Monday, April 30, 2007


The other day, on the eve of ANZAC Day, I saw an advertisement on television that read as follows: “They fought, not for King, not for Country, but for their mates.” This of course, is a novel twenty-first century spin on a defining myth of national identity. So powerful is the emphasis on ‘mateship’ as deriving from the ANZAC tradition and exemplifying the supposed very best of the Australian character, through the weaving together of such strands as Simpson and his donkey in order to create an enduring legend, that the august Prime Minister ventured to have it enshrined for all time in our Constitution.
Myths of mateship aside, the ANZACS fought at Gallipoli, a Greek peninsula ethnically cleansed of its Greek inhabitants by the Ottomans at the instigation of their German advisers Colonel Liman von Sanders and Ambassador Wangenheim, because Australia was an enthusiastic and patriotic component of the British Empire, which was embroiled in a World War. The Australians fought willingly in what the spin doctors of the time termed “the Great War for Civilisation,” because “Teutonic barbarism” had to be stopped and the world made safe for benign monarchies like the British Empire. Barely having been given self-government some thirteen years previously, Australians went to war to serve British strategic interests, in the firm belief that these were also there own.
Gallipoli is the Australian Thermopylae, a place where Australians distinguished themselves through their valour and ingenuity, thus permitting the creation of cultural stereotypes to boost the self-esteem of a young nation, even though their efforts were ultimately futile and absolutely useless in serving their military aim: the capture of Constantinople. For the Turks, the battle is seen as one of the finest and bravest moments in the history of the Turkish people - a final surge in the defense of the motherland as the centuries-old Ottoman Empire was crumbling; which laid the grounds for the so-called Turkish War of Independence and the foundation of the new Turkish Republic eight years later, led by Atatürk, a commander in Gallipoli himself.
This is significant because the Gallipoli campaign could, according to scholars, have been the catalyst not only for the creation of the Turkish republic and the Australian national identity, but also the first genocide of the twentieth century. According to an essay by Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at LaTrobe University in ‘The Monthly’ magazine, what the Turkish genocide of the Armenians (and in parallel that of the Pontians and Assyrians) and the battle of Gallipoli have in common is that they started on almost the same day, within a few hundred kilometres of each other. He poses the question, one which is pertinent considering blatant attempts to recast the Ottomans as Turks and in that guise, as an ‘honourable enemy’ in a manner not attempted with Australia’s other historical military opponents, such as the Germans, Japanese and Vietnamese, why we don’t know this as a nation and why Australian historians and literati have apparently never made the connection between the two events, except for Les Murray, who used Armenian genocide victim Atom Yarjanian’s poem: ‘In shock I slammed my shutters like a storm,/ Turned to the one gone, asked: ‘These eyes of mine/ How shall I dig them out, how shall I, how?’ in his work ‘Fredy Neptune.’
In “The Monthly,” and more recently on ANC Radio, Professor Robert Manne, explains that “in 1915, the Ottoman Government began one of the first really systematic genocides in history, certainly of the twentieth century. And within a year or so, perhaps one million Armenians had been killed because they were a Christian minority in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which was in its point of crisis. And there’d been persecution for a long time, but this the attempt to eliminate a people.”
The genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia has been consistently denied by the Turkish government. As Professor Robert Manne posits: “The Turkish Government has always utterly denied that a genocide took place, although they admit that some massacres took place. But the largely blame the Armenians for that saying they were a rebellious,subversive element at a time of wartime crisis. But it's at the heartof Turkish identity to deny the meaning and the reality of that genocide.”
Of course, the fact that modern day Turkey is a vast economy of some seventy-two or so million people that pays lip-service to Democracy and is, apart fromIsrael, the only non-Arab ‘democratic’ state in the Middle East, could possibly explain why the West would be willing to overlook a painfully obvious crime that inspired Hitler to perpetrate the Holocaust, famously remarking “Who remembers the Armenians?” Realpolitik is also compounded by the difficulty the West would experience in sympathising with such Middle Eastern peoples with unpronounceable names as the Pontians, Armenians and Assyrians, to be paralleled with the outpouring of grief and sympathy for the thirty three senselessly slain victims of the Virginia Tech massacre compared with the relative indifference displayed by the West to the partly western-incited deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq.
The inconsistency of such indifference has not escaped Professor Robert Manne, who stated to the ABC: “It seems to me the strangest thing. We have Anzac Day as April the 25th 1915 is remembered; the Armenians have April the 24th 1915 astheir day of mourning, which they take to be the beginning of the genocide. The two events not only coincided in territory and in time, but thereis quite a lot of evidence that the genocide was pushed on because ofthe Dardanelle campaign of the Anglo-French forces in which theAustralians were involved.
So despite the fact that the things happened at the same time and inthe same place more or less, and they were even kind of connectedwith a causal link, I looked through book after book about Gallipoli,and there's no end of books that Australians have written about it,and virtually none of them mention it for more than a passingparagraphs or a couple of lines”.
Yet as Professor Manne states, the evidence linking the two events, seems to be incontrovertible: “[T]here are some contemporary historians, there's awonderful Turkish historian, Tanner Akcam, who think that when theGallipoli campaign began, or when the Dardanelles were first bombedby the Anglo-French in March 1915, that was the final moment ofreckoning, and that the Turkish regime, which was run by two or threeyoung Turks were the dominant figures, they set upon and decided on asystematic extermination of the Armenians, saying that at this momentof crisis, where Constantinople might fall, we can't afford to have asubversive minority within our country.
So, the Dardanelle campaign and the Gallipoli landings pushed on andmaybe not exactly caused, but at least triggered the final eventsthat led to the genocide…. My point is how strange it is that the event that'sreally by far the most important historical event in the nationalimaginary in Australia, which is the Gallipoli campaign, ourhistorians have never thought to ask the obvious questions about theconnection between the two events, or even to comment on the factthat the two events took place at the same time.Apart from the poet Les Murray, I've not come across an Australianwriter who's really thought imaginatively about the connection of thetwo events in whatever they've written.”
The causal link between the two events is further cemented when one considers that just twenty days after the Gallipoli landing, on 14 May 1914, Talaat Pasha, a member of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate ordered the forcible evacuation of all Greek settlements on the Dardenelles as far as Kyssos and the re-settlement of the region with Muslim refugees from the Balkans: “For political reasons it is urgently necessary that the Greek inhabitants of the coast of Asia Minor are forced to abandon their villages… If they refuse to move… please give oral instructions to Muslim brothers how to force the Greeks to remove themselves ‘voluntarily’ by any means possible. In that case, don’t forget to obtain confirmations from them that they are abandoning their homes of their own free will.”

