Turkey marks Gallipoli anniversary on Armenian genocide remembrance day

Turkey marks Gallipoli anniversary on Armenian genocide remembrance day
Analysis: Ankara moved its traditional Anzac Day commemorations forward in order to clash with the centenary of the mass slaughter carried out by Ottoman troops.
3 min read
24 April, 2015
Around half a million troops died during the Gallipoli campaign [Getty]

Turkey has marked the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, known in Turkey as the Battle of Çanakkale, in which the Ottoman Empire was fended off allied forces advancing on Istanbul during the First World War.

This year's commemorations have been unusually large - with 8,500 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders in attendance, along with the parliamentary heads of both countries.

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, was there with his sons, more than 20 heads of state, and leaders from Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Djibouti, Albania, Ireland, Northern Cyprus, Qatar and a number of international figures such as Tawakkol Karman the Nobel Peace laureate and Yemeni journalist.  

The battle began on April 25, 1915, and is marked each year on April 25 around the world, but particularly in Australia and New Zealand, as "Anzac Day".

The Turkish government, however, decided to hold this year's event on April 24 - a day that coincides with the 100th annual commemoration of victims of the Armenian genocide. 

Armenia's capital, Yerevan, held a large remembrance ceremony for the victims of the genocide, while the Armenian lobby outside the country had been waging an international campaign for the genocide to be more fully recognised.

The campaign led to the European Union, Germany, the Vatican and Austria acknowledging the events of 1915 as a genocide - straining relations between these countries and Turkey. Some 23 countries have to date recognised the killings as a genocide.

     Some 23 countries have to date recognised the killings as a genocide.

Ankara has since withdrawn its ambassadors from the Vatican and Austria. The Holy See also announced that Pope Francis would not be attending the Gallipoli ceremony in person.  

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Washington this week to meet with National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a bid to pressure the White House not to use the term "genocide".

As expected, President Barack Obama used the traditional Armenian term medz yeghern, which means "great crime", instead of the word "genocide" in his annual address on the occasion. 

US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass represented Washington at the Gallipoli ceremony, while a presidential delegation led by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew attended the ceremony in Armenia.  

There have been significant tensions in Turkish-Armenian relations since January, after Armenian President Serge Sarkisian rejected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s invitation to attend the Gallipoli ceremony in Turkey, to be held on the same day as the commemoration of the genocide in Armenia.

Tensions escalated when Sarkisian asked the head of the Armenian parliament to withdraw from the 2009 US-brokered agreement between Ankara and Yerevan to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

In 2014, Erdoğan offered his condolences for the events of 1915, which he described as "inhumane":

"It is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren."

The Battle of Gallipoli began on April 25, when allied troops from Australia and New Zealand landed on Çanakkale in Turkey, in an attempt to destroy artillery units and advance on Istanbul - but the Ottomans, who were aligned to the Nazis, showed fierce resistance and managed to win the campaign eight months later, with the deaths of more than 200,000 troops on each side.  

April 24, meanwhile, marks the date in 1915 when the Ottoman government rounded up, imprisoned and subsequently executed an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders.

This snowballed into the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. Some Turkish scholars claim "just" half a million were killed, and accuse "Armenian gangs" of committing massacres at the time in Kurdish and Turkish villages in eastern Anatolia with the cooperation of Russia.