The museum building was the home of a Turkish military doctor called Major Nihat Ilhan. On Christmas Eve 1963 (“Bloody Christmas”) it came under attack by Greek Cypriots, quite possibly members of EOKA. Nihat Ilhan was away on duty, but his wife and three small children were at home and were having dinner with a group of visitors when they heard shots aimed at their door. They decided to go and hide in the bathroom and toilet. But the four attackers, who had broken down the main door, came looking for them and fired through the bathroom door. Nihat Ilhan’s wife and their three children were shot dead, as was one of the visitors, the others were (seriously) wounded. Images of the bodies of the small children dead in the bathtub became iconic on the Turkish side (you can also see them in the National Struggle Museum
There were many other brutal incidents that Christmas with many others dead, but this particular case gained the highest profile in the media reporting and subsequent commemoration, probably because of the fact that the victims were women and children (and came from a respected family).
The Museum of Barbarism’s first incarnation was apparently opened as early as 1966. The current museum, however, is the result of a recent complete overhaul and modernization and it reopened in 2022.
What there is to see:
not all that much. In the anteroom photo-and-text panels follow a timeline from 1571 to 1983 and pick out important events within that timescale, from the beginning of the Ottoman era on Cyprus
to the proclamation of the TRNC
. These are all covered above, in the general Cyprus history section
and/or in the background section
of the chapter on the National Struggle Museum
, so there’s no need to repeat all those points here. Suffice it to say that all texts in this room are bilingual, in Turkish and English. The translations are mostly OK. In addition there are small screens showing newspaper clippings. These are in Turkish only.
A side room branching off to the right behind the anteroom contains just one large exhibit: a kind of interactive media table. Using the surface like a touchscreen you can summon up further information. As far as I could tell this was all in Turkish only too – at least I didn’t spot any language switch option (nor did I undertake a deep search for such an option). So I cannot report details.
In the central room is also a wall-mounted screen on which interviews are played in a loop. These are subtitled in English. As I was a bit pressed for time I didn’t watch the lot, just a sample.
Another side room serves as the film theatre, and a documentary about the events that took place here is played in a loop, Turkish and English versions taking turns. I timed it wrong and arrived at the start of the Turkish version, so I didn’t stay to watch it. Later I returned and caught a section with the (police?) photographer who took those iconic images at the scene after the event speaking in English (with Turkish subtitles).
Yet another side room has an animated projection on to a wall of Turkish names, given one after the other for different years. These names are collectively labelled “Kibris şehitleri”, or ‘Cypriot martyrs’. So I assume these are the names of Turkish Cypriots killed in the inter-communal violence of those years.
And then there are some original artefacts displayed in another room. These are mostly clothes and shoes of the victims, including very small children’s sandals. In addition dentures and some hair are displayed in a small glass cabinet. These are labelled as having belonged to the woman who was a guest and was killed in the 24 December attack. In a corner is some furniture, presumably also original, namely an armchair, a standard lamp and a small coffee table with a frame on it containing a photograph of a baby (presumably one of the Ilhan kids).
Finally there’s the toilet and the bathroom in which the victims were killed. The bathtub is covered with a glass plate and on the walls a number of bullet holes are marked by little square frames. The wall directly above the bathtub is used for an animated projection of fuzzy silhouettes of a women (presumably Nihat Ilhan’s wife) and little children (hers) then suddenly shots sound from hidden speakers and the silhouetted group, instead of falling, slowly dissolves into “dust” flying off. A single text panel summarizes the tragedy that took place here and gives all the victims’ names.
All in all
, this small museum can be regarded as a kind of modern extension of the more old-fashioned National Struggle Museum
. It shares its one-sidedness, though the language is not as drastically anti-Greek Cypriot. Nor is the term ‘genocide’ used here, instead the text says “ethnic cleansing”. That this particular place at the original site of such a tragedy cannot be more balanced and analytical is perhaps to be expected.
in the north-west of the New Town of North Nicosia
in the Kumsal district, on the corner of Mehmet Akif Caddesı and M. Ilhan Sokak, ca. 1.2 miles (2 km) from the Old Town.
Access and costs: a bit out of the centre, but still walkable; free
it’s a bit of a walk from the Old Town of North Nicosia
, but doable; or take a taxi.
From Girne Kapısı (Kyrenia Gate) at the northern end of Girne Caddesı, head west on Cemal Gürsel Caddesı, which becomes Osmanpaşa Caddesı after a roundabout. When you come to the intersection with Mehmet Akif Caddesı turn right and keep going until you come to the museum, located opposite a white modern mosque and a glitzy shopping centre.
Opening times: weekdays from 8 or 9 a.m. to 3 or 3:30 p.m., and to 2 or 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays; possibly closed at weekends. Different sources give different times, so to be on the safe side it would be wisest to aim at a mid-morning time on a weekday.
The museum also offers audio guides, but I hadn’t realized that when I entered and wasn’t offered one. So I can neither say whether an English version is available nor what the content may be like.
Time required: not long, perhaps 15-30 minutes, perhaps longer depending on whether you want to watch the film and video screens in full, and perhaps use the audio guide. If you know Turkish and want to use the interactive media table you may need longer still.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The Turkish Cypriot National Struggle Museum
provides a broader historical context for the incident, albeit in a similarly unbalanced way and occasionally employing more drastic language.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under North Nicosia
- Museum of Barbarism 1 - the building
- Museum of Barbarism 2 - inside
- Museum of Barbarism 3 - interactive multimedia table
- Museum of Barbarism 4 - cinema room
- Museum of Barbarism 5 - exhibits
- Museum of Barbarism 6 - shoes
- Museum of Barbarism 7 - dentures
- Museum of Barbarism 8 - furniture
- Museum of Barbarism 9 - bathroom