Saturday, January 10, 2015

1915 - 2015: The Gallipoli Campaign, the Armenian Genocide and Turkey

The Landing at Anzac, April 25, 1915 by Charles Dixon.

As we enter the much anticipated centenary year of our collective suffering, many of us continue to hope that we will manage to overcome divisive tendencies and take full advantage of the anniversary to place our demands on all national and international platforms.

Surely, this will be the first of many pieces I will write about this important year, and surely many more of us and 'them' will also be writing, analyzing, computing, arguing, defending, postulating...

The need to move beyond words to actions has never had as much urgency as it does now. So, instead of writing meandering thoughts as many of us have already done, I want to talk about one of the many initiatives being undertaken by Turkey to thwart, veil, and swerve the discussion from the Armenian Genocide to other issues and historical events.

The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Canakkale (Canakkale Savasi - Turkish) was spearheaded by the Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill during World War I. The disastrous campaign, led by the British was intended to secure a sea route from the Gallipoli peninsula, the northern bank of the Dardanelles (the Ottoman Empire at the time) to the Russian Empire. This campaign by the Allies on April 25, 1915 involved British, French, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and aimed to secure Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Poor planning, lack of sufficient intelligence and knowledge of the terrain coupled with fierce Turkish resistance led to heavy casualties on both sides and the eventual withdrawal of Allied forces to Egypt. 

Canakkale Savasi has a very significant place in Turkish history, it has become a symbol of how the Ottoman army was able to hold back a multinational force and "prevent them from invading the Turkish homeland." It is equally significant for Australia and New Zealand; for these two countries, the campaign remains a sense of national pride and identity.

On April 25, each year, Australia and New Zealand conduct three Anzac Day services at Gallipoli in Turkey. The Dawn Service at the Anzac Commemorative Site is conducted jointly by both countries and is followed by an Australian Memorial Service at Lone Pine, and a New Zealand Memorial Service at Chunuk Bair.

Up until 2013, Turkey commemorated the fallen soldiers of Gallipoli on March 18, which is known as Canakkale Victory and Martyrs Day. However, in anticipation of the world's attention centering on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey has decided that this year, the Battle of Gallipoli will be marked on April 24.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that official Ankara will actively challenge Armenian attempts at forcing a change in the 100 year narrative of Turkish denial in this most crucial commemorative year. 

This move leaves little doubt that Turkey is placing greater emphasis and attention on the commemoration of Canakkale on April 24 as opposed to April 25, 2015 to divert attention from the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.

Dozens of heads of states are expected to attend the ceremonies being organized by Turkey at the highest levels. The Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Crown Prince Charles and Prince William of Great Britain, including Australian actor Russell Crowe are also expected to attend.

What can we do? Armenian communities in those countries that participated in the Gallipoli Campaign (Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and who are expected to take part in the commemoration ceremonies on April 24 should begin a campaign asking their countries' leadership to refrain from participating. The Armenian government, along with the countless activities it is planning for the centenary of the Genocide, could put its diplomats into action (a novel idea) to counter this Turkish move, although there is no Armenian Embassy in Australia (I guess having one in the Vatican was more expedient).

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