Lawrence Of Arabia
The answer may surprise you. Stay tuned. If I talk to you about WWI you probably are thinking the Western Front or Verdun or the Somme or Black Jack Pershing. Are you thinking about Turkey? You should. That was one of the main battlefields of World War I. Turkey prior to WWI was known as the Ottoman Empire. It was a large Muslim empire centered around Turkey with some territories in Europe and covering much of the Middle East.However it was not doing too well. It was an old Empire going back to the 1200s that had been in decline for many many centuries already. In fact it was known as the sick man of Europe
Everybody expected that Empire to collapse fairly soon, after which the Empire would be divided into pieces and France Russia Britain Germany would get bits and pieces. This was called the Eastern Question: how you divide the Ottoman Empire after it would collapse.So when WWI began people thought that’s it, that will be the straw that will break the camel’s back, the Empire of the Ottomans will never survive. As it turned out they picked the Central Powers, which would be the side of Germany, Austria Hungary and Bulgaria. Everybody thought these people are not gonna last long and they were wrong. A lot of the initial fighting went on in the Caucasusregion which is the border between Russia on the side of the Triple Entente and the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Triple Alliance.
The Russians attacked confident of victory and they bumped into a pretty serious Ottoman army that defended itself well. The Caucasus region is not the easiest. I tis a peninsula with a sea on both sides It’s kind of narrow and it has thehighest mountains in Europe. Difficult terrain to fight in and the Ottomans held their own. In the margin however of that conflict against Russia, they committed one of the worst horrors of WWI, a conflict that already is known for its horrors There was a minority in the area, a Christian minority called the Armenians. The Ottomans were not so sure whether the Armenians would be loyal to them in the conflict because the Ottomans were majority Turkish and Muslim and the Armenians were of a different ethnic group and they were Christian.
The Ottoman army began targeting some men from the Armenian minority as well as women and children and eventually tried to wipe out the totality of the population.This event is remembered as the Armenian genocide. Memories of that are still with us today. Many Armenians have fled from the Ottoman Empire to France to the US and all around the world and that’s how we get the Kardashians today, or if you’re a French lover of French music, Charles Aznavour and many other Armenians that have done well all over the world, whether it’s music or reality TV. This issue of the Armenian genocide is also very present in present-day memory. The Turkish government is heir to the Ottomans and they don’t really want to acknowledge that this was a genocide. Some massacres took place but they were not part of an intentional wiping out of the Armenian people. The Armenian today, and there is such a country called Armenia in the Caucasus, are adamant that they were the victims of genocide and keep pressuring countries like say France or the US to properly label it a genocide, which has away of angering the Turks.
History is still very present around us and that’swhy studying history is so important! After failing to break through the Ottoman Empire in the northern part at the Caucasus Mountains, the Allies decided to attack in the southeastern quadrant of the Empire around what is called Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. The British were the ones that attacked, they used a lot of troops from India, one of their colonies, and initially they were doing quite well as always in WWI. They made their way up the Tigris and the Euphrates and eventually made it almost to Baghdad, the capital Iraq and then started suffering some setbacks and encountered disease and had to turn around and were besieged in Kut, and eventually that turned into yet another quagmire that WWI was so famous for. Then the British decided let’s attack in the northwestern quadrant of the Empire very very close to Istanbul the capital at a place called Gallipoli which is very romantic if you are a young British officer and you think of Gallipoli that is pretty close to the old battlefield of Troy so you could be a modern-day Achilles fighting the Trojan War.
Winston Churchill was the one that came up with that idea and he thought that the British could attack through the Straits by Gallipoli all the way to Istanbul itself and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. For that you would need a combined operation where the Navy would get through the Straits and at the same time you would land some troops on the northern side of the Straits so that you could knock out any kind of batteries that the Ottomans would have in that area. So they organised the landing the landing at Gallipoli using some troops from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC) that happened to be on their way to Europe at the time and stopping in Egypt and were redirected toward Gallipoli.By the way if you’re interested in watching a great movie about that,watch the movie called Gallipoli with a very young Mel Gibson with an open shirt on the movie poster. The landing at Gallipoli initially went quite well.Troops landed on the beautiful Mediterranean shore and they started frolicking around and bathing and thinking it was such a great thing to be fighting at Gallipoli rather than in a dreary western front. But in the area you had a very committed Turkish officer known as Mustafa Kemal. You might not know his name but if you’re Turkish you know him as a great national hero known as the Ataturk, the great Turk. Mustafa Kemal did a masterful job getting all these troops to take control of all the high points around the landing sites after which the British forces and the Australian force sand the New Zealand forces were pinned down and were not able to get out of the beaches and to the interior and ultimately all the way to Istanbul. That particular theater of the war turned into yet another quagmire where thousands upon thousands of young men were killed without making much headway and actually the British had to withdraw their troops after several months of inconclusive warfare. That battlefield is not too remembered in the West today except in Australia and New Zealand where a lot of the Western troops were coming from. Though this was a defeat for the Australians and New Zealanders they do commemorate that battle every year on what is called Anzac Day in Australia.By fighting and dying together in Gallipoli they ended up coming back, if they did come back, as a one nation. In a way that is the birth of Australia and New Zealand as a nation right there on the beach of Gallipoli: one good thing that came out of it. So after attacking the Northeast and the Caucasus, and the Southeast in Mesopotamia, the Northwest at Gallipoli, the British figured why don’t we try the Southwest, that’s the one thing we haven’t tried, more into the Arab areas.