On April 25, 1915, when British, French, and Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the strategic Gallipoli Peninsula, their objective was to knock out Ottoman defenses and make way for Allied navies to steam up the Dardanelles strait toward Istanbul. It was a risky and costly endeavor that culminated in their total retreat eight months later. For Gallipoli’s defenders, who lost 86,692 men, the battle was an important victory in defense of the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, it also became a touchstone of the nationalism that was so important to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey less than a decade later. Likewise, celebrations planned for the battle’s centenary reflect the tension between the valorization of the Ottoman era and the hallowed memory of Mustafa Kemal—Ataturk—modern Turkey’s founder. In many ways, the memory of Gallipoli is still shaping, and is being shaped by, the country’s political trajectory.
When the Allied force landed, Kemal, then a lieutenant colonel, was being held in a reserve unit five miles from the front. He was quickly deployed on horseback with the 57th Regiment to the steep hills overlooking Ariburnu Point and the famous Anzac Cove. There he encountered retreating Turkish forces—whom, in his own telling, he implored to carry on with their fight to the death, ordering those soldiers who had run out of ammunition to fix their bayonets. Kemal managed to hold on for the next 24 hours under heavy Allied pressure, enduring significant losses until reinforcements arrived to shore up Ottoman defenses. For his bravery at Ariburnu, Kemal earned a medal of honor that led to other command positions during the Gallipoli campaign.
It was Kemal’s exploits in the defense of Gallipoli that would later form the basis of his mystique as the new Turkish leader. When the Great War was over, his competence, courage, supreme self-confidence, and uncompromising nationalism
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