For Turkey, WW1 anniversary evokes memories of the defeat

Throughout Europe, commemorations are held on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. But in Turkey the event is almost ignored.

The Ottoman Empire, which preceded modern Turkey, was an important ally of Germany in the First World War and Turkey does not hold official commemorations celebrating the turn of the century from the end of hostilities.

Nowadays cargo ships from all over the world are entering Istanbul, but a century ago it was Allied warships that occupied the waters around the then Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire in its last days.

FILE – In this file photo of 1915, a Turkish soldier targets British troops, while another carefully watches from a trench in Gallipoli, Turkey.

The powerful expression of power was one of the most visible images of the humiliating defeat of the Ottomans, a time that Turkey still wants to forget.

"We prefer not to commemorate the beginning and the end of the First World War," said Serhat Guvenc, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. "It is not considered an event, a development that brought the country good luck."

It is not only the humiliation of Istanbul's occupation, along with much of the country by French, British, Greek and Italian troops that today evokes these sentiments. The defeat marked the end of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of vast parts of the territory to the British and the French, which eventually became modern Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"We have many old problems, remains from the First World War still affect Turkish politics, Turkish culture – the trauma of losing an empire," said Guvenc.

"I'm sure you've heard the term Sevres syndrome – the fear of losing the country, the fear of hostile encroachment, etc." So it continues to shape, it haunts the audience – the fear of losing the homeland. "

Photo taken on October 28, 2018 shows a Turkish photo taken on October 28, 2018 shows a Turkish woman taking a selfie for a poster of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey, in Bodrum, Turkey, a day for thousands of army officers, soldiers, teachers, politicians, including the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits his mausoleum on the Republic Day in Ankara.

Photo taken on October 28, 2018 shows a Turkish photo taken on October 28, 2018 shows a Turkish woman taking a selfie for a poster of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey, in Bodrum, Turkey, a day for thousands of army officers, soldiers, teachers, politicians, including the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits his mausoleum on the Republic Day in Ankara.

Turks learn at school how Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, defeated the allied forces after the First World War. The victory prevented a much more serious loss of territory demanded by the victorious powers under the Sevres Convention.

After Atatürk's military success, the more equitable treaty of Lausanne Sevres replaced in 1923, guaranteeing the continued existence of Turkey as a nation.

Guvenc suggests that the events of a century ago still resonate, because Turkey escaped the Second World War.

"Most European countries involved in the First World War, their political culture was shaped by what happened in the Second World War," he said. "Fortunately, however, Turkey remained out of the war, [and] has not experienced fascism, the totalitarian experience of other countries, the genocide, etc. "

But historians say that there have been other consequences, including the rise of nationalism in recent years.

"In terms of political culture, we have lagged behind the rest of the European countries," said Guvenc. "In some ways, the excessive emphasis of nationalism in Turkey is a legacy of the First World War."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose roots lie in Islam and nationalism, has revived in nostalgia for the country's Ottoman past and re-igniting memories of lost land.

Ottoman military brass bands are a familiar sight throughout Turkey, as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nostalgic trend in Turkey's Ottoman past, reviving memories of lost land. (D. Jones for VOA)

Ottoman military brass bands are a familiar sight throughout Turkey, as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nostalgic trend in Turkey's Ottoman past, reviving memories of lost land. (D. Jones for VOA)

The current turmoil in neighboring Syria and Iraq, the former Ottoman territories, is now seen by some in Turkey as an opportunity to restore what its leaders see as historical injustice.

"Today the Middle East is in turmoil, so there is even a change of borders," said former Turkish top diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in the region.

FILE - Turkey-backed free Syrian army fighters continue in the village of Der Mismis in south-eastern Afrin, Syria, March 13, 2018. Turkish troops and related opposition Syrian fighters have intensified attacks on the Syrian-affected Kurdish city of Afrin.

FILE – Turkey-backed free Syrian army fighters continue in the village of Der Mismis in south-eastern Afrin, Syria, March 13, 2018. Turkish troops and related opposition Syrian fighters have intensified attacks on the Syrian-affected Kurdish city of Afrin.

"So Turkey sees an opening there to re-adjust these grievances made after the First World War, bend its muscles and take back what is Turkey," Selcen said. "But it's a long shot, even this is not on the cards." Certainly, Turkey is looking for more influence in its near foreign region. [Turkish] Republican history is present in the Middle East. "

The strongest example is the presence of the Turkish army, both in Iraq and in Syria.

Turkey continues to strengthen its forces in Syria. A wide area of ​​Syrian territory is under Turkish control as part of a war against Islamic State and the YPG Kurdish militia which Ankara regards as terrorists.

FILE - Turkish troops take control of the Bursayah hill, which separates the Afrin separated from the Turkish-controlled city of Azaz, Syria, January 28, 2018, by the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

FILE – Turkish troops take control of the Bursayah hill, which separates the Afrin separated from the Turkish-controlled city of Azaz, Syria, January 28, 2018, by the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Earlier this month, Erdogan warned of a new major military operation against Kurdish YPG militias that would extend Turkey's control on Syrian territory.

With Turkish troops controlling the Syrian territory that was part of the Ottoman empire, the question arises: Ankara draws on unfinished business going back to the First World War.

"The authoritarian rulers (in the Middle East) will certainly worry [about Ankara’s intentions], "Said Guvenc." The Turkish desire to have a voice in the former Ottoman areas can go down, get on a chord with some of these people, "he said.

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