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Historic Istanbul home of Russian revolutionary Trotsky up for sale

The top Soviet politician and war leader spent four and-a-half years of his exile at the house – and penned his memoirs there

Paul Crompton

Published: Updated:

The Istanbul home of Leon Trotsky, the top Bolshevik politician who lost to Stalin in the struggle for control of the Soviet Union, has been listed for sale on a Turkish property website.

The three-story, five-bedroom home, situated on the scenic Buyukada Island close to the city, is notable for being the site where Trotsky lived for four and-a-half years, and his first port of call after being expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. Cut off from politics, Trotsky used the time in the house to write his memoirs.

Despite the history behind the home, it has not been restored, and visitors are frequently surprised by its poor condition, the Istanbul-based daily Hurriyet reported. The sellers wish the buyer to preserve Trotsky’s name and hope for the culture ministry to restore the house and turn it in the museum.

For the asking price of $4.4 million, prospective buyers do not only get to marvel at its historical value – they also get to enjoy its vast, leafy 3,571 square-meter grounds and massive 950 square-meter built-up area.

Unclear sale

“The area and history behind this house is of great historical importance,” Bekir Atacan, a Turkish historian and official from the ruling AK party told Al Arabiya News, adding that the sale of the house would likely need layers of approval from authorities due to its historical value.

The details surrounding the sale are unclear. In 2010, owners last attempted to sell the house to the municipality for $5.5 million, which declined due to lack of funds. Several Trotskyist organizations also showed interest, although a deal never materialized. In 2011, to prevent it from being bulldozed, the culture ministry listed the house and its sight as protected, although their plans to acquire it appear to have stalled.

Back in 1929, when Trotsky arrived - courtesy of the uneasy hospitality of Ataturk, a fervent anti-communist - on Turkish shores, the future seemed uncertain.

The exile, who had a decade earlier had led the Red Army to victory, securing the Soviet bloc’s borders for years to come, the city of Istanbul - then known as Constantinople - appeared to make very little of an impression at first (in contast, during a brief stay in the U.S. decades earlier, Trotsky was awe-struck by New York, describing the city as the “fullest expression of our modern age.” He also marveled at his apartment’s electric lighting, telephone and garbage chute).

Unforeseen stop

“One of the unforeseen, though not accidental, stops in my life has proved to be Constantinople,” he wrote in the prologue of his 1930 autobiography. “Here I am camping… and patiently waiting for what is to follow, he added, admitting that a revolutionary’s life was impossible without a certain amount of “fatalism.”

“In one way or another, the Constantinople interval has proved the most appropriate moment for me to look back before circumstances allow me to move forward,” he continued.

While on the island, Trotsky seemed to warm to his surroundings. A biographer described his daily routine of rising before dawn and pacing the corridors, deep in thought.

Despite his paranoia, which resulted in an incident where he pulled out his pistol on a visiting doctor - and workaholic nature, he found the time on Buyukada to take up fishing, a hobby that a neighbor recalled him made him “happy like a child.”

And although isolated - apart from his wife, staff and a volunteer squad of bodyguards - the revolutionary wrote in a diary entry made on the day he left the island that he had “the strange feeling of having my feet firmly planted on Buyukada.”

The fatalism he had written of in 1929 at Buyukada proved to be apt. Trotsky was never to return to the island, and continued his permanent exile in France, Norway, and lastly, Mexico, where he enjoyed an extramarital affair with prominent artist Frida Kahlo.

In 1940, Stalin - who by this time had wiped out nearly all of his old compatriots - sent an assassin to do away with his old nemesis. After several unsuccessful attempts, a Spanish communist and Soviet agent, Ramon Mercader, who worked to gain Trotsky’s trust, walked into his study and struck him on the head with an ice axe. Trotsky, aged 60, died the next day.