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Records of YMCA international work in Turkey

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-11


The records of YMCA work in Turkey consist of correspondence, annual reports, report letters, building records, surveys, theses, records of special projects, pamphlets, periodicals, and photos. Much of the collection discusses various historical events that take place in Turkey during the YMCA's existence there. These events include the Adana massacre of 1909, the Balkan War, the Armenian massacres of 1915, World War I, the Greco-Turkish conflict during the Turkish War of Independence and World War II. Records strongly document the tensions between the Turks and Greeks following WWI. They in particular focus on the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922 and the relief effort and evacuation flotilla organized by YMCA secretary Asa Jennings.

Much of the collection focuses on the Constantinople/Istanbul area YMCA and its transition from being a branch of the North American YMCA, to its incarnation as the Amerikan Lisan de Ticaret Dersanesi (American School of Languages and Commerce) otherwise known as the Dershane, Dersane or Dersani and eventual evolution into the Yucel Kultur Vakfi (Yucel Culture Foundation). Along with the information about the various associations specifically, this collection also covers the social and political changes which took place throughout Turkey's establishment as a new country. This includes the changing of certain laws, the assorted political groups in power; including Turkey's first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the establishing of a multiparty constitutional democracy and the variable levels of religious tolerance throughout Turkey's development. There are references to post World War II programs such as the Marshal Plan otherwise known as the ERP (European Recovery Program) and also references to the Turkish aid group the Turkish Red Crescent.

Part of the collection also focuses on the Smyrna YMCA and the associations that followed it in this area of Turkey. Much of the Smyrna YMCA records are dedicated to Asa Jennings and the Great Fire of Smyrna of 1922 along with the deaths of James L. Perry and Frank Johnson during the battle between the French and Turkish forces at Adana in 1920. After the events that take place during the Turkish War for Independence, the records also cover the development of various associations that were patterned after the YMCA. These records include Turkish-American clubs, The American Friends of Turkey and Hayir Islerine Yardim Cemiyeti (Turkish Welfare Society). Within these records there is a large portion of material dedicated to the Anatolian Project, a project geared towards making the social service experience of the YMCA available to the leaders of new Turkey, without the imposition of the religious forms of the association. This portion of the collection also briefly discusses the construction of the OJAK (a Turkish nationalist club) national offices.

Correspondence and reports within this collection include mention of Ernest Otto Jacob, Darius Alton Davis, Dirk Johannes Van Bommel, Asa Kent Jennings, Harry Thomas Baker, Aziz Bey, Esat Bey, Charles B. Webster, Ezra Porter Young, Frank Speer Coan, Lawson McIntosh Kately, James L. Perry and Frank Johnson among others.


  • 1884-1980.
  • Majority of material found in ( 1909-1975)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


YMCAs of German origin existed as early as 1881 in Turkey. These were largely youth groups existing through the efforts of missionaries serving in mission schools. In 1908 Turkey was visited by John R. Mott, and shortly thereafter, Lawson P. Chambers was assigned as the first fraternal secretary. Chambers was officially recognized though not financially supported by the International Committee. With Mott’s concurrence Chambers formed an advisory committee in Constantinople. In 1910, the first salaried secretary, Ernest Otto Jacob, was hired by the North American YMCA's International Committee as a traveling secretary for the Levant (a region including all the eastern Mediterranean from Greece through Egypt, mostly then part of the Turkish Empire). The same year, Darius A. Davis was appointed to Constantinople. In 1911 the Provisional Committee for the YMCAs and YWCAs of the Turkish Empire was established and in 1913 the Turkish Association was admitted as a full member of the World's Alliance of YMCAs. Early sustaining members drew from a diverse community and included Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Americans, and Europeans.

The Adana massacre of 1909 and the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 inspired greater interest in the YMCA's offerings. The Turkish public saw the education that the YMCA provided as a cure to the war and as training for their children. Association secretaries were appointed to Smyrna, Constantinople, Robert College and the Syrian Protestant College. Within the first three months of the Constantinople YMCA being officially open they gained 500 members.

