2007-04-26

Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide

by Neil Godfrey

ABC’s RN had the good sense to play a repeat of a Hindsight program on Anzac Day — a lecture by Robert Manne disussing the direct link between Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide. It’s talks like these that remind me why I’m an internationalist, not a nationalist.

No transcript or podcast of the talk, but in the same month as the original broadcast Manne had an article based on the talk published in The Monthly.

A Turkish TaleGallipoli and the Armenian GenocideBy Robert Manne

Who after all today is speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?

Adolf Hitler to his generals on the eve of the invasion of Poland, August 1939

There are two puzzles about the story at the centre of Australian folklore, Gallipoli. One is obvious: why did the story of the Australian troops’ landing at the Dardanelles Straits on 25 April 1915, and their subsequent participation in one of the British Empire’s most comprehensive military defeats, become the country’s foundation myth? The other puzzle has never been discussed, but can be expressed as follows.

During the exact time Australian troops spent in hell on Gallipoli, another event of world-historical importance was taking place on contiguous ground: the Armenian Genocide. Some contemporary scholars think that during this catastrophe, one million people were murdered. The crime was committed by the leadership of the Ottoman Turkish Empire: the empire which Australian troops, as part of the Anglo–French force, invaded. The Gallipoli landings took place one day after the mass arrest of the Armenian intelligentsia in Istanbul, the date Armenians regard as the beginning of the genocide and thus have set aside as their day of national mourning. Australians remember 25 April as their most solemn national day; the Armenians remember 24 April. As it happened, the Dardanelles campaign failed. In the months between the landings at Gallipoli and the mid-December 1915 evacuation, the overwhelming majority of the million deaths took place a few hundred kilometres east of the Dardanelles Straits: in eastern Anatolia, Cilicia and, after the terrible death marches, in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

And yet, despite the fact that the Armenian Genocide was one of the great crimes of history; despite the fact that it took place on Ottoman soil during the precise months of the Dardanelles campaign; despite the fact that that campaign is regarded as the moment when the Australian nation was born, so far as I can tell, in the vast Gallipoli canon, not one Australian historian has devoted more than a passing page or paragraph to the relationship, or even the mere coincidence, of the two events. Concerning the Armenian Genocide, in the space of two large volumes on Gallipoli, Charles Bean is silent; Les Carlyon gives the issue three or four lines; John Robertson allows half a page. Alan Moorehead, in his mid-’50s classic, is unusual by devoting a full three pages to the Armenian Question.

Among Australians, only the poet Les Murray has managed to hold the two events together in his mind. His strange creation, the German Australian Fredy Neptune, is accidentally attached to the Turkish Navy at the outbreak of the Great War. Fredy swears to himself that he will desert if forced to fight Australians at Gallipoli. Soon after, he witnesses, at the Black Sea port of Trebizond, Armenian women being doused in kerosene and set alight. He is numbed by this experience for the remainder of his life. Murray’s epic begins with the words of an Armenian poet: “These eyes of mine – How shall I dig them out, how shall I, how?” For Murray, Armenia prefigures the horrors of the twentieth century. For him and him alone, Gallipoli is imaginatively proximate.

*

Concerning the coincidence on Ottoman soil of the Gallipoli campaign and the Armenian Genocide, there are many questions – though Australian historians have not seen them – that are worth discussing. Here is one. The Germans on the Western Front were not held by the Australian troops in high regard: their Belgian atrocities were exaggerated and neither forgiven nor forgotten. By contrast, for reasons that are not easy to fathom, ever since the time of the Anzac presence at Gallipoli, the Turkish enemy, responsible for crimes against Armenians far more terrible, seems to have been respected, not so much by the Australian troops but by those who recorded the experience of Gallipoli on their behalf.

In the enormously influential Anzac Book, compiled by Charles Bean from contributions of those who served, Bean included a poem of his own, ‘Abdul’. It ended with the following verse:

For though your name be black as ink

For murder and rapine

Carried out in happy concert

With your Christians from the Rhine,

We will judge you, Mr Abdul,

By the test by which we can –

That with all your breath, in life, in death,

You’ve played the gentleman.

In all his subsequent work, Bean continued to claim that the Anzac troops left Gallipoli with respect for the basic decency of the Turkish troops more or less intact. In 1934, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustapha Kemal Atatürk, reciprocated with fine conciliatory sentiments of his own. I use the translation of Adrian Jones:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.

