The Gallipoli/Dardanelles Campaign and the Armenian Genocide

‘In most of the writings about Gallipoli, civilian deportations and casualties are rarely mentioned. Even more disappointing is the failure to make the important link that the Gallipoli/Dardanelles campaigns had to one of the key phases of the Armenian Genocide—a genocide that would lead to the death of approximately 1,500,000 Armenians.’

 

The Entente naval bombardments of the Dardanelles Straits in February and March, and later the amphibious landings at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, were two interrelated military deployments that gravely threatened the survival of the Ottoman Empire. These military battles, in turn, are linked to the Young Turk regime’s draconian decision to arrest several hundred Armenian community and political leaders in Constantinople on April 24, an act that was an opening phase of the Armenian Genocide.

In World War I there were several major battlefronts: Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Near (Middle) East, and the Caucasus Mountains. In the east, Russia, as the major ally of Britain and France, was battling Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. Russia’s troops were engaged in combat from the Baltic Sea in the north, through Eastern Europe, to the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains in the south. The Ottoman-held strategically key Bosphorus Straits, linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, were crucial for supplying Russia with munitions and supplies. However, from the outset of the war, the Straits had been closed. The British and French fleets blocked the Dardanelles Straits at the western end, while the Ottoman Empire mined and controlled the Straits elsewhere.

Ottoman artillery in Gallipoli (Photo: Turkish General Staff)
Ottoman artillery in Gallipoli (Photo: Turkish General Staff)

For a number of British and other Entente strategists, the Ottoman Empire was perceived to be the weak link in the German-centered military alliance. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the British Admiralty, was a forceful advocate of attempting a bold naval maneuver to break through the lines of Ottoman naval mines, destroy the shoreline fortresses along the Dardanelles, and sail up the Straits swiftly and decisively to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. In so doing, the strategists expected to be able to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war and strike a key blow against Germany. Drawing upon an unrivalled history of centuries of dominating the oceans of the world, the British fleet seemed more than capable of achieving such a bold and daring naval task.

From February onwards, the British and French fleets commenced their naval bombardments and later sought to penetrate the lines of floating mines. As a result, a state of great apprehension existed in Constantinople amongst the Young Turk leadership. Plans were made to abandon the capital city, if need be. However, after several Entente warships were sunk by mines, the British naval commanders paused, as they were unwilling to suffer the loss of more major warships. They opted not to proceed with the operation by sea alone. Instead, they chose to await for the mounting of a complex amphibious landing at the rugged shores of Gallipoli. Preparations to assemble the troops, equipment, and supplies were substantial and had been underway for considerable time. Troops had been gathered in various locations on the Mediterranean Sea and eventually were forwarded onto islands near the Dardanelles. Increasingly, it was clear to Ottoman and German military officials that a large landing was imminent, although they did not know the exact location.

Two hundred Entente ships and about 75,000 troops finally left the port of Mudros, on the Aegean island of Lemnos, on April 23. It was the date they were initially scheduled to land, but were, in fact, delayed due to poor weather conditions. Two days later on April 25, British, French, Australian, and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula that guarded the entrance to the Dardanelles. An epic new land front was now opened.

In between the night that the Entente fleet left Mudros and the day prior to their military landings in Gallipoli took place, the Young Turk regime rapidly implemented one of the opening phases of the Armenian Genocide. Working with already drawn-up lists of the names of prominent Armenians, the police and military arrested several hundred Armenian community and political leaders in Constantinople throughout the night of April 24th. It was one day before the British and allied landings at Gallipoli.

War and genocide are often intertwined and this was particularly evident during the hours between April 24 and April 25. Would the Armenian community leaders have been arrested at that time if the Entente ships and troops had not been about to invade? Certainly, the Armenian community was already being targeted by the Young Turk nationalist regime. But the secrecy, violence, and sense of urgency of major wartime threats made committing such genocidal deeds more feasible.

Many books and articles written about the military battles at Gallipoli note the substantial number of military casualties on both sides. For Australians and New Zealanders, these days of battle are heroically identified with ANZAC Day, a day of national mourning and pride. For Turkish citizens, it is a battle that saw a rare military victory in World War I and the emergence of a charismatic Turkish officer Mustafa Kemal who rallied his troops in defense of the empire and who would go on to become Ataturk, the founding president of the Republic of Turkey. Military histories often focus on brilliant commanding officers and brave, often suffering, soldiers, but usually offer less on the societal context of the war. However, in the era of modern “total war,” where civilian targets were seen as a key part of a strategy for victory, incomplete accounts of the totality of war are insufficient. In most of the writings about Gallipoli, civilian deportations and casualties are rarely mentioned. Even more disappointing is the failure to make the important link that the Gallipoli/Dardanelles campaigns had to one of the key phases of the Armenian Genocide—a genocide that would lead to the death of approximately 1,500,000 Armenians. The stark fact is that the number of naval and army personnel who were wounded and died in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns pales in comparison to the number of civilians who were arrested, starved, tortured, and died in the Armenian Genocide—a genocide that gained significant momentum coinciding with the Entente landings at Gallipoli. For the Young Turk dictatorship the two events were linked in key ways. Amidst foreign military peril and possible Entente military occupation of Constantinople, there was swift and deadly action to target the Armenian-Christian ethnic minority for genocide.

