300 kilometres south west of Istanbul lies the small seaside town of Gelibulo. With a population of 30 000, this friendly little town has the makings of the perfect place to get away from the noise and the bustle of Istanbul. The sun never stops shining and the temperature is a near perfect 30°C. Only the incessant wind prevents it from being the ideal tourist location.
If this small town is practically unheard of under its Turkish name, its English translation, Gallipoli, is known to all historians of the First World War. Depending on where you come from though, you might not come to the same conclusions. The French have all but forgotten this 8 month campaign and the British view it as a foolhardy side show that was championed by Winston Churchill. To Australians and New Zealanders it is the symbol of the devastation suffered by their ANZAC soldiers for a colonial power. For the Turks, however, the campaign is one of their greatest victories which the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and ultimately saw the birth of the Turkish Republic.
1915. After the Battle of the Marne, the war on the Western Front has already reached a total stalemate. Trenches had been dug and any attack had become extremely costly in both lives and ammunition. The British and French forces thought they could solve the problem by going through the back back i.e. by attacking Turkey. The plan was simple; strike a blow at the ‘sick man of Europe’, the wilting Ottoman Empire, thereby weakening the resistance of the German- Austro-Hungarian-Turkish forces. They would invade the Gallipoli peninsula, then quickly take control of the Constantinopole, draw Romania and Bulgaria into the war against the Ottoman Empire and have established another front with which to attack the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The British Vision of the Gallipoli Campaign
For the French and British forces the campaign was a disaster. Having failed to win any decisive sea battle and having been pushed back out of the Dardanelles, they went ahead with the invasion plan. As on the Western front, months of butchery followed and after 8 months of another military stalemate the British sent Sir Charles Carmichael Monro to oversee the evacuation of the peninsula. Disgruntled by the withdrawal, Churchill said of Monro:
“He came, he saw, he capitulated.”
In fact, for all the British veneration of Churchill and his leadership skills in the Second World War, he was remembered for most of his career for this foolish and badly executed campaign. Had World War II never occurred, Churchill would have gone into history as a minor politician with a macabre taste for overtly risky projects.
Australian and New Zealand ANZACs in the Gallipoli Campaign
Two countries that are well aware of the carnage that took place are Australia and New Zealand. Their ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers, stationed in Egypt, were hastily shipped to the Dardanelles for the invasion. Thousands of them died in sometimes futile attacks. On the seafront at Eceabat, a modern day reconstruction shows the realitiy of the fighting. At times soldiers were only eight metres apart in their trenches. As they were killed they were replaced by more soldiers as in some macabre fair ground game.
The poor preparation and management has been documented by Peter Weir in has 1981 film, Gallipoli. It describes loosely the infamous Battle of the Nek. Lack of coordination between the land and sea forces led to Australian troops being quite literally slaughtered as they came out from the trenches. Each wave of 150 soldiers were gunned down within less than two minutes. The countries still commemorate this bloody campaign with Anzac Day on April 25th. Voices calling for the severing of formal links with the British Empire began to be raised at this time.
The Turkish Vision of the Gallipoli Campaign
Of course, the Turks see the campaign entirely differently. They were supposed to capitulate within weeks, even days and yet they managed to fight off the might of the British Empire and the French forces.
The excellent Kabatepe Museum (or Gallipoli War Museum) reenacts the events of 195-1916. It give a well balanced vision of the campaign resisting the obvious temptation to be overly patriotic. Instead, it gives a clear description of the campaign which brought to the fore a minor officer who would later become the father of the Turkish nation, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Kemal famously revoked an order allowing his men to withdraw from the battle front because they had run out of ammunition.
“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.” He would say in a speech that has become legendary in Turkey. “In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”
Ottoman soldiers were forced to fight with bayonets alone against the guns of the invading forces. They all died as did thousands more Turks in their attempt to push back the enemy. Ataturk would gain his reputation during this battle and would ultimately become the founder and the first President of the new Turkish Republic created in 1922. What is a forgotten campaign for the French, a minor sideshow for the British is a defining moment in the history of Australia, New Zealand and more importantly, Turkey.
Turkey is relatively young and dynamically emerging country. It is amazing to witness the refinement of Istanbul, which once was the cultural and political center of the most powerful empires. In this city which never sleeps, and connects two continents Europe and Asia, it is hard to believe that you won’t be enjoying amazing moments!
Last week I was fortunate enough to be in New York during the Presidential Elections and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was an interesting reminder that being close to something may give you a totally different perspective on how events are unfolding. This doesn’t always mean you get a better one.
IU Study Abroad Blog: “Quite a few weeks ago now, most of the country celebrated Kurban Bayramı, which is the same as the holiday Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). The holiday coincides with the end of the Hajj (which is also the end of the Muslim lunar calendrical year), and lasts five days.”
Photo Gallery of Istanbul (Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, Grand Bazaar, and many others)
The Culturer : “Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul is a city of contrasts, and not just in a geographical sense.”