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Social life in Canakkale

     The aim of this research is to determine the oldest possible characteristics remembered by the elderly people lived in that town in 1920’s and 1930’s. We tried to do this by using oral history method, collecting the life story narratives of the first and second generation. In general I dealt with opportunities and problems appeared in the process of modernization: In the turn of the century, in a changing environment, old and local but still urban ways of life and the dynamics of the change, how they lived certain national and global changes, how they related local and national value systems in radically changing atmosphere. I tried to expose the material relations, differentiation especially of income and working areas, emergence of different perceptions or ideologies, and the institutions like schools and Halkevi* which were pioneering the social change at that time.

     In Turkey when we talk about Çanakkale we first remember the war history of 1915 and then stories about ancient Troy. In this research I would like to concentrate on social issues and social history. Memories about their parents go back to the turn of the century. Personal narratives start from 1913-1914’s, before the First World War, inevitably related to war but then in such a small dwelling how ordinary people were living. First World War effected the lives of the people in Çanakkale because the city faced a big amount of bombing and then British occupation from 1918-1922. So war had a direct effect on the lives of ordinary people. In family histories this period has an enormous traumatic trace. They had to leave their houses and had to live outside villages for years. Many families lost their relatives. As usual in a war, while some people are getting rich some others faced huge economic losses. Class structures also changed accordingly; while a small group of people achieved a capital accumulation others were getting poorer and poorer. 

      Generalization/problem of scale 

Çanakkale was a very little town in the turn of the century so there is always a problem of generalization if we compare it with the other parts of the country. Çanakkale was named Kale-i Sultaniye during Ottoman times and at the end of the last quarter of the 19th century it wasn’t a city center; it was a small settlement, a military zone tied to Biga Sancağı (Mutasarrıflık). According to 1894 census the total population of Biga Sancağı was 118,824. The same year the population of Kale-i Sultaniye was given as 19.494. In a 1909 registration the population of the city was given as 16,680. In 1914, just before the war, the population of Kale-i Sultaniye was 22,252. Before the war the population was even smaller than neighboring counties like Biga, Ezine and Bayramiç. In 1915 during the war the oldest and most important quarters of the city which were constructed behind the Çimenlik Castle were totally destroyed. The city was situated near a strategically important sea passage, the only way for the Allied Forces to occupy Istanbul. So the city was critical because of military considerations.  

      The “specificity” of the characteristics of the city 

     Çanakkale had always reflected the multi-cultural structure of the Ottoman society, as many other cities in Western Anatolia. Çanakkale was geographically, culturally and economically very close to the western world. From the early 19th century there were several consulates, such as those of Russia, Netherlands, Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Iran, Austria and US. These consulates and the Levantines who settled and lived around them played a critical role in the social life of the town, among which should be mentioned Greek and Armenian population until the liberation war and Jews who continued to live there also after the war. These all contributed to the multi-cultural characteristics of the city. Some religious places of those inhabitants were ruined but some of them do still exist. 

     Multi-cultural social life shaped the level and variety of education facilities. Even before the war there were lots of primary schools even a pre-school institution.

     Ottoman period was not an empty page in many ways. Officials, soldiers and educated people like lawyers, doctors and veterinaries acted as role models for the ordinary people. Leaders of the Turkish army corps in Çanakkale, Hıfzı Pasha and Cevat Pasha were also known as intellectuals. Hıfzı Pasha founded a school for girls in memory of his daughter who had died from tuberculosis. Another general, Kayserili Ahmet Pasha founded the city market; the major street near the sea named “Rue Frenk” is now officially known by his name. Rich people of the city contributed this “modern” atmosphere of the city. Saat Kulesi (Clock Tower) and Aynalı Çarşı (Passage Halio; a famous marketplace) were built by prominent Jewish people, inhabitants of Çanakkale. 

     One should not forget that during 1920’s there were neither electricity, nor proper water pipe system, and draining system in the city, so there were widespread malaria epidemic in the region. However all of the narrators talked about the civilization of Çanakkale. City was almost completely isolated from the other parts of the country, with only ships that were linking it to other centers like İstanbul and İzmir, there were no harbor at all. But this did not change the narrators’ perception of “civilization”. After the war masses of immigrants from Crete, Khios and Balkans were added onto this insufficient substructure. In 1927 some 86 per cent of the population was formed of newly immigrants. This ratio was bigger than any other city around. Migrant people brought together their western cultural and social characteristics, and were even more “modern” and open than the settled population. However they had left behind their native countries because of war, what had led them to “nationalistic” ideologies. This transformation of the city population influenced the cultural milieu which was before more cosmopolitan and liberal. 

     The years 1930s are remembered with the importance given to education and widening opportunities, the national ceremonies where the whole people and especially school girls were appearing in the public sphere, the restructuring and enlargement of Cumhuriyet Meydanı (Republic Square) and new districts of the city, the bringing down of the enclosures of the so-called British garden. 

