The cemetery was first established for British soldiers from the Crimean War, who died mostly as the result of a cholera epidemic in the first organized military hospital in modern history created by Florence Nightingale. Around 6,000 soldiers died during the war in the Selimiye Barracks (aka Scutari Barracks) in Istanbul, which was converted into a military hospital. The graves of the dead, of which only a few are marked today, were placed at two separate plots on a hillside close to the Sea of Marmara next to the military hospital. The land, formerly owned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1495 to 1566), was donated to the British Government in 1855. The two plots were linked in 1867 by a second land grant.There are just over 400 graves of military personnel from World War I, who died in Turkey mostly as prisoners of war or some during the occupation of Istanbul (1918 to 1923) after the Armistice of Mudros.
Two other memorials of World War one are found in the cemetery, one bearing the names of a little over 200 soldiers of United Kingdom and Undivided India, who fell in various parts of Russia or on the borders of Turkey, and whose burial grounds could not be maintained. The other memorial is dedicated to the servicemen of the Indian Army who died between 1919 and 1920 in the prisoner-of-war camps in southern Turkey near Adana and were interred in the Maslak and Osmaniye Indian Cemeteries.In 1961, when those cemeteries could not be further maintained, the earth with the ashes of the cremated remains of these men was transferred here and scattered near the monument, and the remains of their Muslim comrades were re-interred.In addition to the burials of World War I, graves of 38 servicemen of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and one pilot of the Australian Imperial Force, who were all killed in action in the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II at the borders of then neutral Turkey, are found in the Haydarpasa Cemetery.