As today marks the second anniversary of this blog I thought I ought to post something special. That's why we are heading once more towards Istanbul for one of these rather exceptional ghost signs I mentioned in my first post about the city's painted signs.
Contrary to the Konica Minolta sign or the Karbosan, Oerlikon and Teka palimpsest, which occupy prominent positions and are relatively recent, this one is in a narrow street that climbs from the neighbourhood of Tophane on the Bosphorus shore to İstiklâl Caddesi, the famous avenue that runs through the upper part of the Beyoğlu district (formerly called Cadde-i Kebir, it used to be better known to foreigners by its French name, Grande Rue de Pera). It is also much older and may even date from the time when the city was still called Constantinople (the name was officially changed in 1930).
Much more importantly, this ghost sign is a perfect illustration of the cosmopolitan character of the city at the time. Indeed this furniture factory belonged to A. Loucrezis, a member of the Greek community (here the latinized form of the name is spellt with a "c", although keeping the "k" as in Greek would have been certainly more correct), who advertised his trade in three languages, Ottoman Turkish, but using the Armenian script, Greek, and French.
Yet the two largest minorities in the city were the Greek and Armenian ones. According to official statistics published in 1914, more than 205,000 Greeks and almost 83,000 Armenians lived in the city, alongside more than 560,000 Muslims. A good proportion of them lived in the district of Beyoğlu. The working class neighbourhood of Tophane in particular was populated until the First World War mostly by Greeks and Armenians. This explains why the factory's sign was written in Greek and possibly why the Armenian script rather than the Turkish Ottoman script (based itself on the Arabic script) was used for the Turkish version as many of Loucrezis's customers would have belonged to these communities. Although there were differences between Turkish and the Armenian dialect spoken in Constantinople (itself a subdialect of Western Armenian), members of the Armenian community would have been able to read this painted sign. However it must be added that it was not uncommon for Turkish to be written using the Armenian script as the Ottoman Turkish script was relatively complex and Turks who did not receive a good education very often struggled to read it. Thus by resorting to the Armenian alphabet, Loucrezis killed two birds with one stone.
Unfortunately what was written underneath the window has faded far too much to be able to read anything. I can't even tell which language was used but I would assume it was once more Turkish written with Armenian letters.
For the French part of the sign, which is slightly longer than its Turkish and Greek counterparts, one has to look at the left door jamb.
Unfortunately I haven't found any information about Loucrezis's furniture factory. It would have been interesting to find out when the factory closed and in which circumstances. Did the owner retire and nobody took over? Did he go bankrupt, and why? Or was he forced to leave the city?
Indeed in the first decade of the 20th century, several nationalist movements, including the Young Turks, started 'encouraging' non-ethnic Turks to leave the country. The assets of those who left were usually transferred to the Turkish bourgeoisie. Although several minorities were affected, given its size, the Greek community of Istanbul felt originally relatively secure. The situation worsened during the First World War, the ensuing Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, and following the establishment of the Turkish republic, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks were massacred, executed, or deported. In 1923 the two countries signed the "Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations", which only ratified what had already happened and was still continuing on the ground. Within a few years, around 1.5 million Orthodox Greeks and half a million Muslims voluntarily or forcibly left Turkey and Greece respectively. The criteria weren't ethnic but religious. Given the religious importance of Istanbul for Orthodox Greeks though, the community of the city was excluded from the agreement but even for these, living and economic conditions deteriorated. Many members of the different minorities felt intimidated or pressured and progressively left Beyoğlu, where they were replaced by ethnic Turks from Anatolia. Some resettled elsewhere in the city but many left Turkey altogether. The economic situation of minorities deteriorated further following the adoption by parliament in 1932 of a law that banned foreigners from 30 professions. As a result 5,000 Greeks left Turkey within one year. Since carpentry was one of the occupations included in the list, it is possible Loucrezis was forced to shut his factory down. In 1935 a law forced Turkish citizens to adopt a surname, and on this occasion non-ethnic Turks were encouraged to take Turk-sounding names. In the case of the Greeks, they were asked to drop the endings in "-dis" or "-poulos". Other measures that increased pressure on minorities included the obligation in 1938 for all inhabitants of the country to speak Turkish in public, bans on their cultural activities, or the replacement of teachers in their schools. In 1942, as the economic downturn caused by the Second World War left a hole in the country's finances, the government introduced the Valig Vergisi, a wealth tax that only affected non-Muslim minorities and aimed at ending the quasi-monopoly of the non-Muslim bourgoisie on the economy.
Yet events took a more dramatic turn in September 1955, when, following an attack on the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki (it was later proven that the bomb had been planted by a Turkish nationalist), groups of Turkish nationalists attacked properties of the Greek and other non-Muslim communities in Istanbul and Izmir. In two days, 16 Greeks died and dozens were wounded. Seventy-three Greek Orthodox churches, one synagogue, eight chapels and two monasteries were devastated. A total of 5,538 properties were sacked, burnt and destroyed, 3,584 of which belonged to Greeks. Between 50 and 200 women (the figures vary) were assaulted or raped. Was it in the aftermath of these dramatic events that Loucrezis's factory closed? Or did he stay and tried to survive in spite of the boycott of Greek businesses organised by several nationalist movements? Nine years later, 12,000 Greeks who didn't hold a Turkish passport were deported. Between 1955 and 1965, the Greek community of Istanbul shrank from between 80,000 and 100,000 to 48,000. More left in 1974-75 when the conflict in Cyprus re-ignited tensions between communities in Turkey. By 1978 it is estimated 7,000 Greeks lived in Istanbul. At present, around 2,500 still live there. Maybe one is a descendant of A. Loucrezis.
Given the political upheavals of the past century, it is quite astonishing that this ghost sign survived. Let's hope it will still be with us for decades to come.
Location: Kumbaraci Yokuşu, Beyoğlu, Istanbul / Pictures taken on: 17/06/2011