Canon Ian Sherwood’s talk: ‘Notes on The Crimean Memorial Istanbul and its living history’, 20 April 2018 - flyer
1- You have been the Anglican Chaplain in Istanbul for 29 years. Before that posting you had the equivalent position in communist Romania, which is hard to imagine for that geography having a historical Anglican congregation. Clearly that was an interesting time and no doubt you have interesting anecdotes. Could it be seen as a good preparation to your current posting with its own challenges?
The thought of coming to Turkey in 1989 terrified me. Awful as Ceaucescu’s Romania was a known entity, whereas Turkey seemed like an entirely alien culture from outside.
2- When you were posted to Istanbul the Crimean Memorial Church had been deconsecrated around 20 years earlier and was in danger of being completely lost as a building. Was it your idea to rescue it, and what were the biggest logistical and diplomatic hurdles to overcome?
The idea was certainly mine but quickly shared by our community. The biggest problem was the Diocese in charge of our churches in Europe. Happily they saw the light.
3- Do you think the deconsecrating decision made by the congregation in the 1970s was short-sighted and do you think this is a pattern ofaccepting loss of overseas heritage in an age of ‘bland secularism’, such as the nearby imposing British Naval Hospital in the 1930s?
Yes! British culture in all its forms often fails to notice how much it is desired in other cosmopolitan cities - such as Istanbul.
4- When did you start housing refugees at the church and how much support do you receive from organisations such as the UNHCR?
The UNHCR is inundated and has precarious status in Turkey. They help with none of our refugees and leave them languishing as aliens for years in Turkey while illegal migrants into the European Union flourish.
5- Some of your current refugees housed in Christ Church are Pakistani Christians who seem to have an especially rough time when it comes to be recognised as victims of persecution even by charities? Why do you think there is so little appreciation of their suffering as opposed to say the Rohinga Muslims who come from a similar region, so the argument cannot be ‘they are far away’?
Alas! We live in a world which has sought to disregard Christian civilisation. The media turns a blind eye to the sufferings of innocent people unless they are part of the media ideology of how the world should be.
6- There has been a British merchant and parallel Anglican congregation in Istanbul since the 16th century. How much do you know of the earlier places of worship and also some of the mysterious district churches and their congregations such as those in Hasköy and Ortaköy?
Until the 19th century it was nigh on impossible to build a church. Hasköy seems to have been demolished. At least we have re-opened three of our buildings in Istanbul that had been closed.
7- Turkey is going through turbulent times of late accompanied by the erosion of freedoms of expression. Has this impacted the ‘standing community’ and the congregation significantly?
We are an expatriate Chaplaincy. The impact has been on native Turks.
8- Old church buildings always have never ending care and repair costs. What is the current concern / construction project and how can people help out?
People are always welcome to contribute. Such projects are a constant community effort.
9- Last summer there was a freak hail storm in Istanbul that caused widespread damage to cars etc. The west window in the St Helena Consulate chapel was also heavily damaged and no doubt it is almost impossible to get local glass artists to replicate the Victorian quality of this stained glass centrepiece? Have you found a solution and does insurance cover these ‘acts of God’? Would you welcome outside help and expertise in this matter?
Happily we are working on this and have found a suitable artist. The work is slow and requires about 50,000 TL.
10- Can you make sense why the Commonwealth Graves Commission seem set against further civilian burials at the Haydarpaşa cemetery even though it has always had that dual purpose since being establishedat the time of the Crimean War? Could it be part of the anti-Christian bias of this British governmental connected institution that have no comprehension of deep family links the local British community still have with this burial ground?
No! The reason given was that their gardener was not insured to dig a grave - if I understood correctly. Bizarre!
11- How far back do the church registers go and what are the conditions under which they can be viewed by descendants or researchers? Are there any additional documents connected with Christ Church or its former clergy that have survived the ravages of time?
There are very few registers. One general register goes back to the late 18th century. There are a few for 19th century but not much else. Register searches cost 35 pounds and must be done by the researcher personally.
12- When the church was deconsecrated and shut between 1973 and 1991 presumably the library and other valuables from the parsonage were conveyed to the nearby British Consulate. Were they good ‘temporary custodians’?
No! Most of the books I bought back from Istanbul book shops.
13- Many of the local consulates in Istanbul such as the German, Dutch, Swedish, Romanian, Hungarian etc. have a cultural arm, often with their own separate premises where exhibitions, lectures, library, historical research is nurtured through that soft-power support. The British have never had such an arm, if we exclude the British Council that is solely focused on English education. Do you think Britain ‘short-changes’ itself in its local reputational standing through this economy?
Very much so.
14- The Protestant Ferikoy Cemetery where many local Anglicans have been and will be buried has a 7 nation rotating custodian system, a relic of history of this multinational burial ground. Do you think this system works well and if not would you offer a modern solution?
The cemetery is not reserved for Anglicans, but for citizens of the various countries. The system works well if each country contributes to this necessary service to its citizens. The U.K. needs to contribute financially as other countries do.
15- From your talk it is clear you did research on the early history of the Christ Church and its clergy and rather sombre description of the quality of the neighbourhood it found itself in. Do you know the predominant ethnic group that lived in the immediate area back then and do you know where most of the Anglican congregation that worshipped in Ottoman times lived? How are your current neighbourly relations with the local residents?
For most centuries in Constantinople, Anglicans would have lived in and around Galata. The area was extremely mixed and filled with small cramped houses of various Levantine Christian and Jewish communities. The neighbourhood is a little more friendly than the 1990s. It has been restored a little but currently has entered a malaise owing to property market problems round about and the flight of many expats.