The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

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The Auckland War Memorial Museum on its spectacular site

I took a trip down memory lane on my recent visit to New Zealand. The War Memorial Museum is arguably Auckland’s most iconic building – if you ignore that upstart Sky Tower with its money-laundering casino. Surrounded by 75 hectares of sculptured gardens, sports fields and semi-wilderness, the museum’s hilltop setting offers a tree-framed view over the harbour to Rangitoto and other islands of the Hauraki Gulf – these days marred somewhat by giant cranes and other paraphernalia of the port container terminal.

According to Wikipedia, the original building, opened in 1929, was constructed partly with the same English Portland stone used for Buckingham Palace and St Pauls Cathedral – requiring a six-week sea-voyage to the uttermost end of the Earth. Quite an expense for a tiny country.

The main hall on the museum’s ground floor is devoted to the indigenous cultures of New Zealand and its regional neighbours – the Māori and their Polynesian cousins who navigated the trackless immensity of the Pacific Ocean centuries before Dutch and English explorers “discovered” it. Taking pride of place in this section are a meeting house, and a 25-metre long war canoe carved from a single log of totara.

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Restored carvings in Hotunui

As a child I remember the effect of the elaborate carvings in the meeting house muted by a coat of dull red paint applied in the 1950s. Now, I am pleased to learn that a major project is under way to remove that offensive monochrome and restore the splendour of the originals.

A meeting house (wharenui) was the centre-piece of a Māori tribal village, a communal meeting place whose carvings and other works of traditional art recorded the history and origins of the people of the land. Living people shared the house with the spirits of their ancestors, and the house was given a name recognising this metaphysical dimension of its existence.

Auckland Museum’s wharenui is Hotunui, the name of an ancestor of the Tainui people who arrived with the great migration around a thousand years ago. The word can also be translated as “a great mourning, a yearning of the heart”, which may be significant in the light of what I learned of the house’s history. Apparently, it was one of two such meeting houses built in the 1870s by the Ngāti Awa people of Poverty Bay. The government had carried out large-scale confiscations of land after the Te Kooti uprising in the 1860s. According to Te Ara Encyclopedia, The carving of both [houses] was led by Wēpiha Apanui and his father, Apanui Te Hāmaiwaho. Hotunui was, in part, a tribute to Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi, one of the leaders in the wars of the 1860s. One of the poupou (uprights) in the porch is a carved representation and commemoration of Te Hura, so that the tragedy of the confiscation suffered by Ngāti Awa is memorialised in the meeting house.”

Little of this information, needless to say, is available to the public in the exhibition hall. It seems, by the early 20th century, Hotunui had fallen into disuse and a state of disrepair – not surprising, since the Māori themselves were in danger of disappearing as a race at that time – and it was removed to the newly opened museum in Auckland, to represent a world that no longer existed.

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Māori war in canoe in better days

The canoe, Te Toki a Tāpiri (the Battle-axe of Tāpiri) is a survivor of days when Europeans were a small minority in the country. According to Te Ara, it was built by the Ngāti Kahungunu tribe in 1836, and passed through the ownership of several other tribes before it ended up in the hands of the government”. The museum website is a little more informative, acknowledging that the canoe was confiscated by government forces during the Waikato War in the 1860s[1]. Attempts at the time to blow it up apparently failed, and the canoe was left to slowly moulder away. In my school days the wars that were fought between various Maori tribes, the British Army and settler militias, were known as “The Māori Wars”. More recently, some have argued that it would be more appropriate to call them the Pākeha Wars, since the Pākeha (the Māori name for Europeans), were actually invading their country. These days a compromise seems to have been reached where they are referred to collectively as “The New Zealand Wars”.

Canoe and meeting house eventually found their way to the Auckland Museum, originally built to serve as a memorial to soldiers who had lost their lives in the First World War. The top floor of the building now commemorates all the wars in which New Zealanders have been involved since the country became part of the British empire in 1840.

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Biography of Māori “rebel” leader, Te Kooti

Brief mention is given to those “New Zealand Wars”, including one particularly poignant quotation attributed to Te Ua Haumene, a Taranaki Māori converted to Christianity, in the early days of colonisation, by Methodist missionaries. With the increasing arrival of European settlers and land “purchases”, Te Ua turned to armed resistance, inspired by a visions of the archangel Gabriel who “assured Te Ua that he was chosen by God as his prophet, commanded him to cast off the yoke of the Pakeha and promised the restoration of the birthright of Israel (the Maori people) in the land of Canaan (New Zealand). This would come about after a great day of deliverance in which the unrighteous would perish.” A forlorn hope, as it turned out, but perhaps understandable in the circumstances.

