Anzac and Armenia

As the 25th of April approaches, Australian attention is focused on Anzac Day, the anniversary of the disastrous landings at Gallipoli. But the rest of the world is looking at another, even more horrific, and closely related anniversary. On 24 April 1915, as the invasion fleet of which the Anzacs were part approached, the Turkish government began arresting Armenian leaders and intellectuals, the first step in a genocidal campaign which owuld ultimately claim at least a million lives.

The two events were closely related. Both as Christians and as an ethnic minority with a large population in Russia, the Armenians were seen by the Turkish regime as potential traitors. The genocidal policy aimed to reduce Armenian numbers to a point where they could not pose a threat. The imminence of the Gallipoli landings led the regime to put its plans into action. There’s more detail here

It’s reported that President Biden will use the anniversary to declare the murder of the Armenians as genocide, ending decades of equivocation by the US. Among many other consequences, it seems likely that the 24 April anniversary will be more prominently observed in future, casting a shadow over Anzac Day.

The primary moral responsibility for the Armenian genocide belongs to those who ordered it and carried it out, and further guilty attaches to those who have sought to deny it.

But what of the leaders who started and continued the Great War? The German leaders who induced Turkey to enter the war, and did nothing to stop the genocide have their share of guilt. But so do the Russian rulers who sought for decades to break up the Ottoman empire, in particular by presenting themselves as the protectors of Christianity. And the other Entente powers, Britain and France chose to ally themselves with the Czarist regime (in fact, Britain rejected an offer of alliance made by Turkey a few years before the War broke out).

Choosing to go to war means choosing the consequences. While it’s impossible to know in detail what those consequences will be, they will take the form of death and suffering, both for civilians and for soldiers who bear no responsibility for the decision to send them to war.

As we remember the bravery and sacrifice of the Anzacs, we should also remember the futility of the cause in which they fought, and the disasters that ensued, beginning with the Armenians and extending all the way to the rise of even more genocidal rulers, Hitler and Stalin.


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Comments much appreciated. Happy for anyone to raise nitpicking points about typos. There are always plenty in my work, and even more when I’m in a rush. Of course, substantive criticism is always welcome and praise even more so.

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