A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 17, 2015

April is the Cruelest Month: Turkey to Mark Gallipoli Anniversary Beginning on Armenian Remembrance Day

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. 
T,S. Eliot, The Waste Land
April 1915 was a very cruel month, and a century later some of its bitter memory still haunts.

Next week, two of the most iconic anniversaries of the Great War occur, and I'll blog in detail then, but the bitter legacy has already reared its head.

April 24, 1915, known as "Red Sunday," was the day the Ottoman Empire arrested and expelled Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople. It is seen by Armenians everywhere as marking the beginning of what became the mass deportations and deaths, which they consider genocide, a term Turkey refuses to apply.

The next day, April 25, will mark the centennial of the landings at Gallipoli. In Australia and New Zealand, it is ANZAC Day, a major patriotic holiday.

Gallipoli is also celebrated by Turkey as a great victory, but until this year they have celebrated it on March 18, the day of the failed naval attack on the Dardanelles.

But this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to mark Gallipoli by inviting world leaders to mark the day, not on March 18, or even on the equally logical April 25, but on April 24 and 25. Thus coinciding in part with Armenian Remembrance Day.

There have been times in recent years when Erdoğan seemed more open to acknowledging the Armenian tragedy, if not using the word genocide. But this seems to throw down a gauntlet, to throw salt in a very much still-open wound, and Armenians are of course outraged. But it's encountering criticism in Turkey as well, as in this piece in Today's Zaman (though Zaman, traditionally seen as supporting the Gülen movement, is no admirer of Erdoğan).

Given the fact that just yesterday was Shoah Remembrance Day in Israel, though the Turkish scheduling plan was made some weeks ago, I sense a big PR disaster in the making, drawing more attention to the Armenian events rather than diverting it away. It's been suggested Erdoğan changed the schedule to give him an excuse for not attending commemorations in Yerevan, but it seems to have backfired.

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