Have We Forgotten? Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide

Have We Forgotten? Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide – 

By Robert M. Kaplan 

abc.net.au – A century ago, in a misconceived encounter on the history-soaked precipices of Asia Minor, the sons of Anzac received their battle initiation against the German-trained forces of the Ottoman Empire. Now, in an annual event that grows in mythology and status in proportion to the passing of the years, is celebrated the shared combat ordeal of gallant “Johnny Turk” and the Bronzed Anzac.

And why not? The Turkish forces, well prepared behind excellent defences, used their tactics to good effect, ably led by a professional officer who was to go on to bigger things, such as the fire destruction of Smyrna – namely, Kemal Ataturk.

But, pause for one moment to consider a slightly different scenario. Let us suspend historical reality for the purposes of this exercise. What if, say, instead of Gallipoli, the Anzac forces were going into combat with an SS Battalion somewhere in Poland during the Second World War? Would we then, decades later, be joining up with our comrades in battle to celebrate what both sides had gone through, our enmities forgotten? Can one commemorate the shared experiences with enemy forces who acted 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 Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, then called Constantinople, when occurred the arrest, detention and subsequent liquidation of 625 intellectuals, priests and leading figures of the Armenian Empire.

This event is widely held to signal the onset of the first major genocide of the twentieth century, the most blood-drenched period in human history.

What followed was a mass murder of an entirely innocent group of citizens in the Ottoman Empire by means that are 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 of people who had lived in the Fertile Crescent since the dawn of human settlement.

And it did not stop there. The Assyrian people suffered at least 75,000 victims, 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 the Second World War (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). They have (at least partially, in the case of the Japanese) acknowledged their roles as aggressors and in the genocide (at least in the German case; the Austrians are still hoping their role will be forgotten). But we still would not ask the SS battalions to join us on Anzac Day parades.

This is right and the way it should be.

Yet these qualms do not trouble us in fostering our war links with the Turkish people – still led by the political descendants of the Ittihadist Party that planned, organised and carried out the Anatolian genocides.

Part of the reason for this is wilful 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 publically state anything to the contrary.

Genocide denied is an extension of the genocide perpetuated and an ongoing crime against human rights.

Turkish nationalism, which runs coeval with its policy of genocide denial, remains the last outpost of unreconstructed pre-Second World War racial nationalism.

Johnny Turk, by all accounts, was a brave fighter when well led and supported (which was often not 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?

So when we celebrate the Anzac spirit, let us remember that they were fighting for freedom, pure and simple, and a nation that insists on covering up, if not extinguishing history, to escape its culpability for genocide is not a nation with whom we can associate as equals. And nor should we until they desist from their deceitful denial of the awful truth of what their forces did to several million innocent and unprotected peoples under their sway after that day in April 1915.

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 enemies of honour, if not the nations of the world.

Robert M. Kaplan is a forensic psychiatrist and historian who has written on genocide and medical human rights abuse.

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