Bob Hawke completed the cycle in 1990, moving from respect for the foot soldier, “Johnny Turk”, to highest praise for the commander and founder of the postwar regime:

It is remarkable to reflect that the tragedy of our first encounter has been the source of nationhood for both our countries. It was through his brilliant defence of the Gallipoli Peninsula … that the great Mustapha Kemal Ataturk demonstrated the singular qualities of leadership which enabled him subsequently to create the Turkish Republic.

As it happens, from the time of Bean to the time of Hawke, the reality of the Armenian Genocide was completely well known. During World War I, it was widely reported in the Australian press – the Age, for example, published 30 reports in 1915 alone – that a crime unprecedented in the history of humanity had occurred, where as many one million Armenians had been massacred. These reports drew upon a very long tradition of Christian condemnation of Ottoman crimes and the more recent Liberal rhetoric, from the time of the great Gladstonean agitation over the “Bulgarian atrocities” of the “unspeakable Turk”.

Yet not only did the knowledge of the Armenian Genocide have no impact on the respect which official Australians expressed from the first for the decency and the courage of Johnny Turk. For the past 90 years, the moral tension between what is fine about the tradition of respect for the former enemy and what is callous about regarding the genocide of the Armenians as so minor a matter that it cannot dent that admiration has never been discussed.

Or almost never. In her recent Quarterly Essay, ‘The History Question: Who Owns the Past?’, Inga Clendinnen argues perceptively that the Turkish enemy at Gallipoli is respected “because they cared for our dead, but also because they were there. They had seen the Anzacs in hallowed action.” Nonetheless, “remembering the Armenians”, she adds, “we flinch”. To her credit, Clendinnen has at least noticed there is an issue here, something which most Australians have not. Yet her brief discussion is hardly satisfactory. For my part, I do not think there is evidence of Australians flinching at the thought of the million Armenian deaths. And even if there is, can it be argued that in the face of one of the most terrible crimes of which history has record, with which we became indirectly entangled by our proximity at Gallipoli, it is enough to flinch?

I am all too aware that the myth of Johnny Turk is benign. It is a wonderful thing when, at the end of warfare, hatred dies. But I struggle to understand why Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide continue to exist for Australians in parallel moral universes.

*

There is another puzzle about the coincidence in time and place of Gallipoli and the Armenian tragedy. In the scores of books written about Australia and Gallipoli, why has no Australian historian ever asked the question that should have occurred most naturally to a member of the profession: namely, did the Anglo–French Dardanelles campaign play any role in the Ottoman regime’s decision for genocide?

Until relatively recently, the historical argument over the Armenian Genocide has been dominated by the interpretative conflict between nationalist scholars representing the victims and the perpetrators. Armenian historians, such as Vahakn Dadrian and Richard Hovannisian, have argued that the determination to destroy the Armenians was rooted in pan-Islamic and pan-Turkish ideology, and that the decision to unleash the genocidal attack was long premeditated. For their part, Turkish nationalist historians have denied that any genocide took place, with an attitude that has been neatly summarised by Ronald Suny:

For deniers of genocide there is simply no need to explain an event that did not occur as stipulated by those who claim it did. What did occur, in their view, was a reasonable and understandable response of a government to a rebellious and seditious population in a time of war … The denialist viewpoint might be summarized as: There was no Genocide, and the Armenians are to blame for it!

Given the attitude on both sides, it is not surprising that the highly political pitched battles between the Armenian and Turkish nationalist historians have been both astonishingly bitter and rather sterile.

The work of recent non-nationalist historians has been more fruitful. They have emphasised the role of war and imperial disintegration in the origin of the genocide. In addition to ideology and premeditation, they have suggested a more dynamic historical process, which one of these new scholars, Donald Bloxham, borrowing from a parallel debate about the origins of the Holocaust, has labelled “cumulative radicalisation”. The ideas associated with these new scholars, that the decision to embark upon the total destruction of the Ottoman Armenians emerged gradually and as part of a wartime process of imperial crisis, helps us understand the kind of relation that exists between the Armenian Genocide and the Gallipoli campaign.

