What to do with the Kuleli Military High School building?
It was September of 1859 when Istanbul was shaken. As far as we know, a rebellion was about to erupt in Istanbul. In the handwritten leaflets, the flugblatt as the Germans called them before printing machines were invented, it was claimed that “the sultan had become an infidel” and they were calling for a return to sharia law.
There were three sheiks masterminding the attempt, supposedly… But it was mostly the generals (pashas) and soldiers who they had convinced… The structure of the revolt resembled the Istanbul insurrections before the janissaries were totally removed, like the cooperation of the ulema (scholars) and the soldiers…
However, one of the youngest but at the same time cleverest sultans was reigning at the Ottoman throne. Those who were caught in the revolt attempt were jailed at the Kuleli Barracks. The investigation lasted three weeks. One of the convicts, maybe the leader of the rebellion, Caferdem Pasha, chose to commit suicide in the Bosphorus by jumping from the boat in which he was transported to Kuleli.
The penalties of those who were sentenced to death were converted to lighter ones; some others were exiled by Sultan Abdülmecid. The young sultan, at the time when the Ottomans were realizing their major reforms, was known not to have carried out any political executions. He had a sharp intelligence and selected the most elite of the statesmen in the history of Turkey. Even though these persons started to scratch each other’s eyes out afterwards, during his time they joined forces together to carry the empire to the new century. The late Uluğ İğdemir wrote a thesis on the Kuleli revolt. Frankly, the essence, the nature of the insurrection is not very clear; to what extent they had organized what was never understood.
The Kuleli building was situated in an old, beautiful Bosphorus location. Since the time of Sultan Mahmud II (1808 - 1839), it was used as the cavalry barracks. It had been the subject of one of the most beautiful gravures of Thomas Allom, who painted Istanbul. Even today, when you view it from the Bebek hills, it has a very outlandish façade and profile. It is as if it is the decoration of a giant pool between Çengelköy and Arnavutköy.
It was Sultan Abdülaziz who converted the cavalry barracks into what it is today. The year was 1872… Until that time, the building not only hosted the military but also became the venue to fight the epidemic illnesses of the time. It was used to quarantine cholera in 1833. The restoration that carried it to these days was done in the 1960s. As a model, Alom’s gravure was used.
Our military’s most elite and respected commanders attended this high school. Only Mustafa Kemal Atatürk graduated from the Manastır Military High School, now Bitola, in Macedonia. Military training is somehow like sportsmanship or artistry. It requires training from early ages; this is a fact. Even when I attended junior high school (in the beginning of the 1960s) the students of Kuleli High School were different.
I remember them answering, with their not-so-bad-at-all English, questions coming from tourists in Sultanahmet Square and Eminönü on weekends. This was a significant virtue in those days. The place Kuleli held in Istanbul during the scenes of the Tanzimat (reorganization) period of the Ottomans is similar to the significant place it has in military training. Even in the War of Independence, Kuleli students fought at the fronts at a very early age.
A porcelain museum
The functions of the navy school at Heybeliada, as well as Kuleli, both as institutions and as buildings, should seriously be discussed. If Kuleli is planned to be reused, it can be put to good use as a weapons museum. It can be reused as a museum, which we desperately need, for the richest in the world Chinese, Saxonian, Sevres, Japanese and Russian porcelain collections. These buildings should never be sold or rented but kept as state property; ideas may change in the future.
The contractors who issued statements in recent days would do much better if they kept silent for a while. These men who imagine a hotel whenever they see a public building are unable to, as everybody knows, manage even a small sized inn; as a matter of fact, hotel management is a serious business.