      Looking back through contemporary gaze / “anachronism” 

     A question about Canakkale, like if women were working, if people were used to swim in the sea or why the city did not expand along the seaside in order to understand the details of the daily life. Answer is, we may conclude that this kind of questions are much more related to our current problematic than understanding the way of life in the past. This kind of questions are not very appropriate to the people who lived their early youth in 1930’s. But still everyone tried to answer. Production was based on agriculture and Çanakkale was not an industrial center at that time, so we can not talk about industrial labor. Women were working as tailors or served in hotels or restaurants. This would be thanks to the modernization process that they became also to be employed as teachers. Still elder people think that only poor women wished to work and women’s labor was not considered “valuable”. 

     In all these areas there was a difference between the rich and the poor. There were cultural differences between classes just like rich people starting to swim in the sea or attending to clubs near the seashore. The rich had houses at the seaside, the poor were living inland. In almost all preferences, attitudes and behaviors there were clear differences between the rich and the poor. Still the new regime had certain mechanisms and ideological motives stressing and underlining the equality or equal citizenship. 

     It was quite common for any interviewer to claim that there were no such distinction between rich and poor in Çanakkale. According to them these were only Romans who worked as “laborers”. But in fact we know that this was not true.

     We see that there were cultural and class differences among immigrants as well. Some of them were wealthy people and constituted the rich class of the city together with the previous upper classes. Some of the immigrant families brought their special abilities and artisanship but some others joined the poor sectors of the society. We may give examples from seamen, sailors, gardeners, construction workers from Crete who worked at the construction of the harbor. Women from poorer families worked as servants taking the place of Greek women coming from the islands. 

      The impact of the establishment 

     While conducting everybody enjoyed the advantages of being a member of an old and well-known family living in Çanakkale. But if we leave aside this aspect there were certain disadvantages: The “narrator” assumes a common social milieu which is a melting pot combining different cultures, classes and ways of life. This creates an atmosphere which can only be defined as “middle class” and reproduces those values over and over again. So narratives are getting ordinary and banal and certain clichés are reproduced, and this means that certain historical events stay in a shadow. The ordinary narrator tends to share these common ideas and beliefs uniting everybody in the mainstream of the establishment, even to contradict his/her personal experiences. For example some people do not want to remember the poverty or hardships they lived in the past.  

     Dealing with the elites 

     When record you suddenly realized that you only can find people from the local elites. However, on the contrary you had designed this project to be expanded towards ordinary people. The problem is that people you can reach first and easily is the well-known, well-bred, well-educated, privileged, influential, rich and male members of the society. So the advantage and claim of the oral history method may suddenly be nullified if you do not try to pass beyond this constraint. 

     There are some other problems while finding interviewers. You have to enlarge the scale and have samples from different sections of the society. So you should look for people in the City Club or in the Mosques but especially in their homes if you are looking for elder people. To reach housewives, the poor, the introvert ones, you have to work hard what is the only way you can reach your aim. On the other hand people who were relatively dispelled from the city life or housewives can not remember the city and the history very well. They can only tell stories about their limited experiences and details about their own family life, their environment, their street or their occupation. Ordinary people tend to recite extravagant stories about their ancestors. Surely all this are valuable for social history. 

     During 1920’s and 1930’s women’s life were concentrated on the house and the family, so their experience and stories about the city in general are very limited. Most of them only remember or recollect memories about their youth as a young girl within or around the family or within a closed circle. Their fully detailed stories are about marriage, leisure time, and social life, later on about their education and to keep up their occupation. In 1920’s and 1930’s the most valuable job for woman was being a teacher. 

      Historically common grounds among narrations 

     Among narrations there were similarities resulted from the official interpretation of history or the communal identities. Greeks and Armenians were almost totally discarded from the local history of the city. In the narratives of the Jewish people there was a widespread standardization of the national history. Most of them shared the same ideas and common beliefs about their past experiences and they tend to share the official Turkish history interpretations. 3 When looking at history it is hard to find out traces of “democratization” among ordinary people what is much more common among historians or academic circles. In a city of war and occupation, you frequently come across people who defend nationalist positions. 

     Conclusion :  

     This presentation is a part of the oral history project collecting the possible oldest stories about the social life in Çanakkale. Despite the difficulties mentioned above we could reach a different portrait of a small city life at the last years of Ottoman State and first two decades of the new Republic. The reasons and material foundations of the “mythology” of the modernity and the civility of the city; but we have concluded that there were class differences and not everybody enjoyed the riches of the society equally. There is another history of small scale struggles for opportunities. The interpretation of the historical events or personal stories, family histories is effected not only from subjective, personal factors but ideologies and political tendencies shaped through time as well. 

     Naturally there are social structures or experiences which are not mentioned, simply forgotten or “well remembered.” These narratives make it possible to follow the traces of a vivid life of real people even on a small scale. The narrators can not be seen as representatives of groups or cultures/sub cultures. But their narratives surface the stories of real, ordinary people that can not be found or recorded anywhere else. They are the living witnesses of the history. That makes their life stories valuable historical and social documents. I thank all of them and wish happy and long lives...

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What Other Says
Ahmet Basaran
Ahmet Fehmi Turkan
Hakki Tuna
Osman Kacmaz
Serif Ali Arslan

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