Stripped to its essentials, the new story goes like this. Throughout the nineteenth century, the once mighty Ottoman Empire was “the sick man of Europe”, gradually losing more and more of its European territories. This process of decline culminated in the great losses of the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 and the acceptance by the Ottomans in 1914 of a so-called Reform which allowed Russia the right to offer formal protection to the most important remaining Christian minority population in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians of Anatolia. This kind of “humanitarian intervention” from Christian Europe represented an increasingly unbearable humiliation for the Ottomans, to which the Armenians were extremely vulnerable. Before the war of 1914, in part because of earlier similar interventions, they had already suffered grievous losses: at least 100,000 of their people were killed in the 1890s during the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. A further 20,000 died in 1909 at Adana.

Tsarist Russia was the most serious long-term enemy of the Ottoman Empire. When war broke out between the Germans and the Russians in August 1914, the Ottoman government, now dominated by the revolutionary Young Turks, seized the opportunity to repudiate the hated Reform and to form a military alliance with Germany. The tsarist government, in response, promised that if the Armenians of Turkey rose in support, a brighter independent future beckoned. In September, Russia suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg. In November, the Turks attacked the Russian Black Sea fleet. Turkey was now at war with the Entente. At Sarikamis, in January 1915, the Ottoman Third Army was almost entirely destroyed by the Russians. To support the Russians and to bring about the surrender of the Ottomans, in March 1915 the British and the French mounted a naval action in the hope of breaking through at the Dardanelles and reaching Istanbul. When the naval action failed, they landed troops at Gallipoli on 25 April with the same strategic end in mind.

Although the best contemporary non-nationalist historians of the Armenian Genocide – the Turk Taner Akçam and the Briton Donald Bloxham – differ on the question of when the decision for genocide was arrived at, and even over whether there was one particular decision or many, both accept that it was this constellation of events – the advance of the Russian Army in the Caucasus; the Anglo–French attack at the Dardanelles; the growing fears concerning the loyalty of the Ottoman Empire’s most important remaining Christian minority, the Armenians of Anatolia – that acted as the trigger for, if not the cause of, the Armenian Genocide.

Akçam, whose analysis of the mechanics of the genocide is the most convincing I have read, believes the fundamental decision to unleash the deportations and the massacres of the Armenians was taken during meetings of the central committee of the Young Turks’ party, the Committee of Union and Progress, in March 1915, at the time of the beginning of the Dardanelles naval campaign. The main engineer of the genocide was Dr Bahaettin Shakir, who had convinced the CUP leadership that at this time of crisis for the Empire, the “internal” enemy, the Armenian, was as dangerous as the “external” – the Russian, the British and the French.

In his Empire to Republic(2004), Akçam expresses his views about the link between the external and the internal threats to the Ottoman Empire by the time of World War I in general, and between the Armenian Genocide and Gallipoli in particular, in the following way.

[As Norbert Elias argued]: “The stronger the downward tendency toward decline, the greater the coarseness of means used to stop this progression … Having their backs against the wall turns the fierce defenders of civilization into its greatest destroyers. They quickly become barbarians.” I believe this was the Ottoman mindset before and during the First World War. For that reason it seems to me no coincidence that the decision behind the Armenian Genocide was made during the fierce battles of the Gallipoli campaign, when the Ottoman Empire’s very existence seemed to balance between life and death. The hopeless situation into which Ottomans had fallen produced a willingness to rely on extraordinary acts of cruelty.

Akçam’s most recent work, A Shameful Act(2006), makes the link between Gallipoli and the initiation of the Armenian Genocide even more explicit:

Almost everyone believed that the capture of Istanbul was only a question of time … It was not a coincidence that the Armenian genocide took place soon after the Sarikamis disaster and was contemporaneous with the empire’s struggle at Gallipoli … A nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesitate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation … A prediction made by the German ambassador Wangenheim is worth mentioning. With the outbreak of the war in August 1914, Henry Morgenthau [the US ambassador] warned him that the Turks would massacre the Armenians in Anatolia, to which Wangenheim replied, “So long as England does not attack Canakkale [the Turkish fortress at the Dardanelles] … there is nothing to fear. Otherwise, nothing can be guaranteed.” However, this is precisely what happened.

