Corporal Hasan of Turkey’s Igdir province was part of the heavy machine gun team of the Ottoman army and guarded Jerusalem for 65 years until his death in 1982.
Corporal Hasan belonged to the 20th corp, 36th Battalion, 8th Squadron. He was one of the rearguard troops left in Jerusalem that the Ottoman Army used to prevent pillage and maintain order and safety. According to tradition, the victor of the war never treats rearguard troops as war captives in a captured city.
When British troops entered Jerusalem, they wanted a small force to stay in the city to avoid a potential negative public reaction after entering the holy city of Jerusalem.
Until 1972, 47 years ago, when the late Turkish journalist Ilhan Bardakci accompanied Turkish officials and businessmen on a courtesy visit to Israel, nobody in the Turkish public had heard of Corporal Hasan.
Bardakci says the trip was like any other until the fourth day where he witnessed an emotional moment in Quds (Jerusalem in Arabic).
“Because on the fourth day of the visit, they [Israeli officials] led us around in historical and touristic places and we arrived at Al Aqsa Mosque in the cortege. I felt thrilled while climbing to the upstairs of the sacred mosque. They call the upstairs courtyard ‘12,000 chandelier courtyard’ where Yavuz Sultan Selim lit 12,000 candles in chandeliers. The magnificent Ottoman Army performed isha prayer by candlelight, the name refers to it.”
Then, he saw a man over 90 years old in the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque, who drew Bardakci’s attention.
Bardakci asked the foreign affairs official who was standing near him in the courtyard of the mosque. The official replied saying: “I don’t know, maybe just an insane man who just stands here, never asks anything to anyone, never looks to anyone."
Bardakci was not satisfied with that answer and said, “I was old enough to know that no one would glower at a courtyard without a good reason. What I couldn’t get was that if his shimmering white beard was because of the breeze or the heavy burden of the years.”
He was not sure about whether he should speak to him. He realised that while he was getting closer, the old man did not move. Then, Bardakci approached the old man and said “As-Salaam-Alaikum father". The old man hesitantly replied to him saying “Wa Alaykum As-Salam, son."
In a reply to Bardakci's question about what he was doing there, the old man replied: “I am Corporal Hasan from the 20th corp, 36th Battalion, 8th Squadron heavy machine gun team.”
He continued like a soldier giving a brief: “Our troops raided the British on Suez Canal front in the Great War. Our glorious army was defeated at the Canal. To withdraw was requisite now. The heirloom lands of our ancestors were about to be lost one by one. And then, the Brits pressed upon the gates of Quds, occupied the city. We were left as rearguard troops at Quds."
“My rearguard troop consisted of 53 privates. We got the news that after truce [Mondros Armistice] the army was discharged. Our lieutenant was leading to us, he said ‘My lions, our country is in an arduous situation. They are discharging our glorious army and calling me to Istanbul. I have to go, if I don’t I’d be in defiance of authority, fail to obey the order. Anyone can return to the homeland if he wills, but if you follow my words, I have a request from you: Quds is an heirloom of Sultan Selim Han. Remain on guard duty here. Don’t let the people worry about “Ottomans have left; what we are going to do now.”’ The Westerners will exult if Ottomans left the first qibla [direction to face while praying] of our beloved prophet. Don’t let the honour of Islam and the glory of Ottomans be trampled on."
He continued: “Our troop stayed in Quds. And, almost suddenly the long years vanished. My brothers from the troop passed away one by one. We weren’t mowed down by the enemy, but the years. Only I am left here. Just me, a corporal Hasan in the grand Quds."
He asked Bardakci a favour: “When you arrive in Anatolia, if you pass towards Tokat Sanjak, please visit my commander Lieutenant Mustafa, the man who deployed me to guard Al-Aqsa Mosque and trusted these sacred places to me. Kiss his hands for me and tell him: ‘Corporal Hasan from Igdir Province of the 11th Machine gun team still remains at Quds as you deployed him to... He didn’t abandon his duty and wishes your blessings, commander’.”
Bardakci agreed while holding back tears. He grabbed Corporal Hasan’s callused hands and kissed, again and again, he said: “Goodbye father."
Hasan thanked him, saying he knows it is impossible to see Turkey before death arrives.
When Bardakci returned to Turkey, he went to Tokat to honour his words and traced Hasan’s commander Lieutenant Mustafa Efendi through military records. However, the commander had already passed years ago. Bardakci was not able to keep his promise to Corporal Hasan.
In 1982, Bardakci held a telegraph in his hands with the message: “The last Ottoman guardian at Al Aqsa Mosque has passed away today. "