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Leon Trotsky

  • Banished by Stalin, the revolutionary politician Leon Trotsky and his entourage arrived in Istanbul in 1929. He settled on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara.
  • Leon
  • Trotsky
  • Лев Троцкий, Lew Trozki, Lew Dawidowitsch Bronstein

  • 07-11-1879
  • Ivanivka (UA)
  • 21-08-1940
  • Coyoacán (MX)
  • Politician
  • Banished by Stalin, the revolutionary politician Leon Trotsky and his entourage arrived in Istanbul in 1929. He settled on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara.

    Word Count: 31

  • Trotsky at his desk, Büyükada, 1931, detail (Heijenoort 1978, 15).
  • Banished by Stalin not once but several times, the Russian revolutionary and communist politician Leon Trotsky and his entourage were forced to leave the Soviet Union and arrived in Istanbul by ship in 1929. This was the start of four years of constant changes of residence in the city on the Bosporus. The numerous addresses attest to his nomadic existence during his exile and illustrate the challenges of the displaced as they struggled to find suitable housing. In Trotsky's case there was the added fear of assassination by Stalin’s agents. As of 1917, as already stated, there were many Russian emigrants in the city who had fled from the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. As a leading figure in the revolution, Trotsky also had to reckon with the anger of the Russian White Guard emigrés (Service 2012, 475).

    The Russian general consulate, which initially welcomed the exiles, was not considered to be a safe haven in the long run. Trotsky moved from there to the Tokatliyan Hotel in Beyoğlu on the Grand Rue du Péra, considered to be one of the city’s most modern and exclusive hotels. After a short time he settled in a furnished apartment in the district of Şişli (Izzet Paşa Sokak 29; see Heijenoort 1978, 6). From there, he moved to Büyükada/Prinkipo, one of the Princes’ Islands near the Asian district of Istanbul (where in 1920, for a short period stayed and worked Alexis Gritchenko), and remained there until 1933. The island could be reached only by boat from Istanbul, making it possible to monitor arrivals. A regular ferry service between Istanbul and the islands had been in existence since 1846 and, after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the “Devlet Deniz Yolları Idaresi” (State Shipping Line) increased the frequency of the service. The voyage took roughly 90 minutes from the European side of Istanbul; in addition, the island could be reached by motorboat from Galata. Motorised vehicles were prohibited on the island, so movement from place to place was possible primarily by hackney cab, on donkeys or by bicycle (Deleon 2003, 150). This made it difficult for potential assassins to set foot on the island without attracting attention, or to leave it quickly without being noticed.

    On Büyükada/Prinkipo Trotsky was able to rent the guest house of the summer residence of the Ottoman family Izzet Paşa (Çankaya Sokak, fig. 6), located on the north side of the island not far from the dock. Here Trotsky and a constantly expanding circle of family members, friends and political supporters spent their first two years on the island. However, on 1 March 1931, a fire damaged the villa (Pinguet 2013, 113). After spending four weeks at the Hotel Savoy on Büyükada/Prinkipo, Trotsky moved at the end of March to the Asian side of Istanbul and stayed in an apartment in the district of Moda for a few months (Şıfa Sokak No. 22). He did not return to the island until January 1932, when he took up residence in the Yanaros Villa (Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4), which had been built on the western shore of Büyükada by Nikola Demades in the 1850s.
    The Yanaros Villa had direct access to the water, and the house could be approached only via a cul-de-sac. Turkish policemen were permanently stationed on the villa grounds, with additional protection provided by Trotsky’s armed entourage (Urgan 1998, 155f.). The two-storey Yanaros Villa had room for numerous bedrooms and offices; Trotsky’s study was set up on the second floor.
    In his island exile Trotsky was highly productive, writing newspaper and magazine articles, and authoring several books, including a history of the Russian Revolution and his autobiography. He also wrote about fascism in Europe and National Socialism in Germany, and published articles on the political situation in Austria, the Spanish Revolution and Stalinism in the Soviet Union (Deutscher 1972, 97–149). The library he had brought with him, archival material brought from the Soviet Union and his own memories, as well as daily international newspapers provided the basis for his publications. Photos of his desk, which also provide evidence of his self-presentation as a politician of continuing influence, show international newspapers such as The New York Times and the American Trotskyist paper The Militant. Trotsky also regularly read the French daily Le Temps and the right-wing conservative Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, received Turkish daily papers, whose headlines he was able to decipher despite not knowing the language, and had international papers produced in Istanbul purchased for him in the shops on the jetty.