The words of Te Ua displayed in the museum read: “Pākeha say, ‘Take our religion and our form of government, develop the economy and learn to read and write, and you will be citizens of the greatest empire in the world.’ We try to do all that. But when the British bring in a professional army to back up a faulty purchase of land, nothing of what we have been told appears true anymore. Pākeha seem to want to make the country theirs alone. The only thing we are expected to contribute is the land. Outnumbered, outgunned, unable to trust the law, we turn to religion.” Does that sound familiar?

The Boer War, 1899-1901, was the first where the New Zealand government sent troops to fight on foreign soil. The Auckland Museum’s display includes a quote from a local newspaper, The Waikato Argus, dated 31 January 1900. “It is the destiny of the British nation to spread good and just government over a large portion of the earth’s surface. Wherever her flag floats, equal justice [is] meted out to all . . . There is only one sentiment throughout the Empire – we must win regardless of the cost in man and treasure!”

Well, the British Empire did win, of course. According to a table on display, the British fielded 450,000 troops against the Boers 55,000. British casualties included 21,942 soldiers and 350,000 horses killed. The Boers lost 5,071 fighting men, and 27,921 civilians who died in concentration camps established to combat the guerrilla tactics of the outnumbered and outgunned Boers. In addition, 30,000 farms were burned, and 3,500,000 sheep were destroyed.

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Concentration camp for Boer civilians, 2nd Boer War

What is perhaps more interesting is that The Boer War, as it is known in general British histories, was actually the second war fought between the British and the Boers. The first, a relatively brief affair in the summer of 1880-81 had resulted in a humiliating loss for destiny’s Empire. Contrary to the Waikato Argus editor’s altruistic rhetoric, Wikipedia itemises three key factors for British interest in South Africa:

  • The desire to control the trade routes to India
  • The discovery of huge deposits of gold and diamonds
  • The race against other European powers for expansion in Africa

So it goes – and that brings us to the next exhibit, and the original reason for the Museum’s construction: The First World War; known at the time as “The Great War”, and “the war to end all wars.”

I am currently reading a history of this war written by John Keegan[2], celebrated by The New York Times as “possibly the best military historian of our day”. The first sentence of Keegan’s book reads: “The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict.” So it’s a little sad that military and civilian casualties totalled 41 million, of which 18 million died. The New Zealand government despatched more than 100,000 young men (from its one million people) to battlefields on the other side of the world – and more than 18,000 never returned.

Why the war?One item in the museum’s display asks the obvious question, “Why go?”, and gives two answers: “Loyalty to Britain was strong and people believed going to war was the right thing to do. The war was also a chance for a great adventure.” One returned soldier is quoted as saying, “it was a case of Duty.” A contemporary poster published in The London Times gave three further reasons: “To save [Britain’s] good name. To save her life and her Empire [and] To save the freedom of the people in all Europe”; and encouraged young men to “FIGHT then – for your life. FIGHT – for your honour. FIGHT – for freedom. FIGHT – for mankind.” So clearly propaganda played an important role.

What receives less emphasis is that not all young men were so gung-ho about participating in an Imperialist war. There were many who believed, and more who came to that belief during the conflict, that the war was being fought for economic reasons, and that the common soldier had more in common with his “enemies” on the field than with his own political and industrial leaders.

Once conscription was introduced, however, there was no option of refusing to go. In theory, conscientious objection on religious grounds was acceptable – but almost impossible in practice. Those men who did actually refuse were cruelly treated by their governments. Flogging as a means of enforcing discipline had been banned in Britain’s armed forces in 1881, but remained on the statute books until 1947, and was still used in prisons – where an uncooperative soldier could easily end up. Once in the army, desertion, cowardice or dereliction of duty were offences punishable by execution. Lack of enthusiasm for the war effort was a disease that couldn’t be allowed to spread.

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240 young men who never returned to the small town of Thames

Many servicemen from New Zealand and Australia had their first taste of combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey. Few of them could have located the place on a map. I, and most of my fellow citizens grew up with the legend of Anzac, commemorated every year on 25 April, the day when the invasion landings began. According to a laconic text in the museum display, “New Zealanders fight the Ottomans at Gallipoli . . . Their first campaign is a shambolic eight-month operation that ends in stalemate and evacuation.”

Shortly after first coming to Turkey, I went with a party of Turkish students to the cemeteries of Gallipoli and the town of Çanakkale, where an event takes place every year on 18 March commemorating the Ottoman success in turning back the combined naval fleets of Britain and France. You will search hard to find reference to this in British or New Zealand histories. From an Ottoman perspective, the British naval defeat was the critical event – the “shambolic” beach invasion a bloody exercise that had little chance of success from the outset. Was the result a “stalemate”? The British strategy (conceived by Winston Churchill) had been to bring battleships in front of the Ottoman Palace, force their government’s surrender, take them out of the war and establish a supply route to Russia.  The aim was to strengthen the Russian military effort and force the Germans to fight on two fronts. In the light of that goal, the campaign must surely be seen as a failure.

