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Constantinople: The Emigration’s First Stop on the Journey to Create an Independent “Russia Abroad” 

Online Lecture and Panel Discussion on Saturday May 20

Presented by Dr. Anatol Shmelev and Timur Saitov

One hundred years ago, our ancestors in the First Wave of Russian emigration left Russian territory, fleeing the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War that followed it. But they never abandoned being Russian or continuing to develop Russian thought, creativity, the pursuit of an independent and free “Russia Abroad” while believing in their continuing relevance to the future of Russia and their eventual return to their liberated country.

Today, a new, 5th wave of Russian Emigration has arrived to the familiar exit points of 100 years ago, facing hauntingly similar concerns of deracination, irrelevance, loss, the same choices of assimilation or facing a life “from suitcases” and the creation of a new Free Russia in the pursuit of the molding of their new identity spatially displaced yet united by circumstance, language and purpose.

On Saturday, May 20th, at 1 pm EDT, our Zoom event will originate in Istanbul, the first stop of the Russian diaspora’s century-long, multi-generation journey, from a dinner table at the 100-year-old Russian Café Rejans that had been frequented by some of our ancestors. On this 100th anniversary of their dispersal from this short, three-year stop (1920-1923) that was formative to the emigration’s coherence and influence, we will review how this process started, and how the choice to remain Russian required the community to create a new, independent and mobile infrastructure to serve the emigres in a wide variety of ways, initially to find ways to feed, clothe and house the massive exodus, but almost immediately, to find medical care, to provide schools, churches, administrative and travel support, and ultimately, a reconstituted social, cultural and political life.

Our dear friend Dr. Anatol Shmelev of the Hoover Institute will return to explain the history of these three years and related events, and Timur Saitov of SUNY Binghamton will add some specific comments on the political and geographic context.  Our Panelists will join us for dinner and will include members of the 5th Wave whose first stop also happened to be Istanbul.



DR. ANATOL SHMELEV is the Robert Conquest Curator for Russia and Eurasia and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and project archivist for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty collection. Anatol Shmelev studied history at UCLA and UC Berkeley (M.A., 1989) and received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996, with a dissertation on the foreign policy of the Siberian government during the Russian Civil War.

His books include Tracking a Diaspora (The Haworth Press, 2006); a bibliography of Russian émigré military literature (Norman Ross, 2007); The Foreign Policy of Admiral Kolchak’s Government, 1918–1919 (European University Press, St. Petersburg, 2017); and his latest, In the Wake of Empire: Anti-Bolshevik Russia in International Affairs, 1917–1920 (the Hoover Institution Press, 2021).

TIMUR SAITOV, PhD Candidate at the History Department of Binghamton University, State University of New York, is one of the few scholars focused on this subject: his dissertation title is Russian Exiles in post-WWI Istanbul: Modern Refugees and the Transition from Ottoman Imperial to Turkish Republican Rule. He has an M.A. in Middle Eastern and Ottoman History from Binghamton University, and a B.A. in Modern Middle Eastern History & Political Sciences from Tel Aviv University.

NISA ÖDÜL TOPCU produced the background and historic videos for this presentation, and conducted the local research and preparation that made this event possible. She is an MBA student at Justus Liebig Universität, having earned her bachelor’s degree from Middle East Technical University, Department of Economics, Turkey, and currently resides in Germany. Nisa Topcu was an intern at the Russian History Museum (Jordanville, NY) in 2021-2022, focusing her research interests on Russian émigré and late 19th and early 20th c. Russian history.

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