Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Conference. Cultural Encounters: Istanbul and Refugees from the Russian Empire (1919-1923)

On June 3, 2022, the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Pera Museum, Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul, and Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, Columbia University hosted the international symposium Cultural Encounters: Istanbul and Refugees from the Russian Empire (1919-1923).



10:00am | Welcome

Özalp Birol (Pera Museum)

Ipek Cem Taha (Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul)


10:15-11:15am | The Encounter in Context: Istanbul Under the Armistice

Chair: Holger Klein

  • Valentina Izmirlieva (Columbia University), “The Four Paradoxes of Istanbul’s Beyaz Ruslar Moment”
  • Vladimir Alexandrov (Yale University), “Frederick Bruce Thomas and Being Black in Constantinople”
  • Edward Kasinec (Hoover Institution, Stanford University), “American Elite Philanthropy, Anna V.S. Mitchell and The Constantinople/Istanbul Russians, 1920-1929”


11:45am-12:30pm | The Byzantine Legacy Rediscovered

Chair: Valentina Izmirlieva

  • Holger A. Klein (Columbia University), “From Russia to Byzantium: Thomas Whittemore’s Intellectual Formation and the Work of the Byzantine Institute of America”
  • Sergey A. Ivanov (Moscow Higher School of Economics), “Byzantium as Seen by the White Russians in Constantinople”


1:30-2:30pm | Artists in Transcultural Dialog

Chair: Vladimir Alexandrov

  • Ayşenur Güler (Independent Researcher, London) [Via Zoom], “Findings on Gritchenko’s Sojourn in Istanbul (1919-1921)”
  • Ekaterina Aygün (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich), “Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople (1921/1922-1923) as an Émigré Artists’ Collective”
  • Nadia Podzemskaia (ITEM, CNRS-ETS, Paris), “Constantinople/Istanbul in the First Half of the 1920s, through the Eyes of the Émigré Artists from the Russian Empire”


3:15-4:00pm | Spotlight: Iraïda Barry – A Meeting of Two Archives

Cengiz Kahraman (Istanbul Photography Museum) and Valentina Izmirlieva present two archives of Iraïda Barry’s life and work – one in Istanbul, the other in New York


4:00-5:30pm | Roundtable Discussion (Closed Doors)



Valentina Izmirlieva is a Professor of Russian and Balkan cultures at Columbia University and Director of the Harriman Institute. Most of her research examines cross-religious exchange in multi-national empires. Her current book project focuses on Christian-Muslim cultural exchange in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. She founded and leads Black Sea Networks, a global initiative to investigate the Black Sea as a hub of cultural, political, and historical interest. The long-term project “Russian Istanbul,” including the conference and the projected exhibition at Pera Museum, is part of that initiative.


Vladimir Alexandrov, Professor Emeritus of Russian Literature at Yale University, has also taught at Princeton and Harvard. A graduate seminar on Russian émigré culture between the wars at Yale led to his discovery of Frederick Bruce Thomas (1872-1928), the son of former slaves in Mississippi who became a multimillionaires impresario in statist Moscow and the “Sultan of Jazz” in Istanbul. The discovery later resulted in the biography The Black Russian (2013), which is currently under option for a TV series.

Ekaterina Aygün, Research Assistant in Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and pursues her doctoral research project on Russian-speaking artists in Constantinople/Istanbul at the beginning of the 20th century. She has designed the digital Istanbul Walk for the online project METROMOD: Strolling Through Modern Metropolises of Exile (2020).

Ayşenur Güler was a Research Assistant in the Department of Art History at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul between 2011-2017. She completed her PhD at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in 2014 with a thesis on the Turkish modernist painter İbrahim Çallı. Ms. Güler is the co-author of the catalog from the recent Istanbul exhibition Alexis Gritchenko: The Constantinople Years (2020) and is currently preparing a biography of the painter Namık İsmail. She resides in London.

Sergey Ivanov, Professor of Byzantine History at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, is the leading Russian specialist in Russo-Byzantine cultural relations. Of particular interest for his research has been the history of Constantinople and the Russian contribution to the conservation of Byzantine monuments in the city. His erudite guidebook In Search of Constantinople, available in many languages, was recently published in English. His current project is a historical examination of Russian images of Constantinople.

Edward Kasinec‘s long career as an archival curator includes service for Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute Library (1973-80); University of California, Berkeley, Library (1980-84), and most notably chief curatorial work for the Slavic and Baltic Division of The New York Public Library (1984-2009). He presently serves as a Research Associate for the Harriman Institute and Columbia University and, since 2014, as a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Kasinec has more than two hundred academic publications and has curated several major exhibitions, including Russia Engages the World (1453-1825) at NYPL (2003-2004).

Holger A. Klein is the Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor of Medieval Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. His research focuses on the art and culture of the medieval Mediterranean, more specifically on the cult of relics in Byzantium, and issues of cultural and artistic exchange between the Byzantine Empire and its neighbors. He was the curator of Restoring Byzantium: The Kariye Camii and the Byzantine Institute Restoration (Wallach Art Gallery, 2004) and co-curator of Kariye from Theodore Metochites to Thomas Whittemore: One Monument, Two Monumental Personalities (Pera Museum, 2007) and has explored the life and work of Thomas Whittemore, the founder and first director of the Byzantine Institute of America in various publications.

Nadia Podzemskaia is a Research Fellow at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in France (Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes, Paris). Her research intersects with philology, the history of art, and aesthetics. She has devoted several works to the theoretical writings of Wassily Kandinsky, including ColoreSimboloImmagine. Origine della teoria di Kandinsky (Firenze, 2000) and the complete critical commented edition of On the Spiritual in Art in Russian and German in 2 volls (Moscow, 2020). She also studied the reception in Russia of the work of Leonardo da Vinci and the Italian Renaissance, the history of the State Academy of Artistic sciences in the 1920s, and the history of the Byzantine Library in Paris. Among other things, her area of interest includes Thomas Wittemore’s connections with the émigré artists from the Russian Empire, in particular Dimitri Izmailovitch.


Event Videos

Panel I

Panel II

Panel III

Panel IV