Reşad Ekrem Koçu (1905, Istanbul – 6 July 1975, Istanbul) is a colorful figure among the Republic period historians who devoted his life to compiling and writing the “registry of Istanbul city” under the title ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’. Reşad Ekrem resigned from his position as teaching assistant in department of history following his professor Ahmet Refik Altınay who was removed from his office after the 1933 University Reform, and worked as a history teacher in colleges and a journalist and columnist in Babıâli.
Reşad Ekrem can be regarded as living memory of Istanbul. Born in Istanbul in 1905, he was the son of Journalist Ekrem Reşad and Lady Hacı Fatma. He spent his childhood in a seaside mansion near Bosphorus. Later they moved to an estate his father purchased in Göztepe. He attended Konya Anadolu İntibah School (1918) and Bursa High School for Boys (1927). He completed his undergraduate degree in Istanbul University Department; of History (1931). He became a teaching assistant in the same department however he resigned during 1933 University Reform. He taught history in Kuleli, Vefa and Pertevniyal colleges for many years. His studies were published as newspaper serials, magazine articles and books by various publishing houses.
Reşad Ekrem pursues a great ideal and passion: to compile records of Istanbul, and to put his ideas into action he starts working in 1940s. He gathers his collections from Historiographer histories, and knowledge provided by his friends who know Istanbul well and are experts in their fields to put together a comprehensive archive. This accumulation leads to the voluminous and extensive ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ and first volume is published in November 1944. This attempt is regarded as the early period of Koçu’s encyclopedia venture which ended in 1949 with the third volume (34 fascicules). Thanks İstanto Koçu’s intellectual pursuit and persistence, ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’’s second publishing period began in 1958. This extensively and thoroughly planned second publication sadly came to a halt at letter “G” in the 11th volume after passing of Reşad Ekrem in 1957.
Undoubtedly Reşad Ekrem Koçu’s works are not limited to ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’. Aside from teaching, he was an author who made a living with his pen who wrote novels, history books, stories, series and made translations. This is why he was a versatile author with works ranging from novels to poetry, from history articles to dictionary and folktales. he authored the thick volume of “Ottoman Contracts and Capitulations” while he was a history teacher in Pertevniyal College, an academically acknowledged source book true to historical events, and in addition he released books for the public to read, learn about and enjoy Ottoman History.
‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ was undoubtedly the favorite of Reşad Ekrem Koçu among all his books. Koçu participated in Istanbul exhibition in 1949 to overcome the financial crisis encyclopedia faced, and distributed pamphlets to guests. He addressed the Istanbul locals in this pamphlet as follows:
“Dear Istanbul local, Citizen visiting 1949 Istanbul Exhibition; Most of you do not know me… However when Istanbul is mentioned in Turkish press and art circles, I believe they acknowledge my competence in writing and my skill with words…
Most of you do not know me… However you will certainly appreciate my heavy task of writing a comprehensive alphabetical registry of this metropolitan named Istanbul, and may estimate how costly each edition of ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ is.
For four and a half years, I have been struggling hard, sacrificing all I can and even my health to complete the first volumes of ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ arranged as 24 volumes. I achieved this task which would normally require a committee, on my own honorably with help from a few writer, artist and architect friends of mine .” Reşad Ekrem Koçu passed away on 6 July 1974 and ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ was never completed. Remaining unpublished volumes are tangible examples that demonstrate how ungrateful those who live in Istanbul are to city’s history and culture. In Reşad Ekrem’s words “no city had a chance” like ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’. Reşad Ekrem Koçu was buried in Sahra-yı Cedit cemetery on 7 July 1974, and encyclopedia got lost in the mists of time.
The story of ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia ‘ Archive
Semavi Eyice, a co-author of Istanbul Encyclopedia who became friends with Reşad Ekrem Koçu in his youth says, “He kept notes, pictures and various documents regarding encyclopedia items in hundreds of envelopes in his house. Reşad Ekrem Koçu who sank into despair in his late years told that he would pile all of these up on the small opening in front of his building and set these on fire,”. This massive archive that can be considered as the “Registry of Istanbul” was a great information source on which master and his friends worked all their lives. Correspondences, notes, research documents, plans, sketches, item drafts were meticulously collected, kept and accumulated by Reşad Ekrem. To comprehend how this outstanding and unmatched archive of ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ was created, one must browse the name list on the cover of encyclopedia’s first volume titled “Competent authors who assisted Reşad Ekrem Koçu in writing this encyclopedia”. In “From Past to Present Istanbul Encyclopedia” published by Historical Society, Professor Semavi Eyice who provided the most accurate information on Reşad Ekrem Koçu and ‘Istanbul Encyclopedia’ based on his experiences, expresses the following: “Mehmet Koçu cleared off the encyclopedia fascicules in a storehouse following Koçu’s decease. He later sold the notes and documents in Koçu’s house to ‘Tercüman’ Newspaper archive by way of Niyazi Ahmet Banoğlu. Archive was scattered and sold so we do not know its fate. And soon after, Mehmet Koçu passed away. So everything Reşad Ekrem Koçu left behind was lost forever.” However despite several items were lost, Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive has been preserved by a well-established noble family and reached to our day. Today this precious archive, roughly arranged and preserved in the private estate of the family, is a treasure named Istanbul Registry. We wish this treasure, Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive will be transferred to electronic media and the rare encyclopedia will be completed with addition of new items.