The modern theatre’s emergence in the Ottoman Empire in general or its emergence in Istanbul in particular is one of the spheres of multidimensional venture of modernization experienced by the empire in the 19th century. The theatre was enjoyed as a multicultural, multinational and multilingual urban practice, which constituted a platform where new words were expressed regarding the society, politics, and arts, and which provided different actors with various opportunities to gather around throughout this prominent process of transformation and change.

In the beginning of the century, amateur theatre practices performed in Istanbul at local houses and at schools at a later period began to be professionalized and publicized as of the early 1850’s. In the early 1870’s, the state realized the importance of theatre as a cultural-political instrument, and the theatrical experience accumulated over the last century became a professional activity in the public sphere with a large audience following it. Furthermore, it was considered to be important by the intellectuals. Having lost strength but survived the strict controls during the reign of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909), the theatrical life blossomed again with the Second Constitutional Period (1908), and theatre became one of the most efficient tools for the complicated areas of communications and politics.

According to the studies of Metin And, a theatre historian, it is possible to mention various social factors that influenced the Ottoman society in general and Istanbulites in particular to embrace theatre during its professionalizing and publicizing process. The first one among these factors is the Ottoman palace. As Metin And states in detail, the dates when the palace showed interest towards the theatre companies from the West go back to the 17th century. The interest arose during the reigns of Selim III (1789) and Mahmud II (1808-1839). One of the turning points occurred when Giuseppe Donizetti (d. 1856) came to Istanbul through an invitation and founded Muzıka-i Hümayun in 1828, and from then on, performing at the palace became ordinary.1 It can be stated that theatre changed into a domestic institution for the palace with the theatre halls built for the Dolmabahçe Palace in 1859 and for the Yıldız Palace at a later time.

The second factor that had a role in the development of the modern theatre was the embassies based in Istanbul. Especially the French and the Italian embassies hosted the performances of many plays starting from the 17th century, which served an important function in helping Ottoman bureaucrats in the capital get acquainted with this Western art. As early as the 17th century, a French ambassador said that they would invite Turkish viziers and the dignitaries to social events organized by the embassy and attempt to show them the art of theatre. During the Tulip Period in the 18th century, Sultan Ahmed III and Sadrazam Damat Ibrahim Pasha organized social events at the palace, while the embassies in Istanbul hosted balls and comedies.2 The number of the events that took place at the embassies increased in the 19th century, leading more foreign embassies such as the English, the Swedish and the Russian embassies to take part in these events.

However, a more important factor regarding theatre than both the palace and the embassies were the minorities living in Istanbul. The Italians, who could be considered to be the oldest minority group living in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire, are known to have engaged in theatre performances within the city since the 15th century. The Italians made a contribution by both performing various plays on the stage and building theatres. An interesting example of this long history is that of the Italian traveler Cornelio Magni (d. 1692) who performed stage plays at the French embassy in the 17th century and a theatre hall was built due to his efforts.3

1- Sultan Ahmed III and state officials while watching the games (1720) (Vehbi)

Another significant subject in the process of the creation of a theatre culture is the foreign theatre troupes, which stopped off in the city and performed plays as well as many other shows. The number of these companies increased remarkably in the 19th century. Metin And states that even if taking inventory of the visiting groups and presenting their whole story in detail seems to be impossible because of the limited press activities, there is a sufficient number of proofs revealing the increase in the number.4 Especially during the times when Europe had intensive domestic disturbances, many groups from Italy, France and Germany visited the city; moreover, famous artists who were well-known all over the Europe would sometimes come to Istanbul.