That was then, this is now. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Are we any better off in the present age of information? So help us, God!

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[1] A detailed history of Te Toki a Tapiri can be found here.

[2] The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 1998)

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Turkey: Turkish delights

Well, knock me over with a feather! I have receiving regular dire warnings from my countryfolk at the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara advising me to stay away from Turkey in general, and Istanbul (where I have been living safely and happily for more than 15 years) in particular. So, credit where credit is due, I want to share with you this article that appeared in the NZ Herald today, 25 April.

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Pretty magnanimous words, don’t you think?

The day is significant because hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders are currently in Turkey to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign when our grandfathers, loyally following orders from their British Imperial masters, invaded the Ottoman Empire and spent eight months doing their best to kill its young men and capture its capital, Istanbul.

As happens every year, local people are extending customary hospitality to their former enemies, and local authorities providing security to ensure commemoration services proceed in comfort and safety.

Read Ms Wade’s article. Once you get past her opening remarks about a young man’s traditional circumcision operation, you’ll find that she and her fellow tourists had “an unforgettable . . . wonderful time.”

 

Beyond the war graves and remembrance is a vibrant land with a rich history, writes Pamela Wade.

Apr 25, 2017

It’s not the sort of thing you’d share with strangers, but after 10 days together and over 2500km of travel in a grand circuit around Turkey, we all felt like friends. There were 39 of us, Kiwis and Aussies, on this Insight Vacations tour and although it was the Gallipoli centenary and Anzac Day services that had brought us all together, the bulk of our time was spent exploring an older history.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Tour director Barcin has a university education that gives him an effortless command of not only the seven complicated centuries of the Ottoman Empire, but thousands of years of Greek and Roman history before that.

Literally thousands: five, in fact, at Troy, where nine levels of settlement have been excavated down to its beginnings in 3000BC. Wandering around the site, past walls, ditches, foundations, columns both standing and tumbled, and a theatre of tiered seats, the age of the place was hard to grasp, despite Barcin’s best efforts. What was obvious, however, was the sheer beauty of the ancient stone, softened by feathery fennel and bright red poppies against a background of the distant Dardanelles.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Some on the tour were deeply into history and the literary and religious connections, and everyone was impressed at Ephesus to be walking on polished marble pavers once trodden by Cleopatra, Mark Anthony and St Paul. For many of us, however, the visits to such sites, including Pergamon and Assos, were more about appreciating what remains rather than studying their origins. Pictures rather than words, perhaps, and no less legitimate for that. After listening to the explanations about what we were seeing – temples to Athena, Artemis, Dionysus, a towering library, a 10,000-seat theatre on a steep hillside, Roman baths, an Acropolis, the home of modern medicine, statues and so much more – the temptation was irresistible to use it all as the most glorious photoshoot ever.

The tour isn’t all archaeology, legend and history. There was shopping, too. Astute stall-holders, knowing their market, shouted “Kiwi! Cheaper than The Warehouse!” as we walked past; others went for flattery: “Beautiful rugs! Like you!” or pathos: “We have everything but customers.

Few, in the end, held out against the pretty scarves, the “genuine fake watches”, the evil eye pendants or the tapestry bags; but the serious shoppers waited for the visits to the factories. Fabulous fine lamb’s leather made into truly stylish jackets displayed in a catwalk fashion show; dozens of colourful wool and silk rugs unrolled with a flourish as we drank perilously strong raki; gorgeous decorated plates at a pottery visit that began with a mesmerising kick-wheel demonstration.

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Photo: NZ Herald

Then there was the culture: an evening of traditional dance in an underground theatre began deceptively low-key, but wound up to an exciting climax that sent us away buzzing. We saw real Whirling Dervishes spinning unfathomably long and fast; and met a friendly lady who lives in a house burrowed into the rock, where Helen Clark’s signed portrait hangs (at least during our visit) in pride of place.

This was at Cappadocia, the scenic high point for most of us, which is saying something in this country of bays and beaches, forests and farmland, white terraces and snow-capped volcanoes. Pillars of sculpted tufa capped by gravity-defying slabs of basalt make for a fantasy landscape, and to see it in low sun as a hundred hot-air balloons float overhead is unforgettable.

Actually, it was all unforgettable: Gallipoli, the poppies and tulips, the cats, the food, the friendly people. There were mosques, markets and museums; a cruise, calligraphy and coloured glass lamps; sacks of spices, pyramids of Turkish delight, tiny cups of atrocious coffee. I had a wonderful time.

Anzac Day and the Armenian ‘Genocide’ – What’s the connection?

