A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 11, 2013

For the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month

Ninety-five years ago, the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

Today is a holiday in the US, but I always note on this blog the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the moment the guns fell silent  in 1918. We now call it Veterans' Day in the US, which I fear obscures its link to the Great War, the War to End Wars. Those English-speaking countries who call it Remembrance Day or Armistice Day may preserve that link better.

The modern Middle East was forged in the First World War. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Allies sought to pick up the pieces, many of the key measures that created the modern region (and in some cases guaranteed future conflict) were set in place: the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot Agreement), elements that David Fromkin captured in his book title, A Peace to End All Peace. (Of course that was true on the Western Front as well: the Versailles Treaty led in only 20 years to the next World War.)

Of course, the 11th of the 11th month only ended the fighting on the German front. The fighting in the Middle East ended with the Mudros Armistice signed on October 30. The Ottomans had lost much territory already, including their Arab provinces, and Bulgaria quit the war in September. Austria-Hungary sued for peace November 3, leaving a collapsing German Army and state with little choice.

In one sense, of course, as one war ended, others began. Turkey plunged directly into a bloody war with Greece, and also was fighting on its eastern frontier. In 1919 Egypt revolted against Britain, in 1920-21 Iraq did the same. In 1922 the emergent Republic of Turkey faced down Britain in the Chanak Crisis. France, having pushed the Hashemites out of Damascus in 1920, faced a general Syrian revolt in 1925-27. The new Turkish Republic also had Kurdish revolts to deal with. The Great War did not end war in the Middle East.

Yakup Satar
But the end of the broader war is still worth noting. When I first began this blog in 2009, there were still a handful of veterans of the Great War living. All have since died. As I have done before, I am posting a photo of the last surviving Ottoman veteran, Yakup Satar, who died in 2008 at the age of 110, the last Mehmetçik. Of some 65 million people who served in all the Armed Forces of all the belligerent powers, all are gone now; the very last died in 2012,

On the whole, the war in the Middle East was more mobile and less of a meat-grinder than the war in the Western trenches. There were movements on a large scale, even with cavalry charges in Allenby's Palestine campaign. Not all of it was Lawrence of Arabia; the siege of Kut in Mesopotamia (Iraq) was a disaster for Britain, and the debacle at Gallipoli came closest to providing a Middle Eastern analog to the stalemated trench warfare on the Western Front. Most of my previous postings on Gallipoli can be found in my posts marking ANZAC Day each April.

Of the many war memorials honoring the war dead in the Middle East, I think perhaps the most touching perhaps relate to the carnage at Gallipoli, however, It is hard to think of anything positive that came out of the bloody battles at Ypres or the Somme, but out of the stupidity of Gallipoli came, it can surely argued, three great modern nations. the two great English speaking democracies Down Under, and Turkish Republic. Australia and New Zealand saw their best young men sacrificed in a travesty conceived by great Britain and British generals but fed with the blood of the Dominions, as they then were. When at the Chanak crisis of 1922, Britain called on the Dominions again, Canada said "no," and the genuine independence of the Dominions was formalized in 1931. Australians and New Zealanders came away from the Gallipoli disaster with respect for the courage of their Turkish adversaries and contempt for the bloody Pommy bastards British military high command.

Kemal at Gallipoli
The respect was mutual. Directly facing the ANZACs at ANZAC Cove at Gallipoli was the 19th Otltoman Division commanded by Mustafa Kamal, who would one day take the name Atatürk. His success there propelled him to Corps and then Army commands.

He wrote an inscfipion for the cemeteries at Gallipoli, and a shorter version of that quote now appears on the monument to Atatürk on lthe ANZAC Parade in the Australian capital of Canberra, where the Atatürk Memorial Garden is the only monument to an enemy commander. (photos below left)

The inscription,  Atatürk's own words:

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 far away 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."
New Zealand has its own Atatürk Memorial, with the same quote,  overlooking a bay outside Wellington, a bay said to have been chosen because it closely resembles Anzac Cove at Gallipoli (photos at right and below).

I think Atatürk's words can be a suitable memorial to all the dead of the Great War, and to all who served on both sides, all of whom have also left us now.

Regular blogging resumes after the holiday. I know of no better way to end this tribute than the bugle call The Last Post,  the British equivalent of the American Taps:


Anonymous said...

Turkey, New Zealand, and Australia commemorate this tragedy together every year in Gallipoli. While the French and British have belatedly begun to pay tribute to the colonial troups that in staggering numbers fought and died for them, to my knowledge, Turkey has as yet not recognized the origins of the Ottoman troups that fought in that and other battles during WWI. Ataturk praised them. In Gallipoli, it has been estimated that at least a third of the troops were from the Arab provinces and an equal number of Albanians. Prominent Arab Ottomans who would later go over to the Arab Army and play important roles in the new Arab states fought there. For nationalistic reasons, this and other wartime connections have gone unrecognized by Turkey and the Arab states alike.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

True. And a good idea for a future blog post. According to this point two of the three regiments of the Ottoman 19th Division were Syrian Arabs: http://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2004/01/200849135129326810.html