In the course of World War I, the Ottoman empire is occupied and dismantled by European forces. Each of its provinces is divided among the winning powers in the war (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) and the mainland of Anatolia becomes a contested territory among foreign powers. After a nine-month fight for independence led by Mustafa Kemal (later named Atatürk, 1881–1938), the Republic of Turkey is declared in 1923.
During the late Ottoman period, the European academic style continues to be the major influence in painting. This is the heyday of painters Osman Hamdi (1842–1910) and Abdülmecid Efendi (1968–1944). The stakes change with the declaration of the Republic. Turkish artists struggle between adapting trends from Europe and creating a national form of art, based in the long-established traditions of their country. Atatürk takes a deep interest, guiding the development of the arts to match his vision of Turkish identity. He supports both the revival of village culture and an interest in Europe, as a sign of modernity. As a result, the modernist movement in architecture strongly influences new design and construction in the capital of Ankara during the 1930s. In the first two decades of the century, Westernizing art is in vogue; academies and societies are founded and group exhibitions are held. The artists associated with this movement, often referred to as the 1914 Generation or the Çallı Group, embrace European-style portraiture and Impressionism. Atatürk’s secular and modernizing policies, particularly the abandonment of the Arabic script in favor of the Latin, have a significant impact on the visual arts.
After World War II, however, Turkey’s ties to Europe weaken. American architecture—especially the skyscraper—and painting come to have a greater influence on the Turkish arts scene. Turkey’s first modern art movement, the D Group, rejects the principles of earlier movements (1914 Generation) in favor of Post-Cubism and Constructivist painting. Founded by Nurullah Berk (1906–1982) and Çemal Tollu (1899–1968), the D Group includes artists such as Elif Naci (1898–1987) and Abidin Dino (1913–1993). During the 1950s and ’60s, Abstract Expressionism and other forms of abstract painting are introduced, as is reflected in the work of Adnan Çoker (born 1927), Turan Erol (born 1927), and Orhan Peker (1927–1978). Contemporary artists living in Turkey today can be seen as members of the current international scene, interested in questions of identity (East/West), gender, heritage (past/present), urban/rural, local/universal, economics and social class, and the supremacy of the corporate economy and global politics. Informed by postmodern notions of fragmentation, hybridity, and social criticism, they work in the media of painting, sculpture, photography, large-scale installation, and video.
Meanwhile, in the Caucasus, nationalist movements arise as the Ottoman and Russian empires begin to collapse in the early twentieth century. Attempts to create independent republics are quashed and lands in this region are absorbed into the Soviet Union. They gain their independence only after the collapse of that state in 1991, and are then divided into the republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. During this period, painters are trained in traditional European-style academies, either in Moscow or on the Continent. Martiros Saryan (1880–1972), for example, works in a Post-Impressionistic style and experiments with capturing the essence of light in his landscape and still-life paintings. One of the world-renowned painters to come out these schools is Arshile Gorky (Vosdanik Adoian, 1904–1948), who was born in Armenia and moved to New York in 1925. He is considered a progenitor of Abstract Expressionism, although his later works are profoundly affected by European Surrealism, particularly the work of Joan Miró, André Masson, and Matta. His disciple in Soviet Armenia, Artour Oshakantsi (born 1953), becomes the greatest Armenian painter in the Soviet Union. He is the founder of Abstract Naturalism and is perhaps the most well-known painter of Independent Armenia. In Soviet Armenia, where abstractionism symbolized the voice of social protest, Oshakantsi is one of the first artists to use abstraction to express his political rage. Traditional arts, like carpet weaving and embroidery, are practiced, albeit with lesser intensity and vibrancy, geared toward commercial consumption and export. Contemporary artists from the Caucasus grapple with issues of identity, displacement, homeland, political freedom, national self-assertion, and their new position within the global community.
As the Ottoman empire continues to weaken, many political groups form in opposition to monarchic rule. The Young Turks, a faction promoting a secular state, are able to force the sultan to reinstate the constitution. In 1909, the parliament deposes Abdülhamid and places his brother Mehmet V on the throne. He must rule with the aid of three members of the Young Turks’ Committee of Union and Progress.
The Ottomans lose Tripoli in Libya to the Italians, Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarians, and Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania to independence.
The Association of Ottoman Painters is established by students of the Fine Arts Academy in Istanbul. Many of the association’s members will also study in Europe and, upon their return to Turkey, introduce the public to Western art styles. The most influential member is Ibrahim Çallı (1882–1960), who brings new subjects to Turkish painting, including multifigural and narrative compositions.
The Academy of Fine Arts for girls is founded in Istanbul.
The Turkish government, led by the Young Turks, executes 300 Armenian nationalist leaders, then orchestrates the deportation of 1.8 million Armenians from Anatolia to Syria and Mesopotamia. It is estimated that in the process, some 1.5 million Armenians are massacred or die of starvation, disease, or exhaustion.
