Nov 13, 2011

The raid of Sublime Porte and my moment of truth

The governor's building in Istanbul, the former Sublime Porte.

The Sublime Porte, the offices that formed part of the administration in the Ottoman Empire serve today as the office of the Governor of Istanbul. Located in the heart of the Old City, the building is closed to visits by the public but thanks to a tour that allowed access to a few privileged, I was able to see few rooms that have been opened for us. While we were admiring the newly renovated building, I realized I stood in a historically important room that was raided in 1913.

Reception room of the Sublime Porte in Istanbul.

The office desk of Prime Minister Cevat Pasha (1881-95).

The banquets at the governor's office in Istanbul are held here.

The victims of the raid were various pashas and ministers who were in a meeting when killed at gunpoint. The pretext for the raid was their failure in the Balkan War which lead to the loss of important Balkan territory of the Empire. Raiders, on the other hand, were members of the Committee of Union and Progress. According to some, they were power hungry self-appointed military men who started terrible traditions in Turkey such as military coups (the raid can be called one) among other things. According to others, they were patriots who would do anything to save their country. The fact that Atatürk (as the founder of modern Turkey) as well as the heroes of the War of Independence were former members of the Committee contributes to this perception.

The offices of the governor in Istanbul as recently renovated.

The perception gap between the two versions of the Committee notwithstanding, the raid in the Sublime Porte had important political consequences for Turkey. After the raid until the end of the First World War, the Committee (and not the Sultan) controlled the Ottoman government. Some of the decisions it took in militaristic style led to many disasters that remain controversial today such as the Armenian Genocide as well as the decision to join the First World War which led to the ruin of the Empire. In the end, two main figures of the raid (Enver and Talat Pashas) had to flee the country and the latter was assasinated by an Armenian. Their remains were brought to Turkey in 1948 and 1996 respectively.

One of the walls at the Monument of Liberty in Caglayan, Istanbul
dedicated to the Ottoman constitution of 1877.

The grave of Enver Pasa by the Monument of Liberty in Istanbul.

The Monument of Liberty in Istanbul at Caglayan.

The grave of Talat Pasha at Monument of Liberty in Istanbul.

At the time of the visit, all this passed through my mind without a second thought. However, my moment of truth came a month later when I saw where the two men were buried. It was in Caglayan neighborhood of Istanbul by the Monument of Liberty erected to commemorate the dead that fought off what was claimed to be a religious uprising. Interestingly, the two men had other dignitaries as neighbors whose remains were also brought from far away places. First to mention is Midhat Pasha, the drafter of the Ottoman constitution of 1877 whose remains were transferred in 1951 from Saudi Arabia where he died in exile. Second is Mahmut Şevket Pasha (and his two bodyguards) who was put by the Committee in charge of government after the raid. Just like Enver and Talat Pashas, he too was later assassinated. There were also other Committee members.

Another Committe dignitary hailing from the Balkans,
Ohrid (today's FYROM) at the Monument of Liberty.

Mahmut Shevket Pasha's grave who was appointed
by the Committe after the raid.

The newly built court house of Istanbul right behind the
Monument of Liberty in Istanbul.

While this probably explains to which view of the Committee the government of Turkey subscribes, the gigantic new neighbor of the Monument is even more telling: The Palace of Justice of Istanbul. Hailed as the biggest courthouse in Europe by the government, it overlooks the park and the Monument. It almost seems like the justice system is entrusted to the watch of the Committee whose members used to pledge alliance to it with a rifle and Quran. Whether this has any connection with justice let alone liberty is ofcourse another question.