Turkey has once again missed the opportunity to look back at its history with a critical and analytical eye, acknowledging the suffering of others as well as its own. Instead, the usual narrative has become even more aggressive, more political and less human. It has also taken on a decidedly Islamist tone.
On the centennial anniversaries of two significant periods in Turkish Ottoman history, both the mass deportations and killings of Armenians and the Allied landings in Gallipoli, the Justice and Development Party government have managed to isolate Turkey even further.
Turkey has now recalled its ambassadors to the Vatican and Austria for referring to 1915 mass killings as genocide. It is likely other countries will follow their example and more diplomatic relations will be strained.
Nobody expected the Armenian genocide question to be dealt with painlessly, especially when the majority of the political establishment and public opinion tend to toe the official line. However, it took a special kind of narrow mindedness to blunder on Gallipoli.
For some years now, there has been a steady revisionism of the past 100 years, with secular elements systematically airbrushed. On the centenary of one of the most studied and written about chapters of the world history, this new Islamist interpretation of the Gallipoli war has come under more of an international spotlight.
A television commercial featuring the President Erdogan reading a poem written by well-known Islamist-nationalist poet Arif Nihat Asya set the scene for this year’s 100th anniversary commemoration. The tone of the three-minute film titled “An Epic of a Hundred Years” could not have been more different than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s famous 1934 tribute to the foreign soldiers killed at Gallipoli, as inscribed on the Canberra Memorial:
“Those heroes that 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 faraway 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.”
If Mustafa Kemal was the magnanimous military leader of the victorious Ottoman troops, another giant of history, Winston Churchill, was the brains behind the doomed Allied landings took place on April 25, 1915. Churchill, then the first lord of the Admiralty, was forced to resign after more than 44,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, and Irish and French troops died.
This year, on the centenary of one of the bloodiest Allied defeats of the First World War, there is more critical analysis and debate in countries involved in the Gallipoli campaign than previously. While they question their own historical narrative, they also take note of the evolving one in Turkey.
In a recent article , an Australian newspaper commented that Mr Erdogan was pushing the view that his country’s military triumph at Gallipoli was a holy war. “It shows how Gallipoli has become embroiled in the broader debate in Turkey about the country’s shift towards Islamism under Erdogan, including his controversial ambivalence towards the Islamic State terror group” The Australian claimed.
100 years on, nobody is criticised more than Winston Churchill for his role in the Gallipoli campaign. Yet, his standing as an inspirational statesman and a leader who led Britain to victory in the next World War is not questioned.
Could it be, because, like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, he had defiance in defeat, magnanimity in victory, and most importantly plentiful good will in peace?
This post is also available in: Turkish