The Turkish Remembrance of Gallipoli

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King & Country AL68 – Turkish Machine Gunner lying prone

As we approach November 11th and the ceremonies organized to commemorate what it represents, the theme of remembrance occupies a special place in my readings.

Just the other day, I found a very interesting and informative article about the historical evolution of the Remembrance of the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, under the pen of Mesut Uyar of the University of New South Wales in Canberra (Australia) in First War Studies.

Since the evacuation of the last Anzac troops at dawn on December 20th 1915, marking a Turkish victory, the process of memory and remembrance on the Turkish side has been all but easy. Subjected to political, religious, military and identity considerations – just to quote these examples – Turkish people incessantly advocated the development and promotion of awareness of the sacrifices of their fellow citizens during that famous campaign. And it is one of the most interesting aspects of this article. Family and friends of veterans, soldiers and officers who served and fought on the peninsula along with university students were at the vanguard of this evolution.

At the entrance of the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra, the visitors can see a whale boat that served to transport the troops on the shores of Gallipoli, in front of which the following inscription is displayed: “The Australian nation was born on the shore of Gallipoli.”

With our Western eyes and conceptions, it is often too easy to focus exclusively on the military feats of Australians, New Zealanders and other Allied troops and to ignore the gallantry of the Turkish soldiers and their commanders – the most notorious being Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – founder of the Republic of Turkey. Doing so, we forfeit the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the impact of the Gallipoli campaign in the national identity and consciousness of Turkey, a country that is not only member of NATO but also an ally in the fight against terror.

Thanks to military historians like Mesut Uyar, we can better appreciate the efforts deployed by the Turkish people to bring the valor of their ancestors on the battlefield to our attention and appreciation.

Towards a closer Turkish-Israeli military collaboration?

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Israeli M60 tank

Defense News informed its readers yesterday that Turkish officials are considering the options about the upgrade of “hundreds of German-made Leopard 2 and U.S.-made M60 main battle tanks.

Of particular interest in these news is the fact that the M60’s upgrade would be realized using Israeli expertise, marking “the first Turkish-Israeli defense deal after the two former allies froze their diplomatic ties in 2010 but agreed on détente recently.” But it would not be a first, since a previous upgrade realized by Israeli Military Industries occurred in the 1990s.

Those who follow military affairs and the Middle East will also remember that, last April, a Turkish M60T tank – “[…] a version of the US-made tank upgraded by Israeli Military Industries (IMI)” – survived an anti-tank attack launched by soldiers of the Islamic State using a 9K129 Kornet ATGW.

It goes without saying that Ankara’s decision to use Israeli military expertise in its upgrading of the Armed forces is not only savvy to contribute to a better political climate in the region but also wise in terms of providing its troops with the best possible equipment.

Gallipoli and the Arab Revolt

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The evacuation of Gallipoli

The recent commemoration of Anzac Day and the battle of Gallipoli brought my attention to a very interesting article published in 2015 in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies by David J. Charlwood.

In this fascinating article, the historian establishes a clear link between the withdrawal of the Allied troops from Gallipoli and the British decision to support the Arab revolt.

To sum up the findings of the author, Sharif Hussein of Mecca wrote to British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Arthur McMahon in July 1915 to propose collaboration. The first response he received was “[…] that it cannot, on account of its incoherence [the Arab movement’s] be of any value to us.”

But the negative progression of events for the British and Allied forces on the Gallipoli peninsula was associated by a desire, from the same McMahon, to ensure that the foreseeable debacle would mean a loss of prestige, notably in the eyes of the Arabs and hence the high potential of their alignment with the Turks.

As the secret evacuation of the British troops began, the same McMahon wrote to Hussein: “As an earnest of our intentions, and in order to aid you in your efforts in our joint cause, I am sending you by your trustworthy messenger a sum of twenty thousand pounds.”

It is just fascinating to realize the direct link between what happened on the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of the Arabian Desert.

Jabotinsky and Gallipoli

I just started reading Bruce Hoffman’s recent book, Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947

Here’s what I found on page 8: Jabotinsky

“His [Jabotinsky] efforts resulted in the formation of the Zion Mule Corps, which participated in the ill-fated invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915.”

For the record, Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky was a Zionist leader and he was co-responsible of the creation of the Jewish Legion during World War I.

While I was aware of the existence of the Jewish Legion, I ignored the Gallipoli component of its involvement for King and Country (or, I should write Empire). Modest as this contribution might have been, it is nevertheless an excellent example that Israel – even before it was reborn under this name in 1948 – stood with the Allies (I think we can call them the West) when the going got tough.

Enough for now. I’ll publish a review of the book when I finish the last page of it. But I can already say that this is a very enjoyable read and a good investment.