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Burhan Felek World War
Burhan Felek, who lived between 1889 and 1982 and was known as “Sheikhü’l- muharririn” because he wrote nonstop almost all his life, was invited to serve when the winds of war began to blow in Europe. At first, he was invited for unarmed service by paying “42 gold coins” as a result of the right arising from the disease called “extrasystole”, but soon afterwards, when the Ottoman Empire declared mobilisation, he had to enlist as a “law graduate and a private”.
The words “Burhan Felek, Military Service and Photography” came together at this exact time, in the training unit. Let us leave the floor to him:
“We had a great commander in Halıcıoğlu. Mülazım-ı Evvel, or First Lieutenant Mehmet Ali Bey. He was a blond, handsome, overweight officer. I used to take photographs at that time, too. I had a famous Ernemann brand reflex (i.e. mirrored) 15×10 camera. I took photos of our company commander on horseback in various poses. Of course, he favoured us.”
After his memories of his military service, which, in his own words, “became a tangled mess, like a ball of wool being played by a kitten”, Burhan Felek woke up one morning and found himself as the “Headquarters General Photographer”. In fact, this was not a surprise because Burhan Bey’s expertise had gone so far as to film Sedat Simavi’s “Alemdar Mustafa Pasha” scenario. Knowing this expertise, his sincere friends in the Mudafaa-i Milliye Society were effective in his appointment to this position.
One day, while sitting with the soldiers as the headquarters photographer, news arrived that the enemy had evacuated Çanakkale and Burhan Felek was immediately sent to Gallipoli. The order was given: “You are to go and take photographs of the front, the trenches and the spoils of war”. He was again in charge:
“This evacuation was so sudden for us that a cavalry detachment of ours on the Anafartalar Front, in hot pursuit, believing that the enemy was still fleeing, was blown into the sea from a high ridge on the Anafartalar Front, the topography of which they did not know.”
In Çanakkale, together with another photographer, Kenan Bey, they landed at Akbaş Pier. 15 miles away, they spent a few days on the ridges of Kirte under the bombardment of a French cruiser (in order to destroy the large value and quantity of weapons and equipment they had left behind and did not have time to destroy, and to explode the sewers they had prepared to explode with remote shots). Afterwards, they signed their signatures under the marvellous photographs (and striking statements such as the following) which you see in this exhibition.
“While the enemy trenches were reinforced with regular sandbags, our trenches were full of old fezzes, pieces of shirts, pieces of cardigans filled with sand. In other words, we fought with only our chest in Çanakkale. The upper part was nothing but a mould.”
Burhan Bey’s Çanakkale adventure did not end with this single expedition. Long after the evacuation of the enemy, he was informed by the headquarters that “The Papacy told us that these tombs were not treated with the respect they deserved upon the complaint of the enemy countries and he wanted to send a photographer. We are sending you instead. Go, take the photographs, come back, and don’t interfere with anything else!”, he once again travelled to the region.
When he returned after taking the requested photographs, he was arrested “as a precautionary measure” as soon as he set step on the Galata Quay and taken to the police station. The reason was the order of the Political Branch: “He may give the photographs to someone else. Take him into custody and send him to the police station.” The station chief turns out to be a friend of his from Üsküdar. When Burhan Felek hands him the photographs, he says, “For God’s sake! I’ll send an officer with you, and you can take them to the headquarters yourself!” In the morning, the photographs are delivered and Burhan Felek closes the book on Çanakkale.
Let us leave the floor once again to Mr Burhan and say “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”:
“War is a catastrophic and universal tragedy not only because people kill each other, but also because people lose their humanity and their sense of human mercy.”