The story of a community
A BRIEF HISTORY OF IZMIR AND THE LEVANTINES
Shortly after the conquest of Istanbul (1453), diplomatic relations were started between the British and the Ottoman Empire. The relationship was mostly amicable until the First World War (battle of Dardanelle’s and Arabian wars) and allowed for the development of trade. In 1592 the Levant company was founded, and this association played an important role in the diplomatic relations between the Ottoman and British empires, and from the start most important trade rivals were the French and the Dutch. This charter also brought to Izmir under its auspices the first minister in 1636 (Thomas Curtis) who serviced the spiritual needs of its employees (known as factors) and those of the Consulate. The tradition of an Anglican minister to Izmir continues to this day even in the absence of the Levant co. The industrial revolution of the 19th century and the improvement of transport also arising here, made Izmir the centre of export. Across the port various European nations had set up their trade house centres. The suitable bay of Izmir with the caravan routes extending to Iran coming here, with the trade in silk, mohair, cotton, wine and such the volume exceeded that with Istanbul by 1649 p.47.
The British presence greatly increased post the Crimean war period when many major infrastructure projects were initiated. One of the most important and lasting of these projects was the railway network starting first in Kemer later in Punta / Alsancak (quarters of Izmir) in 1864 Aydin (Aidyn) line (Ottoman Railway Company - dissertation) and in 1865 the Turgutlu line (Smyrna Casaba Railway Company), starting in the Basmane quarter of Izmir, was laid and as they advanced ended the domination of the slow moving camel trains. According to source p.5 at busy times there were 5000 camels in Izmir alone but due to the short networks and heavy financial outgoings, the railways only become financially sound, shortly before the First World War. With time the O.R.C. extended to Nazilli, Denizli, Afyon and Konya linking up with other developing lines and the S.R.C. advanced towards Alasehir, Usak and Afyon. Through the funds raised by the British of Boudjah a branch suburban line was laid in 1870 which was bought outright by the O.R.C. in 1902 p.6. An important portion of the railway employees were British and we suspect they formed an important section of the community of Boudjah, but doubtless most were poorer then the merchants. Most of them have simple grave stones (sandstone + most name initials only) and are in the rear section of the cemetery. The notable exception here is Edward Purser’s (1821-1906) marble grave and as stated on it he was for 40 years the general manager and chief engineer for the O.R.C. Towards the end of the 19th century Izmir represented 30% exports of the Ottoman empire and was effectively a rival of Istanbul. Through the strength derived from an extensive empire (in 1900, 7 out of 10 ships in the world were British) were the chief players in sea transport and the nearest rivals were the French. The products of Anatolia were varied and the admixtures changed with time. Agricultural products dominated such as tobacco, cotton, dried figs and grapes, opium - archive view of harvesting, vanolia, acorn, mastic and liquorice root (Forbes) and mineral such as mercury (Whittall, Wilson), corundum (Abbott) and chromium (Paterson). Many of the above items are no longer exported from Turkey as the markets have shifted elsewhere or have disappeared altogether. However all have their own story and some of these markets were created almost by accident. From the Internet we are informed that cigarettes first arrived in Britain when British troops arrived back from the Crimea, where the French and Turkish armies smoked tobacco rolled up in paper.
An Internet site, gives us the story of the development of the liquorice trade. ‘Immense amounts of the drug are exported from Smyrna and large quantities of liquorice extract (paste) are made in both Smyrna and Sokia. The history of Smyrna liquorice is briefly given as follows: Over half a century ago, a traveller recently returned from Turkey, in a lecture before a London audience, referred to the enormous growth of liquorice in the valleys of the Meander and Hermus in Asia Minor. This came to the attention of the MacAndrews, a Scotch firm of ship owners whose steamers were engaged in carrying liquorice, liquorice paste, oranges, etc., from Spain. MacAndrews sent a man named Clark (whose wife still lived near Smyrna: in 1906) to investigate. He found a native (Greco-Italian) pasteworks operating at Cutzarlee. Mr. Clark gave a most favourable report to his employers, who started a factory at Sokia, across the Meander valley from Cutzarlee. The root was so abundant and labour so cheap that it cost but one-tenth the price the Spaniards and Italians paid in their countries. Consequently, the profits were enormous, and from this beginning, which has made great fortunes for the investors, the liquorice industry of Turkey has developed.’
