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Friday, 24 April 2015

History in Focus: The Gallipoli Campaign and Armenian Genocide

A photo from the siege before it ended 
The 24th and 25th December 2015 marks the centenary of two major events in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. The 25th December marks the anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign where during World War One Allied forces tried to take the Gallipoli Peninsular to quickly knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. After 8 long months the Allies retreated with the Ottomans victorious. However the day before the Campaign started the Ottoman Interior Minister Talaat Pasha ordered the arrest and deportation of 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople which is now remembered in Armenia as the start of the Armenian Genocide and what is seen as the first genocide of the 20th Century. What is the background though for both of these events?

Background- The Ottoman Empire was once the supreme power in not only the Middle East but all of the Mediterranean, North African and Europe. By the 19th Century though with the rise of France, Britain and Russia the Ottomans had become 'the sick man of Europe'. Ethnic clashes weakened the empire further and from 1894 to 1896 there were the Hamidian Massacres where the Ottoman government killed 100,000 to 300,000 Armenians years before the aforementioned Armenian Genocide. In 1909 the a revolutionary group wanting to modernize the Ottoman Empire but keep it's traditions and empire called the Young Turks seized power making Mehmed V a figurehead Sultan. Germany however provided aid and support to the Ottoman modernization in an attempt to win an ally in the Middle East against the strength of France and Britain who were closely linked to the Ottoman Empire. France, Germany and Britain all sent aid to the crumbling empire, even when it went to war in the Balkans from 1912 to 1913, but Germany started to gain closer links. Britain and France had formed the Allies with the Ottoman Empires long standing rival Russia and the Ottoman government had lost faith in its former allies who had profited from the empire's collapse; Britain actually drew Egypt and Cyprus as notable examples into the British Empire's sphere of influence. This allowed a pro-German faction in the government to get a foothold but the government was still largely pro-British until though until blood was spilled in the streets of Sarajevo. Following the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, war seemed to almost break out in Europe which meant Britain recalled the ambassador allowing German diplomats to sway the Ottomans onto the Central Powers with the pro-British faction now isolated without the ambassador. When war broke out in Europe violations of Ottoman neutrality from both the Germans and the British drew Europe's old man into a war which would spell it's end, a grueling siege and the massacre of many innocent people.  

The Armenian Genocide
An image of the notorious death march
The first stage of the Armenian Genocide can be seen on the 19th April 1915 when the governor of the Van vilayet Jevdet Bey ordered 4,000 men to be conscripted to the army but the Armenians who lived in the city of Van that he wanted to have these men killed so that the city would be defenseless. The next day Jevdet Bey declared the city to be in open rebellion when the people of Van offered 500 men instead. He even said; I shall kill every Christian man, woman and child up to here. He said the last part while pointing to his knee. This gave the Ottoman an easy excuse for propaganda saying that the Armenians were siding against the government. On the 20th April the siege of Van started and when the Russian General Yudenich distracted the Ottoman troops sieging Van on the 17th May it was thought that 55,000 civilians had been murdered. On the 24th April 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople were rounded up and imprisoned but with the passage of the Techir Law on the 29th May most of those who were arrested were soon deported and assassinated. Following the Techir Law there was a series of mass deportations of anyone deemed to hinder the war effort so thousands of not only Armenians but also Ottoman Assyrians and Greeks from major Ottoman cities. What followed were the notorious 25 concentration camps and death march where Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks were forced to march from the safety of towns such as Deir ez-Zor and into the Syrian desert. With no adequate food, medicine, water and shelter many died a horrible death. However what was made even worse was that from evidence from German consuls in Aleppo and Mosul that rape and even selling women as sex slaves in Mosul regularly took place during the march. Those who survived the march were then sent to concentration camps where the German consul in Aleppo, Rossler, stated that dysentery and starvation killed thousands and there was a mass grave containing 60,000 in Meksene. Indiscrimante massacres also took place with burning of villages being regular; Vehib the Commander of the Third Army wrote a 12 page affidavit, (a sworn statement of fact under oath), on the 5th December 1918 that there had been a mass burning of a village near Mus saying: "The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them". This was one of the least worst ones and I would be in breach of Google's policies if I state some of the worst massacres that took in place. By the end of the war approximately 1.5 million Armenians, over 47,200 Assyrians and 900,000 Greeks would be killed.

