Monday, 11 May 2015

1915 remembered in Turkey

President Erdoğan & Prince Charles pay their respects at Çanakkale on 24 April 2015. Photo:

Turkey commemorated two devastating legacies of World War One – the Gallipoli Campaign and the massacres of Turkish Armenians – in a series of events on 24th April.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Prince Charles and 21 heads of state, including the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand, Tony Abbott and John Key, in Çanakkale to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, which claimed 140,000 lives. Wreaths were laid at the Cape Helles memorial, a towering stone obelisk on the southernmost tip of the peninsula, with Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), opening the hour‑long service with prayers.

The following morning, Abbott and Key attended the annual Dawn Service at Anzac Cove with an estimated 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders who had travelled to Turkey to honour the ANZAC soldiers that had landed in Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, many never to return.

Also on 24th April, Armenians from around the globe journeyed to Istanbul to commemorate the centenary of the mass killings of their ancestors by the Ottomans. Turkey refuses to accept the events as ‘genocide’, claiming the deaths came during a massive loss of life for all sides during World War I. Academics also continue to dispute the total numbers killed. However, the AKP government has gone further towards reconciliation than any other. 

Historic moment: EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır attends commemoration service for murdered Armenians
It has organised conferences to reveal the truth of what happened in 1915, it has tried to increase trade with Armenia, and even mooted an historic protocol between the two countries; while last year Erdoğan issued an unprecedented message of regret to the Armenian nation.

Chief among the 2015 events organised by Turkish and foreign non-governmental organisations in Turkey was a special service by the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate at the Mother Mary Church in Kumkapı. It was attended by Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır – the first time any Turkish government official has participated in a commemoration event for Armenians. Messages of condolence from the Turkish President and Prime Minister Davutoğlu were also read out.

Other events took place in Taksim Square and at Haydarpaşa train station, attended by thousands of people. Several Turkish newspapers dedicated their front covers to the Armenian commemorations including Cumhuriyet, a centre-left broadsheet, which ran the headline: “Never again”. It featured an extensive interview with murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink’s widow Rakel, who described her family’s difficult experiences as Armenians in Turkey during and after War War I. 

Armenian commemoration vigil in Istanbul

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