Turkey’s first stage actress commemorated

Turkey’s first stage actress commemorated

ANKARA - Anadolu Agency
Turkey’s first stage actress commemorated

Theater enthusiasts across Turkey commemorated the life of Afife Jale, the first Turkish Muslim stage actress in Turkish theater, 78 years after she passed away.

Born in 1902 in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, Afife adopted the stage name “Jale,” leading to her recognition as Afife Jale in her later career.

Darulbedayi, known today as the Istanbul State Theater, would during this period only allow Muslim women to act for exclusively female audiences, as they were would not traditionally allowed to take on theater roles.

Jale and four other female students were accepted to Darulbedayi as interns in 1918. Jale and Refika Özbayer were the only ones to remain while the others quit due to the unpromising odds of a Muslim woman becoming an actress. At the end of the year, Özbayer was employed as prompter, while Afife became an intern actress.

When actress Eliza Binemeciyan departed from the theater in the days prior to the premier of Hüseyin Suat’s play “Yamalar” (Patches) on April 13, 1920, the managers of Darulbedayi decided to hand the role to Afife.

Jale took on her first role for Yamalar on April 22, 1920, in the Apollon Cinema in Kadıköy.

“It was the first time I was happy in my life,” Jale recalled of her performance in an interview with journalist Refik Ahmet Sevengil in 1926. “I was in the beautiful drunkenness that art gives my soul.”

“Screenwriter Hüseyin Suat was waiting backstage. He stopped as I left, kissed me on the forehead and told me: ‘Our stage needed an art sacrifice. You are that sacrifice.’”

A break to short career 

Jale staged her second play, “Tatlı Sır” (Sweet Secret), in a week’s time. When police tried to detain her, another actress, Kinar Sivaciyani, helped her escape. In her third play, “Odalık” (Handmaiden), Jale was arrested. She had to quit her acting career after the Interior Ministry of the Ottoman Empire issued a circular letter that Muslim women could not go on stage anywhere.

Jale suffered from severe headaches due to these problems, becoming addicted to morphine after her doctor’s treatment. A few years later, she went on tour in Anatolia with the Burhanettin Tepsi Company.

Later, she gave representations in various cities with Fikret Sadi’s National Stage.

After the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the new regime removed legal barriers to stage-worthy Turkish women, moreover, and facilitated support for actresses.

However, Jale’s health deteriorated, and she was forced to leave the theater due to her morphine addiction.

At a concert in 1928, Jale met Selahattin Pınar who accompanied her with his drum, and the couple married in 1929. Pinar is considered to have composed many songs for Jale, including “How come I loved that cruel woman?”, “I understand you will not love me” and “Delicate flower.”

They divorced in 1935 due to Jale’s morphine addiction and its negative effect on their marriage.


Jale died on June 24, 1941 in Bakıröy Psychiatric Hospital in Istanbul. She was buried at Kazlıçeşme Cemetery.

“Remember me minding, caring and hugging, not pitying,” journalist Nezihe Araz quoted Afife Jale as saying. “If theater exists, I exist.”

The Afife Theater Awards have been organized by lender Yapı Kredi in memory of the artist since 1997.