 

Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and author of Return to Armenia: Veradardz depi Hayastan.

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Alan Whitehorn

Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and author of a several books on the Armenian Genocide, including "Just Poems: Reflections on the Armenian Genocide." He is also the editor of "The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide."

18 Comments

  1. This statement by Alan Whitehorn was drastic for the Armenians. “However, after several Entente warships were sunk by mines, the British naval commanders paused, as they were unwilling to suffer the loss of more major warships.” What the British did not know at the time was that the Turks were running out of ammunition and needed ten days for new supplies. The British gave them 30 days with this pullback. Shows the importance of intelligent leadership. A young Churchill wanted to continue on but his superiors did not listen.

  2. “The stark fact is that the number of naval and army personnel who were wounded and died in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns pales in comparison to the number of civilians who were arrested, starved, tortured, and died in the Armenian Genocide—a genocide that gained significant momentum coinciding with the Entente landings at Gallipoli”

    1.5 million Armenians were not murdered during the time frame of the Gallipoli Campaign. So why compare the deaths of soldiers in one campaign to the total victims of the Armenian genocide, which by many accounts, extends PAST the end of WWI?

    Even if we accept the link between the start of Gallipoli and the start of the Armenian genocide, that makes Gallipoli significant for the Armenian genocide, not the other way around.

  3. the entire war was a big loss for the Allied forces on the ground,mostly the Australian contingent, they were trapped in the trenches fora long time, and ottoman army was all around them,as the massacred them en mass, also can watch the movie GALIPOLI, then few years back Turks decided to erect a monument for the fallen Australian soldiers, which thousands of Australian visit every day for commemoration,

    • Gallipoli casualties

      Allies
      Dead: 44,092
      Wounded: 96,937
      Total: 141,029

      Ottoman Empire (estimated)
      Dead: 86,692
      Wounded: 164,617
      Total: 251,309
      (Source: Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs)

      “massacred them en mass” is inaccurate hyperbole.
      Both sides fought well in a military engagement.
      There was no massacre.
      You kill enemy soldiers in war: comes with the job.

      After failing to take the high ground, the Allies withdrew in good order.

      As to the battle itself:

      Allies log it as a clear victory for Turks: it was, because Allies failed to reach their objective and withdrew.
      But the estimated casualty figures point to how close Turks came to defeat. After the battle, it became known that at two or three times in the early exchanges, the Turkish forces were close to retreat and defeat.
      Considering that Turks (with German support) held the high ground, and the Allies landed on a tough beach in enemy held territory, lost many battle ships to careless stupidity, and on, and on, the fact that Turks barely won tells us much.

      By all rights the casualty figures should have been lopsided in favour of Turks, since they had prepared good defenses, spotted their artillery beforehand, held easily defended high ground, and had rough numerical parity (Turks had 16 divisions, Allies had 15 divisions in the battle).
      The fact that Allies had fewer casualties in such unfavourable battle conditions tells you something about the quality of their fighting men, despite the incompetence of their leaders.

  4. “massacred them en mass, also can watch the movie GALIPOLI”

    You make it sound as if all the killings were disproportionately done by the Turks. Try reading books instead of watching movies. The Turkish deaths at Gallipoli (officially 87,000 but probably closer to 250,000) far exceeded the Australian losses of 8,709.

    Furthermore, official memorials in Gallipoli commenced construction in November 1919 and not a “few years back”.

  5. It has long been argued that had there not been the ‘disastrous” defeat of the allied forces in the battle of Gallipoli/Dardanelles, the Genocide of the Armenians would not have happened. I had always accepted the plausibility of the argument, until……

    Recently I read “The Antiochians” (1960) by Dr. Albert Apelian, where he notes, “no one can definitely be sure whether or not British diplomacy at that time favored an early occupation of Constantinople. A premature collapse of the Sultan’s government could seat a victorious Russia at the peace conference”.

    It appears that there is more to the Gallipoli/Dardanelles campaign than what went on and could have gone on the battlefield. It was a battle whose victory may very well not have assured the allies the bigger prize, winning the war. On the contrary it may have taken away eating the icing as well from the Ottoman cake they were to cut into pieces that nowadays are proving to be indigestible.

  6. Isn’t it tragically ironic that Armenian soldiers and officers serving in the Ottoman military helped defeat the Allies at Gallipoli, and thus inadvertently helped Turks successfully carry out the Armenian Genocide. If Allies had succeeded in going inland at Gallipoli and had knocked Turkey out, the Genocide of Christians in OT might not have taken place, or would have been interrupted midway, saving many lives.

    To wit, Captain Sarkis Torossian, a decorated artillery officer, sank the first British battleship (according to his memoirs).
    The denialist nomads, suffering from well documented massive inferiority complex, have libeled the captain as a ‘fraud’ – so as not to be beholden to a ‘gyavur’ for helping save their a___s from defeat.