Due to the expanded press activities, there is more information about the companies that visited the city after 1840. It is known that Italian groups performed their plays on the stage of the Naum Theatre; therefore the theatre was also called the Italian Theatre. The French Theatre (Le Palais de Cristal), which was in serious competition with the Naum Theatre, mostly had French stage plays.5

Another important aspect of this period was that the opera gained recognition as one of the performing arts in the city after the 1840’s. Metin And claims in his important study called Italian Theatre in Turkey (Türkiye’de İtalyan Sahnesi) that the Bellini’s (d. 1835) play Norma was the first opera to have been performed in the city (18 November 1841).6 Right after this play, Gaetano Donizetti’s (d. 1848) play Belisario was presented on stage in 1843, and opera became a prominent social event, while male performers entered the palace for the first time thanks to this production. Following this date, many other opera plays had the chance to be presented to the audience; however, the fire which started at the Naum Theatre in 1870 struck a blow against these performances, leading to a decrease in the number of opera plays. The point to be underlined here is that some of the opera librettos had summaries published in Turkish as well.7

It can be pointed out that the Levantine and the travelling theatre companies created a theatrical energy, which affected the local people. The effect was valid for the non-Muslim Ottomans who, due to various reasons, had the opportunity that enabled them to establish intimate relations with the minorities and travelling companies in the city. Armenians established relationship especially with the French and the Italians, which led them to develop their own theatre. It is known that some Italian plays were performed at Armenian schools or at houses of some important persons in the early nineteenth century. More importantly, some Armenian intellectuals and artists established direct contacts with Italians. Sırabyon Hekimyan (d. 1892) can be presented as an example of this cultural interaction. In 1868 Hekimyan, one of the founders of the Ottoman Armenian theatre was offered the highest position of a theatre association started by the Italians residing in Istanbul.8 Furthermore, it is observed that the Italian theatre instructors had a direct influence on the Ottoman theatre. For instance, Nestor Noci made a great contribution to the training of Bedros Mağakyan, an important theatrical figure. Another influential Italian instructor of the Ottoman theatre was Asti.9 Asti directed many plays that were presented on stage by the Armenian theatre companies after 1860.

2- A show played by non-Muslims in Tarabya

Considering the above-mentioned relationship, the non-Muslim minorities living in the Ottoman Empire were one of the big factors that contributed to the improvement of the modern theatre in the empire. Regarding the advancement, Armenians were the most important minority group whose theatre performances, which are mentioned below-, turned them into the most powerful factor of the rise of the Ottoman theatre. Furthermore, it is known that other non-Muslim factors established close relationships with the theatre and made an effort to express themselves using this new modern art tool. Ottoman Greeks were the most important factor and, according to Metin And, they had several theatre halls that belonged to their cultural and religious organizations in Istanbul. The Greeks who performed at the halls and published plays also published a theatre magazine called Neologos in 1860.10

The underlying reason for the frequent theatre performances of the Armenians was their intense relationship with Europe. This relationship was closely related to the mercantile and educational practices carried out by Armenians in many countries over the world.11 As a result of these practices, the use of the printing press started much earlier, which led to the translation and circulation of Western classics into the Armenian world.12 The most significant factor of the relationship between the Ottoman Armenians and the West was the Mıkhitarist Monastery which was founded by Mıkhitar, a Catholic priest from Sivas, in the surroundings of the San Lazzaro Island in Venice in 1717. The Catholic Monastery, which both hosted a publishing house that appealed to the whole Armenian geography and trained students coming from the Ottoman lands, became a center for Armenians where the first serious theatre performances were carried out. Starting from the 1730’s, theatre scripts were written and translated and performed on stage by the priests in the monastery.13 The youth who were trained at the San Lazzaro Monastery and related schools became the first individuals to take a step towards the modern theatre in Istanbul in particular and in the Ottoman Empire in general.

3- Letafet Hanım Building which was the first building of Darülbedayi (A former name of the City Theater of Istanbul)

The most important ones among these youth were Mıgırdiç Beşiktaşlıyan (d. 1868) and Sırabyan Hekimyan who came back to Istanbul in the middle of the nineteenth century. Small theatre groups, which were created by Beşiktaşlıyan in Ortaköy, by Hekimyan in Beyoğlu, and by Karekin Çağrastçıyan and Mardiros Munakyan (d. 1920) led the way as pioneers.14 These experiences were a fundamental result of the fact that the knowledge on the Mıkhitarist tradition were put in the circulation at district schools; however they changed after facing the needs of daily life. Beşikliyan, the founder of the Modern Armenian theatre, firstly presented plays written in classic Armenian language or translated plays into Armenian. But the demand from the people for them was not high, for which reason he showed a historical play named Gornag, which he wrote in 1856. Written in spoken Armenian, the play was a connection point for the theatre to meet the public.15 At this point, the theatre was about to obtain the opportunity to embrace a wider population in Istanbul. The first significant outcome of this improvement was the foundation of the Arevelyan Tadron (Eastern Theatre), probably the first professional theatre of the Ottoman Empire, by Sırabyon Hekimyan in 1859.

