Reading Istanbul Through Eyes Of A Detail Oriented Historian Reşad Ekrem Koçu And Istanbul Encyclopedia

As a requirement of literary historiography, chronic studies have an important place in corpus research. When this method is turned upside down, a concept called history literacy emerges that this definition, which does not exist, points to the works of Reşad Ekrem Koçu, who is known to be an exclusive historian of Istanbul. Koçu’s history is not the history of wars, conquests, spoils; sword clangors, horseman’s horseshoes neither the anthems of glory are also unheard of in his history writings. He is a strange historian of Istanbul who has gone after the common, ignored, often unknown.

A Fetish History Of Istanbul
Although Koçu has been approached as the writer who brings history closer to literature, the man who tells the details or the historian of the other, the most accurate definition that shows the fount of his understanding of history is that he is the “Istanbul Historian”.

Even though names such as Ahmet Rasim and Ahmet Refik had worked on the history of Istanbul before his coach, these shifts did not go beyond the efforts of a hugely thoughtful approach and cannot even come close to the detail workmanship of the Istanbul Encyclopedia. The encyclopedia was built in a monolithic manner, with the finely detailed decorations of a Seljuk or Ottoman architectural craftsmanship, and a fascinating style union in each fascicle.

The Istanbul Encyclopedia is a work of Koçu’s life, but it is not a hollow approach given the sacrifices made by the author for the encyclopedia. The encyclopedia for which he has devoted a large part of his life to writing, research studies, drawings and paintings, and even the financing necessary for its printing, has been left unfinished in the middle of Article G due to the author’s death.

Although the imagination of Reşad Ekrem dates back to earlier, the Istanbul Encyclopedia adventure, which began in November 1944, continues until 1973. Researchers on the subject pointed out that after 1951, there was a gap of seven to eight years, during which time no new fascicles were printed. Therefore, in the encyclopedia studies, it is classified as the first period between 1944 and 1951 and the second period after 1958.

The Five Hundredth Anniversary Of The Conquest
Reşad Ekrem Koçu pointed out the year 1953 by saying in the introduction part of his work that “I vowed to present the Istanbul Encyclopedia to the five hundredth anniversary of the conquest of the city by the Turks.” However, although this calendar of prosperity was mostly suspended for twenty years due to financial dilemmas, its printing could not be completed from a to z. The delicate beauties of Istanbul we have been deprived of reading after the Master passed away stays as a great conundrum confusing minds.

Koçu’s secretive attitude to the encyclopedia’s classification, such that he tells a number of professionals in lengths of pages, is one of the main reasons for the work to be included in the archives as an incomplete fetish city history. Koçu, who is living at the financial point of the real period, makes a reproach and reproach to the reader in the last word of the thirtieth fascicle of the encyclopedia.

“Your eternal appreciation and the friendship you have shown to me is not enough. You have to be materially visible to me. ‘Does not the municipality give a hand?’, ‘Doesn’t the education directorate help?’, ‘Doesn’t the party help you?’ do not try to advise and guide me. In 365 days, that is, once in a whole year, sir, one time, open your wallets to the Istanbul Encyclopedia and subscribe to it by giving the money like 1560 cents for one night with rakı of grocery shopkeepers at Balıkpazarı.

Building The Registry Of Istanbul       
Reşad Ekrem Koçu, just like the poet said, thinks that “Istanbul is of unique value and priceless” (“Bu şehr-i Stanbul ki bî-misl ü bahâdır”). In order to immortalize his admiration for the city, he had long ago decided write the Istanbul Encyclopedia. He embarks on the work of creating the index of Istanbul in his own words at the beginning of the 1940s. The disenchantment of the world economy during the Second World War has greatly affected the young Republic.

The money that the publisher and the reader will devote to the products of thought and publication is limited.  After a few years of searching, a merchant named Cemal Çaltı, as crazy as Koçu, seeks the financial burden of the encyclopedia. Koçu cannot not publish the encyclopedia, which he plans to complete in thirty-two pages of ink fascicles each month. Nevertheless, the first period studies are very productive. The office where Koçu works on the encyclopedia is located on Nallı Mescit on Ankara Street. The work bureau is full of literary, historian and all kinds of talents who reach out to the financial needs of Cemal Çaltı, the sponsor of the encyclopedia. The office, which quickly turned into an intellectual meeting place, evolved to a place where the items needed to be entered into the Istanbul Encyclopedia are discussed, and ideas and advice are abundantly expressed. Koçu, witnessing the trueness of the saying “The sparkles of truth comes out of the contradiction between the ideas” (“Bârika-i hakikat, müsademe-i efkârdan doğar”) in this period, continues his works with the contributions of the work of a seriously effective brain team.

After five years of effort, the Koçu-Çaltı partnership breaks down before the twentieth fascicule is reached, the pair is separated in a friendly way, and the solitary loneliness of this unique city history of world literature begins. The passion of Reşad Ekrem Koçu and the financial means he can find will determine the speed of publication of the work from that on.

