A memorial for Turkish martyrs

A memorial for Turkish martyrs

Bellary has come to acquire, in the recent years, a pleasing monument in memory of Turkish Prisoners of War (PoW) of the First World War (1914-18).

For nearly a century, hundreds of Turkish prisoners who were brought here in 1918, from the Suez Canal war zone by the British, have rested in the soil of Bellary Cantonment area. Thanks to the interest shown by the Turkish Embassy in Delhi, the
Turkish Martyrs Graveyard stands here now, commemorating their sacrifice for the nation, ten thousand miles away from their motherland.

The memorial raised over nearly two-acre site next to the Bellary Airport, and in the vicinity of Visveswaraiah Institute of Medical Science (VIMS), has a spiral column made in stone over a rectangular platform. Flags of Turkey and India flutter over high masts near the column. The memorial has been aesthetically landscaped with a number of fountains, trees, flower-beds and grass courts, lending it great charm.

Of the two marble-dressed graves in the complex, the memorial plaque on one
of them records the name of the person buried as General Agha Pasha Abdussalam. He is said to have been a prince from the Ottoman ruling family of Turkey.

The plaque mentions his date of demise in Persian as 10th Rajab 1336, of the Islamic Hijri lunar year. It is just 100 lunar years since then as the new Islamic lunar year 1436 started on October 25, 2014. [Note: The lunar century is shorter than Gregorian century by three years.

According to the old-timers, there used to be hundreds of graves of Turkish
soldiers in the area till 1980s. But they vanished as granite slabs were pilfered away and other remains were erased during the expansion of the Bellary Aerodrome.

Haji Abdussalam, a businessman of the Cowl Bazaar, wrote to the Turkish
Embassy in Delhi about the derelict condition of the graves.

Later, former municipal councilor, Haji Adam, took up the case and supervised the construction of the memorial at the direction of the Turkish Embassy in consultation with the Bellary Deputy Commissioner who allocated the site for the memorial.

Historical records say that nearly 2,000 Turkish soldiers taken captive at the Suez Canal were brought to India and lodged at Thane in Maharashtra and the famous Allipuram Jail in Bellary. But it is a mystery as to how so many soldiers died in Bellary.

According to the management of a Muslim graveyard in Banhatti locality, 2.5 km south of the city centre, dozens of graves of Turkish soldiers could be spotted in the graveyard a decade or two ago.

But over a period, granite gravestones were stolen and since the land had to be used and reused, several of these graves have disappeared and only seven or eight of these Turkish graves could still be seen surviving with mortar pillar standing over them.  

Satyanarayana Rao, a retired professor of the local Veerashaiva College, says, it is a puzzle as to how such mass graves came to be located in Bellary. According to him, in normal course, so many soldiers could not have died. He says some historical records attribute these to several prisoners being mowed down by a trigger-happy British officer (like General Dwyer in the Jallianwalla Bagh) when they went on a strike at a worksite and knelt while doing namaz. Another report, according to him, links the mass deaths to a plague but adds that the plague struck the area in 1934, while prisoners died in 1918.

Whatever may be the reason, the new Memorial is seen as a picturesque locale for the local folk who come visiting the memorial.

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