by Tony Marciniec 2001
The most recent refugees to settle in Bodrum are those who came to find some relief from dehumanizing city life. The previous wave of refugees were called “Cretans”. They came to Bodrum, usually via other Aegean islands, after they had to flee from Crete. Their descendants form a large portion of Bodrum’s population today.
Bodrum in the 1950s and 1960s was a quiet fishing village. The population of the whole Bodrum administrative district, basically the Bodrum peninsula, changed from 21,929 to 25,875 between the years 1950 and 1965, an annual increase of only 1.2 % . But these were the years when the seeds of the currently visible explosion were sown by two men, Cevat Sakir Kabaagaçli and Sabahattin Eyüboglu.These two Turkish intellectuals gathered a nucleus of followers who, year after year, made an annual pilgrimage to Bodrum. They revelled in the primitive, rustic simplicity of life and explored the coasts, visiting by boat otherwise inaccessible historical sites that were being slowly destroyed by man and nature. Their example and their tales spread among the intelligentsia (as well as Bohemian hangers-on) and Bodrum became an “in” destination. Eventually, some of the more adventurous among these pilgrims settled here and their free life-styles - whispered about in the cafes of Istanbul - became a magnet for others who wanted to let their hair down and be noticed by the social circles.
When these latter-day refugees from city life arrived, they encountered two distinct neighborhoods,one rural conservative Turkish, and the other “Cretan”. These “Cretans”, Moslems hounded out of Crete and other Aegean islands by Greek nationalism, were members of the above-mentioned previous group of refugees who found a haven in Bodrum. Being relatively more liberal than their rural neighbors, the “Cretans” accepted the city refugees more readily and the area where they lived, East of the Castle, developed more rapidly, eventually emerging in its current guise as the main tourist center. As tourism grew Bodrum started to attract foreign visitors. Some fell in love with the town and the hinterland, others fell in love with a resident, and quite a number decided to call Bodrum their home. Though not without problems of mutual adaptation, these foreign-born newcomers were welcomed in the old Turkish tradition of sincere hospitality.
This brings us to a subject little known or appreciated in the Western world: the tradition of Turkish hospitality - especially to the persecuted - is at least as old as the first Turkish state in Anatolia and is historically well documented. Perhaps the first to avail themselves of refuge in Turkish lands were Jews persecuted in Christian Europe and their first recorded migrations to Ottoman Turkey were in 1376 from Hungary and 1394 when they were expelled by Charles VI from France. Later, after Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople and the Jews there experienced life under Turkish rule, Rabbi Isaac Zarfati wrote to his co-religionists in Europe calling on them to escape Christian persecution by coming to live in the domain of the Sultans. But the largest number of refuges came in 1492, consisting of Jews from Spain who had lived there for centuries under Moslem rule but were given the choice of conversion, death or expulsion by Ferdinand and Isabella upon their conquest of Spain. Most accepted refuge offered by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.
But Turkish hospitality was extended not only to Jews. Russian”Old Believers” oppressed by Czar Peter the Great also found refuge inTurkish lands in the 1700s, as did Polish and Hungarian patriots in the 1800s who fought and lost their in insurrections against Russian or Austrian oppression. Many of these latter political refugees stayed on and repaid Turkish hospitality with significant technical, military, educational and diplomatic contributions. Here it must be noted that Turkey is one of the first countries, if not the first, to legislate a refugee code (Muhacirin Kanunnamesi, 1857) according to which refugees were given grants of land and stipends to establish their new lives
The Russian Revolution of 1917 brought a flood of refugees to Turkey, and even in the 1950s in theGrand Bazaar one could still find russian memorabilia sold by their hapless owners to purchase food, clothing, shelter or passage to further destinations. Turkey was at war and these refugees suffered many privations, but bearing in mind that they came from a country that was an old enemy of Turkey, the hospitality they received was exemplary. Later, even Trotsky was granted refuge on one of the Princes’ Islands before departing for Mexico.
In the 1930s another convulsion shook Europe with the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany and once again Turkey opened its doors to the persecuted. As the Nazi fury was first directed mainly against Jews and political opponents of intellectual stature, Turkey offered refuge to hundreds of victims, including many professors expelled from German universities. They arrived with their families and were given high posts at universities in Istanbul and Ankara where they contributed greatly to the reorganization of Turkish higher education. Many well-known names were among them, but we can mention only a few, without detracting from the memory and contributions of the others.
Georg Rohde was appointed Professor of Philology of Ancient Languages at Ankara Universty and published Turkish translations of Classic works of literature from Latin and Greek, which have remained in print. He was also the teacher of the famous Turkish archaeologist and author, Ekrem Akurgal. Also among these professors was Bruno Taut, the architect, who was responsible for the design of many public buildings in Ankara, and was Professor of Architecture at Istanbul Technical University and the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts. Fritz Neumark, formerly Professor of Economics at Frankfurt University, joined the staff of Istanbul University, while Carl Ebert founded and directed the Ankara State Opera Company.
Another subsequently famous refugee was Ernst Reuter, a former member of the German Parliament. After spending two years in a concentration camp he escaped via Holland to England and came to Ankara in 1935. Here he advised the Turkish Ministries of Economics and Transport and later became Professor of Political Science at Ankara University. After the war he returned to Germany to become the first mayor of Berlin. A few readers may still remember his inspirational radio addresses during the Soviet blockade of the old German capital.
Undoubtedly the most famous of those who were invited to Turkey, however, declined a position at Istanbul University at the last minute when he was offered a professorship at Princeton – he was Albert Einstein.