Historical Context of Kurt Seyit and Sura

Editors Note:  This Article was originally published on gingermonette.com March 25, 2017.  It is an excellent article to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the “Great War”, World War I.  We in the West have seen many a World War l movie, all of them from the perspective of American or British soldiers… the story of Kurt Seyit ve Sura is the story of a soldier battling for his homeland in the Great War… but his home was in the East.. he was a Crimean soldier of Turkish ancestry.  This excellent blogpost gives some historical context to the story.  

Ginger Monette

I’ll bet you found your way here because you just finished watching Kurt Seyit and Sura on Netflix and you’re curious about the show’s historical context. Russian Revolution? Turkey?Yikes! Neither topic is given much attention in American classrooms.

Curious myself about the history behind Seyit and Sura, I did a little digging and am here to share what I learned about the Russian Revolution, Turks, the British occupation of Istanbul, and the true story of Seyit and Sura. 

Why did Seyit and Sura have to flee Russia?

The answer requires a little history lesson. WW1 broke out in 1914 between the Axis and Allies. For our purposes here, it’s enough to know that meant: Germany and the Ottomans of Turkey (the Axis) were against Britain and Russia (the Allies).

Sura was the daughter of a wealthy Russian family. Seyit Eminof was a lieutenant in the Czar’s personal guard, who was from Crimea, a peninsula off the southern coast of what was then Russia (now Ukraine) on the Black Sea.” (see map) Although Crimea isn’t in Turkey, its residents were predominantly Muslim “Turks” who spoke Turkish (and I suppose Russian as well).

In 1917, when civil war erupted in Russia and the Bolsheviks (headed by Lenin) seized power,

Russia was forced to pull out of WW1. Like the French Revolution, it was a civil war basically between the have’s and the have-nots. The Russian Tsar Nicholas II of the house of Rominov and his five children were executed. Since the families of both Seyit and Sura were aristocracy, they became targets of the Bolsheviks as well. Petro, although a Russian aristocrat by birth himself, joined the Bolshevik rebels.

Now targets of the ruling Bolsheviks, Seyit and Sura, along with some 200,000 other refugees, fled across the Black Sea to Instanbul, Turkey. The Russian consulate on Pera Street became a natural gathering place for these Russian refugees as they could search registries for their loved ones, and as the old saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” This area became known as Pera, which is where the hotel and launderette in the series were located.

Why were the British Occupying Istanbul? 

In 1918, the Ottoman government negotiated a surrender to the British. As part of the terms of surrender, the Ottomans agreed to allow the British to occupy any Ottoman territory “in case of disorder.” That’s how Istanbul (a city in Turkey and part of the Ottoman empire) came to be occupied by the British. [You may recall from history class that Istanbul has had numerous names throughout the ages including Constantinople and Byzantium.]

Why was Captain Billy so suspicious of Seyit and his fellow refugees?

 Since Seyit had been a Russian officer and Russia fought on the same side as the Brits, I didn’t understand why (British) Captain Billy had such a disdain for Seyit and the other Crimean Turk refugees. I did some research and was unable to come up with anything definitive. However, I’m guessing that Billy was suspicious of them because they were Turkish (the enemy) by ethnicity—they dressed like Turks, spoke like Turks, and were Muslims like Turks. Perhaps that explains why he was not so vindictive towards Petro and the Baroness, as both of them were Russian (but not Turk Russians).


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