Some have left behind a name, and some have not – A Brief Guide to Istanbul’s Feriköy Protestant Cemetery
Authors: Brian Johnson, Richard Wittmann
12 JUNE 2020
Plaque at the cemetery’s front gate ©Richard Wittmann
What do a famous German engineer, American author, Hungarian soldier, British scholar, and Swiss brewer who left their mark on Istanbul and beyond have in common with many ordinary people whose lives and links to the city are long forgotten? All of them, both the distinguished and the anonymous, now rest in the Feriköy Protestant Cemetery.
Easy to miss in the surrounding beat of life, this small burial ground in the heart of the city bears witness to the vital role that generations of Protestants of European and other nationalities played in the social and cultural life of Istanbul as well as the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Its history not only reaches to its opening in the mid-1800s but also to earlier eras. Many of its monuments date back several centuries, having been moved to Feriköy from a vanished cemetery that served the city’s foreign Protestant community for almost three hundred years.
Managed today by a governing board comprised of the diplomatic representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary, Switzerland, and the USA, the cemetery at Feriköy is an active burial ground, historic landmark, and one of the last green spots in Istanbul’s center. In 2018, a group of Turkey-based international scholars formed the Feriköy Protestant Cemetery Initiative to document and preserve it as a heritage site. To this end, the Initiative has created a brief online guide devoted to some of the cemetery’s most notable residents. Yet, aside from these famous few, the work is also dedicated to the many more lying beside them of whom there is no memory, perished as though they had never lived.
The “bible of guidebooks to Istanbul,” American writer John Freely’s (1926-2017) most celebrated work (co-authored with Hilary Sumner-Boyd)
Richard Wittmann (Ph.D. in history and Middle Eastern studies, Harvard University, 2008) is deputy director of the Orient-Institut Istanbul. He oversees research on the Feriköy Protestant Cemetery and on self-narratives as sources for the history of the late Ottoman Empire.
Brian Johnson (Ph.D. in Middle East history, University of Washington, 1999) is the librarian of the Istanbul branch of the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT). He is a cooperation partner of the Orient-Institut Istanbul in researching the Feriköy Protestant Cemetery.