October 15, 2011
Forgotten soldiers. We all know about Gallipoli; hopelessly conceived mess, dreamed up by Churchill to move the Great War from the glued trenches of France to a fast-moving invasion of Germany’s Ottoman allies in 1915.
Embark a vast army of Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, French and others east of Istanbul in order to smash “Johnny Turk”. Problem: the Turks fought back ferociously as Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk, titan of the 20th century, etc) used his Turkish 19th Army Division to confront the invaders’ first wave. Problem two: most of the division were not Turks at all.
They were Arabs. Indeed, two-thirds of the first men to push back the Anzac forces were Syrian Arabs from what is today Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and “Palestine”. And of the 87,000 “Turkish” troops who died defending the Dardanelles, many were Arabs. As Palestinian Professor Salim Tamari now points out, the same applies to the Ottoman battles of Suez, Gaza and Kut al-Amara. In the hitherto unknown diary of Private Ihsan Turjman of the Ottoman Fourth Army – he would today be called a Palestinian Arab – there was nothing but scorn for those Arab delegations from Palestine and Syria who sent delegations “to salute the memory of our martyrs in this war and to visit the wounded”.