Visitors from Australia and New Zealand attend a dawn ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli

2015 Anzac dawn service, Turkey

Tomorrow, or today, depending on your time zone, thousands of New Zealanders and Australians will gather for a dawn service on the beach of Anzac Cove beside the Dardanelle Strait in the Republic of Turkey. Most of them will then participate in organised tours around the battlefields and cemeteries of what we like to call the Gallipoli Peninsula.

I’ve been there several times myself. It’s a moving experience, reminding us antipodeans of our shared heritage, and providing us with a date on we can celebrate the emergence of a national consciousness.

Although I live in Turkey, I haven’t actually attended one of those 25 April commemorative services. My first visit was with a party of Turkish high school students and teachers, there for their own day of remembrance on 18 March. My most recent was with a couple of visitors from New Zealand on a quiet day in May.

I have, I guess, an unusual perspective on the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. I grew up imbued with all the legend and mythology associated with its memory in New Zealand. My years in Turkey have shown me another side to the story. Interestingly, both countries trace aspects of their origins to that tragic, bloody and ultimately futile conflict.

One factor, however, that has kept me from joining my fellow New Zealanders on their annual pilgrimages, is a feeling that we are not quite as appreciative as we might be of the hospitality the people of Turkey show in welcoming their former invaders, and allowing us to celebrate our national identity on their soil. What were our boys doing there, after all, 17,000 kilometres from home, invading the land of a people they barely knew existed, who certainly had not done them any harm?

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Winston Churchill with German Kaiser Wilhelm, 1909

However brave our lads were, and that is beyond debate, they were in the wrong – or at least their military and political leaders who sent them were. I sometimes half seriously ask my Turkish students who they consider their country’s ‘Number Two Man’, after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. They show considerable surprise, even anger, when I offer my nomination of Winston Churchill for the title.

Certainly Mustafa Kemal was the victor of Gallipoli/Çanakkale, and the founder of the Republic. However, my contention is that, without the outrageous provocation of the British Empire, and Churchill in particular, the spark that ignited the struggle for liberation and independence might never have been struck. His was the grand plan to force the Dardanelles and the surrender of the Ottoman government, and to assist Imperial Russia in attacking Germany from the east, thereby relieving pressure on the Western front. Undeterred by failure, the British encouraged the Greek army to invade Anatolia in 1919 as part of their plan to divide and destroy the Ottoman Empire once and for all. When the Greeks too were driven out, Churchill’s final affront was an ultimatum calling on Turkish nationalists to refrain from attempting to liberate Istanbul from occupation. His bluff was called, and the modern Republic of Turkey came into being on 23 October 1923.

One of the most touching memories for me of the 1915 tragedy is the extract from a speech delivered by Atatürk, addressed to the families of the Anzacs who left their mortal remains on the battlefields of Gallipoli:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

We shouldn’t forget, when we visit Turkey, that we are there as guests of a sovereign nation. The British Government back then underestimated Ottoman resistance, duped by their own rhetoric about ‘The Sick Man of Europe’. Our grandfathers paid a high price for that. Short-term visitors to Turkey cannot be expected to learn the local language – but we might make some effort to learn a little history and geography. ‘Gallipoli’ is in fact a town in Southern Italy. The Turkish name for the peninsula is Gelibolu, a corruption of the ancient Greek town called Kallipolis. Turks refer to the campaign as Çanakkale (Chunnuck-kaleh) a name they also apply to the strait we choose to call the Dardanelles. This latter word derives from another ancient Greek town named for the mythical son of Zeus and Electra.

Who cares, you may ask? But I’m arguing that we, New Zealanders of all people, should care. For some years we have been starting to realise that many of our own place names arrogantly replaced meaningful words assigned by the indigenous Maori people – Aotearoa, Taranaki/Mt Egmont, Aoraki/ Mt Cook, and so on. The Republic of Turkey will celebrate its 93rd birthday this year. Perhaps its time we consigned that Greek mythology to its rightful place on library shelves.

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Lord Byron in ‘Albanian costume’ – I never even liked his poetry

After all, we owe much of our ‘knowledge’ of ‘Greece’ to a controversial, aristocratic English poet, Lord George Gordon Byron. A few words from his Wikipedia entry:

“Byron was both celebrated and castigated in life for his aristocratic excesses, including huge debts, numerous love affairs – with men as well as women, as well as rumours of a scandalous liaison with his half-sister – and self-imposed exile. He was living in Genoa when, in 1823, while growing bored with his life there, he accepted overtures for his support from representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Byron spent £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet.

Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. He employed a fire-master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. Before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill. He developed a violent fever, and died on 19 April. It has been said that if Byron had lived and had gone on to defeat the Ottomans, he might have been declared King of Greece. However, contemporary scholars have found such an outcome unlikely.”