This company like a few others founded in the Levant continue till today, though often under different owners and in another continent. MacAndrews and Forbes [adverts from the 1950s] story takes an interesting turn in recent history detailed in the book, ‘Comic wars’ by Dan Raviv. A shrewd American businessman by the name of Ronald O. Perelman acquired in 1979 the New Jersey company, that his father had once tried but failed to nab, MacAndrews and Forbes through the profits of an earlier deal, and a generous bank loan. He used the $15 million, plus a bank loan for $35 million: the largest he had ever taken, was granted by a consortium that Chase Manhattan Bank put together. This was the launch of a long relationship. MacAndrews & Forbes was in the esoteric business of importing licorice extract, used in cigarettes and other products, as well as making industrial quantities of chocolate. Perelman was willing to learn the details of this business, too, sending executives to far-flung corners of the globe to find cheaper suppliers and new markets in which to sell the company’s goods. Business did improve, and best of all he found a buyer for the chocolate division. He was paid $42 million for that alone in 1986. Said Perelman: ‘We effectively ended up owning the flavors business for nothing.’
Compared with Ottoman Turkish subjects the Levantines were bestowed many advantages under ‘Capitulations’ and these increased their trade capabilities. Foreigners did not have to seek travel permits within the country by the mare or for abroad from the sultan (known as Murur tezkere). All the important European States had in Izmir their own customs houses, trade associations, postal services, and consuls and were exempt from laws of the sultan and sharia and form military service (7 years for the Muslim populace).
From a research article in ‘İzmir ve batı Anadolu – Uluslararası sempozyumu’ [Izmir and western Anatolia – International symposium] – prof. Dr Tuncer Baykara, 1994 p.38: The value of exports from Izmir in the period 1900-08 correspond to Britain 57.4%, Austria/Hungary 10.5%, France 6.8%, Holland 5.3%, Germany 4.9% with USA, Italy, Russia and Bulgaria trailing ever lower. In the value of imports, Britain again leads with 30.3% followed by a similar listing of nations, Austria/Hungary 18.3%, France 15.5%, and Italy 8.2%.
Personal note: The relatively high figure for Austria/Hungary may again have a British influence in, since their chief port of entry Trieste had a strong British merchant community (Candlesticks VII,no:6).
On page 82 of same article, a reason given for the success of British merchants, ironically is their ‘greater reluctance than any other Western nation to go into the interior of W. Anatolia to trade’. This allowed local merchants (invariably non-Moslem) to remain as their agents. There were good reasons for using local entrepreneurs to carry out their commercial operations. They knew local tastes, range of feasible price levels, their contacts enabled them to establish a network of operations fairly rapidly and they spoke the languages necessary to do business. Another reason for the predominance of the local entrepreneur was the need for credit. For local producers and merchants sold for cash in Izmir but bought on credit. The Western exporter who was not willing to sell on credit could not enter the market. Yet while it was difficult to displace such a network of local entrepreneurs, it would be misleading to consider them as all-powerful and able to shut Western merchants out of the export trade of Western Anatolia. This sector was dominated by few large scale companies, many of them western, which were in complete control of the purchasing process, from the place of production and of treatment to the point of shipping the produce abroad, with western mangers overseeing it all. From page 87, Nowhere in Izmir and its environs’ economy were western entrepreneurs more prominent in terms of capital, technology and sheer scale of operations than in infrastructure (telegraph lines, electricity etc.). By the 1860s with both railway lines and the gas company in Izmir in British hands, they had acquired a lead amongst the foreign communities. This lead was quickly challenged however when French capitalists in the 1860s started the construction of the Smyrna Quay, a major project in terms of urban planning.
Yet all this activity was conducted by a few hundred business men and with their dependants formed populations measured only in the thousands amongst the various ‘nations’. The following population figures for the year 1910 are supplied in Gemeente (M.A. Park, De Nederlandsche Protestantsche Gemeente te Smyrna, 1910 Leiden – a Dutch study analysed by Willem Daniels). Smyrna’s total population is estimated at 215,000. Contrary to what one would expect given their economic pre-eminence, the Brits formed one of the smaller groups within the expatriate community: a total of about 1,500. The Dutch numbered a few hundred. The largest national group was the Italians, numbering some 6,500 — how many of these were relative newcomers and how many belonged to Venetian and Genoese families who had been in the region for up to three centuries or more is unclear. Other large groups were the French (2,500) and the Austrians (2,200). Ottoman subjects numbered 107,000 Greeks (i.e., almost exactly half the total population), 52,000 ‘Mohammedans’ (presumably we would call them Turks today), 25,000 Jews (national origin not specified), and 12,000 Armenians. To make up the stated total of 215,000, add a few thousand more expats from other European countries, the United States and Canada. Clearly the Levantines formed the summit of the socio-economic ladder at the time, and it seems the Turks rarely rose above the level of subsistence, and this imbalance no doubt helped fuel resentment that was later to vent itself in disastrous ways against the ‘middle’ populations of Greeks and Armenians.
