A Tale in Red: Facing Death, WWI

I am not deeply knowledgeable about contemporary history. I’ve always preferred to navigate the distant past instead because when I must confront wars and battles it’s easier see them as something merely historical, distant from the present. Of course, I read and have re-read accounts, I have talked and learned about the First and Second World Wars, but what that does not mean is that I accept and understand what leads people to kill each other.

Before the first stop, my guide introduced me to where we were and why we had come. Like me, Fırat believes that we can know people best by their actions and their behaviour, especially in stressful situations. And the Battle of the Dardanelles, or Gallipoli, is one example.

Let’s go back in time. First World War, 1914. Things are complicated and there is some urgency in getting a new access route road to Russia. There are options: either via the Straits of the Dardanelles, which gives access to the Strait of Bosporus and to the Black Sea, or other, geographically more difficult, options leading through icy and distant lands. Thus, it was decided to try to force a passage through the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, after all, it had become weak… The idea was to capture Constantinople (Istanbul) and thus control the two straits.

The desperate allies, decided to try to repeat the ways of the great conquerors, Xerxes and Alexander the Great, driving a corridor through the strait to reach Constantinople. The clash between the Turkish and Allied forces lasted from 25 April 1915, until 16 January 1916. Only when you talk to people here do you understand what this battle meant for the Turkish people.

The Ottoman Empire itself was falling apart, weak, almost helpless, but the energy of its soldiers, led it to victory; aided, of course, by chance and the incompetence and arrogance of the commanders of its opponents.

I do not know what was on Churchill’s head and on those of the commanders of the assault; only that in the blue waters of the Dardanelles they met a people willing to give its collective life for these lands. It was that victory that supplied energy to the battle commander, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who, eight years later create the Republic of Turkey.

Deaths. Yes, this land of mountains and sea, blue sky and beaches, saw its shores and waters change colour, from blue to red. It was here, also, that Australians and New Zealanders discovered themselves as individual nations, and also where nearly 500,000 people lost their lives (even now the figures are ‘unofficial’).

I spent all day contemplating the battlefields and the monuments created to honour those who lost their lives here. Each tombstone names a man who had fought for his country. I saw English, French, Australian and New Zealander cemeteries, ‘Christians’, amid this land that embraces Islam. I saw the man who accompanied me, a young man, who would still fight for this country, for the sanity, the happiness, and prosperity of his people against the oppressiveness of external political ambitions. I also observed the respect this same man nourished for all those individual spirits who lost their lives. Atatürk’s words still seem to resonate in the minds and hearts of both young and old Turkish people. Words that represent ideas and feelings (even existing some controversy about the veracity Atatürk speech) words :

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives in this land…now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Rest in peace. There is no difference between Mehmets and Johnnies…where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent your children to distant lands, dry your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and rest in peace. After having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well. “

I could not hold back my tears, as I truly ‘saw’ the waste of young lives…people dying before they even had the opportunity to live. Fırat says that each one who dies takes a smile with him, the pain is for those who stay. I wholeheartedly agree; it is always difficult

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