Thwarted by Byron’s untimely death, the British government arranged for the installation of a German prince from the Bavarian Wittelsbach family as King Otto I of their new puppet state.

Well, I’m not here to talk about Lord Byron and the past sins of Imperial Britain – rather to warn that we need to exercise caution in deciding what to believe, especially when that belief may lead to actions with unintended and undesirable consequences. The 16th century French essayist, Michel de Montaigne, observed that Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know’, and the passage of time has not detracted from the truth of his words.

Western news media are presently full of articles and opinion pieces referring to the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’. The reason is that the global community of Armenians chose 24 April as the day to commemorate another tragic event of 1915. The issue, as I’m sure you are well aware, is whether the expulsion and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at that time should be labelled a ‘genocide’ – and whether the modern Republic of Turkey should accept responsibility.

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If you can afford $33,400 to $353,400 for a ticket

The Catholic Pope has apparently come out in support of the Armenian claim, and I read of a church service being conducted by a Catholic cardinal in a cathedral in Boston. George Clooney, better known as a Hollywood actor, has also announced his support for the Armenian cause. President Obama, meanwhile, has angered Armenians by soft-pedalling on the issue, despite earlier promises on the campaign trail.

Well, I’m not going to engage in diversionary arguments about whether the Catholic Church has any right to take anyone else to task for human rights abuses. Nor attack Mr Clooney and his wife for their ‘obscene’ financial support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

I would, however, like to express my sadness and disappointment over an article published in the New Zealand Herald today. Admittedly it’s an opinion piece, and possibly doesn’t reflect the position of the owners and publishers of the paper. However, it’s a sensitive issue, and they should give some thought to the warning of M. Montaigne.

The writer, James Robins, has chosen to make a connection between the Anzac involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign, and the current campaign to have the Armenian tragedy recognised as a genocide. He claims that New Zealand soldiers actually witnessed events proving that a genocide, the systematic and near-complete destruction of a people’ took place. Robins asserts that For centuries the Armenians had been second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire.’ In fact, Armenians, along with Orthodox Christians and Jews had been given the right to build schools and churches, speak their languages, practice their religion, bury their dead, hold high positions, and live rich and comfortable lives in the Ottoman Empire.

The article contains a picture of a desecrated and destroyed Armenian cemetery. I can take Mr Robins to many Armenian churches and cemeteries occupying fabulously valuable real estate in modern Istanbul. If he has any Greek friends, he could ask them to show him mosques or synagogues in Athens or Salonika, cities that once had large Muslim and Jewish populations. And good luck with the search.

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Armenian cemetery in Şişli, one of Istanbul’s most expensive neighbourhoods

Robins quotes the ‘historian’ Taner Akçam – much of whose ‘research’ has in fact been called into question. A Turkish historian, Haluk Şahin, has just published a book, ‘Anatomy of a Forgotten Assassination Plot’. Şahin refers to the murder of two Turkish diplomats in Santa Barbara, California, on 27 January 1973 by an American citizen of Armenian descent – the first killing in an orchestrated programme that caused the deaths of 90 Turkish diplomatic staff and members of their immediate families.

I have in front of me an article from Al Jazeera dated 5 April, about the ongoing conflict between the country of Armenia and its neighbour Azerbaijan. The subheading reads: ‘The international community has consistently deplored the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories’. The article refers to the 1993 incident where Through the Armenian aggression and ethnic cleansing policy, 20 percent of the internationally recognised Azerbaijani territory (Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts) were occupied by Armenia, and more than one million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their ancestral lands.’

I’m not interested in taking sides on these issues. We New Zealanders have unsavoury and still unresolved events in our own history. The Roman Catholic Church likewise. I do hope, however, that the Herald’s correspondent, James Robins, represents a minority point-of-view when he asks, ‘Can New Zealand state officials stand on a platform with Turkish officials at Gallipoli knowing that they actively refuse to acknowledge the truth of what happened to the Armenians? Knowing now that New Zealanders risked their lives for the survivors?’

Just remember who looks after those Gallipoli cemeteries from one Anzac Day to the next; whose government gives New Zealanders free visas to enter their country, and whose people welcome us like family when we’re there. Are you really so sure of your facts that you want to jeopardise those privileges?

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Other posts on this issue:

Who killed the Armenians?

Armenian Massacres and the Nationalism of Hate

In Search of Solutions

History at 10,000 metres

Reality buttocks, papal infallibility and the Armenian issue

Selective Amnesia

Who hijacked the left?

Anzac Day – and foundation mythology in the national consciousness

Turkish handcraft marking the centenary

Turkish handcraft marking the centenary

Thousands of New Zealanders and Australians are getting ready for another pilgrimage to the battlefields and cemeteries of Gallipoli. This year, 2015, interest has been especially high since it marks the 100th anniversary of that long ago exercise in military futility.