Response- Almost daily the New York Times reported the massacre of Armenians and Theodore Roosevelt described as 'the greatest crime of the war'. The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief was set up which managed to rescue 132,000 orphans in its first year alone and managed to rescue 2 million refugees. This was one of the most documented relief missions but there were others such as numerous Turkish officials refusing to carry out deportation orders and the governor of Aleppo, Mehmet Celal Bey sent telegrams demanding shelter for those being deported after he was removed from office after refusing to deport people and the governor of Ankara Hasan Mazhar Bey too refused to deport Armenians. Reports from German envoys who refused to censor the crimes managed to get widespread publicity, particularly Armin T. Winger. Following the war Turkey's first President, Ataturk, denounced the massacres also calling it a 'shameful act'. Numerous officials were court martialled following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and here is the following statement from it:
The Court Martial taking into consideration the above-named crimes declares, unanimously, the culpability as principal factors of these crimes the fugitives Talaat Pasha, former Grand Vizir, Enver Efendi, former War Minister, struck off the register of the Imperial Army, Cemal Efendi, former Navy Minister, struck off too from the Imperial Army, and Dr. Nazim Efendi, former Minister of Education, members of the General Council of the Union & Progress, representing the moral person of that party; ... the Court Martial pronounces, in accordance with said stipulations of the Law the death penalty against Talaat, Enver, Cemal, and Dr. Nazim.
However many later had their charges dropped although some were later re-trialed in Malta and two were assassinated. Today though recognition of the event being a genocide is contested with only 24 countries as of 2015 recognizing it as genocide although areas of other countries have recognized the event as a genocide such as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the UK, 43 US states and the Van municipality in Turkey. Although regardless the event has the unfortunate honor of being the first mass atrocity of the 20th Century.

The Gallipoli Campaign
The Gallipoli Campaign was the idea of the British First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, (later the famous Prime Minister who led Britain during World War Two). On the image above what is red is the entrance to the Black Sea and the epicenter of Russia's access to the Mediterranean and by default many valuable trade centers. This was effectively blocked by the Ottoman Empire. Yellow on the map are the Dardanelles with the Gallipoli peninsula. Churchill saw this as apart of his masterful plan to quickly knock the Ottomans out of the war. His plan was to launch an amphibious invasion using British, Indian, French, Newfoundland, New Zealander and Australian troops to land on the Gallipoli peninsula and race to capture Constantinople, (modern day Istanbul). On the 25th April 1915 the invasion started although it went terribly. Through poor planning, secrecy, bad weather and an under sight on Ottoman defenses they were met with the Ottoman Fifth Army under the leadership if the future Turkish President Mustafa Kemal, (later called Ataturk). The plan for a quick victory almost instantly floundered and the trench warfare that had been plaguing the Allies in Flanders now was occurring in Gallipoli. In a baptism of fire the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, (ANZAC), fought for the first time at Gallipoli and their landing is now commonly referred to as ANZAC cove. If not for the weather forcing a change in the landing place ANZAC was even going to spearhead the assault to cut of the Ottoman troops. Kemal's counteroffensive turned out through to be just too well coordinated and great compared which forced the Allied troops to dig in and there was even three battles at ANZAC cove thanks to this! In the August of 1915 a new offensive for the British, French and ANZAC began as an attempt to push back Kemal's Fifth Army. Another landing took place at Suvla Bay and ANZAC's 1st Infantry Brigade managed to capture the Ottomans main trench line but it was hopeless. On the 11th October the first talks of retreating from Gallipoli took place and by the 9th January 1916 the evacuation had taken place. What was made worse was the fact that dysentery had been spreading around the Allied and Ottoman camps while the summer sun had caused flies and the heat to make life uncomfortable for the soldiers. By the end of the campaign 252,000 Allied soldiers had been killed and between 218,000-251,000 Ottoman troops.

Repercussions and Legacy- The immediate effect was a massive moral boost for the Ottomans. The crumbling empire had managed to deliver a crushing blow on the Allied troops which strengthened support for the Ottoman regime. Winston Churchill became dishonored thanks to his failed campaign and he was forced out of office to go fight as a Lieutenant-Colonel and if it wasn't thanks to his friend David Lloyd George becoming Prime Minister a few years later he probably would never have returned to politics. He even stated on his first day back in politics that he didn't feel that he belonged there and it was plague him for the rest of his life. It was also largely seen as Australia and New Zealand finally showing the world that they were separate entities from the British Empire as ANZAC fought by themselves in, as stated earlier, a baptism of fire so it set the two nations as being their own. To mark this the 25th April is celebrated as ANZAC Day. In years to come military planners would look to Gallipoli to avoid future mistakes with the D-Day landings and Britain's invasion of Argentina during the Falkland's War being planned to avoid the same mistakes that happened at Gallipoli.

Thanks for reading and I hoped you enjoyed it. Please leave any comments if you liked this and if you didn't leave comments anyway to tell me how to improve. Next week though it'll be a movie review about a certain group of superheroes new film...

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