The Battle of Gallipoli. During World War I, the Ottoman empire becomes a target of Europe’s colonial expansion. After British forces fail to take this strategic peninsula, key to the British dream of taking Istanbul and conquering eastern Europe, they are joined by additional troops from Australia, New Zealand, India, and France. After nine months of fighting and the death of half a million soldiers, the Turks led by General Mustafa Kemal are victorious.
Czar Nicholas II of Russia is forced to abdicate, and immediately the independent republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are proclaimed. By 1921, however, each of these nascent republics has fallen to the Bolshevik armies, which are fighting for control of the former Romanoff empire. With the Bolshevik success in 1922 and the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are joined to form the Trans- Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, each becomes an independent republic.
The end of World War I spells the end of the Ottoman dynasty. It has sided with Germany during the war and the victorious Allies decide to split up the empire, which now completely loses its African, European, Arabian, and eastern Mediterranean provinces. Anatolia itself is set to be divided and occupied by foreign powers with little Turkish say in the matter, but when the Greeks occupy Smyrna in 1919, opposition is galvanized.
The State Museum of Armenia is founded.
Modernist architecture in Turkey receives a boost as the new national capital of Ankara is developed.
The Turkish War for Independence is led by Mustafa Kemal. The Greek armies (and their French and Italian allies) are driven from near Ankara back to Izmir and finally out of the country. Over the next several years, ethnic Greeks and Turks in both countries are forced to return to their land of origin.
The Turkish Republic is proclaimed, and the hero of the war for independence becomes the country’s first president. Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938), given the name Atatürk (father of the Turks), immediately launches a program of modernization. A constitution based on Western legal systems is adopted in 1924, and the caliphate is abolished. Some rules Atatürk implements aim to make Turkey more Western, including new dress codes and the adoption of the Latin alphabet, but others preserve the nation’s heritage, such as the decision to officially rename certain cities by their Turkish names. In 1934, women gain the right to vote and serve in parliament. The New Painting Society is formed in Istanbul during this time by young graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts and artists returning from Europe after training.
In Armenia, the first art school opens in Leninakan (now Gyumri) and Yerevan.
Turkey adopts the Gregorian calendar.
The Women’s Art Academy in Istanbul merges with the Academy of Fine Arts, becoming co-educational in 1928.
The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is opened as a museum.
The Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors is founded in Istanbul.
The first photography competition in Turkey is organized in 1932. Throughout the next two decades, photography is increasingly regarded as an art.
The D Group is formed in Istanbul to promote contemporary European aesthetic ideas in Turkey. Most of the group’s members, including painter Çemal Tollu (1899–1968) and sculptor Zühtü Müridoglu (1906–1992), are former students of the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts who also received training in Europe.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is transformed into a museum. In 1937, the Museum of Painting and Sculpture, housed in Dolmabahçe Palace, is founded as a space for modern Turkish art, and German sculptor Rudolf Belling (1886–1972) is appointed the chairman of the Department of Sculpture at the State Academy of Fine Arts.
Turkish painter Nuri Iyem (1915–2005) founds the Yeniler Grubu (New Group), emphasizing the exploration of aesthetic styles and social content relevant to the Turkish context, in opposition to the European-inspired formalism of the D Group.
The Armenian Art Institute is founded.
The Democratic Party in Turkey had come to power in fair elections in the 1950s, replacing Atatürk’s Republican Peoples’ Party. In this year, however, the party’s leaders are accused of violating the constitution and the army steps in. Prime Minister Adnan Menderes is executed. A new constitution is then implemented, giving the prime minister greater powers, and elections are held in 1961.
Massive demonstrations organized by leftist groups and trade unions prompt the imposition of martial law in Istanbul. After violent street fighting between students and police, the military stages a coup, the second since 1960.
In Armenia, the Yerevan Museum of Contemporary Art is established.
By this date, eighty-seven museums exist in Turkey. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art is founded with the purpose of organizing an annual international art festival (music, jazz, film, theater, and visual arts). The first festival takes place in June and July of this year, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
Civil unrest in Turkey; fights erupt between Soviet-supported factions, paid to destabilize the country, and right-wing Muslim parties. Deadlocked political parties are stuck in the middle. The military acts again, the constitution is rewritten, and the head of the military, General Kenan Evren, steps down from his army post to assume the country’s presidency.
The exhibition Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent tours internationally. The first biennial for the visual arts is held in Istanbul in this year.
Conflict erupts between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, to which both lay claim. A cease-fire agreement is reached in 1994.
The Yildiz Technical University in Turkey begins the first graduate program in museum studies.
As the USSR collapses, each of its republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, become independent.
The eighth Istanbul Biennial is held under the direction of Dan Cameron, Senior Curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. The subject of this biennial is “What Is Justice?”
“Anatolia and the Caucasus, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=waa (October 2004)