Asian and African studies blog

03 May 2020

Drawing Ire: Illustrated Ottoman Satirical Magazines

Cover of Alem featuring a colour drawing of a newspaper clerk speaking to an advertiser
The cover of issue 12 of the satirical magazine Alem, showing a newspaper clerk discussing fees for expected libel accusations. (Alem 21 Mayıs 1325 / 3 June 1909. 14498.a.75)
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The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about a wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images' stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.

Diyojen Masthead of First Issue
The masthead and first page of the first issue of Diyojen, featuring an illustration of Diogenes meeting Alexander. (Diyojen 12 Teşrinisani 1286 [25 November 1870]. ITA.1990.c.6)
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The first satirical newspaper featuring political content to emerge in Ottoman Turkish was the weekly Diyojen (Diogenes), published from 1870 to 1873 by the famed satirist Teodor Kasap (Theodoris Kasapis). Kasap, an Orthodox Greek born in Kayseri in 1835, lived in Paris between 1856 and 1870. During part of this time, he was personal secretary to Alexandre Dumas (his cousin); he also spearheaded the translation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo into Ottoman Turkish. His return to Istanbul in 1870 allowed him to pursue the publication of Diyojen in French, Ottoman Turkish and Greek until 1873, when it was shut down. The magazine was notable for its large masthead, which contained a lithographed illustration of Diogenes meeting Alexander. It also managed to feature, consistently, the writings of some of the great intellectuals of the Tanzimat period, including Namık Kemal and Recaizade Ekrem. Diyojen’s primary focus was not satirical illustrations, and many of its issues did not feature any cartoons at all. Nonetheless, as the first stand-alone satirical publication, it paved the way for the growth and evolution of the genre. Similar to Teodor Kasap himself, it was a development that was influenced heavily by European precedents as well as pro-European attitudes characteristic of the Tanzimat spirit. The degree to which it expressed Kasap’s and other contemporary intellectuals’ Europhile leanings is a fascinating topic, but sadly beyond the scope of this post. Luckily, it is the subject of a study by Hamdi Özdiş, Osmanlı Mizah Basınında Batılılaşma ve Siyaset (1870-1877) (Westernization and Politics in the Ottoman Satirical Press (1870-1877)).

A number of satirical magazines followed Diyojen, including Kasap’s own Çıngıraklı Tatar. This all came to an end in 1876, however, with the ascension of Abdülhamit II to the throne. Although the new Sultan initially presided over two years of (limited) constitutional and parliamentary democracy, the crushing defeats and territorial losses of 1878 allowed for the dawn of a new age of absolutism. Restrictions on freedom of the press and expression meant that many Ottoman intellectuals went or were forced into exile, leading to a boom in Ottoman periodical publications outside of the Imperial borders, including the United Kingdom.

Front page of Dolap featuring masthead and cartoon of Süleymaniye Front page of Dolap featuring cartoon of a dancing dervish and Father of Error
(Left) The cover of Dolap featuring the masthead as well as a cartoon of an execution in front of Süleymaniye Mosque. (Dolap 1 Nisan 1317 [1 April 1901]. 14498.d.4)

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(Right) Another cover of Dolap, this time featuring a dervish next to the "Father of Error". (Dolap 1 Mart 1317 [1 March 1901]. 14498.d.4)
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Among those closest to home for the British Library was Dolap, a monthly satirical magazine published in Folkestone, England between 1900 and 1901. The editor of the journal is unnamed, and the articles and illustrations are signed either with Derviş Külahı or Mürid, if at all. This was likely done to protect those engaged in Dolap’s production. Their text appears to have been printed using movable type, giving it a regular and uniform aesthetic, whereas the drawings themselves are highly variable. Some, such as those in the masthead (which includes Abdülhamit II sitting on a swing), look to have been drawn by a professional illustrator. The lines are clear and purposeful, while the range of emotions and diversity of appearance of the people looking at the Ottoman Sultan (presumably the leaders of other contemporary states) speak to a certain level of expressive confidence. Meanwhile, the drawing of a dervish (identified as el-Hakir el-Fakir ül-Şeyh Zahir Şazlı) and “Abū al-Ḍilāl” (“Father of Error”) is shaky and much more tentative in its use of detail. What is clear, from both these illustrations and the general content of the texts they accompanied, is that Dolap was a means to express a vehement opposition to Abdülhamit’s administration and its policies. Indeed, the first article of the first issue explains, while “speaking seriously”, that the publication intended to look at the corruption and crimes plaguing the Fatherland.

