Hundred years of battlefield memories in Tarabya

As part of “1914/2014 Battlefield of Memories,” which took place between March 23 and April 18, various projects related to World War I were presented. Focusing on the Ottoman Empire and the geography that constitutes Turkey today, “1914/2014 Battlefield of Memories” is a program that has brought back many questions, ideas and memories.

Acclaimed theater director Hans-Werner Kroesinger, who is known for his special interest in documentary theater, has also presented his last piece on which he has been working for a long time. Kroesinger, a leading figure in theater both in his home country of Germany as well as the rest of Europe, often chooses to work with historical documents, records, diaries and facts related to a certain period. For the 100th anniversary of World War I, he has chosen to deal with German-Turkish relations of that period.

By collecting various documents and soldier’s diaries together, he, working with dramaturgist Regine Dura, has come up with “Suppressed and Forgotten,” an hour-long, open-air, site-specific documentary theater piece. “Suppressed and Forgotten” is set and performed in Tarabya, at a cemetery specifically allocated to German soldiers who died while serving abroad. With a wonderful view of the Bosporus, the cemetery is a part of the summer residence of the German consular and has a large field with many historical buildings, some of them reserved for a theater academy’s residence program.

After a few days of performing under a blue sky as well as Tuesday’s cold, Kroesinger met our audience at the beautiful yard of the summerhouse and took us up to the military cemetery. While walking among hundreds-of-years old trees and greenery that is sorely missed in the city center, we pass through a sound installation of sounds from war. It was not possible to point to where the sounds were coming from in our forest-like surrounding, where trees and wild grass covered most of the space. Beginning to feel the atmosphere of war, we arrived at the cemetery where we met two performers in casual clothes holding big notebooks. Here, a narration of a long and intense history started.

After performing a speech from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s local March 30 election campaign trail that focused on Gallipoli 1915 and how victorious the Turkish nation was, two performers, Mehmet Bozdogan and Lajos Talamonti, being to recall the memories of high-ranking German military officials at their tombs. They do this while telling stories of the turning points of World War I for the Turkish and German sides, especially the forever memorable March 18, 1915. At this very spot, surrounded by the flora of the Bosporus and Mediterranean regions, we listen to the memories of war, the tricks of international diplomacy and military strategies as we wander around the tombs of soldiers who were killed during a number of wars. The stories of certain soldiers or events during the war are intercut with Yuka Yanagihara’s live vocals in German, which underline the epic and dramatic tone of the piece.

After a round tour of the cemetery, we stop at a small square for the last bit of text in the piece, which connects the past to present relations of Turkey and Germany. This part directs our attention to the March 18 victory once more, and it questions the success of it by putting forward the relations of Germany’s Krupp Industries and the Mauser and Loewe factories and the Ottoman Empire starting in 1885. As two of the biggest arms manufacturers during World Word I and II, Krupp, Mauser and Loewe had provided a great deal of warfare to the Ottoman Empire. We learn from the playful performances of both actors that during World War I, Turkey received 850 million marks worth of armament goods from German producers.

Kroesinger is a powerful director who grounds his work in history itself, gives as a very valuable lesson throughout his piece, and serves up a striking punch line at the end. Through revealing the economic background of World War I for Turkish and German relations that continued well past the downfall of the Ottoman Empire into the republican era, the romantic atmosphere of the heroic acts of the soldiers — their sacrificing themselves for their nations’ well-being — suddenly scatters. Kroesinger makes us face the economic reasons for wars, which are single-handedly enough to kill millions of people, no matter what or whose side is being fought against. Produced with the collaboration of the Istanbul, Belgrade and Sarajevo Goethe Institutes, “Suppressed and Forgotten” will be adapted for different sites over the next few years.