As usual, however, Turks will have finished commemorating their victory by the time our contemporary pilgrims arrive on the beaches where their ancestors struggled ashore on 25 April 1915. For the people of Turkey, 18 March is the day they remember their grandfathers’ turning back the combined might of the French and British navies. In those early days of aviation, warships were the pre-eminent military force – and Great Britain had the world’s mightiest. The attack was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, at that time First Lord of King George’s Admiralty, and commanded by Admiral Sir Sackville Hamilton Carden.

Come out with your hands up - That was the plan

Come out with your hands up – That was the plan

The plan was for the navies to force a passage through the Dardanelles to the Ottoman capital of Istanbul/Constantinople obliging the sultan’s government to surrender. Military supplies could then be brought to the wavering Russians, strengthening the hand of the Czar so that Germany would have to divide its armies, thereby relieving the stalemate on the Western Front. To achieve this aim, Britain and France assembled one of the most powerful aggregations of naval firepower ever seen: the latest dreadnought battleship Queen Elizabeth; the battle cruiser Inflexible, twelve pre-dreadnought battleships; four light cruisers; fifteen destroyers; eight submarines; and thirty-five fishing trawlers converted into minesweepers. There were also two battalions of Royal Marines to serve as a temporary landing force if needed.

Unfortunately for the Brits and the French, it wasn’t enough. Possibly Western powers had swallowed their own rhetoric about the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ and convinced themselves that the decrepit Ottoman Empire would fold at the mere sight of the Union Jack and the French Tricolore. They didn’t. Minesweepers sent to clear the channel came under heavy fire from shore batteries (as one might have expected) and had to retreat. The British battleship Amethyst was badly damaged. Admiral Carden reported sick and had to be replaced by his 2nd-in-command. The French battleship Gaulois was hit and beached, and another, Bouvet, struck a mine and sank in 60 seconds with most of its crew. Three British battleships, Irresistible, Inflexible and Ocean were also lost . . . and the sea operation was called off.

Rather embarrassing, really. And that's not counting the French ones

Rather embarrassing, really.

That was 18 March. For the Ottomans, the greatest threat had been repulsed. What followed, the beach landings and eight months of pointless slaughter in atrocious conditions, never looked like posing the same danger. The Gallipoli campaign was an embarrassing military disaster for Britain and its allies – and a tragedy for New Zealand and Australia, whose politicians sent thousands of young men to die or be maimed in a land few could have located on a map. By July 1915 males up to the age of 45, and over 157 cm in height were being dispatched to the warzones.

Almost immediately, however, the myth-making began. Anzac ingenuity had enabled a withdrawal from Gallipoli under the very noses of Ottoman gunners, turning an abject military defeat into some kind of intellectual victory – ignoring the possibility that the defending forces may have been happy to see the invaders up sticks and leave. The ‘Anzac spirit’ came to represent an idealised rugged courage, disdain for mindless discipline, mateship, good humour and sense of fair play exhibited by the antipodean fighting man. The myth survived through to the 1960s when participation in the United States’ ill-fated Vietnam War supported by Returned Servicemen’s Associations led many to question traditional enthusiasm for following blindly in the footsteps of Mother England or Uncle Sam.

The recent resurgence in popularity of Anzac Day and, in particular, youthful pilgrimages to Turkey on 25 April, while preserving some vestiges of earlier myths, probably owes more to an emerging national consciousness among younger generations of Australians and New Zealanders. Because of our constitutional ties to the British Crown we lack a day for celebrating our uniqueness and independence like the Americans’ 4th of July, the French Bastille Day, or the Turkish Republic Holiday. Waitangi Day and Australia Day have been unable to escape the taint of colonial dispossession of indigenous peoples – and the April date has gone some way towards satisfying a need.

Quack quack, we're coming, mom

Quack quack, we’re coming, mom

It’s sad, however, to see news media invoking the myth of Anzac in support of the decision by New Zealand and Australian governments to join US military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ‘Anzac spirit lives on as nations eye joint role in Iraq against ISIS’, trumpeted The Australian. The Australian edition of the International Business Times announced: Australia and New Zealand troops could team up once again to fight the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria after 100 years since the ANZAC alliance was forged in World War I.’ As far as I know, to their credit, Prime Ministers Abbott and Key have refrained from making such comparisons. Nevertheless, they have shown themselves only too willing to continue their countries’ tradition of following like ducklings after Jemima Puddleduck.