Naturally the various proportions of the populations varied going back in time, partly reflecting the eminence of the various trading communities (a detailed study of which doesn’t seem to have been done, eg: what were the chief activities of the Austrians etc), and the way of classification of people varies from one estimated census to another (eg: Greeks classified as Helene or Rayah, Levantines designated as Frank, European, or Latin), but most 19th century studies seem to mirror the above mixture.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the British (together with French) subjects became de-facto members of an enemy power of the Ottomans. Later with the turning of the tide with the Greek-Turkish war under consular advice and assistance most (including the clergy) escaped to the Island of Malta and some of their property (Rees’s) the state confiscated temporarily. With the founding of the republic the trade concessions of foreigners were annulled. At the close of the Turkish war of independence (1920-22) the lines and rolling stock of the railways were in a wrecked state, caused by the scorched earth policy of the retreating Greek troops. Repair was quite beyond the technical and financial capabilities of the new republic and the concession period had not yet run out. Thus the British were allowed to resume the running of the railways, which continued to employ most of its former Levantine staff. However with the nationalisation of the railways in 1935 the reverse migration of Levantines was quickened. In the 1950s in order to retain the social contact of a reduced Anglican community in Izmir, a church publication printed (Candlesticks) is important as a historical reference (today as copies or originals 23 editions exits, 12 missing). All missing 12 editions are from the 1st series (pre 1954) and according to the former Anglican priest 1973-1994 (now ministering in Ankara) ft. Geoffrey Evans a single whole series leather-bound volume existed but my endeavours to relocate this historical source were unsuccessful.
The First World War also took its toll on the sons of the Boudjah Levantine community. On the wall of the Alsancak St. John church is a plaque listing the names of those who had volunteered and died. There are a total of 12 names present and with the help of the internet we found at least two were from Boudjah (John A. Holton aged 24 and Alfred E. Holton aged 28 and decorated with a M.C.). From this site we discover both brothers were lieutenants serving in different artillery brigades and the elder dying 3½ months after the end of the war on 22 Feb.1919, presumably from war wounds, possibly the later effects of a gas attack. Again from the same site we are informed that their father Francis C. Holton worked for the Aydin railways. Furthermore from another brass plaque in Alsancak church, states the son of Rowland Annesley and Mrs Rebecca, Rowland Donald Pengelley of Boudjah in 1917, as a second lieutenant aged 26 had died ‘whilst going to the succour of his men who were in great danger. For this act he was mentioned in a despatch from Field Marshall Haig for gallant and distinguished service in the field’.
The author of ‘Boudja past and present’ by H.V.Barff in the winter 1951-52 edition of ‘Candlesticks’1a presents interesting information. She represents one of the last generation of one of the oldest Levantine families. With examples she states that at the beginnings of the last century, the surrounds of Boudjah was a haunt of Greek mountain bandits. Also before the Greek uprising of 1821, Lord Byron was a visitor in Boudjah staying with the then British Consul for Izmir Mr Werry (died in Boudjah and buried in the cemetery 1832) and received the inspiration to write the ‘Bride of Abydos’ while wandering in the garden with the row of cypress trees.
Note: George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron (1788-1824) English romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe. He visited Smyrna on his way from Athens to Constantinople in 1810 E.B..
Also the same article mentions that during the Izmir fire of 1922, the only Englishman to remain in Boudjah was Mr Barff and many Greeks took sanctuary in his garden. She also states that the population of Buca at the time (1951) being mainly Turkish with a few Italians, Greeks and 7 English present.
In the last edition of ‘Candlesticks’ (summer 1960), a rough list of names in the cemetery is presented and in the same article, one of the last English residents Hilda V. Barff had emigrated to the French Riviera and the Rees home had been sold that year (1960 – Now the Educational Faculty).
