The Cultural Heritage of the White Russian Emigration in Istanbul




Russia abroad, “White” Russians in Turkey, culture of Russian emigration, cross-cultural interactions


The civil war in Russia caused one and a half million people to leave their homeland. The most massive exodus from Russia was across the Black Sea. Istanbul (at that time Constantinople) became almost the only possible port of destination for dozens of overloaded ships. From 1919 to 1921, the city sheltered about 200,000 civil and military refugees. Consequently, it became a very special, iconic place of memory in the history of the first wave of Russian emigration. Some White Russians immigrated to other countries immediately, others left as soon as they got their visas, and the rest – years later. In this respect, Istanbul forever acquired the status of the first vital point of the “dispersal” of Russian white emigrants to all corners of the world. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of the social and cultural life of the Russian civilians who took refuge in Istanbul from 1919 to 1930. Emphasis is placed on their self-organization and diligence in the arrangement of their new life according to their cultural traditions. Attention is paid to the changes they brought to the city’s life, such as the opening of many offices, trade, and entertainment establishments. The transformation of Istanbul into a motley center of Russian culture is discussed. A series of artistic events, such as Russian ballet, operetta, and concerts, were often attended by residents of Istanbul, who admired the musical and artistic talent of the Russians. The reader is informed about the activities of film actors, artists, and writers, who, by the whims of fate, found themselves here. The life and work of creative individuals who chose Turkey as their second homeland is emphasized. Revealing the contribution of Russian refugees to the cultural enrichment of Istanbul, it is concluded that as a result of their stay in the 1920s, Istanbul became irreversibly connected with the West. Publications of that period, state and private archives (such as press archives and archives of the Russian associations operating in Istanbul), and the memoirs of dozens of White Russians served as the main sources of the research.

Author Biography

Türkan Olcay

PhD, Professor, Istanbul University.

Beyazıt Sq., 34452, Istanbul, Turkey.

ORCID 0000-0001-6124-5747


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How to Cite

Olcay, T. (2022). The Cultural Heritage of the White Russian Emigration in Istanbul. Quaestio Rossica, 10(4), 1318–1333.



Problema voluminis