When will we learn? The commemoration of Anzac Day came under threat in the early 1970s because of opposition to military involvement in Vietnam. The very campaign itself quickly turned from ‘Great Adventure’ to a tragedy of mud, blood and mindless massacre. An Australian government website has recorded The nurses experiences of Gallipoli from their letters:

‘I shall never forget the awful feeling of hopelessness on night duty. It was dreadful. I had about 250 patients to look after, and one orderly and one Indian sweeper. Shall not describe their wounds, they were too awful. One loses sight of all the honour and the glory in the work we are doing. All we can do is feed them and dress their wounds … A good many died … It is just too awful — one could never describe the scenes — could only wish all I knew to be killed outright.’

Takes one to know one, we used to say

Takes one to know one, we used to say

The new role of Anzac Day for younger generations as a focal point for national consciousness and pride has something to commend it if it allows for the inclusion of indigenous peoples – and if scheming politicians can be restrained from exploiting it for their own questionable purposes. A century ago jingoistic political propaganda played a major role in persuading young men to travel half way around the world and die on the beaches and hillsides of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Posters urged them to enlist and ‘Destroy this Mad Brute’ (Germany). Notice any similarity to Tony Abbott’s calling ISIS a ‘death cult’ that ‘poses a threat to the whole world including Australia’?

In fact, the part played by the Çanakkale War (as Turks call the Gallipoli Campaign) in the establishment of modern Turkey is arguably more founded in truth. The personal qualities of Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) undoubtedly contributed to the Ottoman victory, which then gave him the credibility needed to gather his people for a war of liberation and be chosen as the new nation’s first president.

Military leadership of the invading forces was somewhat less inspirational. Mention has been made of Admiral Sir Sackville Hamilton Carden’s throwing a sickie at the crucial moment of the naval operation. Commander of the landings was General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton. Well, with those names, it would be a fair guess that the military gentlemen concerned were blue-blooded scions of the English aristocracy – somewhat removed in experience from the lives of their own troops, never mind those of their colonial allies. Hamilton, watching the landing at Anzac Cove from the deck of the Royal Navy flagship Queen Elizabeth, is reported to have said, They are not charging up into this Sari Bair range for money or compulsion. They fight for love – all the way from the Southern Cross for love of the old country and of liberty.’

Possibly the dear old general was not aware that, according to the official New Zealand History website, 2600 conscientious objectors lost their civil rights, including being denied voting rights for 10 years and being barred from working for government or local bodies. Many received military punishments . . . were beaten and abused for their stance.

So that's what it was all about

So that’s what it was all about

‘Mark Briggs was called up in the third conscription ballot in early 1917. He refused to serve on socialist grounds. [Sent to] France in October 1917, he refused to walk, stand, salute or wear uniform. Field Punishment No. 1 failed to break his resolve, and he joined Archibald Baxter and Lawrence Kirwin in the trenches in February 1918. Every morning they were forced to walk 1000 yards up to the front line. Briggs refused. On the first day he was carried by sympathetic soldiers, but on the second day military policemen tied wire around his chest and dragged him to the front line, tearing his clothing and skin. At the line he was pulled through puddles of freezing water and told to ‘Drown yourself, now, you bastard.’ Dragged back to camp, he was denied medical treatment.’

Sad to say, in spite of heroic charges inspired by love of freedom and the old country, the invaders were unable to progress more than a few kilometres from the beaches, and General Hamilton was recalled to London on 16 October 1915, his military career at an end. The campaign stuttered along for another two months with little to show but 245,000 wounded and missing, and 59,000 confirmed killed. The defending Ottoman forces suffered similar losses.

Another high-level casualty in the region was Winston Churchill himself. Having failed to take a lesson from the Gallipoli fiasco, Winston and British Prime Minister Lloyd George attempted, in September 1922, to turn back the Turkish nationalist army, fresh from victory over the invading Greeks and now intent on liberating Istanbul/Constantinople. Outmanoeuvred politically this time by Mustafa Kemal, Churchill and Lloyd George failed to get support from their own parliament and imperial dominions. Obliged to back down in a major humiliation for Great Britain known as the Chanak Crisis, their government fell and Lloyd George’s political career was over.

In the last months of the Great War, a magazine, The Kia Ora Coo-ee was published in Cairo, ostensibly by Australian and NZ troops stationed in the region. I am quoting from the issue of April 15, 1918:

Fighting and falling in a glorious cause

Fighting and falling in a glorious cause

‘Just three short years, but in that period the names of Australia and New Zealand have penetrated every corner of the globe. The hearts of those “downunder” have glowed with pride, and the eyes of many mothers have filled with tears as they read of that wonderful landing on far away Gallipoli. They are proud of their sons, these parents. They know that in all the records of war they cannot find a parallel to the landing at Anzac. Their sons proved themselves equal to the veterans of the legions of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Cromwell or any other warlord we may name . . . Those who are now mourning their dead feel that it is a privilege to fight and even to fall in so glorious a cause . . . Those who lie buried on or near the beach, among the gullies and ridges of Gallipoli have hung up their laurel-wreathed swords in the halls of the brave, bright with imperishable lustre. They heard the call of the Motherland and responded. Death has been their share of the conflict but they have gone under just as their forefathers went under, so that the grand old flag which carries freedom and civilisation to every corner of the world shall still fly above those they have left behind them.’