Page from Beberuhi featuring lithographed text and cartoonsA page from Beberuhi showing caricatures of Abdülhamit with various expressions
(Left) A lithographed and illustrated satirical dialogue from the first issue of Beberuhi. (Beberuhi 10 Ramazan 1315 / 1 Şubat 1898 [1 February 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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(Right) A bilingual Ottoman Turkish-French article on Abdülhamit II's performance in international negotiations. (Beberuhi 15 Cumaziülevvel 1316 / 1 Teşrinievvel 1898 [1 October 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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Such sentiments were also carried by the newspaper Beberuhi, published in Geneva in 1898. Unlike its spiritual successor Dolap, Beberuhi was printed partially with moveable type, and partially using lithography. This latter means of production ensured that the illustrator of some of the satirical cartoons was able to add their own text to accompany the visual criticism. Such processes are clearest in the panel above, in which a comical dialogue is paired with esquisses of characters bearing a certain resemblance to Hacıvat and Karagöz, the famous Ottoman shadow puppet characters who were well-known for their biting social criticism. These cartoons and some of the textual content too make it obvious that those in Beberuhi’s editorial board and its contributors were steadfast in their criticism of Abdülhamit’s régime. This is unsurprising, given that the periodical emerged from Young Turk circles in Geneva, one of the hotspots of this more extreme vein of anti-Hamidian opposition.

Esquisse of Abdülhamit atop a donkey surrounded by the leaders of various European states
A bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) lithographed caricature of Abdülhamit being led astray by European rivals, atop a saddle labeled "The Eastern Question". (Beberuhi 10 Ramazan 1315 / 1 Şubat 1898 [1 February 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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In addition to the bespoke satirical caricatures that were sprinkled among the text, Beberuhi also featured a number of bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) cartoons. These are of a distinctly different aesthetic than those discussed above. Moreover, their bilingual nature leads me to question whether these might have been reprinted from other publications, or if they were utilized in the Young Turks’ propagandistic campaigns directed at non-Ottomans as well. The focus in these drawings is Abdülhamit’s performance in the arena of international relations. He doesn’t fare well according to the editors of the magazine. Surprised, cheeky, foolish, bemused and complacent are all words we might use to describe the Sultan in these drawings; competent and compassionate certainly don’t make the list. Beberuhi and the Geneva nucleus of Young Turk opposition provide ample material for studies of the Ottoman exile press, such as this work by Servet Tiken. They will likely continue to do so as we look to understand more deeply the genesis of Ottoman political thought both at home and abroad.


Ottoman language cover of Alem showing the Naval MinisterBilingual cover of Alem showing a cabbie leaving for Athens
(Left) The cover of issue 4 of the satirical magazine Alem, showing the Naval Minister. (Alem 19 Şubat 1325 / 4 March 1909. 14498.a.75)
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(Right) The cover of issue 11 of the satirical magazine Alem, with a cartoon of a cabbie complaining about a lack of business in Istanbul. (Alem 14 Mayıs 1325 / 27 May 1909. 14498.a.75)
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In July 1908, a revolution rocked Istanbul, paving the way for the restitution of the Ottoman Constitution and Parliament. Known as the Young Turk Revolution, this milestone in late-Ottoman history meant, among many different things, a relaxation of censorship. The periodical press flourished, including those magazines devoted to satirical content. One such example in the British Library’s Turkish collections is Alem, an illustrated weekly published in Ottoman Turkish from February until June 1909. Edited by Yakovalızade Arif (Arif de Yacova on the French masthead), this periodical included occasional colour drawings, most of which focused on political, economic and cultural issues and hypocrisies in Ottoman society. Alem appears to have escaped the scrutiny of many of the scholars of this period of Ottoman publishing history, as did Yakovalızade Arif. But there are a few interesting things that we can glean from some of its covers.

Two-page spread of illustrations in colour
Two caricatures from the magazine Alem, the one on the left showing a royal official expressing his support for constitutionalism, while that on the right shows the reduction in tension between warring nations. (Alem 21 Mayıs 1325 / 3 June 1909. 14498.a.75)
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Based in Eminönü, the offices of Alem managed to put out 31 issues on a fairly regular basis. Moreover, given the number of issues published, and the professionalism of their production, it is likely that Yakovalıze Arif is nothing more than a pseudonym, employed for the protection of the editors and the contributors to the magazine. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why Alem is the only publication attached to this individual in the entire holdings of the Milli Kütüphane, Turkey’s national library. In coming to the illustrations themselves, it appears that many, if not most, of the covers and satirical cartoons included in the weekly were completed by the same illustrator. The covers on hand are signed by a fairly well-known Ottoman painter named Ali Cemal Ben’im. The diversity of styles – from the strong, clear lines and calm colours of a pier, to the jagged edges of the Naval Minister in black ink – speak to Ben’im’s skill and versatility as an artist. Similarly, the content of the images is broad in its focus: from the economic troubles of cabbies and the petty defamatory actions of the upper classes, right up to the rapid about-face of the ruling classes and their support for constitutional monarchy. The editor, artist and contributors of Alem evidently sought to take a light-hearted approach to criticizing the flaws and faults of this rapidly changing society.

