Gallipolli, Genocide and Johnny Turk

armenian headsA century ago, in a misconceived encounter on the history-soaked precipices of Asia Minor, the sons of ANZAC received their initiation in battle against the German-trained soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish forces, well prepared behind excellent defences, used their tactics to good effect, ably led by a professional officer who would go on to bigger things, Kemal Ataturk.

Now is celebrated, in an annual event that grows in mythology and status in proportion to the passing of the years, the shared combat ordeal of Gallant Johnny Turk and the Bronzed Anzac. Pause for a moment to this: What if, say, instead of Gallipolli, the ANZACs forces went into combat against an SS Battalion somewhere in Poland during World War 11? Would we then, decades later, be joining with our former enemies to celebrate what both sides had gone through, all enmities long forgotten? Could one with clear conscience commemorate battle experiences shared with representatives of enemy forces acting as the military arm of a state carrying out a terrible genocide at the same time?

For it was the night before the landing at Gallipolli on April 25 in the capital of the Ottoman Empire (then called Constantinople) when occurred the arrest, detention and subsequent liquidation of 625 intellectuals, priests and leading Armenians. This event is widely held to signal the onset of the first major genocide of the twentieth century, the most bloodthirsty period in human history.

What followed was the mass murder of an entirely innocent group of citizens by means still horrifying to contemplate. By the time Turkey sued for peace in 1918, up to 1.5 million Armenians had been slaughtered, decimating the population of a group whose ancestors had lived in the Fertile Crescent since the dawn of human settlement. It did not stop there. The Assyrian people lost at least 75,000, three-quarters of their population; the numbers have not been made up to this day. Later, the Greeks in Asia Minor, in some of the bloodiest scenes of city-sacking since the fall of Nineveh and Tyre, were driven out of ancient homelands, never to return. And, largely lost in the high tide of bloodletting at the time, there were pogroms of Jewish settlements in Anatolia.

We have made our peace with the genocidal German and Japanese foes of World War 11 (there is no way the unrestrained butchery of the inhabitants of Manchuria, to say nothing of the Rape of Nanking, would not constitute a genocide). Our former enemies have (at least partially, in the case of the Japanese) acknowledged their roles as aggressors and in the genocides. But we would not ask SS veterans or their descendants to join us in Anzac Day parades.  This is right and proper, the way it should be. Yet these qualms do not trouble us in fostering our war links with the Turkish people – led today by political descendants of the Ittihadist Party which planned, organised and carried out the Anatolian genocides.

Part of the reason is promoted ignorance. The Turkish government vigorously enforces an official policy of denial, maintaining it as the duty of their diplomatic staff abroad to engage in a well-funded campaign of disinformation and protest should anyone publicly state anything to the contrary. Genocide denied is an extension of the genocide perpetuated; lies and dissembling, an ongoing crime against all of humanity. Turkish nationalism, which runs coeval with its policy of genocide denial, remains the last outpost of unreconstructed pre-World War Two racial nationalism of the worst kind.

So when we celebrate the ANZAC spirit, as we did at dawn today, let us always remember that our forebears were fighting for freedom, pure and simple, and that a nation which insists on covering up history to escape its culpability for genocide is not a nation we can regard entirely as our equal. Nor should we — not until they desist from their deceitful denial of the utter, awful truth of what their forces did to several million innocent and unprotected peoples from that significant day in April, 1915.

Johnny Turk, by all accounts, was a brave fighter when well led and supported (which was not always the case), but can we separate the soldiers from their officers, leaders, politicians and bureaucrats who at the same time were engaged in exterminating an entire group of people – especially when that same state, a century later, continues to defile the memory of these victims by refusing to admit that the slaughter even occurred?

Let the Anzac ceremonies proceed with Johnny Turk – but be sure to let them know what we know, will not forget and will not deny until they face up to their culpability and can then re-join the ranks of honoured enemies  and enjoy full standing amongst the nations of the world.

Robert M Kaplan is a forensic psychiatrist and historian who has written on genocide.

6 thoughts on “Gallipolli, Genocide and Johnny Turk

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    Worse than non-repentant, re-offending criminals are those who refuse to admit their criminal deeds.

