To be Loved and Hated: Riza Tevfik bey

A History Lesson by Riza Tevfik bey

"A natural history lesson given by Dr. Riza Tevfik Bey.

Riza: Gentlemen, these animals that you see are the most terrible of the Quaternary period. They ate a hundred times more than the elephants of today. There remains only their fossils."

Kalem, September 3, 1908.

Trusting Riza Tevfik on the Trapeze

"Selim Sirr: Be careful, because if the ring comes off, we are lost.
Riza Tevfik: Do not worry; I have examined it, it is very solid, go ahead..."

Kalem, September 10, 1908.

Riza Tevfik bey––often afforded the title "feylesof" (philosopher)––is a recurring figure in the Kalem cartoons. He had trained to be a medical doctor, was a pugilist and wrestler, a Bektashi community leader, freemason, and spoke English, French, Italian, Albanian, Armenian, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish (Wasti 83). He was also an Ottoman politician, writer, and poet, who had the unfortunate luck of being selected for the Turkish delegation of signatories to the Treaty of Sèvres, which spelled the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. He was a member of the Committee of Union and Progress, which had aligned itself with the Young Turks for their revolution. However, his "dissillusionment with the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) came much earlier than that of many others" (Wasti 84).

Nevertheless, he was a wildly popular figure in Istanbul society at the time of these cartoons. In the first image, he is instrumentalized as a symbol of the new wave of modernization, hope for constitutionalism, and mockery of all that came before. Born in what is now Bulgaria and educated in Beirut and Istanbul, Riza Tevfik represents all that the future could hold for a "modernized," already cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire, and the elitism that threatened the tentative CUP alliance with secularist, lower socio-economic class political parties.

In the second image, Riza Tevfik's reputation for brash confidence is reflected in his dismissal of colleague Selim Sirr's protestations that the trapeze may not hold them both. Riza Tevfik was known for his physical as well as intellectual acumen. Rendering him with certain stereotypically masculine traits such as strong arms, broad chest, muscular thighs, and thick, black hair on his head, as his moustache, and even indicated in his underarms, reinforces contemporary notions of the ideal Turkish man. Both images represent Riza Tevfik bey at a dangerous intersection of model male and threatening elite.

Related reading: Wasti, Syed Tanvir. "Feylesof Riza." Middle Eastern Studies 38:2 (2002): 83-100.

To be Loved and Hated: Riza Tevfik bey