Indian Soldiers in Istanbul
Yesterday I visited the English cemetery in the Asian neighbourhood of Haydaypaşa. It required a bit of hunting and perseverance (which seems to be a prerequisite to enter any non-Turkish cemetery in the city). I was eventually helped out by one of the men at a restaurant at the Haydarpaşa station, who led us across the train tracks (which had signs along the lines of ‘Demiryolunun hatlarını geçmek tehlikeli ve yasaktır’ – crossing the railway tracks is dangerous and forbidden. It is always dangerous AND forbidden to do certain things here), up a small hill and helped get the cemetery open.
The Haydarpaşa English cemetery was initially used as a cemetery for the soldiers who died in the Crimean War. The Selimiye Barracks, which are nearby, were where Florence Nightingale famously treated and cared for the Crimean war wounded. It is also where a large number of the British community of Istanbul and Smyrna (now Izmir) are buried. After the First World War, a large number of British Prisoners of War who had been captured on the Turkish front were also buried here.
It was mostly for the last reason that I visited. I have been interested in trying to find out more about Indian soldiers who found themselves fighting on the Mesopotamian front. Mesopotamia saw the largest influx of Indian soldiers. Over the course of the many campaigns, close to 675,000 Indian fighting troops as well as hundreds of thousands of auxiliary troops were involved in Mesopotamia. When General Townshend’s troops surrendered in April 1916, the POWs were marched all the way from Mesopotamia to POW camps in Turkey. Most of those who survived probably ended up at the POW camps in Afyonkarahissar (the name ‘black poppy castle’ always makes me chuckle). Apparently, there are still some memorial stones in that region of Anatolia, but most of the Indian POWs are remembered here in Istanbul.