The Eastern Theatre started its performances at a rented building called Café Oriental with the support of the Altınduryan Brothers. The group presented the stage plays in Armenian, Turkish, and Italian. The stage plays mostly included historical plays written by Mıkhitarist writers, while the translated plays covering the big part of the repertory consisted of melodramas and comedies.16 In fact, the theatre performances in Istanbul during the 1860’s were not as busy as the ones in the late 1850’s. Early activities could not be continued on a regular basis and thereby the Eastern Theatre was closed down in the following years. After this venture, Bedros Mağakyan established a small theatre crew to mainly show the plays of the Eastern Theatre, yet he was not successful. Although he attempted to revive the Eastern Theatre in 1865, he failed once more, and the theatre was closed down for good in 1867.

After the Eastern Theatre was shut down, many different groups emerged. Among the groups, the one called the Asian Theatre founded by Hagop Vartovyan (Güllü Agop, d. 1902?) became the most important. Bedros Atamyan (d. 1891), the most prominent Armenian actor of the century, made his first appearance on stage at the theatre, and Hagop Vartovyan, probably the most prominent figure of the modern Ottoman theatre, was represented as the director of the group. The name of the theatre group was renamed as the Ottoman Theatre in 1869, two years after its foundation. The group, which established it in 1867, performed their first play at the Naum Theatre in their first year and continued their performances at the Gedikpaşa Theatre, which was a circus hall that had been turned into a theatre.

This date, essentially, is accepted to be a milestone in terms of the creation of both the modern Ottoman theatre and the Turkish theatre. One year later, in 1870, the government provided Güllü Agop with a ten-year monopoly to perform Turkish plays in Kadıköy and Üsküdar. This gained privilege coincided with the period when the theatre became a more ordinary entertainment for the people. Within this positive situation, Istanbul was able to host the entire theatrical experiences, which had been gained in a decade. In the valuable book Türkiye Ermenileri Sahnesi ve Çalışanları [Armenian Theatre in Turkey and Its Performers], Şarasan describes the period as such, “It was such a period that all works of the Armenian theatre in Turkey gathered in the crew of Vartovyan (1874).”17 However, the fundamental significance of this period was the fact that once the Turkish stage plays started to be performed, the theatre performance mainly enriched within the Armenian society opened its doors to all of the nations in Istanbul and the theatre became a melting pot for Istanbulites. During this period, Muslim intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire saw playwriting as an important sector of artistic production, and there was a boom in both copyright and performance, especially regarding Turkish playwriting.

It is known that Turkish stage plays were performed in Istanbul before 1870 as well. For example, it is documented that some plays of Molière were translated and presented to Muslim music students in the palace upon the request of Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861) in 1847.18 In the following years, Armenian companies showed various Turkish plays. In 1858, for instance, the translation by Sırabyon Hekimyan, Riyakâr ve Müseyyib, was staged at the Naum Theatre. Morevover, it is well-known that Turkish musical plays were performed on stage at the Naum Theatre.19 Emre Aracı notes that, according to the news of the magazine Gazetta musicale de Paris, Turkish plays were performed at the Naum Theatre during eight days in the same year, and they drew great interest.20 Soon after that, in 1859 the members of the Ortaköy Theatre who continued their practices with the financial help of the Balyan Family performed the following plays in Turkish under the leadership of Hekimyan for Sultan Abdülmecid: Don Gregorio, Titizmeşrep Keremkâr, Mahcubiyetin Mükâfatı and Don César de Bazan.21 Metin And also states that Hekimyan himself wrote Turkish plays but they have unfortunately failed to reach us today.22