From 1919 to 1922, after the defeat of Central Powers in WWI, Turkey fought a war of independence. On the western front of this conflict was the Greco-Turkish War. In 1922 YMCA secretaries Ernest Otto Jacob and Asa Kent Jennings were in Smyrna as thousands of Greek, Armenian and Jewish refugees were swept into the city by the Turkish army. Jennings succeeded in establishing a hospital for women and children and Jennings and Jacob housed many refugees in buildings along the waterfront. Shortly after the occupation of the Turkish forces a fire destroyed a large part of the city and hundreds of thousands of refugees were crowded on the waterfront. Many drowned, or died from exposure, disease or famine. Jennings persuaded an Italian ship to carry 2,000 refugees to the adjacent island of Mitylene where he secured several Greek merchant vessels for refugee evacuation under the watch of the U. S. destroyer Litchfield. Eventually all Greek merchant ships were placed under his command and with the permission of the Turkish authority and the Greek government in Athens he led the fleet into Smyrna and began evacuating refugees, a process that lasted day and night for a week. Jennings was decorated with the highest of military and civilian awards and was soon after chosen to serve as one of the commissioners for the exchange of prisoners.

Post-war Turkey was deliberately a secular state in which any religious, and especially any Christian "propaganda" was forbidden. The very name of the organization became an obstacle to its work, as for Turks the term "Christian" was identified not primarily with religion but with the communities which bore that name and represented historical political tensions and offensive racial and cultural characteristics. Harry T. Baker, who took over as general secretary when Van Bommel was transferred to Italy in 1926, even suggested that the designation of Christian be dropped from the Constantinople association, a proposal which the YMCA's Foreign Committee rejected.

Partly to avoid the offense of the word "Christian" and partly to meet the highly sensitive nationalistic spirit of the new Turkey, Asa K. Jennings proposed the organization of Turkish-American clubs, much on the pattern of the YMCA. Funding difficulties, stemming from the postwar decline in charitable contribution from North America, led the National Council to cut its support for the program; ultimately even for Jennings' salary. However, Jennings continued in Turkey supported by an organization known as American Friends of Turkey. The American Friends of Turkey worked closely with a Turkish organization called Hayir Islerine Yardim Cemiyeti or the Turkish Welfare Society. With funds obtained elsewhere he inaugurated successful local programs in Ankara and Smyrna. These programs included the building of the OJAK (a Turkish nationalist club) national offices in Angora and the Anatolian project; a project that made available to the leaders of new Turkey the social service experience of the YMCA without imposing religious forms of the organization.

In the late 1930s, changes in Turkish law required the YMCA to turn over more control of the organization to Turks and eventually forced it to change its name, due to the Turkish law against organizations founded on religion. The Constantinople YMCA closed briefly in 1939 and reopened under the name Amerikan Lisan de Ticaret Dersanesi (American School of Languages and Commerce), referred to variously as the Dershane, Dersane, or Dersani. A couple of years later in 1942, Ezra P. Young took over, serving for over a decade, followed by Frank S. Coan and Lawson M. Kately. The Dershane was not as free to pursue a social program as the pre-1940 Association had been, but still made an important contribution through educational classes; especially English language, camping and physical education programs. It also succeeded in adapting to the laws and cultures of Turkey and expanding its indigenous leadership.

During World War II, the members of the Dershane's staff traveled freely, they assisted the Turkish Red Crescent with selecting campsites for underprivileged children and with training leaders. Basketball and volleyball, both introduced by the YMCA, became national games. Muslim leadership in board and staff emerged. The government tacitly acknowledged its debt by adopting the YMCA pattern of camps for boys and using the Dershane’s men to train leaders for them. After the war the Marshall Plan was implemented in Turkey. Turkey received a lot of helpful agricultural equipment, though due to the growing pains that accompanied the establishment of a multi-party system, the equipment only slightly assisted the economy of the country. The Amerikan Lisan de Ticaret Dersanesi was treated as a holding operation for approximately 30 years, maintaining a YMCA presence in Turkey and not costing the YMCA much. It was not able to branch out though. A law passed in Turkey in late 1965 which applied to foreign private schools, prohibited the construction of new buildings and the modernization of old ones, it also strictly controlled building repairs. The top two floors of the Dershane were shortly there after ordered closed by authorities.