    Although Trotsky hardly ever left the island – besides his stay in Moda, we know only of a lecture tour to Copenhagen (Service 2012, 525) and a single visit to the Hagia Sophia (Althof 2005, 22) – he followed world events. He was regularly visited by supporters and exchanged letters with like-minded political friends and followers, family members and intellectuals. In contrast with this lively intellectual exchange his everday island existence was characterised by routine: starting work in the early hours of the morning, lunching with his household, and going on regular fishing trips (see Coşar 2010, 148).

    Trotsky, who lost his Soviet citizenship in February 1932, left Büyükada for France in 1933, moved to Norway in 1935 and received political asylum in Mexico in 1936. On 24 May 1940, he survived a first assault at his home in Coyoacán, but died three months later after another attack. Trotsky’s home on Büyükada/Prinkipo, the Yanaros Villa, became a site of the 14th Istanbul Biennial in 2015, when Adrián Villar Rojas displayed his installation The Most Beautiful of All Mothers with chimeric sculptures.

    Word Count: 928

  • Trotsky at his desk, Büyükada, 1931 (Heijenoort 1978, 15).
    Yanaros Villa, Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4, residence and exile domicile of Leon Trotsky on Büyükada, 1932/1933 (Heijenoort 1978, 10).
    Yanaros Villa, Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4, Büyükada, 1932–33, view from the cul-de-sac (Heijenoort 1978, 10).
    Trotsky and entourage on a boat trip, Büyükada, around 1931–33 (Heijenoort 1978, 12).
    Yanaros Villa, Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4, Büyükada, site of the 14th Istanbul Biennial in 2015 (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci).
    Adrián Villar Rojas’ installation The Most Beautiful of All Mothers at the Yanaros Villa, Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4, Büyükada, as part of the 14th Istanbul Biennial in 2015 (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci).
  • Althof, Wolfgang. Sträflingsinseln. Schauplätze der Verbannung. E.S. Mittler & Sohn, 2005.

    Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. 14 Istanbul Bienali Rehberi Tuzlu Su / 14th Istanbul Biennial Guidebook: Saltwater. Yapı Kredı Yayınları, 2015.

    Coşar, Ömer Sami. Troçki İstanbul’da (1969). Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2010.

    Deleon, Jak. The White Russians in Istanbul. Remzi Kitabevi, 1995.

    Deleon, Jak. Büyükada. Anıtlar Rehberi. A Guide to the Monuments. Remzi Kitabevi, 2003.

    Deutscher, Isaac. Trotzki. Der verstoßene Prophet 1929–1940 (2nd ed.). Translated by Harry Maor, Kohlhammer, 1972.

    Heijenoort, Jean van. With Trotsky in Exile. From Prinkipo to Coyoacán. Harvard University Press, 1978.

    Pinguet, Catherine. Les îles des Princes. Un archipel au large d’Istanbul. Empreinte, 2013.

    Sartorius, Joachim. Die Prinzeninseln (2nd ed.). mareverlag, 2010.

    Service, Robert. Trotzki. Eine Biographie. Suhrkamp, 2012.

    Simenon, George. “Besuch bei Trotzki (Paris-Soir, 16./17. Juni 1933).” Idem. Das Simenon-Lesebuch. Erzählungen, Reportagen, Erinnerungen. Briefwechsel mit André Gide. Brief an meine Mutter, edited by Daniel Keel et al., Diogenes, 2002, pp. 215–231.

    Word Count: 154

  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • Turkey (1929–1933); France (1933-1935); Norway (1935/36); Mexico (1936–1940).

  • Izzet Paşa Sokak 29, Şişli, Istanbul (residence, 1929); Çankaya Sokak 18, Büyükada/Prinkipo, Istanbul (residence, 1929–1931); Şıfa Sokak No. 22, Moda, Istanbul (residence, 1931/32); Yanaros Villa, Nizam Mahallesi Hamlacı Sokak No. 4, Büyükada/Prinkipo, Istanbul (residence, 1932/33).

  • Istanbul
  • Burcu Dogramaci. " Leon Trotsky." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 15-04-2023.
  • Gustav Oelsner
    ArchitectCity Planner

    Gustav Oelsner became the founding father of urban planning in Turkey, his country of exile. He was also the author of numerous articles for the architectural journal Arkitekt.

    Word Count: 28

    Roman Bilinski
    PainterSculptorCollectorArt restorer

    At the beginning of the 1920s, a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Roman Bilinski was known as a sculptor. At the end of the 1920s–beginning of the 1930s – as a sculptor, painter and connoisseur of local antiques.

    Word Count: 42

    Russkiy v Konstantinopole/Le Russe à Constantinople

    The guide-book was created for Russian-speaking refugees who had to leave their country and settle in Constantinople.

    Word Count: 17

    Alexis Gritchenko
    PainterArt Historian

    During the two years of his life that he spent in Istanbul, Alexis Gritchenko produced more paintings dedicated to the city than many artists produce in an entire lifetime.

    Word Count: 29