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Origins, ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’

A look through history at gender roles in Ottoman cities from Sofia to Istanbul, Women and the City, Women in the City: A Gendered Perspective on Ottoman Urban History will be published later this month. Editor Nazan Maksudyan has a deep-seated interest in the topic, which is connected to her relationship with her grandmother. Below is an excerpt from the book about life in Turkey and the women’s relationship. The text is followed by a photo collection of the editor’s family, namely, her grandmother Maryam Maksudyan.



While working on putting together this volume, my intent was to have a range of essays that covered a wide array of subjects, and the final product proudly bears witness to this initial hope. Yet, when trying to prepare the introductory section and reflecting on the two keywords in the title of the book, “women” and “city,” I could not help but remember Edward Hopper’s famous painting, Chop Suey from 1929.


In most of his paintings, he observes people and places, especially the interiors of New York restaurants in the 1920s. But this painting is probably one of the best representatives of his focus on the ever-growing affinity of the urban scene and modern women.


It goes without saying that urban women do much more than enjoy kaffee und kuchen. Especially when the background scenery is the Ottoman context, one has to broaden the scope to a variety of subjects and issues. Yet, the above described separate but linked images of women in cafés in different cities still played a role in the conception of an urban history book mainly from a gender perspective. Without doubt and with the utmost strength, I thought of my grandmother. Through all her life, she was for me the best guide in discovering my city, Istanbul, and a perfect example of a city woman. A city woman, a perfect example? What do I mean by these phrases? If I were to define it in a rigorous way, I guess I might refer to such things as education, work experience, mobility, and travel, having a presence in public, a taste of fashion, and a notion of living well. But again I am haunted by Chop Suey and cannot detach myself from the theme of kaffee und kuchen.


My grandmother was my heroine not only because she was a well-educated, intelligent, and incredibly elegant woman who spoke five languages, who had a career and who had seen many parts of the world, but also she was my first and regular companion at the famous and exceptional European styled café of Istanbul: Baylan. Until it was closed in 1992, Karaköy Baylan was the usual stop of our adventures in the European side of the city, as we were among the people of the “other side” (karşı). But we were also frequenters of the branch in Kadıköy, in our side of the city. There, we always had the specialty of Baylan, kup griye (cup grillé). To give an idea of the sin that we shared, it was made with ice cream, caramel sauce, toasted almonds, vanilla, pistachios, and crème Chantilly and was served with langue de chat biscuits. Even though I was a teenager at the time, I like to think that we were both women of sweets enjoying the dolce vita.


So I want to dedicate this book to my grandmother, Maryam Maksudyan, and to my city, Istanbul, two inalienable parts of my life and work.


Following is a selection of photographs of the Nazan Maksudyan’s family, notably her grandmother, Maryam Maksudyan.

1My great-grandmother Antaram (upper row, second from the right) with her friends and relatives from the neighborhood, ca. 1930


2My great-grandmother Antaram (first row, middle) and her daughters Sona (upper row, first on the left) and Maryam (upper row, first on the right), ca. 1935


3 My grandmother Maryam taking care of a cousin, does not seem so happy as a teenage girl, ca. 1939



4 My grandmother was a superb tailor, sewing for herself the most fashionable dresses thanks to the training she received in Papazyan Tailoring Workshop in Kurtuluş, ca. 1940


5 Wedding of Maryam and Harutyun, 1947


6 My beautiful grandmother Maryam and her husband Harutyun, ca. 1950


7 My grandmother having difficulty handling her beloved, yet spoiled and uninhibited son, Vartan, my father, ca.1960




Nazan Maksudyan is Assistant Professor of History at the Sociology Department of Istanbul Kemerburgaz University and has held Wissenschaftskolleg and Alexander von Humboldt postdoc positions in Berlin at Zentrum Moderner Orient.