Fourteen years ago I traveled in Turkey and worked on a documentary project photographing the legacy of Armenia’s culture in modern-day Turkey and historic locations associated with Armenians’ long history in Anatolia. I also photographed locations linked to the genocide of Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire, between 1915 and 1922. About 1.5 million civilians were slaughtered in the first documented case of genocide in the 20th century. This fact is still disputed today by the Republic of Turkey, and I outright discount that argument because of the overwhelming evidence, from documents, first-person accounts, and mountains of evidence.
The Talaat Pasha Memorial in Instanbul proved to be the hardest place for me to find and photograph. There was no guidebook showing me the way, and no map called it out. Even its name was in dispute. I called it the Talaat Pasha memorial, and that is what some Turks I met called it when I finally tracked it down in the Caglayan neighborhood of Istanbul. It was gated, not well-marked, and overgrown with weeds. It was not the safest place to go, and photographing the monuments in the square likely would have caused me problems. So, I made a fast job of it, snapped some photos, and left quickly.
Currently web sites are now publishing pictures of the site, more than a decade later. Here are photos by a Turkish photographer from 2011. Web sites I found, including the Wikipedia entry (whose facts may not be fully accurate), also show contemporary photos of the location. I have found the plaza square to be dubbed the Monument of Liberty Cemetery and Hürriyet Şehitleri Abidesi, or “Freedom Martyrs Monument.” There is apparent agreement of online sources that the site was originally built before World War I to honor reformers, who died or were killed.
It is perhaps famous or infamous today becuase it has the graves of the remains of two of the three leaders of the Ottoman Empire, Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha, who organized the genocide against civilian Armenians. (You can read my detailed story here about the genocide and my trip to Turkey; note the file is large, so please allow time for it to download.)
Current photographs of those memorials honoring these leaders is even published by the official Government of Turkey web site. That site clearly shows the memorials of these two leaders and notes, almost ironically, the massive Palace of Justice of Istanbul that has been built behind the memorial plaza: “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 of course another question.”
Symbolism and language matter, as do monuments. Enver Pasha’s remains were returned here in 1996, and Talaat Pasha’s remains in 1943, during World War II. When Enver Pasha’s remains were feted in a ceremony in 1998, one news account noted that thousands attended, including President Suleyman Demirel, ministers, deputies, and Turkey’s top generals, and the former war minister. Enver Pasha was proclaimed a martyr. “Enver Pasha, with his faults and merits, is an important symbol of our recent history,” Demirel said. “We have no doubt that history will reach the proper judgments through evaluating past events.”
The photo evidence published online today and the Government of Turkey’s web site that shows a spruced up memorial clearly signal that the current government of Turkey shows no interest in backing away from its denial that the last leaders of the former Ottoman Empire were masterminds of a massive human rights violation, which still causes controversy today.
(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)