A hundred years ago in April 1915, an invasion force composed British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula located between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles. The objective of the invasion was to knock the Ottoman Empire quickly out of the war. The Allied politicians and generals expected the operation to be of short duration, it was to be the decisive strike hastening the end of the war. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was quoted as saying: “A good army of 50,000 men and sea power –that is the end of the Turkish menace. ”
As the campaign slipped into stalemate, it turned out to be one of the big Allied failures of World War I. It became another of the war’s frontline maze of trenches in which men met sudden death. When the Allied troops were withdrawn in January 1916, the number of killed or wounded totaled around 180,000. Ottoman losses are estimated at 253,000. The British, encumbered by their attitude of superiority, had grossly underestimated the enemy. Instead of being easy to beat, the Ottoman soldiers fought with tenacity. Poor planning by Allied commanders contributed to the failure, resulting in inadequate logistical support, a shortage of hospital ships and medical staff.
The Allied generals issued orders from the safety of the beach or ships. On the opposing side, Mustafa Kemal, an Ottoman division commander, was gaining a reputation for being willing to risk his life. He was often found in the trenches with his men. Later in the war, he would serve in positions in what is now Syria. He was said to be the only Turkish general who never suffered defeat.
Although victorious at Gallipoli, the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the war, some of its territory taken over by the British and French. In the chaotic aftermath, Kamal who later took the name Ataturk, opted for complete Turkish independence. Establishing a provisional government at Ankara, he resisted the Allies. He led the Turks in a conflict with Greece, winning back lost territory. By 1923, his goal was achieved. The Treaty of Lausanne put the final touches on the establishment of contemporary Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the former army officer, turned himself into a reformist statesman. He became the first president of Turkey, in power from 1923 to 1938. He transformed the country into a secular nation-state, making Turkey a republic. His government built schools, established free primary education and introduced economic reforms. Women were granted equal civil and political rights. He put an end to the Caliphate. In 1924, the Sharia courts were abolished. Ataturk separated government from religion. Religion was no longer an instrument to be used by those wielding political power.
Memories of the grand days of bygone caliphates are deeply rooted in the culture of Islamic societies. These historical recollections are now being cunningly manipulated by Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, the spiritual and political leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). ISIS has gained control of a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq, dominating a population of approximately two million. Baghdadi is using the Syrian city of Raqqa as the capital of his new caliphate.
Baghdadi was captured by American forces in Fallujah in 2004 and held in a prison in southern Iraq. At some point during the transition to Iraqi control, he was released by Iraqi civilian authorities. In 2014, Baghdadi made his movement independent from al-Qaeda. He presides over a ruthless enterprise that burns, beheads and massacres captured soldiers and prisoners. Christians have been ordered to convert, pay extortion fees or be killed. Women have been raped and sold into slavery. Baghdadi has stated that he wants to destroy nationalism and democracy. He has called for volcanoes of jihad to erupt everywhere.
Despite its extreme violence, the goal of caliphate restoration continues to attract alienated Muslims to the ISIS ranks. While ISIS is causing mayhem, it is also a symptom of the smoldering dissatisfaction fed by sect rivalries, the lack of opportunity in economically stagnant or failing states. In today’s fragmented regional environment, many of Ataturk’s policies seem as valid as they were in the turbulent days following World War I.