4- The cover page of the journal <em>Temaşa</em> which was a theatrical journal published during the Ottoman period

Regarding the 1870’s, it can be said that establishing a theatral institution was needed so as to appeal to different communities of the Turkish theatre and the Ottoman Empire simultaneously and that a more professionalized theatre was required. Interestingly, Sadrazam Âlî Pasha attempted to create an Ottoman Theatre consisting of Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Bulgarians; however, he could not obtain any results.23 It would not be impertinent to note that the need in question was met by the company of Vartovyan. Fırat Güllü remarks, “In accordance with the multicultural structure of the empire, the Ottoman Theatre (Tiyatro-i Osmanî) Company performed a high number of plays in Armenian, as well as a few plays in Bulgarian and Romanian along with its Turkish plays, contributing to the theatre performances carried out in these languages”.24 Having a repertory which mostly consisted of Armenian and Turkish plays, the theatre of Vartovyan was the first professional theatre to address all of the population in the empire and in Istanbul by including Muslim actors in his crew and plays written by Muslim playwrights in the following years.

With the Vartovyan Company, the issues occurring at the same time regarding the comprehension of theatre’s political power and the transformation of the modern public sphere into a central activity brought about the attempts of controls and regulations. One of the most remarkable attempts was the establishment of the Ottoman Theatre Literature Committee (Osmanlı Tiyatrosu Edebiyat Heyeti) in 1873. In the committee, there were prominent intellectuals of the period such as Namık Kemal (d. 1888), Şemseddin Sami (d. 1904) and Âli Bey (d. 1899). Fırat Güllü defines the objectives of the established committee as follows:

i) Solving the Armenian actors’ pronunciation problem, which was seen as the most problematic issue of the Turkish theatre at the time, ii) Enriching the theatre literature with the help of translated works from European languages; iii) Correcting translations and adaptations made in a superficial manner; iv) Improving the national theatre literature by writing as many plays as possible.25

5- The theatre hall in Yıldız Palace

The chamber could not be maintained for a long time when the play Vatan Yahud Silistre (Fatherland or Silistria) by Namık Kemal was staged in 1873, the following year of the establishment, and it was actually shut down after Namık Kemal and other members were exiled.

Despite the disappointment felt due to the shut down, Muslim intellectuals insisted to be the active participators as playwrights at the Vartovyan theatre. The theatre contained its bilingual repertory while it continued to be a stormy battlefield for the newly developed Ottoman intellectual class and the government. It also faced serious changes during this period. As mentioned above, there was a repertory staged in both Armenian and Turkish and, as Fırat Güllü indicates, the same plays were performed by almost the same actors in both languages. On the other hand, the repertories paved the way for each other; if a translated play was staged in either of the two languages, it facilitated the play to be performed in the other language. In parallel with the idea of “national theatre” initiated by Muslim playwrights, the repertory of the company experienced a transformation, leading the number of Turkish plays to increase more compared to the number of Armenian plays. Particularly the number of original plays rapidly increased, while the increase was not reflected on the Armenian plays.26

The activeness of the Ottoman Theatre started to decrease towards the late 1870’s, which was directly related to the government of Abdülhamid II. Despite of the decrease, the theatre group became the subject of a unique experience throughout the decade. In terms of the number of the stage plays, the ten-year theatrical experience witnessed surprising figures. Over 200 plays were staged in Turkish only. It was recorded that over 170 stage plays were presented in only one season27 When compared to the numbers of equivalent European plays, this number was exceptionally high. In this process, ordinary people became theatre audiences and theatre was registered as a public activity.

Beginning from the 1880’s, the theatre was confined to a more strictly monitored and less fruitful eraa. In 1880, the monopoly of the Ottoman Theatre ended. Furthermore, Hagop Vartovyan had to leave the group and enter the service of the palace in 1882, which led to the theatre players in the group to have a more segmented and dispersed theatrical experience. This was due to the disturbance caused by both the public and political powers of the theatre that prevented the art’s social magnetism to be successful as a venture of understanding, speaking and recognition. One of the first examples of this kind of disturbance was that the municipality banned showing of stage plays in different languages other than Turkish in 1881. In 1884, the destruction of the Gedikpaşa Theatre was a big knockout for the company. Even though many small groups staged plays at different places in Istanbul, several crews and actors were intent to try their chances abroad. Groups such as the operetta group created by Şahinyan in 1892 were not able to survive for a long time.28 Surprisingly, even though the group “Tiyatro-i Osmanî” led by Mınakyan (d.1920) had a weak presence, it was still able to continue its performances.