Vignettes of the social life of the Levantines pre-1922 are rare and usually accecible on through the memoirs of past travellers. One of the websites containing the account Lord Byron's friend John Cam Hobhouse entered in his diary concerning their visit to Smyrna in 1810, are viewable through: Amongst the fleetinly illuminating details we have a discription of their host’s house, Francis Werry, the British consul who is buried in Boudjah cemetery, ‘a long, narrow house, like the gallery and chambers of an inn’. Also ‘the village of Bournabat, the summer residence of the Franks and Greeks of the city’ and ‘to Boudjah, a village south of Smyrna, where are still some comfortable country houses built by Franks’ pointing to these areas already being settled by Levantines and for comparison, ‘Boudjah more countrified than Bournabat’. However me must still speculate as to why and when this settlement began, but was probably started by people like Mr Werry who could afford a second home to place their families, whom they almost certainly couldn’t visit on a nightly basis considering the distance, state of the roads of the time and availability of means of transport, which seems to have been mostly donkeys. However their families would have been shielded the sights and smells of a no doubt crowded, smelly and disease prone harbour town, and later Levantine congregation probably had a social and sense of security attraction. In a similar way the early Levantine community based in the Galata-Pera districts of Constantinople used the out of town village by the Black Sea, Therapia, as a point of avoiding the mid-summer heat and in time the area became a centre of year round settlement.
The great Izmir fire of September 1922 did not affect physically the neighbourhoods of Boudjah, Bornobat and Cordelio [Karşıyaka], but with the development and expansion of the city, from the 1950s the vacated old houses started to get lost through lack of interest or profit motive. The houses of Karşıyaka received the worst blow from the developers and Buca, because of its distance from the centre was partially protected. The present head of the Buca council Cemil Şeboy states that all the old houses of Buca have their owners. Former homes of the Rees, De Jongh and the under restoration Forbes house are state owned, most are privately owned. Due to the constrained economic circumstances of owners, the repairs are not carried out in time and eventually the building becomes unfit for habitation and with the firm restoration rules of the Heritage commission combined with the state not providing funds or alternatives, with time the building heads towards destruction. Among these ruins is unfortunately the house where a recent prime minister of France (1993-1995), Edouard Balladur spent his childhood (born 1929-Internet). There is some information in French on other French Levantines who passed their childhood in Turkey and became more successful later in France on the web such as Henri Langlois and André Chênier and no doubt many untold stories in addition. André Chênier like his mother Elizabeth Santi Lomaca was born in Constantinople. A more recent individual with Levantine roots leaving a legacy is the French actress Megali Noël, born into the Guiffray family - details:.
The original owners of the famous old houses are known, but a research to correlate names in the graves with their residences has not been done, and this might still be possible through accessing consular archives.
The only detailed research on the houses of Buca has been done by Feyyaz Erpi and his book was published in 1987. The author has been contacted and information sharing has begun. With its photographs this book provides a visual reference on the state of the houses at the time.
The common element of the Levantine houses, is compared to those inhabited by the general population, they tend to be larger and more ornate with often high walls enclosing wide gardens. The roots of the Boudjah colony formed goes back to the 17th century and it seems that living together and outside Izmir (distance of 9 km.) seems to have placated their concerns for the safety of their families.
The Izmir Anglican church magazine (Candlesticks) presents interesting information, in the summer 58 edition, it states that golf in Izmir was started by two Scotsmen in today’s Şirinyer (1 km. from Buca) in 1903/4. In the winter edition of 57/58 the obituaries of the descendants of long established families, F.M.E. La Fontaine and W.R.G. Pengelley give an insight into the ‘Levantine world’ and in the same way P.F. du Gout (spring 57) etc. From the family trees to be deduced from the obituaries and marriage announcements of this magazine, we can see that the Levantines tended to marry with each other. These cross marriages with time made the English, French etc. designations meaningless and with some other bloods forms the current admixture of Izmir Levantines. Over generations the same large family names crop up repeatedly (Giraud, Whittall, La Fontaine, Rees etc.) and together shows us it would be meaningless to separate these as Buca and Bornova Levantines. I am aware of the present and past existence of some of these families (Whittall, La Fontaine etc.) in Istanbul as well. These records also give us information on the nature of businesses of various families, e.g. Bowen Rees who donated the organ was a shipping agent.
Finally the contents of these magazines give us clues as to the remaining Greek Orthodox community and their priest. From the obituary of F.M.E. La Fontaine, we learn that she was Greek Orthodox through her mother and on Fridays would go to their service and from time to time Ft. Timotheos Argudaris would visit the Anglican church. In the Autumn ’50 ‘Candlesticks’ article, ‘Since there is no Greek Orthodox church in the village (Buca), the congregation are welcome to join our service and it makes us happy to see them amongst us’ statement is declared. In 1963 the Greek passport holder Orthodox minister (still not sure if the same person) is evicted from Turkey with a portion of his flock, and the Orthodox tradition in Izmir once again receives a blow. Now only twice a year, during Christmas and Easter is a service possible through a visiting pastor.
