For the first event of the year, Yunus Emre Institute in London hosted a talk and book signing by Kemal Giray, on his fascinating book, ‘Prisoners of War at the Ottoman Front during WWI’
Yunus Emre Institute in London was excited to host the signing and talk of the book Prisoners of War at the Ottoman Front during WWI on Thursday 3rd February 2022. The event which started with a talk by the author, Kemal Giray, also included a lively Q&A session, a tour of original documents featured in the talk, and traditional Turkish refreshments for the audience to enjoy.
Prisoners of War (‘PoWs’) are an element of the Great War less discussed despite it affecting millions during and after the horrors of the war. Imprisoned, forgotten, and used as strategic pawns by warring nations, these men from varying backgrounds have long been lumped together under an acronym and their voices have been ignored.
Prisoners of War at the Ottoman Front during WWI is a postal history book based on philatelic material, letters, postcards, original photographs, and other documents belonging to the prisoners of the Great War from both sides who fought on the Ottoman front. The majority of the materials compiled in this book were collected over twenty-five years by the author of the book, Kemal Giray, who is a professional philatelist, and a Fellow of The Royal Philatelic Society London.
Bringing this material with him, Giray presented snippets of the daily life of prisoners on both sides of the Ottoman Front to draw out an immensely human and moving history of the war. Staring off the talk by giving a birds-eye view of the PoWs in World War One, he pointed to hundreds of thousands that were captured on the Ottoman front and the importance of the Red Crescent and Red Cross had in their upkeep and reporting. Delving first into Ottoman Prisoners held by Britain, France, and Russia, the Philatelist gave a fascinating, and at times heart-breaking, a tour of camps across Europe, South Asia, and Egypt. Keeping the presentation image-oriented, Giray soon moved onto camps within the Ottoman Empire to touch on the camps littered across Anatolia.
From creating football clubs and re-enacting plays from memory, to trading their goods within camps and being allowed to leave on parole with a simple promise to come back, there were many surprising elements of PoW camps detailed within the talk. While covering wide swathes of history and territory, Giray was careful not to generalise experiences and highlighted touching stories he had gathered through this research including fathers celebrating their daughters’ birthdays and brothers chastising the other for not writing often enough.
The talk also covered the hardships suffered by the prisoners, from dislocation and humiliation to hunger, unfamiliar climates, and unforgiving work camps. Giray ended his talk by noting that all these stories printed across letters, postcards, and pictures he presented coalesce into one powerful message – the importance and sacred nature of peace.
This event followed on from Yunus Emre Institute in London’s 2015 “Passed by Censor: PoWs in the Great War on the Ottoman Front” exhibition also based on this book. The exhibition was launched at the House of Commons before moving to the Institute in Fitzrovia and was met with great interest by the visitors. For this signing and talk, the audience we able to approach the lives and experiences of Pows from a different angle and through their hand.
Ending with a book signing and the audience being guided through the pictures in the exhibition set up for this talk which included a poster from a play put on by Ottoman soldiers and an escape map smuggled into a camp hidden among Bananas. The audience with a new appreciation for the experiences of PoWs and a thirst to know more.
This event was also streamed live on the Yunus Emre Institute in London Facebook and YouTube channels (@yeelondra).
For more information on the event and to keep an out for more events like this, please visit the Yunus Emre Institute in London website, www.yeelondon.org.uk/, or follow the Institute via social media, @yeelondra.