Although “History is written by the victors” sounds like a cliche statement, it also expresses a deep reality. Had we won World War I, we would be reading in school textbooks that the Çanakkale victory was won by Enver Pasha. Whereas Republic-era books are zealous to attribute the same victory to Lt. Col. (later Col.) Mustafa Kemal Bey. Meanwhile, the victory of the Siege of Kut and its heroes are almost forgotten in our textbooks. But if we had won World War I, our current books would have been filled with praises for Halil (Kut) Pasha, similar to those for Mustafa Kemal Pasha – the founding father of the Republic of Turkey.
In brief, to put it in Ernest Renan's words: “Getting history wrong is part of being a nation.” When becoming established, nation-states redesign history in a way that will justify their own foundation, and eliminate all contradictory elements like couch grass. The desire for a sterile history is an integral part of nation-states.
I will continue to emphasize: The Çanakkale victory did not only boost the morale of the Ottoman army, it also gave them the confidence and faith that they could defeat the entire world. Toward the end of 1915, Nureddin Pasha defeated the British army in the Battle of Ctesiphon, and Mjr. Gen. Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend's army, which was surrounded in the Siege of Kut, was captured in late April by Halil Pasha together with all their arms.
Thus, in April 1916 we showed them that we continued to defeat the British in war. The enforcement of Sykes-Picot the following month showed that those who could not defeat the Ottoman forces on the ground and who left the battlefield disgraced at every attempt, were trying to achieve their goal through treachery and by leaving enemy lands open for prey. In other words, Sykes-Picot, which is a secret agreement signed between the U.K., France and Russia (Russia falls out of the equation the following year), is a testimony of treachery that was put into effect after the defeat in the Siege of Kut.
It is now 1917. A short while later we win a victory in the Gaza front against the British who take Baghdad in the Iraq front in March. This is followed the next month with a second Gaza victory. In other words, the Ottoman army was still very well coordinated – as stated by Edward Erikson – and capable of successful application of modern war tactics.
We continued to say “we are here” in the battle fields, right until our ultimate smackdown in the Nablus front. We had shown the world who we were in Çanakkale and how we fought, and we would do so for some time more.
They saw us in Çanakkale
Falih Rıfkı Atay's book “Zeytin Dağı” (Olive Mountain) tells us about the Gaza battles through the diary of an eyewitness.
After talking about how the British who attacked from land bombed poor Gaza with ships from the sea and caused great damage to the city, he tells us about a regiment that displayed incredible resistance. According to Atay, this regiment saved Gaza against forces that were at least four-five times greater than their own.
One of his friends, who visited the wounded that had returned to Jerusalem from the insane Gaza battles where incessant cannonballs and iron were rained on them from British ships and cannons, asked one of our soldiers:
- Do you think they will come again?
The soldier, responded quite confidently:
- No, sir… [Because] they saw our troops.
With these words, the soldier was referring to how the regiment that fought in Çanakkale had made life unbearable for the British in Gaza as well.
Our soldiers' morale was so high that when they entered a trench vacated by the British and took food as booty, they did not like the taste and said, “Their [state] has worsened too. Their food in Çanakkale was much tastier.”
After mentioning the heroism of our soldiers and observers watching the enemy from Mantar Peak, where the tomb of Sheikh Ali Mantar is located, in his narration of another incident from the second Gaza battle, Atay whispers an unknown truth into the ears of history: “They truly are the greatest heroes of the Gaza days.”
In a diary entry dated April 19, 1917, a commissioned officer tells us about what a heroic soldier from the also heroic 11th squadron did. This is the legend of the Mehmetçik – the name given to Turkish soldiers – who saw the bomb that fell in front of the trench but did not explode:
“A soldier who saw the incident jumped out of the trench, grabbed the dangerous bomb from its handle and threw it over his shoulder. Then, he leaped over the trenches under the relentless firing of the British, and through a shortcut he reached the artillery. This time the bomb had found its true target.”
This is one of the memories we left on Gaza territory, of a Mehmetçik, who shouldered a bomb that had not exploded, took it next to the enemy artillery and blasted it there. Hence, Rıfkı says, “History does not write the names of such heroes, but those who witnessed the last day of the second Battle of Gaza could never forget the 11th squadron.”
But we forgot it…
We are like the elderly trying to remember these legends with our wounded memories. But we will resist against forgetting them. Because the only way to take revenge from the history written by the victors is through remembering these legends all over again.
Meanwhile, British Gen. Sir Archibald Murray, who was defeated once more by the Ottomans in the Battle of Gaza, sent a false report to London. Murray, who in reality, attacked with forces four-five times stronger than the Ottomans but had a higher number of casualties, wrote that the Turks had between 6,000 to 7,000 casualties while theirs was under 2,500. The British had won the war. Of course British newspapers that were desperate for good news jumped at these lies. Supposedly they had won!
Yet the British soldiers at the front had a better view of the reality. Hence, Commissioned Officer Briscoe Moore wrote that a note was thrown out of a Turkish jet flying over them and it said:
“You cut off our communication, but we defeated you in Gaza” (Eugen Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans,” Allen Lane: 2015, pp 328-9).