In the ‘50s it is obvious that the Buca church was in hard times. In the spring 1953 ‘C.’, from the ‘Future of the Buca church’ article, damage done to the stained glass windows by the sling-shots of small boys was prevented by the installation of wire meshing; thieves who have been coming periodically for 3 years remove lead from the roof and damage is increased by water seeping through the formed holes and when a guard dog on its own is not sufficient deterrent, a Turkish family placed in a small house at the back took on the duty of guard. Now there are 4 worshippers and Buca Protestants who come regularly but cannot speak English and the cost of repair of the organ (now inoperative) was defrayed by Willie Rees.
The current Levantine population of Buca and Bornova are a shadow of their former self, however there is still a thriving community of Roman Catholics living in Izmir mostly in Alsancak. It is interesting that only recently has the general Turkish population of Izmir has taken a serious interest in this community, and there are few web or written references to them. An exception is a short article titled ‘Levantines, the colour and flavour of Izmir’, in Turkish in the web site:
According to this web site, the Levantines have been instrumental in transplating from their native countries the social services such as post-offices, schools, hospitals while opening up markets of the Aegean region to export, were leaders in the development of trade, banking, insurance and shipping. This community was also instrumental in the establishment of the Izmir stock exchange and Izmir chamber of commerce. The article has been penned by veteran writer Güngör Uras, and gives details of a recent piece submitted to the Izmir trade exchange magazine, titled ‘Last Levantines’, by Ahmet Usman and Sinan Doğan. ‘The current population of Levantines of Izmir is around 1,500 with 800 having Italian roots and 300 French. The word Levantine in French means ‘settled in the East’, but in Turkey is used more often as a designation for people of foreign extraction engaged in trade.
Amongst the many sectors developed by the Levantines were cotton, olive oil, tobacco, dried figs and raisins. The research article points to Giraud, Micaleff, Arcas, Dutilh, Baltazzi and the Buttigiegs to be amongst the last representatives of Levantines in Izmir. Alex Baltazzi who currently heads Caravan Tourism Company is a descendant of Venetians who arrived in 1745 and founded the first Ottoman bank, Dersaadet Bankası and brought the passenger ferries for the Şirket - i Hayriye. The grandchildren of the Dutilh family who migrated from Holland 200 years ago, brothers Hendrik and Karel, were the top tax payer of Izmir for 16 years and of Turkey for 4. A few years ago these brothers retired from active business by transferring their maritime and tourism business to Anadolu deniz ticareti. The Micaleff family settled in Izmir in the 1850s and the last representative, Noel Micaleff has a major stake in the olive oil market with the brand name of Kristal and heads the trade and industry council. The Giraud family having migrated from south of France in 1742, first worked closely with the British Whittall family and later invested themselves in the textile trade. Herve Giraud still produces and exports goods from the established giants of his company, Izmir Pamuk Mensucat and Izmir Basma Sanayii. Ruggero Mainetti processes and exports dried fruit, Pierro Corsini with a partner is involved in packaging and printing work and Enrico Aliberti and now his namesake son are established in the automotive sector.’ The article concludes like the trend amongst many local businessmen, the Levantines have over the years been pressed by the brutal dynamics of the globalisation of trade, and in response to protect their capital and future have gradually withdrawn from trade and manufacturing. This has led to some to migrate to Istanbul and European destinations for good.
One of the last ‘Anglo-levantine’ firms, Clarke dried fruit ltd, run by Patrick Clarke. In addition there are other medium to large sized Levantine concerns listed such as Franco fruit trading, the diamond jeweller Ege takı run by Mario Sponza, the haulage firm Arkas run by Lucienne Arcas, the textile concern Agreks run by Elvio Paradiso, and in the construction sector Pea industries by Maurizio Pennetti.
There are a few specialist books analysing the Anglo-Turkish history, and one to examine the early days and advertised on the Internet is ‘Britons in the Ottoman Empire – 1642-1660, Daniel Goffman’, and to get an overview of the history of Anglo-Turkish relations, the ambassadorial site has a good synopsis.
The mixing of people of different ethnicities in the port city of Smyrna has left descendants successful in different spheres then and now - an example:
In spring 2005 the Izmir chamber of architects published in printed and pdf downloadable format, the ‘architectural map’ of Alsancak and Konak districts with reference thumbnail images viewable by zooming in and a secondary map of the Kemeraltı district together with covering text of ‘the urban history of Izmir’. The centre has a good collection of books and indexed magazines covering the subject of architecture in Izmir and beyond.
The recently (2004) established Ahmet Pristina kent arşivi ve müzesi [Izmir city archives and museum], run by the municipality has developed into the major depository of archival items and documents covering the long history of the city and will act as a major resource for researchers for years ahead. The centre also hosts conferences and exhibitions.