Oct 5, 2011

Haydarpasa Cemetery as an indicator of British-Ottoman Relations

General view of the cemetery in Haidar Pasha Cemetery, Istanbul.

Crimean Memorial in Haydarpasa Cemetery, Istanbul.

O'Conor Memorial Chapel in Haidar Pasha Cemetery, Istanbul.

Can you tell the relationship between two countries by graveyards of fallen soldiers? When you set foot on the Haydarpaşa Cemetery in Istanbul and see the tombstones of British soldiers, you can. Indeed, pointing out to the fluidity of diplomatic alliances, Georges Young is to have said that in Haydarpaşa (located at the entrance of the Bosphorus) you have British soldiers who died to close the Straits to Russians while in Gallipoli they died trying to open them.

Born in Tripoli, died in Pera (Beyoğlu) in Istanbul as
Her Majesty's Consul in Crete, truly British.

History lessons from the Balkans: death in Shipka Pass
today's Bulgaria during Russian-Ottoman War.

Born in Pera, died in Bebek, lies in
Haydarpaşa, not bad.

She died in Büyükada, Istanbul and
lies in Haydarpasa Cemetery.

It all started with the Crimean War (1853-1856). The war is important for being one of the few (possibly only) acts of British alliance with the Ottomans to stop the Russians from reaching out to warm seas. Further, the war lasted 2,5 years and bankrupted the Ottoman state, literally. It led to the establishment of a debt collection agency for the debts borrowed by the Ottoman state payment of which lasted long after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. It led to sympathy for the Italians who rendered assistance to the Allies and were soon to establish their unified Italy.

These English soldiers died in Istanbul during Occupation
and lie in Haidar Pasa Cemetery.

The cemetery was established for the burial of 6000 British soldiers who died in the Crimean War. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they apparently died mostly as a result of the cholera epidemic. Their consolation may be that their death was at least in the first organized military hospital in modern history that was established by Florence Nightingale. The military hospital was in today’s Selimiye military barracks imposing itself to the left of the cemetery on the hill with its four towers. Apparently her presence led the media of the time to show interest in the locale. There is also a memorial to her in the cemetery.

In the background is the Haydarpasa Train Station in Istanbul.

Down the fence is the Haydarpaşa pier full of containers
waiting shipment, Istanbul.

The cemetery also holds more than 700 civilians. Judging by their birth places such as  Tripoli, Adrianapolis (today’s Edirne) and Brussels and place of death in Constantinople as a British citizen, they surely had interesting life stories. The cemetery is interesting also for the history of Istanbul. The tombstones use the old names of neighborhoods such as Pera (for Beyoğlu), Prinkipo (Büyükada) and Therapia (Tarabya). You see that names such as Bebek and Büyükdere didn’t change. You see Levantines with English roots from Izmir  settling in next door Moda such as the Whittalls.  There is the tombstone of one American, one German and even a French woman. When looking at soldiers’ graves, I even learned that during the Crimean War there was a  military camp in Demirciköy close to where I currently live that I have never heard of.

Loyal shipmates from HMS Imogene laid this
in Haidar Pasha cemetery in Istanbul.

HMS Actaeon's seman lying in Istanbul.

Similarly, one sees merchant marine officers whose tombstones were erected by their shipmates. In other words, it’s like every British subject between 1853 until today left a mark here. You learn names of war ships: HMS Devonshire, HMS Actaeon, HMS Vulture. You get geography lessons from Crimea: Balklava, Shipka Pass and Sevastopol. In addition,  the graveyard has some 450 Commonwealth war dead of both World Wars. 400 of them are from 1914-18. They apparently died in Turkey as prisoners of war and some after occupation of Istanbul following the Armistice. Other graves were brought from smaller cemeteries. Some were those whose bodies were washed up on the Turkish coast during the Second World War who were taken prisoner of war during operations in the Aegean but died while attempting to escape from camps, awaiting transport to Germany and Italy. There are also Indians who were cremated and other Muslims who died serving the British army. For more about them: click here. There are also about 74 unidentified men. Tombstones have Masonic and Buddhist symbols and are also in German, Hungarian and French in addition to English.

His place of death Balaklava is in Crimea, today's
Ukraine at Istanbul Haydarpaşa cemetery.

The best way to get to the cemetery is by ferry from Karaköy near the Galata Bridge  during which you can enjoy wonderful scenery. Take the ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side (be careful Karaköy and Kadıköy are two different places). Take a taxi to Selimiye, and tell them to take you to the GATA military hospital. Once you are at the hospital, ask around, it is very close to the entry of the hospitalWhen I was walking around the cemetery I figured why old people are so scared of dying in far away places. Few people can make it to your grave, you are lying in a place alien to your life and surrounded by unfamiliar sites. Luckily for the dead soldiers from the Crimean War, they are at least lying in a spot they died for: at the entrance of the Bosphorus. For the others, on their left side is the main train station of Istanbul (Asian side) while on the right the busy pier with its maritime traffic. With train travel and maritime business, it can’t get more English than that in Istanbul! Rain is not guaranteed:-).

Special thanks to Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Önder Kaya from Gezgin Dergisi.

He died at camp in Demirciköy in 1855 and
lying in Haydarpaşa, Istanbul.