    The Independent, Robert Fisk, Sunday 12 May 2013:

    {Already, loyalist academics have done their best to ignore the presence of thousands of Arab troops among the 1915 Turkish armies at Gallipoli — and are now even branding an Armenian Turkish artillery officer who was decorated for his bravery at Gallipoli as a liar who fabricated his own biography.
    In fact, Captain Sarkis Torossian was personally awarded medals for his courage by Enver Pasha*, Turkey’s war minister and the most powerful man in the Ottoman hierarchy. The greatest hero of Gallipoli was Mustafa Kemal who, as Ataturk, founded the modern Turkish state. But in view of the desire of some of Turkey’s most prominent historians to brand Torossian a fraud, the word ‘modern’ should perhaps be used in inverted commas.}

    {Now these academics are even claiming that the Armenian army captain invented his two medals from the Enver. Yet one of the most the outspoken Turkish historians to have fully acknowledged the 1915 genocide, Taner Akcam, has tracked down Torossian’s family in America, met his grandaughter, and inspected the two Ottoman medal records; one of them bears Enver Pasha’s original signature.}

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-armenian-hero-turkey-would-prefer-to-forget-8612890.html

    • —-
      * The Genocidal Enver’s life was saved by Ottoman Armenian soldiers at the Sarikamish front from certain death at the hands of Russian troops.

  7. Being an Australian of Armenian origin, and hence having sufficient knowledge of Australian and Armenian sentiments towards 2 dates: April 24 – start of 1915 Genocide, and April 25 – Gallipoli, I have always wondered and asked the question which Alan Whitehorn asks in his article “Would the Armenian community leaders have been arrested on that date in Constantinople if the Entente ships and troops had not been about to invade (On 25 April 1915)?”. I would expand the question “Why 24 April and not say 23 or 25 April, or even a month or 2 months before or after ?” Mr Whitehorn does answer … “Certainly, the Armenian community was already being targeted by the Young Turk nationalist regime. But the secrecy, violence, and sense of urgency of major wartime threats made committing such genocidal deeds more feasible.” Helas, the last phrase of Mr Whitehorn’s answer is not sufficiently emphasized nor investigated for not to say entirely ignored by Australian historians and the Armenians who demand justice.

  8. Avery
    I do not think that a book that closely follows the Toros Sarkisian’s life writen by Y. Hakan Erdem is available in english.after reading this book in turkish I am convinced that Toros sarkisian wrote his fantasies rather than the realities

    • John the Turk:

      Since you also believe that the Armenian Genocide is a fabrication*, your citation from some two-bit denialist Turk author alleging decorated Captain Torossian fabricated his record carries as much weight as all the denialist books produced by the Halaçoğlu Denialverse Nomadic Publishing Yurt**.

      It is a sad spectacle: a super majority population of an entire country trapped in a universe of lies.***

      Your baseless objection to Capt. Torossian’s record is noted and overruled.
      You are dismissed, old chap.

      —–
      * { Mr. Cengiz I was really upset when i heard that Hrant Dink was killed and I became interested in the fake Armenian genocide subject. I even thought for a while that the Armenian genocide may be a reality but after I have done my own investigation, I am convinced that The Armenian genocide was fabricated by Armenians in order to take revenge from Turks. Basically, Armenian got what they deserved, They tried to plot a huge land grab from Turkey but ultimately failed then they were frustrated by their idiocy and failure and fabricated the Armenian genocide.} (john the turk , 01 November 2012 , 18:31 @TodaysZaman)(…addressing TZ columnist O.K. CENGİZ)

      ** It is normally called a Publishing _House_, but in this case, it is proper to call it ‘Yurt’: you know, Uyguristan, nomadic sheepherder Turkic tribes, the beautiful wide open steppes…..

      *** https://armenianweekly.com/2012/05/11/gunaysu-the-reign-of-lies-in-turkey/

  9. Random Armenian
    According to mr.y.hakan erdem’s book, he prety much invented his story .mr.erdem tried to dig up his traces in usa and found that sarkisyan filled out a form for the 1940 population census.acvordinh to this form filled out he and his wife victoria both had six years education in total therefore it is impossible for sarkisian to be a military officier.there are countless other claims that mr erdem proved to be wrong in his book

  10. Mr. erdem also found out in the usa archives that Mr sarkisian went to usa in 1916 and stayed for 6 months with his elder brother
    .he says that mr sarkisian must be the luckiest offier of the ottoman army as he was allowed to go and stay for 6 months in usa during the ww1

  11. Dr. Akcam has already debunked denialist ‘historian’ Erdem’s false charge about the year 1916 in question.

    {The biggest argument put forward to prove that Torossian was a dreamer who made up his memoir is the claim that Torossian entered the US in 1916. This idea is simply not correct; it is plain wrong. Hakan Erdem hasn’t shown any kind of entry register to show that Torossian entered the US in 1916 and won’t be able to because such a thing doesn’t exist. ….} (source: Dr. Taner Akcam)

    There is a long analysis by Dr. Akcam as to where “1916” came from and when Capt Torossian actually entered US (1920), with related documentation. No need to reproduce it here.

    The levels of desperate delusions Turk denialists and their drones consciously resort to in order to make the nightmare of the AG go away is truly amazing.

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