It was when the Second Constitutional Period was declared in 1908 that the staleness of the theatre life ended. It is possible to put forward the argument that a “theatrical endemic” started after the declaration. The first phase of the endemic included the period prior to the March 31 Movement. Primarily, the Tanzimat writers and their political envisagement were rediscovered and put on stage. The plays Besa Yahud Ahde Vefa by Şemseddin Sami and Vatan Yahud Silistre by Namık Kemal were enthusiastically staged and appreciated widely by the audience.29

Following the March 31 Movement, the enthusiasm continued. It can be said that the most important feature of the theatre at this period was its political characteristic whereas the plays of prominent Tanzimat writers who could not find the chance to present them during the reign of Abdülhamid II, were given attention. Several of such scripts were written. Metin And notes, “Theatre became a sphere where the resentment against the previous government and the excess of joy towards the new social period were showed.”30 One of the reasons for the excess was that staging theatre became a normal event within the period “with the occasions of” social and political incidents.31

6- The members of the Society of National Ottoman Theatre Amateurs

As for the period between 1908 and the Republic period, it can be argued that the most remarkable improvement regarding the theatrical life in Istanbul was the establishment of the Darülbedayi. Presented to the cultural life as a modern conservatory by the Mayor of Istanbul (Şehremini) Cemil (Topuzlu) Pasha (d. 1958) in 1914, the institution had both music and theatre departments. André Antoine (d. 1943), a key theatrical figure, was invited to Istanbul so as to establish the conservatory, and prominent theatrical figures of the period taught at the Darülbedayi under his leadership. However, when the World War I started, Antoine had to go back to his home country and the Darülbedayi could not fulfill most of the desired goals within this period. Beginning from 1916, the institution acted as a theatre group rather than an educational establishment; moreover, since it was influenced by the disorder of the period to a degree, it became a place with frequent problems where several theatrical figures got involved, and the institution hardly survived till the end of the period. In the Republic period, the Darülbedayi that was transformed into the Municipal Theatre had a more significant role within the theatrical life.

7- A theatre group in Istanbul

Dramatic Literature

One of the key dynamics of the modern theatre venture in Istanbul was that theatre rapidly became popular as a form of modern literature. Particularly between 1870 and 1880, there was an intense creation of dramatic literature, as the created theatre scripts outnumbered novels, which were seen as the most important genre during the period. In the preface of his play Celâleddin Harzemşâh, Namık Kemal states, “It is apparent that [the theatre] has come a long way leaving basic stories behind. Among our current publications it is possible to find twenty five to thirty plays which are better than our original or translated stories.”32 All of the outstanding writers of the Tanzimat such as Namık Kemal, Şemseddin Sami, Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem (d. 1914), and Abdülhak Hâmid (d. 1937) wrote theatre scripts.33 The same conditions were valid for the period following 1908 whereby leading writers of the Second Constitutional Period, who were influenced by these pioneer figures, gave much importance to the theatre and to dramatic literature. The prominent writers Hüseyin Cahit (Yalçın) (d. 1957), Mehmet Rauf (d. 1931) and Cenab Şahabeddin (d. 1934) from the Wealth of Sciences (Servet-i Fünûn) wrote theatre scripts and were closely involved in theatre performances. The same interest was shown by some writers from the Fecr-i Âtî community such as Şehabeddin Süleyman (d. 1921), Yakup Kadri (Karaosmanoğlu) (d. 1974) and Tahsin Nahid (d. 1909). During the period between 1908 and the proclamation of the Republic, writers who became outstanding poets and novelists of the Republic had their share of success due to this period. Midhat Cemal (Kuntay) (d. 1956), Yusuf Ziya (Ortaç) (d. 1965) ve Reşat Nuri (Güntekin) (d. 1956) were among these writers. Musahipzade Celal (d. 1959) and İbnürrefik Ahmed Nuri (d. 1935), the most significant two theatre playwrights from the early period of the Republic, became successful due to their original works and adaptations.