Donald Bloxham, in The Great Game of Genocide(2005), thinks the final decision(s) for the genocide came later than March 1915, Akçam’s view. Nonetheless, he too links the process with key moments in the Dardanelles campaign. Like Akçam, Bloxham thinks the critical meetings of the CUP central committee with Dr Behaettin Shakir, in mid-March 1915, were associated with the Anglo–French attacks of 5–17 March on the Dardanelles’ outer forts. Bloxham believes that the arrests of the Armenian intelligentsia on 24 April were triggered by the news that the British and the French were about to land their troops at Gallipoli. One month into the Gallipoli land campaign, the leaders of Britain, France and Russia issued the following solemn warning:

In light of these crimes [against the Armenians], which Turkey has perpetrated against humanity and civilisation, the Entente powers openly inform the Sublime Porte that they will hold members of the Ottoman Empire and their subordinates who are involved in the massacre personally responsible for this crime.

This was the first time in international relations that the potent phrase “crimes against humanity” had been used. In Bloxham’s narrative of cumulative radicalisation, these words play a crucial role. Following this threat, with nothing more to lose, the Turkish regime abandoned all restraint. “From the very next day”, he argues, “eyewitnesses suggest that the atrocities intensified yet further.”

In his essay ‘Explaining Genocide? The Fate of the Armenians in the Late Ottoman Empire’, Ronald Suny provides even more direct evidence linking the Gallipoli campaign with the Armenian Genocide. For Suny, the most telling witness to the thinking of the Ottoman political leadership, at the time of the Armenian catastrophe, was the ambassador of the then neutral US, to whom two leading members of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate, Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha, spoke with a quite extraordinary frankness.

Talaat explained the situation to Morgenthau, in a conversation of 1915, like this:

[The Armenians] have assisted the Russians in the Caucasus and our failure there is largely explained by their actions … It is no use for you to argue … We have already disposed of three-quarters of the Armenians … The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is now so intense that we have got to finish with them. If we don’t, they will plan their revenge … I have accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem than Abdul Hamid did in thirty years.

As evidence of the extremity of the massacre accumulated, Morgenthau requested a meeting with the war minister, Enver Pasha. This is what he learned:

The Armenians had a fair warning … of what would happen to them in case they joined our enemies … You know what happened at Van. They obtained control of the city, used bombs against government buildings, and killed a large number of Moslems. We knew that they were planning uprisings in other places. You must understand that we are now fighting for our lives at the Dardanelles and that we are sacrificing large numbers of men. While we are engaged in such a struggle as this, we cannot permit people in our own country to attack us in the back. We have got to prevent this no matter what means we have to resort to …

The meaning of this evidence seems clear. In the drive towards the Armenian Genocide, the crisis precipitated by the Entente bombardments of the Dardanelles fortresses in March 1915 and the troop landings at Gallipoli on 25 April – in association with the slow advance of the Russian Army in the Caucasus – played a highly significant part.

In pointing this out, I hope not to be misunderstood. To argue that the Dardanelles campaign was one of the crucial triggers for the Armenian Genocide is not to argue that the Entente leaders bear even a partial moral responsibility for the catastrophe that occurred. Once the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers and attacked the Russian Black Sea fleet, the bombing of the Straits fortresses and the troop landings at Gallipoli were entirely legitimate, if ill-judged, acts of war. Indeed, not only do the Entente powers bear no moral responsibility for the genocide: if the Dardanelles campaign had succeeded and the Ottomans had surrendered, hundreds of thousands of Armenian lives might have been saved. Nor, in outlining the wartime circumstances surrounding the decision for genocide, am I seeking to dilute in any way the gravity of the Turkish crime. No maxim is more important for the historian than the one that tells us that to explain is in no way to excuse.

*

Why have Australian historians – from Bean to Carlyon – shown no interest in the moral or historical relationship between Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide? The clue is to be found, I believe, in a passage from a work by the American historian Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, where he distinguishes between the practice of “history” and what he calls, borrowing from the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, “collective memory”:

Collective memory … is not just historical knowledge shared by a group. Indeed, collective memory is in crucial senses ahistorical, even anti-historical … Collective memory simplifies; sees events from a single committed perspective; is impatient with ambiguities of any kind; reduces events to mythic archetypes … Typically a collective memory, at least a significant collective memory, is understood to express some eternal or essential truth about the group – usually tragic. A memory, once established, comes to define that eternal truth, and, along with it, an eternal identity, for the members of the group. Serbs’ central memory, the lost battle of Kosovo in 1389, symbolizes the permanent Muslim intention to dominate them. The partitions in Poland in the eighteenth century gave that country an “essential” identity as “the Christ among nations”, crucified and re-crucified by foreign oppression … Thinking about collective memory in this way helps us to separate ephemeral and relatively inconsequential memories from those that endure and shape consciousness.