Cover of Cem featuring a shadow theatre performanceCaricature of two men talking in rain on bridge from cover of Cem
(Left) Caricature of a man entranced by a shadow puppet performance at the Ottoman border. (Cem 18 March 1911. 14498.a.91)
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(Right) Two men discussing foreign debt from Germany and the Ottoman Bank from the first issue of Cem. (Cem 28 Tişrin-i Sani 1326 [10 December 1910]. 14498.a.91)
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The final satirical periodical from our collections that I’d like to highlight is Cem, a bilingual Ottoman Turkish-French publication that reappeared in the Republican era as a Latin-script Turkish one. Cem was first produced in 1910-1912. It profited from the initial broadening of freedom of the press, only to fall victim to the reintroduction of controls following a dramatic change in government in 1912. It re-emerged in January 1927, after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, and provided another two-years’ worth of illustrated satirical content until its final closure in May 1929. It was edited and illustrated by Cemil Cem, who had been an Ottoman diplomat posted to France during the late-Hamidian period. He began his career as an illustrator while still in the Ottoman foreign service, sending caricatures to the magazine Kalem starting in 1908. It was only in 1910 that he returned to Istanbul from Paris, and thus had the opportunity to found Cem. While the editor provided a considerable amount of content in both textual and visual form, criticizing both Abdülhamit and the İttihat ve Terakki Fırkası (Party of Union and Progress), there were other contributors as well. The most notable of these was Refik Halit Karay, an accomplished reporter and translator who had spent many years practicing journalism across Anatolia. Karay is well-known for his broad contribution to early-Republican Turkish literature, including his satirical pieces written for Cem and other periodicals, such as Ay Dede.

Cem Double Page Spread
Two pages of caricatures from Cem mocking the privileges of royalty (left) and the hypocrisy and immorality of parliamentarians (right). (Cem 26 January 1911. 14498.a.91)
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As with many satirical publications, Cem took aim at much more than just politicians and their whims. International relations, literature, the arts, and social relations all fell within Cemil Cem’s sights and those of his authors. The boundaries pushed by some of the drawings and texts, and the cheekiness of the humour, all point to why this periodical might have been deemed egregiously critical by the powers that be. An opening from issue 13, for example, reveals caricatures that take digs at both the privileges royalty accords itself and the foolishness of elected officials. No one, evidently, was safe from Cem’s sharp pen. Beyond this, however, the captions themselves speak to a sort of textual codeswitching. Those literate in both French and Ottoman will quickly realize that the two texts do not accord in a strict sense (something also occasionally seen in Alem). Both refer to the same image, but the manner in which they interpret and contextualize it differs. The Ottoman captions are more conversational and jocular than the French ones. This begs the question of who the two audiences of the journal were, and whether there were different standards, or different censors, for the different languages employed.

Turkish politician chasing a Greek butterfly with a netLloyd George among grave crosses in Gallipoli
(Left) A Turkish politician chases a Greek "butterfly" for his "non-aggression pact" collection. (Cem 1 October 1927. 14498.a.91)
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(Right) A caricature of Lloyd George sitting among graves at Gallipoli. (Cem 1 October 1927. 14498.a.91)
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Mizah dergileri – satirical magazines – did not die out with the advent of the Republic; far from it. These publications proliferated throughout the 20th century, following the vagaries of freedom of expression and the press, as well as liberal democracy, in Turkish history. Some have survived into the contemporary moment. Others have fallen prey to the counterattacks of the Turkish state, currently ranked as 157th most free for the press according to Reporters Without Borders. Yet this venerable literary and artistic tradition is a resilient one. In 2019, I wrote about the magazine Penguen, its proliferation, and its eventual closure in 2017. It would be easy to see this as a worrying parable of cultural and political asphyxiation; a tale whose finality is dark and foreboding. In the context of the Ottoman Turkish satirical periodicals held at the British Library, however, and those found elsewhere, I prefer to interpret it as yet another ebb bound to be followed the inevitable flow of Turkish cultural production. Whether inked or pixelated, the indomitable spirit of satirical caricature will rear its laughter-inducing head once again.

Dr. Michael Erdman
Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
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Further reading

Ener Su, Aydan, 1900-1928 Yılları Arası Yayımlanan Mizah Gazete ve Dergilerinin İncelenmesi, (unpublished doctoral thesis, Hacettepe Üniversitesi, 2017).

Seyhan, Salih, “II. Meşrutiyet Dönemi Mizah Basını ve İçeriklerinden Seçilmiş Örnekler”, Turkish Studies, 8/3 (Winter 2013), pp. 494-516.

Ünver, Merve, Eski Türkçe Mizah Dergilerinin Açıklamalı Bibliografyası (1870-1928), (unpublished masters thesis, Marmara Üniversitesi, 2013).

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