Gallipoli centenary exposes Turkish divisions over history

President Erdogan has sought to redefine the battle as a ‘holy war’

Turkish soldiers parade at the International Service at Canakkale Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial Arch in Seddulbahir, Turkey. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images.

Turkish soldiers parade at the International Service at Canakkale Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial Arch in Seddulbahir, Turkey. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images.

 

Just days before leaders and dignitaries from around the world descended on the rocky outcrop that is the Gallipoli peninsula, locals were busy tending to the thousands of rain-soaked Australians, New Zealanders and Turks here to mark history.

The hills above the peninsula’s western shoreline still bear the trenches and bunkers used by Ottoman Turk soldiers to keep Allied forces from taking the strategic Dardanelles Strait. For eight months in 1915 the defending troops held off Allied landing forces in a battle that resulted in more than 250,000 Allied and Turkish casualties. The campaign was one of the final causes for celebration by the forces of the beleaguered Ottoman Empire, which would collapse within three years.

Marking the victorious battle for Gallipoli each year is usually a chance for Turks to dust off their national pride with a glass of the alcoholic aniseed raki drink in hand. But on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, a fight broke out over the telling of Turkey’s history.

Some critics and liberals in Turkey argue a new Islamic blend of nationalism fostered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is attempting to revise what for decades has been a traditionally secular celebration.

Religion in the back seat

Mustafa Kemal

On the Gallipoli peninsula, bars and off-licences are common even in the rural villages.

With the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Ataturk enshrined the young country’s secular identity in every aspect of the state, from its new constitution to the banning of fez hats for men and the introduction of the Latin alphabet.

However, the AKP, which has ruled Turkey for the past 13 years, has been accused of trying to alter the country’s historical identity by focusing on the Ottoman Empire’s Islamic traditions. In January President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the Gallipoli battle was a “holy war”, even though evidence exists that soldiers drank beer.

The president proclaimed in 2013 that a new bridge over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul would be named after a 16th-century Islamic caliph responsible for persecuting Alevis, a large Shia minority. Last November he claimed Muslims discovered the American continent in the 12th century.

Ottoman flavour

The Gallipoli war film Son Mektup (Last Letter), released last month, depicts victorious Turkish forces in Gallipoli but fails to portray the role of Ataturk in any form. Some Turks were angered that it received 1.75 million Turkish lira (€600,000) of funding from the ministry of culture and tourism, the most that ministry has ever released for a film.

Meanwhile, a television advert running last week to mark the Gallipoli campaign has stirred debate by showing soldiers praying and reciting the Muslim call to prayer, and Erdogan reciting a poem and praying in front of soldiers’ graves.

“[The] AKP has a chronic problem with Ataturk,” said Faruk Logoglu, vice-chairman of the CHP, the secular political party founded by Ataturk and which hopes to dent the AKP’s steamroller in June’s election.

“It exploits every opportunity to downgrade and denigrate Ataturk, if not directly, through attacks on his closest associate and second president of Turkey, Ismet Inonu. ”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.