Centenaries

The British attempt to attack the heart of Turkey in 1915, one hundred years ago during WWI, by attacking the Gallipoli peninsula only 150 miles from Istanbul, was a disaster.  Not only did the British have no intelligence on the Turkish forces, but grossly underestimated their capability.  At first the British decided under the command of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, to invade the Dardanelles to outflank the Germans and defeat their ally Turkey.  But the Navy arrived at the entrance to the straits with only a minimum of ships and as soon as the shore guns fired on them they withdrew.  By this time the Turks were warned of the advance and greatly strengthened their forces.  So when the British decided to make a landing in order to clear the guns and allow their ships to pass through the straits it was a deadly mistake.

The amphibious landing started on April 25, 1915 and at first seemed to go well so the Allies (principally Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand) poured their troops into the landing stages.  But, the Turks surrounded them on the higher ground and pinned them down and gradually picked them off.   The combat lasted 8 months, during which some 135,000 allied soldiers were killed, ca. 10,000 of them ANZAC troops (at that time about 1% of the total Australian population) and 68,000 on the Turkish side.  What was most damning was the way the British treated the Australian troops as expendable, sending them into combat without weapons (those who saw the movie “Gallipoli” will remember this).   The campaign at Gallipoli was a founding experience for both the Australian and Turkish peoples.  It was a victory for the Turks, but the last one of any consequence, and although out-numbered the Turkish Army fought bravely under the command of Gen Kemal Attaturk, who later became the founder and President of modern Turkey.  ANZAC day is commemorated on April 25 every year, and this year for the centenary there was a combined Turkish/Allied ceremony at Gallipoli.

This year is also the centenary of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians carried out by the Turkish Government and Army starting in 1915 during WWI.  The Turks used the war as a convenient excuse to rid themselves of their largest Christian minority.   Of course, the Turks claim that the Armenians were disloyal citizens who supported the enemy and they claim only some 300,000 were actually killed in fighting.  They do admit however that massacres of civilians occurred, but refuse to call it a genocide.  There was a major commemoration in Yerevan, the capital of modern day Armenia (which is much smaller that its original territory) which both Pres. Hollande of France and Pres. Putin of Russia attended.  Israel was represented by a delegation.  However, Israel so far has not termed the massacres of the Armenians as a genocide and neither has the US, even under Pres. Obama.  It is noteworthy that Adolf Hitler when planning his genocide of the Jews during WWII remarked that no-one remembered the Armenians.  Germany today officially labelled the massacres as a “genocide.”

 

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