Theatre Venues

In Istanbul, theatre performances would take place at different buildings in various districts. As indicated in the previous passages, the most important building among those was the Naum Theatre that was built in 1840 in the Beyoğlu district and destroyed in a fire in 1870. Another significant theatre in Beyoğlu was the French Theatre (Palais de Cristal).34 Apart from these two, Beyoğlu had many theatre buildings and house theatres which gained and lost importance from time to time, and the most outstanding ones were the Café Oriental (1864-?) which was a neighbor of the Naum Theatre and where the Eastern Theatre performed its first plays, the Rumelian Theatre (1861-1862) and Café des Fleurs (1861-?) which also neighbored the Naum Theatre, the Concordia Theatre (1871-1906) which was situated at the today’s St. Antoine Church, and the Tepebaşı Theatre (1881-?) which was given different names in time. The Galata district was the second most important theatre center after Beyoğlu. In Galata, it was mostly the entertainment venues that were used as theatre venues rather than professional theatre buildings.

Gedikpaşa Theatre was another theatre hall, which was as significant as the Naum Theatre. Transformed from the Souillier Circus founded in 1860 into a theatre building, it hosted the most eventful years of the modern Ottoman Theatre. After Ahmet Midhat Efendi’s (d. 1912) play Çengi ve Çerkez Özdenleri performed at the Gedikpaşa Theatre, there was a complaint made to the palace in 1884, and this important building was torn down in one night. There were several large and small theatres in the surroundings of Gedikpaşa, and Istanbul city center.

Furthermore, even if there is no concrete information on hand, the Aziziye Theatre in Üsküdar seems to be one of the most significant theatres. There were many other theatre venues in Kadıköy and Üsküdar along with this theatre where plays began to be staged after 1872: the theatre in Üsküdar Bulgurlu Karyesi Libade Street, Zamboğlu Theatre in Kadıköy Söğütlüçeşme Street, Üsküdar Bağlarbaşı Çiftlik Gazinosu Theatre, the theatre in Üsküdar Boyacı Street, New Theatre in Üsküdar Horhor region, New Theatre in Üsküdar Çarşıboyu Demirciler, Kuşdili Papaz Bahçesi, Beyleroğlu Garden Theatre in Üsküdar Posta street, the theatre in Kadıköy Yoğurtçuçeşmesi, Kadıköy Winter Theatre, Üsküdar Bağlarbaşı Eşref Bey Circus, and Üsküdar Tophanelioğlu Town Theatre.35

A big number of these theatres whose buildings were insufficient could not survive after 1908. Built in 1889, the Tepebaşı Theatre was the most prominent building among those, which were maintained during and after the Constitutional Period. Another important theatre was the Summer Theatre built in 1874.36 It is known that many other theatres offered service at invervals in the districts of Vezneciler, Bağlarbaşı, Kadıköy, Cihangir, Beşiktaş, Şehzadebaşı, and Galata and so forth.; however none of these was as important as the Naum or Gedikpaşa Theatres. In relation to the theatre venues of the period, a key improvement was made when the theatre owned by Abdülhamid II in the Yıldız Palace opened its doors to the public in the early Constitutional Period. The group of Burhanettin Bey (Tepsi) (d. 1947) (Burhanettin Theatre) is known to have showed various stage plays here.37

The number of the theatres remarkably increased after 1980, and especially small stages where small theatres performed plays became widespread. Nevertheless, what is surprising is that the number of theatres in Istanbul during the Republican Period was not more than the number of theatres in the period of the Ottoman Empire.38

8- Madam Sarah, an actress in Istanbul

9- The famous actor Burhaneddin Bey, who established a theatre in Tepebaşı in his own name, while acting in a game

