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la-paix-2009-10-30_lWhen historians mention the 1853-1856 Crimean War, they talk about the heroism of soldiers but often forget the story of the Filles de la Charité nuns, who are followers of St. Vincent de Paul.

Istanbul’s La Paix Hospital is a standing testament to tolerance in the Ottoman Empire. It is also a poignant reminder of the Crimean War, when French and Turkish troops were treated side by side by nuns who would later found La Paix with the help of Sultan Abdülmecid Nuns have continued to heal the sick and feed the poor in Istanbul for more than 150 years despite wars, feuds, conflicts and coups.

They were originally invited to help in Ottoman military hospitals set up for the Crimean War in the 1850s, which pitted the Ottomans, France and Britain against Russia. Afterward the nuns were rewarded with land for their own hospital, La Paix, which opened in 1858. Today the legacy of these nuns from France continues through Sister Maria Malpartida and Sister Andrée Malindin.

The sisters are working at La Paix today on behalf of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, an international community of nuns. They follow in the footsteps of the Filles de la Charité nuns who left their mark on Istanbul during the Ottoman era.

In 1854, 255 French nuns came to tend to wounded and sick Turkish and French soldiers, as well as injured or poor civilians. They directed 14 mobile hospitals, each with 80 beds and 24 barracks.

After the war, Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I wanted to show his appreciation to Filles de la Charité and allotted 8,000 square meters in Sisli, which was on the edge of the city at the time. He also donated approximately 50,000 franks for construction. La Paix opened in 1858 with 12 patients on its first day.

Today Malpartida is the director of La Paix and said she sees the hospital as her home and homeless people sheltering there as her family. The Peruvian sister said she became a nun when she was 19 after being impressed by the Paris-based St. Vincent de Paul group’s volunteer work in Peru. Today, she is 45 and still embraces patients with open arms.

“When I help patients I feel very happy because I am doing this for God’s sake,” said Malpartida. “We talk to patients and feed them. We sometimes host tea parties and stroll through the garden.”

Malindin is another long-time, faithful figure at La Paix. Malindin became a nun when she was 21. She left France and came to Istanbul decades ago. She is now 79 and lives a reclusive life as a permanent resident in the hospital.

“I am retired but still spend time with patients for the sake of God. They need love and mercy because they are like children,” she said. “Most of them do not have family. They are alone and poor. They do not have enough money to cover their expenses.”

Rinaldo Marmara, spokesman for a Catholic commission in Turkey, is a full-blooded admirer of Ottoman tolerance. He is a historian for the Catholic community living in Istanbul. He keeps one foot in France and the other in Turkey but spends most of his time in Istanbul working on books about Levantines in the Ottoman Empire.

He is the author of a book titled “A Testament to Ottoman Tolerance” that was recently published by IBB Kültür AS.

Marmara wrote that La Paix is a concrete example of Turkish hospitality toward all people living in the empire regardless of their differences of religion or ethnicity.

“The Ottoman Empire took the first steps toward a Europe without borders. Istanbul was a symbol of tolerance with people from different religions and ethnicities living together in a friendly atmosphere,” Marmara wrote in his book.

Gülay Solakoglu, a psychiatrist at La Paix, said the hospital is like a faithful friend who embraces anyone who needs a hug on a difficult day.

“It is like a person, not just an ordinary place for me. You can feel the Ottoman warmth in every corner here. The hospital’s story teaches us a good lesson about how to be more tolerant of each other,” she said.

Dr. Remzi Temur has worked as an anesthesiologist at La Paix since 1978. He said La Paix is a living witness of the tolerance between members of two religions.

“If you read the story of La Paix, you learn the way to live side by side with all communities and minorities in a peaceful environment. The nuns did much for Muslim soldiers while the Ottomans gave this land to them as a gift. The hospital is a meeting point for mutual tolerance and love,” said Temur.

If La Paix were torn down and rebuilt as a skyscraper then future Istanbul residents would be deprived of a good service, Turkish historian and writer H?fz? Topuz told the Daily News in a phone interview.

“I am worried that Istanbul’s residents could be deprived of the French hospital’s mental services if it were torn down and replaced by a skyscraper,” Topuz said. “The hospital is especially important because Christian nuns are running the hospital without discriminating by race or religion. They are not trying to impose their beliefs on patients.”

When historians mention the 1853-1856 Crimean War, they talk about the heroism of soldiers but often forget the story of the Filles de la Charité nuns, who are followers of St. Vincent de Paul.

In the winter of 1855-1856 alone, 47,000 French soldiers came through the hospitals. Of this 9,000 died of cholera, scurvy or typhus in this winter. More people, however, were sick with dysentery, typhoid fever and frostbite on their hands and feet. Often dysentery turned into cholera. As many as 100 Filles de la Charité nuns became sick during the horrible typhus epidemic and 33 died.

The nuns and missionaries were sometimes unable to keep up with all the work. They dressed wounds every day and the number of patients per day sometimes reached 200, with at least 150 or them being Turks, Jews, Armenians, Greeks and Bulgarians. Each day, 50 to 60 poor people visited the nuns for a meal. All were give medicine, bread, clothes and other aid. The sisters made house calls and rushed to help poor and sick people. More than a hundred children were in their orphanage.

Head doctors from everywhere

In 1877, La Paix began offering psychiatric services on the initiative of Dr. Mongeri, a doctor of Italian origin, and Sultan Abdulhamid’s sister, Cemile Sultan. At the time, care at La Paix had become a luxury. Ottoman civil servants, diplomats, wealthy Levantines and prominent members of non-Muslim communities were treated at the hospital.

After Mongeri, the head doctor was a Levantine Jew named Dr. Castiro, who served until 1908. After Castiro, Dr. Apostolitedes, a Greek from Varna, took over. He continued as the hospital’s head doctor until World War I, during which time La Paix treated soldiers injured during the Balkan Campaigns in 1912 and 1913.

Turkish psychiatric pioneers

When World War I began, France was one of the Allied powers fighting against the Ottoman Empire. Thus, La Paix, which was considered to be under French control, was taken over by the government. In 1916, patients from the Haseki mental hospital were transferred to La Paix.

The head doctor of the Haseki hospital, Dr. Mazhar Osman, was appointed as head doctor of La Paix. Osman took on assistants and trained them to be specialists while treating patients at La Paix. Seminars were organized, cases were presented, conferences were held and speakers from different institutions were invited. The conferences held at La Paix had an important influence on the acceptance of psychiatry in Turkey and influenced many future doctors. These conferences were also an important factor in the rise of Osman’s fame. The conferences and cases were published in a journal, marking the first time that psychiatric studies had been covered in Turkish.

After the Moudros Armistice on Oct. 30, 1918 ended the war for the Ottomans, the hospital was returned to the French, but Osman continued as head doctor of La Paix until his death in 1951. After his death, the conferences and mentorship programs ended. Dr. ?hsan ?ükrü Aksel succeeded Osman and served from 1951-1973. During his tenure, modern psychiatric methods began to be applied at La Paix shortly after being introduced in Europe.

URL: Hurriyet Daily News

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