Orchestrated by socio-political heavy weights such as Lord Kitchener, and younger politicians like Winston Churchill. Commonwealth soldiers landed in the beach assault on Gallipoli and other areas of the peninsula, in April, 1915. These included soldiers from Britain, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Though debate still continues, The Dardanelles Strait campaign ended in more of a stalemate than defeat.
It was ultimately deemed a failure, due, according to Lloyd George, ‘not so much [the younger] Winston Churchill’s haste as to Lord Kitchener’s and [the then British Prime Minister] Herbert Asquith’s procrastination.’ [i]
Among other things, the joint Australian and New Zealand commemoration of ANZAC day provides an opportunity to reflect on the cost of war, freedom and the importance of our gratitude; that our collective “thank you” is collectively acknowledged; lived and breathed, not just superficially spoken.
Just as importantly, the day also provides an opportunity to talk about the violent persecution of the Armenians; a persecution carried out by some of the louder political factions within the politically unstable Ottoman Empire during this period.
The Armenians were Christians. They were considered more Westernised than their Muslim neighbours and as a result were looked upon with suspicion by the hostile factions.
The Armenian people looked for independence from Turkey, but were yet to be represented by any organised governmental body.
This was unlike Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, who, being represented as a nation in the battle for the Gallipoli Peninsula, had been considered to have come of age .
Alan Moorehead rightly noted that the success of the Turkish Army had become a political success.
‘They saw themselves as standing for the Turk, and for Islam. So, in elation, they set about hunting down their racial and political opponents (which was nothing new in the East or everywhere else for that matter). Success against the allied assault had expedited the persecution and slaughter of Armenians. It would be absurd, however, to argue that the Allies’ failure in the Dardanelles was the only cause of this, since the root instinct to destroy the unprotected, Christian, Armenian minority was always there. Before March there were about two million Armenians in Turkey, and it was the young Turks’ intention to exterminate or deport them all. This task, however, was never completed; barely three-quarters of a million were dead or dying by the time the frantic rage of their tormentors had exhausted itself.’
The point of ANZAC day is first found in an ode near to its heart:
‘…At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’
(The Ode, from For The Fallen, Robert Laurence Binyon, 1869-1943 )
We are in need of ANZAC day. Though body and memory fade, the act of being remembered transcends time. Placing us in the humble position of being reminded that ‘we are not God. That we aren’t even good idols.’ [iii]
Because of the gravity of it, our corporate, individual and collective arrogance is challenged; And we are met face to face with the enormity of the task before us. A task of vigilance that requires us to make every effort to protect and seek, peace and good will, among societies and nations.
Standing with those who care to uphold it, and are willing to share in bearing both its burdens and its blessings.
Standing in responsible disagreement against those who would seek to do the opposite.
Perhaps at the core of how important ANZAC day is, is that we as a society, are ourselves, confronted with the brutal fact, that a history too easily forgotten is a history too easily repeated.
[i] Moorehead, A. 1956, The Classic Account of Gallipoli, Aurum Press LTD. (p.171)
[ii] ibid, pp.98-101
[iii] Niebuhr, R. 1945 ‘Today, Tomorrow & The Eternal’ in Discerning the Signs of the Times :Sermon Essays
The image in the photo above is of some knitted, red, poppy flowers. They mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings and were on display at a local show a few weeks back.