10- Safveti Ziya Bey, the author of the play <em>Yıldız Böcekleri</em>

Theatre Actors

Theatre actors on the stages of Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire mostly consisted of Armenians. This can be explained by the fact that a big number of Armenians had the opportunity to perform the art of theatre as amateurs and that it was impossible for women, especially Muslims, to appear on stage throughout this period. Some of the Armenian actors became fully professionals and especially worked with the Tiyatro-i Osmanî of Vartovyan, living on this profession only. The biggest critique of these actors was their mispronunciation of the Turkish language. Daily newspapers often complained about their pronunciation. Although the above-mentioned committee was created to solve the problem, it failed to obtain any positive result.39 Istanbul met the popular culture in modern sense during this period. There were many stars among the actors such as Siranuş (d. 1932), Mari Nıvart (d. 1885), Aznif Hıratçya (d. 1920), and Bedros Atamyan (d. 1891) and they had several followers admiring them. For example, the tragic death of Mari Nıvart, a popular melodrama star, on stage created a sensation, and many articles and stories were written; more importantly, thousands of people joined his funeral.40 During the Second Constitution Period, after 1870 the actors and stage workers who trained under the leadership of Vartovyan and Mınakyan became active. A distinct feature of this period was that both the number of Muslim actors and non-Muslim actors with Muslim names increased.41 For example, Muhsin Ertuğrul who can be seen as the founder of the Turkish theatre was trained in this period.

11- A scene from Namık Kemal’s play <em>Vatan</em> being demonstrated in Tepebaşı Theatre

Throughout the period, many theatre groups had been active. The group of Mınakyan who was the biggest theatrical figure in the previous century and the group of Ahmet Fehim (d. 1930) who was one of the first Muslim actors of the previous century were considerably active. The group that became outstanding within the period was that of Burhanettin Bey. On the other hand, as mentioned above, the crucial development in the period was the establishment of the conservatory of Darülbedayi-i Osmanî in 1914. The institution had a key role both in formalizing the theatre performances that had been performed by self-educated performers until that year, and in transforming the theatre experience that had been gained for over five decades in the empire to the Republic. With the help of the Tiyatro-i Osmanî, the theatre in Istanbul took its second big step towards professionalization.

During this process, an important improvement was experienced when Muslim female actors who acted on stage appeared. Prior to the proclamation of the Republic, the process had started when Afife Jale (d. 1941) appeared on stage. In the early Republic period, Muslim women took their place on stage with the participation of female actors such as Halide (Pişkin) (d. 1959) and Hülya (Gözalan, d. 1973), fulfilling a goal, which was aimed at yet failed during the Constitutional Period. However, it should not be assumed that this process had been an easy one; it should be noted that actions taken to encourage women to perform on stage failed to produce the expected level of interest.42

Consequently, it can be stated that the modern theatre in Istanbul started its journey within the media which drew upon the Ottoman Empire’s pluralist social structure, and found itself alive in a story, which ultimately led to a destructive and monopolist atmosphere of the World War I. The city had become a home to the most unique and intense venture in terms of both its theatrical performances and dramatic literature. This history, most of which has been collected in books written primarily by Metin And and other prominent historians of theatre, still offers vast opportunities for those who wish to study the social and cultural history of Istanbul. Furthermore, it offers a great opportunity for those who desire to study the pluralism prevailed in the Ottoman Empire and the crisis over the loss of, it later on.


1 Metin And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu: 1839-1908, Ankara: Türkiye İş Bankası, 1972, pp. 20-23.

2 Dilek Özhan Koçak, “19. Yüzyılda İstanbul’un Dönüşümü ve Uygarlaşmanın İletişim Ortamı Olarak Osmanlı Tiyatrosu”, Phd thesis, Marmara Üniversitesi, 2008, p. 49.

3 Metin And, Türkiye’de İtalyan Sahnesi, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1970, p. 128.

4 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 54.

5 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 56.

6 And, Türkiye’de İtalyan Sahnesi, p. 129.

7 And, Türkiye’de İtalyan Sahnesi, pp. 129-139; Emre Aracı, Naum Tiyatrosu- 19.Yüzyıl İstanbul’unun İtalyan Operası, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2010, pp. 61-62.

8 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 44.

