Blog 4: Ataturk

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Middle East » Turkey
October 24th 2012
Published: October 24th 2012
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Istanbul to the DardanellesIstanbul to the DardanellesIstanbul to the Dardanelles

Our route to the battlefield at Gallipoli
After our big day on the Golden Horn, we departed on our circular tour of Turkey. The map of our first day's travel is attached, because it took us through some very interesting geography. We left Istanbul going West through the little European piece of Turkey, along the north coast of the Sea of Marmara and down into the Dardanelles peninsula to Gallipoli, the grim birthplace of modern Turkey. Here the Turks smashed an invasion by the British Empire in 1915 and sent the Brits home in absolute humiliating defeat. They had thrown 469,000 troops into the effort, losing 141,000 dead and wounded, and absolutely nothing to show for it. The Turks lost about double that number, but they gained their national identity and a leader, Mustafa Kemal, the father of modern Turkey.

Americans don't know much about Gallipoli because we were not at all involved. Gallipoli lasted through 8 months of 1915-16, and we did not enter the war until 1918. But you might be surprised to learn (I was) how big Gallipoli is in Australia and New Zealand. Our tour had quite a few Aussies and Kiwis who had come primarily to see Gallipoli; and nice
Our route on the Dardanelles peninsulaOur route on the Dardanelles peninsulaOur route on the Dardanelles peninsula

A: Anzac Cove, B:Lone Pine Cemetery, C: Chunk Bair battlefield, D: Kilitbahir (ferry terminal)
folks they were, too. One NZ couple gave me a tiny gold kiwi to wear in my lapel, which I did for the rest of the trip. I figured it would be good cover if we were kidnapped.

Wikipedia gives the makeup of the forces thrown against the Turks in this operation: United Kingdom, Australia, British India, Newfoundland, and New Zealand, as well as France and French West Africa. Ah, those were the days: in a war you could just order your colonials into the bloodiest part of the battle and let them do the major dying.

The main landings were at the tip of the peninsula. The Australia- New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was supposed to land farther up, on a beach known today as ANZAC Cove. They were to drive acoss the Dardanelles peninsula to provide a protective wall for the main landings farther south. Then when everything was ready they would all drive together up the peninsula to Istanbul, capturing it and taking Turkey out of the war. It was a terrific idea. If it had worked, the Allies could have supplied the Czar by sailing from the Mediteranean up the
Dardanelles landingsDardanelles landingsDardanelles landings

The five main landings were at the tip of the peninsula. The ANZAC landing was the one farthest north.
Dardanelles, across the Sea of Marmara, through the Bosporus, into the Black Sea, and across to Russia at the Crimea. Then Russia could have opened an Eastern front against Germany, taking pressure off the Western front, which had already bogged down into the mass slaughter of trench warfare. It was so, so clever and important.

There was just one little problem. The charts in London that the Admiralty relied on were for navigation, and did not really show the topography of the peninsula. So when the ANZACs showed up they were astonished that just beyond the beach was a nearly vertical ascent.

Russell Weir; (Tolerton, In the shadow of war p. 202)

"We landed, I suppose, somewhere about nine or half past nine in the morning, on Sunday the 25th of April. And through a mistake made by the navy, we played into the Turk's hands beautifully. Because you can imagine a narrow strip of beach, nothing but stones, no sand, and from that narrow stretch of beach straight up were high cliffs composed of clay and rock. And the Turks had the machine guns and the rifle fire and the full view
ANZAC Cove, looking seawardANZAC Cove, looking seawardANZAC Cove, looking seaward

A beautiful little beach on the Mediterranean side of the Dardanelles peninsula
of the beach, and the only protection we could get when we advanced was to get in close to the cliff and hug it."

Because of this, their assigned mission was impossible, and soon the Turks, under the command of an insignificant young officer named Mustafa Kemal (who just by chance happened to be in command of that sector), were swarming down the center of the peninsula and digging in to present a barrier that was never overcome. So the brilliant swift strike planned in London rapidly deteriorated into standard trench warfare, with the ususal incredibly costly assaults on both sides, never achieving anything decisive, just as in Europe. It ended 8 months later with the British decision to give it all up and evacuate everything, and with the victorious defender Mustafa Kemal promoted to General.

There is another name that has to be mentioned here: First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Winston Churchill. He, as the Ruler of the King's Navee, was responsible for the whole idea of the Gallipoli campaign. In British politics (but not American) such utter and publically obvious incompetence means you have to resign in shame. He did, and lived thereafter
ANZAC Cove, looking inlandANZAC Cove, looking inlandANZAC Cove, looking inland

These cliffs were not shown on the Admiralty maps in London, and rendered the mission impossible. I mean, really impossible.
in obscurity, never again to have a significant public role in Britain. Well, not for a long time.

Kemal, on the other hand, was just beginning. After the defeat of Turkey in WW I, he rallied the Turks enough to repel the occuping Allied forces, and became the first President of the Turkish Republic. He accepted a new name, Ataturk, "father of the Turks", and is revered quite sincerely to this day. If he weren't dead, it would verge on a cult of personality. I will just cite one little thing as evidence of his genius. As President of Turkey, he wrote the following words to an organization of ANZAC mothers:

“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. … You, the mothers, who sent your sons from far away, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace. Losing their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well. — Kemal Ataturk.”

The Turks are very lucky that a political genius of this magnitude arose in their land just at the
Ataturk in bronzeAtaturk in bronzeAtaturk in bronze

The hero commander of the Turks
time they needed him. The entire letter is written in stone at ANZAC Cove (see photo). I also throw in some shots of the ANZAC cemetary at Lone Pine.

Ataturk's mausoleum is in Ankara, which we visited later in the tour. Tolga played an hour long video of his life as we approached Ankara. The mausoleum is amazingly huge, up on a height that can be seen from all over the city. It is really an acropolis, with several temple-like structures. You cannot drive very close to it; there is a long processional corridor lined with lions and such that you must walk down to even approach the mausoleum complex, formed by three large buildings and an immense open square, with 24 hour military honor guard. I attach photos with good captions that should explain it all to you. This blog is already way too long.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Lone Pine CemeteryLone Pine Cemetery
Lone Pine Cemetery

"Having lost their lives in this land, they are now our sons too"
Stray dogs at Lone PineStray dogs at Lone Pine
Stray dogs at Lone Pine

They live fairly well off the scraps of tourist lunches
Ataturk's letterAtaturk's letter
Ataturk's letter

This letter is reread every ANZAC Day at the Turkish Embassies in New Zealand and Australia
Long approach to Ataturk MausoleumLong approach to Ataturk Mausoleum
Long approach to Ataturk Mausoleum

All visitors must approach through this formal corridor, lined with lions
On guardOn guard
On guard

One of several guards who are always there
Ataturk's symbolic casketAtaturk's symbolic casket
Ataturk's symbolic casket

The real casket is far below this one, in the earth, as required by Islamic tradition
Changing of the guardChanging of the guard
Changing of the guard

The guard shifts are six hours of standing absolutely still. Hard work, no doubt.

25th October 2012

Just a note; every town and city in NZ and Australia seems to have a memorial to WWI and many post names of those lost in Gallipoli. On our visit this year we stopped at many very small towns, both on the cruise and overland, and saw these monuments everywhere. ANZAC day, commemoraing the WWI and II troops is a big holiday.
26th December 2013

My first blog readings
Hi Martin, Until today, I've never had a desire to read blogs. Yours became an exception. Your 2013 holiday email started me out in Guatemala, and now I've enjoyed a history lesson (with pics) about Turkey. How interesting and enjoyable you've made this day for me. Thanks!

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