Gallipoli has long been, and still is, Australia’s overwhelmingly most important collective memory. Why? There have been two main explanations. The Left has emphasised the curious propensity of Australians to mythologise only audacious or noble exploits that end in tragedy: Burke and Wills, Ned Kelly, Phar Lap, Gallipoli. Conservatives see Gallipoli as the place where the national character was discovered and revealed to the world. Which view is more plausible?

To try to discover whether Gallipoli was remembered as a triumph or a defeat, I recently read through a book of sermons delivered in Queensland on Anzac Day in 1921. Although there was a great deal about the debt that was owed to those who had laid down their lives for their Country and their Empire – almost unanimously thought of as one – the emphasis was overwhelmingly on triumph. Here is a characteristic passage:

The first Anzac morning they conquered, they looked death in the face and never flinched, and their glorious feat imprinted with indelible fame the name of Australia upon the map of the world … [It] proved that we were in resource, in courage, endurance and every manly and national quality, the equal of the older nations of the world … Hitherto we had accepted ourselves, our country, and our world position at the valuation of the outsider, and, to say the least of it, that valuation was by no means a generous one. Henceforth and forever, we know our worth; we have proved it in the face of mankind …

The glorious April Anzac landings were linked in the sermons not to the immediate defeat at the Dardanelles but instead to the eventual defeat of Germany. The fact that Gallipoli was a strategic disaster was almost entirely ignored. Even the brilliant success of the December evacuation was barely mentioned. For Australians, Gallipoli was neither Burke and Wills writ large nor a prefiguring of Dunkirk.

The myth of Gallipoli did not emerge gradually. It was imprinted on the national imagination following the publication throughout Australia, on 8 May 1915, of the first account of the landings by the British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. Here are some of the sentences from that first report:

There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and the storming of the heights … These raw colonial troops in these desperate hours proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle … The Australians were determined to die to a man rather than surrender the ground so dearly won … These Colonials are extraordinarily good under fire, often exposing themselves rather than take the trouble to keep under the shelter of the cliff … General Birdwood told the writer that he couldn’t sufficiently praise the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities of the Colonials … The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten … Though many were shot almost to bits, without hope of recovery, their cheers resounded … They were happy because they knew they had been tried for the first time and not found wanting.

By accident, Ashmead-Bartlett’s electrifying account of the Gallipoli landings arrived several days before the more prosaic version by the Australian Charles Bean. It mattered that the mode of the first account was unashamedly heroic. Even more importantly, it mattered that this first account came from a British and not an Australian correspondent. The moment of birth proved crucial.

In his Sense and Nonsense in Australian History (2006), John Hirst best explains the significance of all this. The Gallipoli landing was the first time that an Australian unit not incorporated within an Imperial formation had been involved in a major military operation. “The history of the colonial psyche is the struggle to manage the disdain of the metropolis”: before 25 April 1915, niggling questions about Australian manhood, character and the convict taint had not yet been resolved. On 25 April, they largely were. Under the British gaze, Australians “had been tried” and “not found wanting”.

In the final pages of his first volume on Anzac and Gallipoli, in one of the seminal passages in Australian literature, Charles Bean takes us to the second reason why the story of the Gallipoli landings has lodged at the centre of Australian collective memory. Bean asks the simple question, “What motive sustained them?” It was not, he tells us “love of a fight”. It was not “hatred of the Turk”. It was not “purely patriotism, as it would have been had they fought on Australian soil”, “nor was it the desire for fame”. What, then?

We arrive at the passage which best explains how Gallipoli has shaped national consciousness and which takes us to the heart of national self-belief:

It lay in the mettle of the men themselves. To be the sort of man who would give way when his mates were trusting to his firmness … to have made it necessary for another unit to do his own unit’s work; to live the rest of his life haunted by the knowledge that he had set his hand to a soldier’s task and lacked the grit to carry it through – that was the prospect that these men could not face. Life was very dear, but life was not worth living unless they could be true to their idea of Australian manhood.