9 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, pp. 137-138.

10 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, pp. 49-50; Johann Strauss, “Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire (19th-20th Centuries)?”, Middle Eastern Literatures, 2003, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 22.

11 Boğos Levon Zekiyan, L’Armenia e Gli Armeni: Polis lacerata e patria spirituale: la sfida di una sopravivenza, Milano: Guerini e associati, 2000, p. 91.

12 Vahe Oshagan, “Modern Armenian Literature and Intellectual History from 1700 to 1915”, The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1997, pp. 143-144.

13 See Yervant Baret Manok, Doğu ile Batı Arasında San Lazzaro Manastırı, tr. Mehmet Fatih Uslu, Istanbul: BGST Yayınları, 2013.

14 Hasmik A. Stepenyan, Hayatar Turkeren Grakanutyunı, Erivan: Erevani Hamalsarani Hratarakchh Hrata, 2001, p. 182.

15 Vaçe Safaryan, Mıgırdiç Beşiktaşlıyan, Erivan: Haykakan Sah Ga Hradarakıçutyun,1972, pp. 79-90.

16 Şarasan, Türkiye Ermenileri Sahnesi ve Çalışanları, tr. Boğos Çalgıcıoğlu, Istanbul BGST Yayınları 2008, pp. 17-19.

17 Şarasan, Türkiye Ermenileri Sahnesi, p. 22.

18 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Osmanlı Tiyatrosu, p. 28.

19 Stepanyan, Hayatar Turkeren Grakanutyunı, p. 183.

20 Aracı, Naum Tiyatrosu, p. 265.

21 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 29.

22 Metin And, Osmanlı Tiyatrosu: Kuruluşu-Gelişimi-Katkısı, Ankara: Dost Kitabevi, 1999, p. 41.

23 And, Osmanlı Tiyatrosu, p. 54.

24 Fırat Güllü, Vartovyan Kumpanyası ve Yeni Osmanlılar: Osmanlıya Has Çokkültürlü Bir Politik Tiyatro Girişimi, Istanbul: BGST Yayınları, 2008, p. 43.

25 Güllü, Vartovyan Kumpanyası, p. 96.

26 Güllü, Vartovyan Kumpanyası, pp. 52-53.

27 Stepanyan, Hayatar Turkeren Grakanutyunı, pp. 185-186.

28 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, pp. 193-194.

29 For further assessment, see Bilge Seçkin, “Staging the Revolution: The Theatre of the Revolution in the Ottoman Empire: 1908-1909”, MA thesis, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, 2007.

30 Metin And, Meşrutiyet Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu: 1909-1923, Ankara: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1971, p. 15.

31 And, Meşrutiyet Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 22.

32 Namık Kemal, “Mukaddime-i Celal”, Celaleddin Harzemşah, prepared by Oğuz Öcal, Ankara: Akçağ Yayınları, 2005, p. 13. II. For a study on the content classification of the plays from the Constitutional Period, see Alemdar Yalçın, II. Meşrutiyette Tiyatro Edebiyatı Tarihi, Ankara: Akçağ Yayınları, 2002.

33 For the financial statement of dramatic literature works written during the Tanzimat, see Gıyasettin Aytaş, Tanzimatta Tiyatro Edebiyatı Tarihi, Ankara: Akçağ Yayınları, 2002.

34 Aytaş, Tanzimatta Tiyatro, p. 199. In addition, for a new and valuable study on the Naum Theatre see Aracı, Naum Tiyatrosu.

35 And, Tanzimat ve İstibdat Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 220.

36 And, Meşrutiyet Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 68.

37 And, Meşrutiyet Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 69.

38 For further information on the theatre buildings in Istanbul, see the following valuable source published in 2011: Yavuz Pekman et al., Geçmişten Günümüze İstanbul Tiyatroları, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2011.

39 Pekman et al., Geçmişten Günümüze İstanbul Tiyatroları, pp. 114-119.

40 And, Osmanlı Tiyatrosu, pp. 131-133.

41 And, Meşrutiyet Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu, p. 31.

42 Metin And, Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türk Tiyatrosu, Ankara: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1983, pp. 108-111.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.