The Ravanda tour sets out on the road to Kilis to meet a military hero of the Turkish War of Independence in Gaziantep. First we come to the mausoleum of Şahin Bey. As Şahin Bey was killed at Elmalı Bridge, a mausoleum housing his burial tomb was erected in the area right next to the bridge. The mausoleum is located 28 km from Gaziantep on the main Kilis road.
When the First World War came to an end, Antep’s troubles were just beginning. On 30 October 1918, with the signing of the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottoman Empire was dead. On 15 January 1919, Gaziantep was taken over by the British from Aleppo, and then, on 29 October 1919, occupation by the French began. For 11 months, the people of Antep battled valiantly to resist the French, and, in recognition of this, the city was given the title Gazi (veteran) by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 8 February 1921. One of the representative names from this outstanding example of national defence is Şahinbey.
The marble plinth of the mausoleum has an inscription which reads: “Şahin Bey; with an armed band of 200 men, he stopped the French advancing on this road with their infantrymen, cavalrymen, artillery, tanks and 400 transporters. He fought for 3 days, and when his ammunition was exhausted he rushed onto Elmalı Bridge shouting: ‘Allah save Antep. Come vile enemy, come with your bayonet.’ He was bayoneted to death, aged 43.”
Above the mausoleum which houses his body there is a bronze statue of Sahinbey. The relief on the rear side of the statue depicts his last stand at Elmalı Bridge. The panels on either side of the mausoleum give biographical information and a description of Sahinbey’s military life. Immediately above these panels there are statues of hawks. One section of the memorial, which covers an area of nearly 20,000 square metres, has been designated as a recreation park with a cafeteria, rest areas and children’s playground.
Dokurcum Mill lies 300 m southwest of the Şahinbey Mausoleum. It is where Şahinbey and his fellow fighters had their final evening meeting and also where 14 children were killed by French soldiers, making it an important place in the history of the War of Independence in Gaziantep.
The mill sits on the slopes of Çakmak Hill from which flies a huge Turkish flag. Due to ongoing general reinforcement and cleaning work, it is not possible to enter the building which lies partly in ruins and is full of timber.
At the upper part of the channel that carries water to the mill lies an old stone quarry. The mill is constructed from ashlar blocks but in places the bedrock has been smoothed to create useable spaces. The eastern ridges of the nearby Çakmak Hill are home to the Şehit Aileleri Forest, dedicated to the families of war casualties.
Elmalı Bridge, where Şahinbey died whilst trying to prevent the French soldiers from entering the city, lies to the southeast of the mausoleum, 28 km from Gaziantep on the main Kilis road.
The single span bridge was constructed from smooth ashlar stone in the latter part of the Ottoman era and for a long time remained part of the Gaziantep-Kilis road network. It has an asphalt road surface.
Due to their bitter reminder of Gaziantep’s role in the War of Independence, Dokurcum Mill and Elmalı Bridge were officially registered in 2011 as cultural treasures by the Regional Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board.
WHO WAS ŞAHİNBEY?
Şahinbey, the symbolic hero of the War of Independence, was born Mehmet Sait in 1877 in Gaziantep. He was educated at an Ottoman junior high school before going to Yemen in 1899 as a soldier. In 1911 he joined the Turco-Italian War as a volunteer fighter, and then fought on the Çatalca front during the Balkan Wars and with the 15th corps in Galicia.
In October 1917, whilst fighting on the Sinai front, Şahinbey was with other soldiers in Ayn-ül Cebel castle when it was besieged by Arabs. When the unit commander became exhausted by hunger and squalor, Şahinbey took command and, under cover of darkness, he led the troops through a very steep passageway out of the siege, thereby rescuing the regiment. In recognition of his service, he was promoted by the Army Commander to the rank of Mülazim-ı Sani (Lieutenant).
In 1918 he was captured on the Sinai front and was imprisoned in the Seydi Beşir prisoner-of-war camp in Egypt until December 1919. After the ceasefire he was released.
On 13 December 1919, Şahinbey was assigned by the İstanbul War Office to the Military Entrance Processing Command in Nizip and so he returned to the city of his birth. He began work on persuading central committees to hand over to himself the task of controlling the Kilis-Antep road.
On 25 March 1920, under the command of Major Andrea, French military units set out with an 8000-strong infantry, 200-strong cavalry, an artillery battery, 16 heavy machine guns, a large number of automatic rifles, 4 tanks and 400 transport vehicles. They were stopped in their tracks by Şahinbey and his group of volunteer soldiers who fought until nightfall, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. When advised to retreat, Şahinbey said “Over my dead body will they enter Antep!” and he continued his battle with the enemy until the morning of 28 March. By the 4th day of battle, he was the only one of his fellow gunmen still alive, but he continued to fight right up to his last bullet. When the ammunition ran out, he threw down his gun, clenched his fists and faced the enemy storming towards him. He was killed by bayonet on 28 March 1920, aged 43.