A foundation was established in 1968 called the Yucel Kultur Vakfi (Yucel Culture Foundation). It was a self perpetuating body of 68 members, the majority of them being Turkish Muslims, and was recognized as being a Turkish foundation by the Turkish government in Ankara in 1969. The members were the control body who held title to property, custody of funds and determination of basic policy. The Yucel Kultur Vakfi capitalized on the Y initial and used the typical YMCA triangle while not displaying all of the letters of the YMCA. Charles Webster, a fraternal secretary who had maintained a post at the Dershane, became the leader of the staff for this foundation, though by 1971 he left the YKV. This was due to a decision by the International Division to withdraw him. Webster eventually became a fraternal secretary for the International Committee of YMCAs. By 1973 the Dershane transferred the titles of its school and camp property over to the YKV and maintained these programs through the new foundation. Though the YKV was a cooperating member with the World Council of YMCAs they also remained autonomous and maintained a loose connection with the North American YMCAs.

The foundation maintained programs in education, career choice selection and summer camps. It also dedicated a portion of its efforts to the assistance of disabled and orphaned children. A brother's club was established bringing together volunteers in order to assist young boys. In 2011 the YKV was granted Associate status with the European YMCAs and began working toward the same with the World Alliance.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Turkey along with their dates of service:

Alexander, Chester Stephen (1921-1926) Herron, Douglas B. (1962-1963)
Ascham, John Bayne (1925-1926) Jacob, Ernest Otto (1910-1917, 1920-1923)
Baker, Harry Thomas (1925-1940) Jennings, Asa Kent (1922-1933)
Berkedal, Jon G. (1972-1976) Jenny, Arnold Eugene (1940)
Briggle, Lester (1925-1926) Kately, Lawson McIntosh (1955-1961)
Bristol, Warren Edwin (1919-1922) Lindstrom, David G. (1960-1961)
Burnhans, Barent (1929-1932) Maxwell, Farley R. (1959-1960)
Chambers, Lawson P. (1908-1910) Pence, Owen Earle (1914-1918)
Clark, N. Walling (1902-1903) Perry, James L. (1915-1920)
Clodfelter, Gerald C. (1977-1979) Ross, Duncan William (1925-1926)
Clayter, James Frederic (1963-1965) Stevens, Elbert Crandell (1919-1932)
Coan, Frank Speer (1953-1956) Tobin, Chester Martin (1924-1928)
Davis, Darius Alton (1910-1915) Torrence, Edgar C. (1963)
Gannaway, William Ted (1929-1934) Van Bommel, Dirk Johannes (1912-1926)
Glenn, William E. (1961-1963) Webster, Charles B. (1963-1971)
Haas, Dwight M. (1961-1962) Young, Ezra Porter (1941-1953)
Hedden, Ernest Myers (1921-1932)
Historical information largely adapted and quoted from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada, (New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth Scott Latourrette, from YMCA Europe, 2011 (, and from the collection.


6.75 Cubic Feet (19 boxes)


Correspondence, annual reports, report letters, building records, surveys, theses, records of special projects, pamphlets, periodicals, and photos documenting YMCA work in Turkey, especially in the Constantinople/Istanbul area. Much of the collection discusses various historical events that take place in Turkey during the YMCA's existence there, including the Adana massacre of 1909, the Balkan War, the Armenian massacres of 1915, World War I, the Greco-Turkish conflict during the Turkish War of Independence and World War II. Records strongly document the tensions between the Turks and Greeks following WWI. They in particular focus on the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922 and the relief effort and evacuation flotilla organized by YMCA secretary Asa Jennings.


Biographical information on many of the secretaries involved in YMCA work in Turkey (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, October 2010, as collection FP036. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series. Includes Y20130816.

Catalog Record ID number: 6356770

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman~Shedlov.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area