Today, 11th November, 2015, the citizens of the nations that compose the United Kingdom observe Armistice Day. This is an annual commemoration to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiegne, France, for the cessation of the hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. The armistice took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning – the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. At this time the British nation briefly comes to a halt.
World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”. The reality has been otherwise.
My wife and I have recently returned from a holiday in Turkey. One of the places we visited was Gallipoli, a place of almost legendary proportions for anyone, including myself, with a background in Australia or New Zealand. In early 1915, attempting to seize a strategic advantage in World War I by capturing Constantinople (contemporary Istanbul), the British authorised an attack on the Gallipoli peninsula. The first troops landed on 25th. April, 1915, and, after eight months of heavy fighting, the troops were withdrawn around the end of the year.
As the tour guide took care to mention, the Gallipoli campaign was one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war and is considered a major Allied failure. In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation’s history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.
The Gallipoli campaign was the first major military action of Australia and New Zealand as independent dominions, and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in those nations. The place of the landing was “Anza Cove”, with its Sphinx-like, sand coloured rock formation. The date of the landing, 25th. April, is known as “Anzac Day”. It remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand.
On the Allied side one of the key promoters of this abject failure of an expedition was Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whose reputation took years to recover. The Gallipoli campaign is sometimes referred to as “Churchill’s folly”.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is a fascinating part of Turkey. It stretches out along with northern side of the Dardanelles Straits at the western end of the Sea of Marmara and is the southern-most part of what is considered to be European Turkey. In World War I the peninsula clearly had strategic military importance. Today, it is part of a land mass with obvious maritime importance as it forms the entrance to the waterway that leads to The Bosphorus, Istanbul, the Black Sea, southern Russia and western Asia.
With a foothold in the European Continent, Turkey has a well-documented interest in becoming part of the European Community. It is no coincidence that, in the very near future, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will chair a meeting of the G20 nations. The summit meeting of the G20 will take place in Antalya – a lovely, modern city on the south coast of Turkey, and set between the Mediterranean Sea and the spectacular Taurus Mountains.
My wife, Vicky, and I spent a week near Antalya following our bus tour down the country’s superbly scenic western coast. Increasingly, Turkey is playing an important role in the transmission of refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants from the Middle East and other countries to the nations of Europe.
Turkey has an ancient history and a conglomerate of cultures. The country has witnessed many wars and has played a strategic role in the rise of civilization. Turkey, or major parts of it, has previously been known in turn as Anatolia, Thrace, Phrygia, Media, Lydia and Lycia. Great empires like Assyria, Persia and the Greeks, as well as the Ottomans, have ruled the land.
Some scholars consider that the area that is now Anatolia (which includes today’s European Turkey) is one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world and could well have been a radiating centre for the Indo-European family of languages. Strategic civilizations in this part of the ancient world, such as the Hittites, Hurrians and the Urartu, have a longevity that goes as far back as forty thousand years ago and continue to be studied by scholars of the ancient world.
Indeed, several of the places that remain in my vision for a future visit to Turkey includes Gobekli Tepe, a site that pre-dates Stonehenge by ten millennia and has the oldest known man-made religious structure, a temple dating to 10,000 BCE. As well, there is Catalhoyuk, a very large Neolithic settlement in southern Anatolia (the south-western area of central Turkey) which existed from approximately 7,500 BCE to 5,700 BCE.
Catalhoyuk, otherwise known because of its shape as Fork Hill, is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date and in July, 2012, was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The area is located in the conservative centre of the country, the major city of which is Konya – a quietly and solidly Islamic city of a million people, mosques, muezzins and headscarves. It is also the place to find the Sufis and the whirling dervishes whose spinning form of dance is designed to induce vertigo by which the Absolute can be accessed – often accompanied these days by dinner!
Fork Hill was no religious artifact, no hallowed site, and no village settlement. It was a small city but which had not yet developed the concept of a corridor or a street. It consisted of hundreds of apartments built one on top of the other to form the shape of a pyramid where, for two millennia, thousands of people were born, lived and died. Next to the ancient site an apartment has been created to reflect what the originals would have been like. Fascinating!
Yes, but also enigmatic, for we know relatively little of the people, the Catalites, who inhabited the apartments of Fork Hill. The Catalites weren’t Turkic, Indo-European, Semitic or Sumerian. They came before any of these peoples. Perhaps they came before any agricultural civilization. Were they hunter-gatherers, herders or traders? They pre-dated the domestication of the cow. They had highly-polished stone mirrors and make-up, art – seen in colourful wall mosaics, and religion – probably some form of bull worship (shades of the later Minoan civilisation). They were people who beheaded their dead, put the skulls in the laps of the dead and buried them in the floors of their dwellings. Yes, truly fascinating!
But what else has rotted away without trace under the mound of the collapsed pyramid that is all that is left of Catalhoyuk? Perhaps they had an outlook on life that may change our perception of the development of human civilization. Much remains to be unearthed at Fork Hill.
During our time in Turkey, my wife and I actually visited a third Neolithic site, the well-known settlement of Troy and the story of Helen, Achilles, Paris and the Trojan Horse. However, our visit was hindered by a severe thunder storm with torrential rain. It is a place to be re-visited.
Just as the bustling metropolis of Istanbul, the former Byzantium and Constantinople, straddles the continents of Europe and Asia on either side of the Bosphorus, so Turkey brings together the truly ancient and genuinely modern. From Troy to Gallipoli; from Catalhoyuk to Istanbul, Turkey is the whole of civilization in miniature.
On Armistice Day, 2015, we do well to remind ourselves that we have much in common with the ancients who have gone before and, whilst World War I was not the “war to end all wars”, civilization goes on and has the ongoing opportunity to learn from its mistakes and build on the foundations laid in times past. Fork Hill points forward to the future.