Gallipoli commemorations of Turkish youth tell us much about politics in Turkey



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Turkish soldiers in a trench at Gallipoli. The way Turkish youth commemorate the battle tells us much about the country’s politics.
Ausstralian Dept of Veterans Affairs

Brad West, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Istanbul Bilgi University

With ongoing political instability and security concerns in Turkey, we are again likely to see a smaller turnout of Australians and New Zealanders for Anzac Day ceremonies at Gallipoli this year.

But thousands of Turkish youth will be on the battlefields at dawn. They will be re-enacting the march by the 57th Regiment to the highlands, where Ottoman troops halted the Anzac advance in 1915.




Read more:
How a more divided Turkey could change the way we think about Gallipoli


We undertook fieldwork last Anzac Day on this ritual as part of a proposed larger research project examining how the memory of Gallipoli has become central to tension between Turkish republicans and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The republicans want to protect and restore the secular pro-Western origins of the republic, while the AKP wants to integrate Islam into the nation’s civil institutions and national imagination.

Nowhere is this memory politics more significant than in this re-enactment ritual, which under AKP rule has been renamed the Loyalty March for the 57th Regiment.

While Islamic influence on remembrance rites at Gallipoli has been growing for more than a decade, its political significance has increased dramatically since the July 2016 attempted coup. This has proved to be a transformative event for Turkish politics and society.

The 57th Regiment re-enactment

In the last two decades, Turkish interest in the history of the Gallipoli campaign has grown significantly. It was here that the 57th Regiment came to prominence in Turkish collective memory as the military unit led by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk.

As founding father of modern Turkey and hero of the war of independence, Mustafa Kemal pushed the 57th Regiment to the highlands, preventing defeat in the campaign.

The origins of the re-enactment are closely tied to this mythology – it was originally known as the 57th Regiment March in the Track of Atatürk. Local university students first organised the commemoration in 2006, partly in response to the increasing number of Australian and New Zealand youth on the battlefields for Anzac Day. For the 90th anniversary the year before, the Anzac Day pilgrimage reached its zenith, with about 17,000 participants.




Read more:
Turkish view remains neglected in our understanding of Gallipoli


The structure adopted for the first 57th Regiment re-enactment largely remains today. It involves an eight-kilometre hike from the regiment’s original base at Bigali village to the highlands of the battlefield. The ritual grew rapidly, with 6,000 participants three years after the first march.

Unsurprisingly, given the march’s popularity, the AKP assumed some control of the re-enactment through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The government began funding the cost of travel and living expenses for young participants. It also oversees official registration and program co-ordination to cap attendance.

Such oversight allowed for representation of youth from around the country, including a greater percentage of participants from AKP stronghold areas who would otherwise struggle to fund the travel. It is this “pious generation” that the AKP and its leader, Recep Erdoğan, have emphasised as central to AKP’s vision of a new Turkey.

Turkish youth march in a Gallipoli re-enactment.
Ayhan Aktar

Cultural contradictions

Historical re-enactment is about comprehending and experiencing the past as it relates to the ordinary citizen. This commemorative form has proved particularly significant for AKP memory politics by allowing a focus on the martyrdom of 57th Regiment, which suffered heavy casualties.

By providing competition to the traditional heroic saviour narrative of Atatürk at Gallipoli, the AKP has been able to counter the secular pro-Western principles around which he founded the republic. Mandatory prayer sessions have been added at the beginning and end of the march. This has been justified as simulating the actions of the ordinary men who constituted the unit.

This more egalitarian historical focus, which cultural scholars refer to as memory “from below”, gives religion a place in commemorations of Gallipoli. This can also be seen in the increased recognition of individual martyrs through a focus on firsthand accounts of the religious zeal of Turkish soldiers against an infidel invader of their homeland.




Read more:
Turkey, the Armenian genocide and the politics of memory


Changes to the memorial landscape on the battlefields have aided this way of telling history while also promoting religious observance at the site. Fallen Turkish soldiers remained in mass graves after the war, a reflection of the stigma of Ottoman history in republican Turkey.

But, since 2005, Turkish authorities have built 11 cemeteries for the fallen soldiers. These have become popular sites for prayer by the 1 million-plus Turkish visitors to the battlefields per year, in large part funded as social tourism by municipalities. Another 15 cemeteries are proposed, with plans for accompanying outdoor mosques.

The AKP has a vested interest in advancing re-enactment as a commemorative form at Gallipoli, as it provides an opportunity for increased religious references and contexts. To ensure the re-enactment remains popular, though, the AKP has retained much of its original carnival-like character. Participants still take “selfies” and engage in jokes, laughter and joyful conversations while walking.

Political opposition

The recreational character of the re-enactment means participants have a range of motivations for their involvement.

Political chants and song, for example, are often recited by small groups. Some of the most common are the songs of the AKP’s political opponents, the Nationalistic Movement Party.

Other participants engage in religious chants such as Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest) and Tek yol İslam, tek yol şehadet (Only path is Islam, only path is martyrdom).

Arguably the populist nature of the re-enactment legitimises other tourist and unofficial remembrance forms at Gallipoli that work to cap the state’s control over historical interpretation.

The 57th Regiment re-enactment is becoming a popular pilgrimage activity throughout the year. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), for example, had a re-enactment as part of its four-day Justice Congress at Gallipoli in August 2017. The congress was held to highlight violations of the justice system by Erdoğan following the attempted coup.

Like the main April 25 re-enactment, the success and political outcomes of such ritual displays are highly contingent. In the case of the CHP congress, its ability to challenge the AKP’s symbolic alignment with Gallipoli was hampered by photos appearing on social media of congress members drinking alcohol on the battlefields. The images caused a public scandal. A CHP spokesperson admitted:

Such impertinent behavior is completely against the glorious memory of our Gallipoli martyrs.