The landings instantly convinced Australians that from the scattered British-settler colonies, a new nation had been born. Perhaps even more importantly, Australians believed that the landings demonstrated to the world in general and to the British metropolis in particular who they were. It was thought to reveal certain eternal truths about Australians. They were courageous; they were manly; they were practical; they were laconic; they were naturally egalitarian; they were stoical; they were young; they were innocent. Most importantly, in a time of trouble, they stood by each other, as mates.

The great political feat of Federation had barely touched the popular imagination. Only with the glorious Gallipoli landings did the Australian people feel, as an imaginative reality, that their nation had been born.

The story of Gallipoli has been told somewhat differently from one generation to the next. In the interwar years, it spoke of military valour and Empire loyalty; after Vietnam, in the Peter Weir and David Williamson version, about the betrayal of Australia by the British and of the futility of fighting other people’s wars. Yet for 90 years, the central meaning has remained steady. From the moment of its birth as foundation myth, Gallipoli has been about Australian identity, a central pre-occupation, a gnawing problem. The story endured because it captured, in essence and outside historical time, what Australians have always believed to be the character and the core values of the nation. For this reason, the popular appetite for new versions of the Gallipoli story remains apparently insatiable. Hardly a year passes without a new Gallipoli book or a film. Gallipoli is Australia’s only sacred soil. For Australians, the Gallipoli landing is still, as it was in 1915, the most significant event of their country’s history.

In the mythic structure of the story, bitterness about the enemy has no part. Johnny Turk is remembered with respect, or even fondly, merely for being present when the Australian nation was born and when Australians discovered who they were. Of even less significance in the story of Gallipoli are the tribulations of the Ottoman Empire in its death throes, or the astonishing tragedy that was overtaking the Armenians at the same time and place, for which the bombardments and the landings provided critical triggers.

In world history there is an intimate connection between the Dardanelles campaign and the Armenian Genocide. In the Australian collective memory of Gallipoli, the Armenian Genocide simply has no role. I suspect it never will.

*

There is one further delicate question I wish to raise. In the comment quoted earlier in this essay, Bob Hawke pointed to the rather remarkable fact that for both Australia and Turkey, Gallipoli played a part in national birth. For Australia, I have already suggested why. For Turkey, the reason is even more straightforward. Gallipoli was the first of the military victories, under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal, from which eventually, after the Wars of Independence, the modern Turkish Republic would be born.

Yet, in the circumstances concerning their birth, Australia and Turkey share another legacy. In the birth of both nations there was, for another people, a dreadful price to pay. I do not believe that there is a moral equivalence between the Dispossession of the Aborigines and the Armenian Genocide. I do believe that the histories of both Australia and Turkey have been burdened by the shadows cast by these events.

Ernest Renan once argued that an act of forgetting can be discovered in the foundation of all nations. Sigmund Freud agreed: “It is universally admitted that in the origin of the traditions and folklore of a people care must be taken to remove from the memory such a motive as would be painful to the national feeling.” According to Renan and Freud, all countries seem to feel the need for a noble myth of origin from which dark deeds and moral ambiguities have been erased.

For the entire course of its history, the Turkish Republic has managed this difficulty by a ferociously enforced state policy of denialism in regard to the genocidal crime that coincided with, and stained, its national birth. For almost 70 years following Federation, Australia coped with this problem in a somewhat different way, by what WE Stanner called “the Great Australian Silence” concerning the Dispossession and its aftermath, and by what he described as “the cult of forgetfulness on a national scale”. For 30 years, it looked as if the era of forgetfulness was over. Since the enthusiastic embrace of Keith Windschuttle’s denialist history, by the Howard Government and the conservative mainstream, that is no longer clear.

The very future of Turkey – whether, both literally and metaphorically, she will or will not enter Europe – will be partly determined by whether or not the denialist legacy regarding the Armenian Genocide can be transcended or will endure. In a less dramatic way, both the future of Australia and the character of the nation will be determined by whether or not we can learn, without flinching, to hold the memories of the triumph of Gallipoli and the tragedy of the Dispossession together in our minds.

Robert Manne first raised the issue of Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide at the History Council of Victoria’s 2006 Annual Lecture.

From the February 2007 issue of The Monthly

© 2007The Monthly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Powered by sweet Captcha