Consequently, in May and June 1914, there were massacres of Greeks in Erythrae and Phocaea in Ionia, while in Pergamon on 27 May 1914, the Greeks were given just two hours to leave the city. This ethnic cleansing, along with the simultaneous massacres of Armenians and those of the Assyrians in inaccessible areas such as the mountains of Hakkari, were widely reported by diplomatic personnel and missionaries. U.S Ambassador Morgenthau, who had the ear of the Young Turk Pashas and was also privy to their boasting about what they would do to the Christians in their realm, was one of the first to link ethnic cleansing with the Gallipoli landings in his memoirs. Arnold Toynbee, who worked for the British secret service wrote as early as 1915: “The scheme was nothing less than the extirmination of the whole Christian population within the Ottoman borders…”
As always, there was no mention of the millions of innocent Christian victims of bungled western policy in this year’s ANZAC Day commemoration. Nor was there any mention of the thousands of Greeks who assisted and nursed wounded Australian soldiers from Gallipoli on the island of Lemnos. Homage instead, was paid to that ‘honourable enemy army’ that, upon German instruction, cleansed the coastline of its Christian inhabitants in order to better defend it against the ANZACS and who, as the campaign dragged on, engaged in their wholesale slaughter.
But then again, Gallipoli was never about justice, or historical fact. It is a national myth within the confines of which other people, especially vicitms of its aftermath who may sully the noble pure page of its epic with their blood, have absolutely no place. In the words of Robert Manne:
“… I think always Gallipoli has been tied up with identity andalmost never been really connected to a kind of interest in thehistory of the First World War, let alone an interest in the OttomanEmpire. And so it's not really pessimism so much as kind of trying toidentify the difference between history and myth, that I think it'llnever become a matter of great interest in Australia, except perhapsfor some intellectuals…. The historians that move time and again backto Gallipoli, I think, are driven by the interests of myth. Even ifthey want to revise the story, what they're doing is revising themyth. But they're not really interested in the kind of overallhistorical questions that are connected to it.”
Rest in peace, our slaughtered ancestral lambs. In the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will carry on your names. LEST WE FORGET.


First published in NKEE on 30 April 2007