The ConversationWhether Australians and New Zealanders will return to Gallipoli en masse for future Anzac Days, and how they will be received if they do, is uncertain. But ritual performances on the battlefields on April 25 are almost certain to remain politically significant in Turkey.

Brad West, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Chair Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How a more divided Turkey could change the way we think about Gallipoli


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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been a central figure in linking the Gallipoli campaign with Islamic conceptualisations of the Turkish nation.
EPA

Brad West, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Istanbul Bilgi University

The win for the “yes” side in Turkey’s recent referendum on the powers of the president has fundamental implications for parliamentary democracy in the country, and for relations between Turkey and the west. The Conversation

For Australia, the referendum has an additional significance: by entrenching the power of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it will influence the future of Australian commemoration activities at Gallipoli.

The numbers of Australians, along with other westerners, visiting Turkey has recently declined dramatically. This is a consequence of ongoing political instability in the country following last year’s attempted coup d’état and a series of terror attacks. The Australian government also recently warned of potential attacks targeting the Gallipoli battlefields on Anzac Day.

A significant decline in this pilgrimage activity will likely have a wider impact on the way Australia understands Gallipoli. This is particularly the case given the continued resonance of an Anzac narrative characterised by a historical empathy for Turkey’s perspective on the war.

Links with political Islam

The Gallipoli campaign has, in recent years, become part of the culture wars in Turkey associated with the rise of political Islam. This has seen Gallipoli increasingly referred to in relation to an Islamic jihad, and as an invasion of crusaders into the house of Islam.

Approximately 1 million Turks visit the battlefields each year. And an estimated 10% of the Turkish population have at some stage engaged in some kind of martyr tourism at Gallipoli.

Erdoğan has been a central figure in linking the Gallipoli campaign with Islamic conceptualisations of the Turkish nation. He has said:

[The] crusades were not [finished] nine centuries ago in the past! Do not forget, [the] Gallipoli [campaign] was a crusade.

Following the failed coup, Erdoğan also evoked the memory of Gallipoli. Recreated scenes of the Ottoman victory in the land battles against Anzac soldiers played on large screens in Taksim Square as he addressed cheering pro-government crowds.

The vision was taken from a controversial TV commercial originally produced for the centennial commemorations of the Gallipoli battle. Its use of various Islamic symbols was widely interpreted as breaking with traditional secular ways of remembering the campaign.

A Centennial Epic: Çanakkale.

How the shift is taking place

Significant shifts in Turkish memory of Gallipoli are not unprecedented. Since the 1930s there has been a few turning points in how the campaign is understood.

First, and most significant, was the victory of the Ottoman Imperial Army in being “Turkified”. Arab, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish soldiers and officers were cleansed from the official narrative. This also involved de-emphasising Germany’s role as the Ottomans’ allies in the first world war.

The official nationalist narrative has glorified the military leadership of Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) in the battles against British and Anzac forces. This has linked the collective memory of Gallipoli with the independence movement that led to the formation of the secularist Turkish nation-state in 1923.

The historiography of Gallipoli is now potentially undergoing another major change. The classical Turkish view of Gallipoli may be being replaced by an Islamic-oriented narrative.

Turkish pilgrims once were told the same historical tales by the guides that also took Australian and New Zealand visitors around the battlefields. But now, the vast majority of locals visit through bus tours that are arranged by Islamist municipal administrations for their residents, free of charge.

In contrast to local guides embedded in the tourism industry, those who lead the bus tours are more likely to express an Islamic narrative of Gallipoli.

This trend is apparent in an increasing popular march that re-enacts the mobilisation of the legendary 57th Regiment to defend the highlands from Anzac troops. This involves approximately 20,000 young boys and girls from scouts and other paramilitary organisations. And it is common for participants to wear t-shirts remembering their ancestors who fought at Gallipoli.

It’s hard to know precisely what the consequences of these new commemorative rituals will be for the collective memory of Gallipoli. From fieldwork research on the Anzac pilgrimage, the motivations and meanings taken away from the battlefields are often different from that which politicians and social commentators have often assumed.

Brad West, Associate Professor, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Chair Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ANZAC Day


As posted on my Blog, ‘History for Today.’

History for Today

ANZAC Day – The Landings at Gallipoli Commenced in WWI

This day each year is remembered as ANZAC Day in Australia, a day when Australians remember the fallen of every war Australians served in. The first ANZAC Day held was one year after the first landings at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War 1. We remember the cost of war, we remember those who died while fighting to protect our freedom and way of life. We remember those who served and who still serve in battles, wars and peace-keeping roles around the world and throughout our history. We do not forget them.

For more visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_Day
http://www.anzacday.org.au/

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ANZAC DAY: Remembering the original ANZAC legend


Today is ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is a time to remember our fellow Australians (and in New Zealand their fellow New Zealanders) who made the great sacrifice of their lives in order to defend Australia (and New Zealand – from here in I will speak of my own country, though New Zealand is also implied) and our interests in time of war.

ABOVE: Images from the original ANZAC campaign that created the ANZAC legend.

ANZAC Day is a national public holiday in Australia and though the day specifically remembers the sacrifice made by ‘diggers’ in World War I on the battlefield of Gallipoli in Turkey, we also remember those who made a similar sacrifice on the other battlefields of World War I, including Belgium and France.

On ANZAC Day we also remember those Australians who sacrificed their lives throughout the world on all other battlefields as well, including those of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as those of more recent times including Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will remember them – lest we forget.