  • mvgalak@bigpond.com says:

    This is quite a relief, to know that I not the only one, wondering at the incongruence of an unedifying spectacle of a Turkish contingent within the ANZAC parade, proclaiming the embrace of the dead diggers by the Turkish soil, or something to this effect. The desire to forgive and to let bygones be bygones is one thing. To lose the sense of propriety and allow this grotesque and shmaltzy caricature on mutual forgiveness is quite another.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    There was a similar uncomfortable arrangement at the ANZAC Dawn Service held at the War Cemetery in New Delhi. There was no ANZAC day march but the Turkish government representative was given equal billing with the New Zealand Charge d’affaires to give the morning address before they both joined the wreath laying ceremony.
    The charming and very competent new Australian High Commissioner, Ms Harinder Sidhu, had given a welcoming address to the assembly that was very typically Australian and well received.
    The dawn service may not be the appropriate occasion to mention some things but nowhere does one hear anymore the appropriate word ‘brilliant concept’ when there is discussion of the Gallipolli campaign. But even the experts use words like ‘misconceived encounter’ when it would be more appropriate to use ‘inadequately implemented’.
    Imagine if the Dardenelles had been successfully opened to supply partner Russia with the desperately needed arms for their massive manpower. The war would have ended earlier as Churchill envisaged and the world would have been almost certainly spared the Bolshevik revolution and the atheistic overthrow of Holy Russia. No Left thinking journalist would want to contemplate that scenario of no communist revolution. However, almost surely there would have been no WW2 and no need for a Normandy landing that was overwhelmingly successful because of lessons learnt at Gallipolli just 3 decades before.

    • acarroll says:

      Hi Bran,

      Do you have any books or links that point to a possible winning implementation plan for the taking of the Dardenelles using the technology and “unknown unknowns” of the time?

  • Gobsmacked of Gippsland says:

    There is another aspect of Turkish behaviour at Gallipoli that I have never heard mentioned, which is this: the execution of captured Australians and New Zealanders in the first couple of days of fighting.

    It is a matter of fact that the furthest the Anzacs got at Gallipoli was on 25 April 1915. Indeed, the official historian, C.E.W. Bean, noted that Private Arthur Blackburn (later Brigadier Blackburn, VC, CMG, CBE, ED) and Lance Corporal Philip Robin (both of the South Australian 10th Battalion) made it all the way to Scrubby Knoll on the day of the landing, probably further inland than any other Australian soldiers “whose movements are known”, before being compelled to withdraw in the face of ever-increasing Turkish numbers and aggressive counter-attacks.

    And that occurred all the way along the Gallipoli landing – the troops pushed forward as far as they could, before being compelled to withdraw.

    And when they withdrew, they left behind wounded mates whose wounds prevented them from withdrawing as well.

    There were many such wounded.

    As far as I am aware, only four Anzacs were captured by the Turks on the day of the landing.

    What happened to the scores of others who fell wounded and were not able to be evacuated to the beach?

    They all died.

    Which means that, as the Turks advanced and captured these wounded soldiers, they (the Turks) executed the wounded Anzacs where on the spot.

    How many Anzacs perished on the first day or two in this fashion?

    I do not know.

    But, given the casualties that were suffered in the first day (estimated to be about 754 Australians and 147 Kiwis killed on 25 April 1915, with about 2,000 Australians wounded), it is probable, in my opinion, that there would have been scores of Anzacs who were executed in this fashion.

    All of which adds another dimension to the issue of Turkish atrocities.

  • en passant says:

    An interesting article I missed in 2016 that raises several points of interest and some that it implies.

    I know of several RSL’s that accepted ex-German Army soldiers into their branches. One I knew of served in North Africa against the Australians. Another was the ANZAC day bugler in a country town. One I was friends with was a fighter pilot shot down and captured in February 1945 in France. Another, who I knew well, served for three years on the Eastern Front, joined the Oz Army in 1957, served in Vietnam and on retirement was manager of the Naval & Military Club until its demise. Curiously, I know of at least one North Vietnamese who is a member of a Victorian RSL.

    As for the plan to ‘open the Dardanelles’: hopeless beyond any degree of sanity.

    Let’s say Gallipoli was overrun and conquered by 1st May 1915. What then? The guns on the opposite bank would have had a field day – a Turkey Shoot, if you will pardon the pun.

    The correct answer was adopted in WW2 with the Arctic Run to Archangel & Murmansk. The German Luftwaffe & Kriegsmarine, even with bases in Norway & Finland could only damage, but not prevent the convoys getting through.

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