Çanakkale Savaşı (Battle of Çanakkale/Gallipoli)
This hook explores the shared history of Turkey and New Zealand.
The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 is not only very significant for New Zealanders and Australians; it is also hugely important for people in Turkey. Over nine long months, the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire fought bravely to defend their homeland from a multinational invasion. Around 87,000 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in the battle. In Turkey, the phrase “Spirit of Çanakkale (Gallipoli Peninsula)” refers to a spiritual power that helps humans to achieve the impossible.
The Ottoman soldiers were led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), a charismatic commander who later became the founder of the modern Turkish republic. The soldiers were prepared to fight to their deaths for what they saw as a holy cause: they were fighting for the sake of Allah (God) and for the protection of their homeland. A moving account describes the soldiers changing into their best clothes for the battle and leaving their older clothes in the bushes, because they believed that they should be properly attired when they entered into the ever after.
The British had completely underestimated the tenacity and resourcefulness of the Ottoman soldiers and of their Turkish and German commanders. After nine months, the Allied forces withdrew from the peninsula defeated.
The battle resulted in huge losses on both sides:
Ottoman Empire: 86,692 dead, 164,617 wounded
United Kingdom and Ireland: 21,255 dead, 52,230 wounded
France: approximately 10,000 dead, 17,000 wounded
Australia: 8,709 dead, 19,441 wounded
New Zealand: 2,779 dead, 4,712 wounded
India: 1,358 dead, 3,421 wounded
Newfoundland: 49 dead, 93 wounded.
Source: Ministry for Culture and Heritage ‘Gallipoli casualties by country’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/interactive/gallipoli-casualties-country, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Dec-2014.
It seems incredible that an international friendship could develop between an army defending its homeland and an invading force. The close proximity of the opposing trenches and the slow, drawn-out battle meant that the soldiers of the two forces developed a mutual respect for each other. At some places, the Ottoman and Anzac trenches were only 8–10 metres apart, allowing the soldiers 11 to hear each other’s songs and conversations. Goods and letters were exchanged. When the ANZAC soldiers left, they wrote letters to the Ottoman soldiers with such messages as: “Johnny the Turk, goodbye. We left lots of food for you, enjoy it.” However, it would be misleading to suggest that Gallipoli was a gentleman’s war in which courtesy, civility, and friendship were exercised between combatants. Although the attitudes of ANZAC soldiers towards the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire progressed from vilification and demonisation to respect and admiration, there were few direct displays of empathy or friendship:
Today, New Zealand and Turkey enjoy a positive relationship, forged somewhat surprisingly by the events of Çanakkale Savaşı / the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1984 the cove where New Zealand and Australian soldiers landed was renamed Anzac Cove in memory of those who died. The Turkish government built a large memorial there. The Atatürk Memorial in Wellington is the outcome of the same agreement and bears the words of Mustafa Kemel Atatürk:
Possible discussion questions
What similarities and differences were there between the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire and the ANZACs?
Do you think New Zealand would show a similar response to an invading force? Why or why not?
What similarities and differences might there be between “the Anzac spirit” and “the spirit of Çanakkale”?
The Gallipoli Campaign was fought at very close range; today, wars can be fought from a great distance. What are the implications of this on the ways soldiers might view each other today?
To what extent has the Gallipoli Campaign affected the relationship between New Zealand and Turkey today?
Why do you think we hear more about the battles at Gallipoli than those at Passchendaele?
Why does it seem that more respect was given to Ottoman soldiers at Gallipoli than to German soldiers on the Western Front?
What are some other days that we sometimes describe as “New Zealand’s blackest days”?