A Handbook of Forgiveness & A Handbook of Punishment
An excerpt from the text titled “Between Dream and Fact” by Refik Akyüz, translated by: Orhan Cem Çetin
The existence of Abdul Hamid II photograph albums has long been known. The utilization of photography -specifically as a tool born by modernity- for the documentation of the modernization of the Ottoman Empire, was a novel thought for its time. A photography department was built inside the Yıldız Palace and albums were reproduced to be sent to prominent countries of the World as a testimony of the Ottoman modernization process. Rarely leaving Istanbul and adopting despotism in an attempt to shoulder the weakening country, Abdul Hamid II was a one-man who had purged the very congress who had enthroned him. Among the reasons photography flourished throughout the Ottoman State was the tasks he had commissioned to photographers. The photography facilities at Yıldız Palace were making it possible for Abdul Hamid II to get acquainted with his own country, otherwise invisible to his eyes, in such lavishness probably unmatched by any other example of the use of this medium elsewhere in the world.
Among numerous amusements of Abdul Hamid II was his obsession with crime fiction too. In order to be able to hold the exceedingly weakened empire together, he had established an efficient organization of surveillants spying on the opposition. Locking himself at the Yıldız Palace, experiencing almost paranoid delusions, Abdul Hamid II during the 25th year of his reign, ordered all murder convicts in the country to be photographed with their hands showing, in preparation for a planned amnesty. He was apparently moved by a pseudo-scientific information he had read in a crime novel, which stated that, “any criminal with a thumb joint longer than the index finger joint, is inclined to murder.”
In this project, the photographs can further be classified into two groups, one where we can deduce that these are inmates only because they appear in the albums and the other where they are definitely convicts, since they are chained with iron bracelets. Majority are photographed to show their hands, a tell-tale sign that they are shot for the above-mentioned identification.
Cemre Yeşil cropped out the faces in the photographs she used in this book, which in turn helps us freely contemplate about the personalities of the prisoners, devoid of prejudgements and without being influenced by any facial expression. It is rather obvious that ‘Dream’ refers to the desire of these inmates for their remission. ‘Fact’ on the other hand shows their actual circumstances. The fates of these people, whose emotional states are difficult to predict since we do not see their faces, are also largely unknown. It is impossible to learn what verdict Abdul Hamid II reached after examining these hands awaiting forgiveness.
This whole story, alas, connects to our day in a sad way. We are once again living through difficult times. Many educated people are distracted from their valuable practices, having to struggle with baseless court cases or they are already deprived from their freedom due to arbitrary detentions. Some are convicted, some had to depart from this beautiful land. Thus, it is deeply meaningful that Cemre dedicates this book to them.