Friday, April 24, 2015

Turkey Celebrates the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli Today

Gallipoli was an inspirational victory for the Turks during World War I. Three nations rose out of the rubble of the Allied defeat at Gallipoli: Australia, New Zealand, and modern Turkey. Turkey found a leader, who forged a new nation out of the broken Ottoman Empire. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia is credited in 1853 with calling the Ottoman Empire “The Sick Man of Europe,” but in fact the Empire had been in decline for over two centuries as the once-feared Ottoman armies consistently lost battles and wars. The Sultans were a spent force. The Byzantine Empire, the predecessor to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, had declined to a few miles outside the city’s walls when it fell to the Ottomans in 1453. The Ottomans had not fallen nearly that low by 1914, but the days when the Ottoman Empire included the Black Sea, the Balkans, Mesopotamia, the Levant, North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean were becoming a distant memory. The British, led by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, devised a plan to drive Turkey out of the War by seizing Istanbul and turning it and the Bosporus over to the Russians. The plan centered on capturing the Dardanelles, which connect the Mediterranean and the Aegean to the Black Sea and Russia through the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus. Turkey was weak. The Young Turks, mostly military officers, seized power in 1908, lost it, and regained control in a 1913 coup. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last absolute ruler, abdicated on April 13, 1909, to be succeeded by Mehmed V, a figurehead. The Young Turks, led by Enver Pasha (Ismail Enver), proved they could seize power, start a war, and initiate the Armenian genocide, and lose the war. Enver Pasha made the unilateral decision for Turkey to enter World War I on the side of the Central Powers, and then proceeded to lose an army in an early battle with Tsarist Russia. The collective decision was then made to demagogue the Armenians to divert the public attention away from the failures of the Young Turks. Lt. Colonel Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) was not a fan of Enver Pasha and his two co-rulers, Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha. The 35 year old officer was quasi-exiled to the Gallipoli Peninsula in command of the 19th Division, prior to the invasion. The initial British Plan was to send a fleet of 18, mostly aged, battleships through the Dardanelles and onto Constantinople on March 18, 1915. Turkish artillery, mines, and torpedoes defeated the fleet, sinking three battleships. The next step was to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula sandwiched between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles. Troy lies on the opposite side of the Dardanelles. The British assembled a Commonwealth and French army. The soldiers were from Australia, England, India, Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, France, and Senegal. If they captured the Gallipoli Peninsula, then the army would have a quick march to Constantinople. Turkey would be forced out of the war. The British plan was doomed. They underestimated the Turkish soldiers and suffered from incompetent generals. The forces landed in several locations on April 25, 1915 and then essentially dug in, instead of seizing the initiative. The Turkish forces fiercely resisted, but in some areas were running short of ammunition. The 57th Infantry Regiment became a legend on the 25th. Out of ammo, with only fixed bayonets, Colonel Kemal issued his famous order: “I do not order you to fight. I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.” Every member of the 57th was either killed or wounded in action. The Turks held. Turkish casualties exceeded the Allies, but the Turks were fighting for their home. They would not be defeated. They generally held on to the high grounds while Gallipoli degenerated into trench warfare similar to the western Front. Much of the nine month Gallipoli battle was fought in a 1½ mile square. The Allies finally evacuated on January 9, 1915, their most effective action of the battle. Gallipoli was a strategic defeat for the Allies. The Turks held on until the end of the War. Winston Churchill entered political purgatory for two decades. Australia and New Zealand celebrate Anzac Day on April 25 as they found their identity and nationhood. 60,000 Anzac soldiers landed at Gallipoli. 8,709 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders died in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula. So did 14,300 French soldiers, but the legacy of Gallipoli belongs to Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey. The Turks won the battle, but ultimately lost the war, The Allies dismembered not only the Ottoman Empire after the war, but also attempted to carve up Turkey. Mustafa Kemal wrangled permission to go to Anatolia, whereupon he formed an army, which won Turkey’s War of Independence. Mustafa Kemal became Ataturk. Ataturk knew, and the world learnt, that the Turks could fight with competent leadership. Modern Turkey, which is mostly in Asia, emerged as an independent, secular Republic. Ataturk westernized the educational system, language, calendar, culture, dress, and laws. Turkey adopted the metric system. Women were granted equality. The Hagia Sophia had been converted into the Aya Sofya Mosque immediately upon the Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople. Ataturk in turn converted the Aya Sofya into a museum, across the Hippodrome from the equally famous Blue Mosque. 31 Commonwealth cemeteries are on Gallipoli. Ataturk is reported to have said at a dawn service to a delegation of British, Australian and New Zealand representatives in 1934 at Anzac Cove on the 20th Anniversary of Gallipoli: Those heroes who shed their blood And lost their lives You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country Therefore rest in peace There is no difference between the Johnnies And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side Here, in this country of ours You, the mothers Who sent their sons from far away countries Wipe away your tears Your sons are now lying in our bosom And are in peace After having lost their lives on this land they have Become our sons as well Australia and New Zealand have erected memorials to Ataturk. Rarely do countries commemorate losing battles much less celebrate the opposing victors. Australia, New Zealand and Turkey are united by Gallipoli through blood and the bonds of peace. Sadly, the collapse and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire has led to many of the present problems in the Mideast. Gallipoli, both the naval battle and the land war, is a tremendous source of pride for the Turks today as well as an immediate morale boost a century ago. There would be no Turkey today without Gallipoli.

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