An Uncompleted Dream
The most important aspect on why Reşad Ekrem’s understanding of history and narrative style has received this love and has carried him beyond his age is that he tells the stories not in a stereotypical chain of events but by simple human stories, and his inclination to the city’s boldness. Political history is a field far from Koçu. In this regard, the encyclopedia articles of an ancient city like Istanbul are the subject of most ordinary human profiles, artisans, sellers, women, children, streets, mosques, covered bazaars, lunatics, youth, singers, musicians, dancers, fires, epidemics, earthquakes. Therefore, the reader does not see the Istanbul Encyclopedia as a formal history; he considers it a novel of Istanbul and feels it in himself.

Koçu says on the Istanbul Encyclopedia, which he thinks that every archivist or bibliophile wishes to have in their library, that “First of all, it marks the Turkish stamp on this big town. It is not long until the 500th year of Istanbul’s conquest and this year (1953) and the Istanbul Encyclopedia will be the most positive and meaningful work of it. So much so that the Istanbul Encyclopedia; the treasure of the history of Istanbul, the trappings of the libraries, is a must-buy for every Istanbulite and Istanbul lover. ” (From the Istanbul Encyclopedia brochure distributed in the Istanbul Exhibition-1949)

The most important reasons why the idea of writing a city encyclopedia in Istanbul, where a historian in love with Istanbul has less than one sample in the world, is led to a lonesome incompleteness, is that’s the study is not handled according to a scientific method, the classification of the sources and items according to the importance and interest level of the author and it is based on details.

In 1970s, some talented writers who contributed to the encyclopedia were distanced from the work, which led to the fact that writing which was already conducted without a method and gropely had evolved into a very personal form and even towards Reşad Ekrem’s autobiography. Fascicle No. 173, published in 1973, becomes the final product of the Istanbul Encyclopedia, which takes its place as a fetish text in the history of world literature. The printing is stopped at Gökçınar article of the Letter “G”.

His remonstrance that the late art historian Semavi Eyice does in his work Memories of Istanbul Encyclopedia makes every collector take deep sigh and say “I wish!” . “Reşad Ekrem Koçu would have been able to continue his encyclopedia for a while if he did not get separated from those who provided him with financial support, if he had avoided using unnecessary articles that lengthened the encyclopedia, had a regular life above everything, and had not been as keen on drinking as some of his predecessors.”

NOTES

A Love-Crazed Historian Of Istanbul: Who Is Reşad Ekrem Koçu?
Reşad Ekrem, who is known for his jokes, novels, stories and researches on historical subjects but whose name is mostly known for his important work, the Istanbul Encyclopedia, was born in 1905 in Istanbul and continued his education in Konya and Bursa. He has earned a living by writing articles in magazines such as Hayat History Journal, Illustrated History Journal, History World, Hayat, Yeşilay, Büyük Doğu, Week, Turkish Folklore Research, İstanbul Institute Journal etc. and in journals such as Cumhuriyet, Yeni Sabah, Milliyet, Hergün, Yeni Tanin and Tercüman . He passed away on July 6, 1975 and was buried in the Sahrayıcedid Cemetery.

The Istanbul Encyclopedia
It was known that Reşad Ekrem could not complete the Istanbul Encyclopedia since 1973, but it figured out in 2010 when his heirs transferred the records to the third parties that he was working for the post-G letter. When the leaf was examined, it was seen that the decedent carried the fasciculants up to the letter Z.

Subjects At The Top Of Every Volume Of Istanbul Encyclopedia
“Istanbul: Mosque, Masjid, Madrasa, School, Library, Dervish Lodge, Mausoleum, Church, Holy Spring of Orthodox Greeks (Ayazma), Fountain, Sabil, Palace, Seaside Residence, Mansion, Pavilion, Han, Turkish Bath, Theater, Coffeehouse, Tavern .. All Structures… State Men, Scholar, Poet, Craftsman, Businessman, Doctor, Teacher, Hoja, Dervish, Pastor, Monk, Lunatic, Youth, Nigâr, Singer, Musician, Ottoman Dancers (Çengi), Dancer Boys (Köçek), Drunkard, Tramps, Wrestler, Firefighter, Bully, Gambler, Thief, Punk, Beggar, Murderer .. All the celebrities. Mountain, Water, Air, Recreation Areas, Gardens, Orchards and God. All Natural Beauties and Geography… Streets, Neighbourhoods, Districts… Fires, Epidemics, Earthquakes, Revolutions, Murders and the Adventures of Love Epic to Languages… Pictures, Poems, Books, Novels, Travelogues… Foreign Celebrities visiting Istanbul… ” (As Koçu writes)

Traces Of History On Mankind
“Reşad Ekrem Koçu does not speak much about political history. In his lines, traces of history are always followed, with regard to daily life, human profile, city memory, clothing, oddities brought about by gender distinctions rather than contracts, treaties, borders. However, from time to time this situation has turned his historiography into the subject of discussion of the health of the information he conveyed. ”
Murat Belge’s comments on Reşad Ekrem Koçu

Minutes Of The Daily Life
“First of all, I read it for the Turkish flavour of the texts. He is the author of the era of people who use Ottoman words as they are now, not people who use such a great medium, but people who use a certain sense of language, taste and elegance. Another important aspect of Reşad Ekrem Koçu is that he exhibits objects, details and customs that are very important in reflecting the spirit and atmosphere of the period that many historians have omitted, ignored.”
From Murathan Mungan’s Article: “A History as It is: Reşad Ekrem Koçu”….

By: Necati Bulut
*This article was  published in the  November-December issue of Marmara Life. 

Leave a Reply