Possibly Prime Ministers Key and Abbott are lost in a time warp and actually still believe that kind of nonsense.

Anzac cemetery on Lone Pine Ridge

Anzac cemetery on Lone Pine Ridge

In 1988, New Zealand author Maurice Shadbolt published a book, ‘Voices of Gallipoli’. It was based on interviews he had recorded with Gallipoli veterans in old folks homes around the country. An 18 year-old in 1915 was well into his 80s by that time – but most of them had never spoken about their experiences to anyone in the intervening years. No one else wanted to know what it had really been like if it didn’t conform to the war according to Kia Ora Coo-ee. On Shadbolt’s recordings octogenarians could be heard breaking down in tears as they recounted their horrific experiences on those beaches, gullies and ridges – the hopeless bayonet charges into the mouths of machine guns firing 600 rounds per minute; the nightmarish injuries; the pathetic cries of mates dying in agony in no-man’s land; the realisation that they had more in common with the young guys in the enemy trenches than with the generals and politicians who were ordering them to charge and die.

What’s changed in a hundred years? In 1970 the Motown record label released one of the most successful anti-war songs of all time: Edwin Starr singing War? What is it good for? His conclusion was ‘Absolutely nothing’ – but that answer is, of course, extremely naïve. If it were true, there would be no more wars. The fact is, war is very good for some, namely those involved in the military-industrial complex and the transnational finance system that supports and is supported by it.

Harvey Broadbent, Associate Professor of history at Macquarie University, Sydney, published a book earlier this year, ‘Defending Gallipoli: The Turkish Story’. He dedicated it to ‘the memory of those soldiers whose stories have not been told and who perished by the folly of others’. Later he explains that those ‘others’ were ‘every person who was responsible for instigating that campaign and carrying it out in a way which led to all those deaths.’ Again, I take issue with the learned professor’s use of the word ‘folly’. I would substitute a phrase: ‘cynical self-interest and heedlessness of human life.’

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’: ‘So it goes. Poo-tee-weet?’

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Further Reading:

Busting the Anzac Myth

Anzac Legend is more pork pies than bully beef

Gallipoli Rewatched – Another look at Peter Weir’s 1981 movie

Turkey, Armenia and the Tragedies of Wars

I came across this article on yahoo.com, and I’d like to share it with you. The writer, Merve Sebnem Oruç is a managing editor in online journalism and a commentator in Turkey.

Australians commemorating Anzac day at Gallipoli

Australians commemorating Anzac day at Gallipoli

“Gallipoli is a good place to start for resolving the historic dispute between Turkey and Armenians.

“The Battle of Gallipoli was one of the most critical scenes in Turkey’s history. Britain and France opened an overseas front in Gallipoli in East Thrace and tried to overcome the Ottomans. The Russian Empire was promised the capital Istanbul by the two of Entente Powers of World War I. It was a fight for the survival of a nation, a struggle for life or death.

“The victory in Gallipoli didn’t help Turks win the war but it gave hope to resist and start the war of independence a couple of years later. The resistance is honoured every year on March 18 in Gallipoli and on the shores of the Dardanelles.

“Gallipoli is of significant importance to others like Australia and New Zealand. Each year, on April 25, they commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who died in Gallipoli. This is known as ANZAC day.

“It was a battle away from home. It wasn’t even their war. They were dominions of the British Empire when the war broke out. Gallipoli is now a symbol of their national identity and existence. Their nations were born there.

Armenians remember 24 April with greater sorrow

Armenians remember 24 April with greater sorrow

“This year is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited more than 100 world leaders, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, to attend centennial commemoration ceremonies. The UK’s Prince Charles and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand are expected to take part in the ceremonies as well.

“It is upsetting that Sargsyan has decided to reject the invitation, which would have helped lead us one step closer to understanding and reaching closure on the tragic events of 1915. The invitation, after all, was yet another historic move following Erdoğan’s statement.

“Turkey will commemorate the centennial on April 24 instead of the regular memorial date, March 18, in a symbolic gesture of compassion. April 24 also marks the start of the deportation of Armenians by Turkish unionist authorities – it is the day Armenians around the world traditionally commemorate their ancestors who were killed in that campaign.

“Ten years ago, merely talking about 1915 [in Turkey] was a feat of bravery, but now there is no taboo when discussing anything out loud.

“Discussing and understanding history is more conducive to progress than being stuck at the same point for years, and Gallipoli is one of the most appropriate places to start.” Read the whole artice.