Not Everyone Loved Frederick’s Jazz

    One warm summer evening in 1921, a well-born and sharp-eyed young Turk visited Frederick Thomas’s nightclub in Constantinople and noted his impressions of the place.  These are jolting because they hint at some of the nationalistic forces that were already at work in the country, and that would transform it, and everyone’s lives in it, in just a few years. 



    Mufty-Zade K. Zia Bey had lived in the United States for a decade before he and his American wife returned to Constantinople during the Allied occupation.  Together with a Greek friend, they decided to sample the town’s nightlife and began with a Russian restaurant in Pera, which they followed with a performance by dancers from the Imperial Russian Ballet in Petrograd.  Then, at the Greek’s suggestion, they continued the evening at a “café chantant” that was widely thought to be the “best” in the city. 

    Frederick’s “Anglo-American Villa” was crowded when the three arrived, and Zia Bey, who was very proud of his conservative and traditional Turkish values, was immediately put off by the libertine atmosphere he witnessed:


    Every one seems to be intoxicated and the weird music of a regular jazz band composed of genu­ine American Negroes fires the blood of the rollick­ing crowd to demonstrations unknown even to the Bowery in its most flourishing days before the Volstead Act. Much bejeweled and rouged “noble” waitresses sit, drink and smoke at the tables of their own clients. The proprietor of the place, an American colored man who was established in Russia before the Bolshevik revolu­tion and who—it seems—protected and helped most efficiently some British and American officers and relief workers at the time of the Revolution, is watching the crowd in a rather aloof manner. Frankly he seems to me more human than his clients; at least he is sober and acts with con­sideration and politeness, which is not the case with most of the people who are here.


    Despite his sophistication and familiarity with the United States, Zia Bey disapproved of the drinking, the unbridled exuberance, and the women on gaudy display.  By contrast, his sketch of Frederick is very un-American—and quite Turkish—in its respectful acceptance. 

    Zia Bey also bristles at the way everything about the Villa reflects the Allied presence in Constantinople and the secondary role that has been forced on the city’s Muslim natives:


    Not one real Turk is in sight. Many foreigners, but mostly Greeks, Armenians and Levantines—with dissipated puffed-up faces, greedy of pleasure and materialism. We have a liqueur. The show is a vaudeville which is not very interesting. Every minute that passes makes the crowd more and more demonstrative.  Carayanni [the Greek friend] is enjoying it immensely, but I realize that our presence puts a damper on his good time and although he de­fends himself in the most exquisite manner when I tease him about it and accuse him of being evidently an “habitué” of the place, the glances that he exchanges surreptitiously with one of the waitresses—a real Russian beauty with pale skin, fire-red lips and languid black eyes—confirm my suspicions.  


    After a short while, Zia Bey decides that the Villa’s alien atmosphere has gotten “decidedly too tense” for him and his wife, and starts to think about leaving, when, suddenly, a party of two couples enters a private box near the stage and “immediately pulls the curtain, thus cut­ting itself entirely from the view of the public.”  Zia Bey’s wife looks at him with genuine surprise, as if she has imagined that the four are about to launch into some sort of incredible debauch behind the curtain.  “We really must go,” he quickly concludes, and after leaving the Greek friend to his Russian beauty, they hurry to take one of the automobiles waiting outside in a long line by the curb. 

    Before long, Zia Bey and his wife are safely out of Pera, across the Galata Bridge, and back home in “our Stamboul, the beautiful Turkish city, sleeping in the night the sleep of the just; poor Stamboul, ruined by fires and by wars, sad in her misery, but decent and noble; a dethroned queen dreaming of her past splendour and trusting in her future.” 

    Zia Bey’s attitude represented manifold concealed threats to the world of which Frederick was a part, although few could have foreseen at the time how these would develop.    

    Frederick Discovers an Oasis in Constantinople

    Like the character of Pera, the post-war history of Constantinople seemed specially fashioned for Frederick Thomas’s needs.  The Allied occupation of the city began only days after the Armistice on November, 11, 1918, and Pera was placed under British control.  The French got Galata as well as Stambul, while the Italians were in Scutari, on the Asian side of the Bosporus. 

    Because the Americans had not been at war with Turkey, they did not administer any territory, but their activities and interests were also concentrated largely in Pera; in fact, the American Embassy was only a few dozen steps from the Pera Palace Hotel.  As a result, Frederick discovered that he did not need to know Turkish in order to deal with the city’s civilian or military administrations.


    American Consulate General, Constantinople, c. 1920, a place Frederick Thomas visited often for reasons that were almost entirely unhappy. 

    The handsome building still stands in the old, European part of the city; but decades ago it was disfigured by a tall security wall and is now boarded up.  The new American consulate is on the city's outskirts


    Another direct result of the occupation was that the international character of Pera and Galata became even more pronounced because of the thousands of British, French, Italian, and American officers, soldiers, sailors, diplomats, and businessmen who poured into the city and settled in properties that they rented or expropriated from local residents.  The nature of commerce in the district changed accordingly.   The new military arrivals were mostly single men who brought with them an appetite for wine, women, and song.  Such interests were (officially) inimical to conservative Turkish Muslim culture, but liberal, Europeanized Pera was very happy to satisfy them.  And it is doubtful that there was anyone in the district in the spring of 1919 with more or better experience in this line of work than Frederick. (To be continued)