Invoking the 'Spirit of Gallipoli': The Historical Underpinnings of Conflicting Visual Representations of the First World War in Contemporary Turkey

By Pheroze Unwalla
Submitted to Session P3504 (Towards the Centennial-WWI in the Middle East--Visual Media and the Great War (1914-1918), 2013 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Middle East/Near East Studies; Nationalism; Pop Culture; Transnationalism; Turkish Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Visual representations of the First World War in present-day Turkey are pervasive but partial in their depictions of the first total war. The overwhelming emphasis on the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli shrouds other First World War events in which Turks and other former Ottoman subjects participated. Nonetheless, the First World War (WWI), as visually represented by Gallipoli is ubiquitous in Turkey today. Spanning across media from film and television to high and low literature to photography and artwork, it has become a true cultural phenomenon whose ‘Spirit of Gallipoli’ (C*anakkale Ruhu) is invoked by diverse Turkish actors at state and grassroots levels with varied motivations and aims.

More than being a mere Turkish phenomenon, that spirit has gone ‘global.’ Always a symbol of Australian and New Zealand national birth and nationalism, the ‘Spirit of Gallipoli’ has in recent decades and with ever-increasing celebrity been framed by certain Turkish officials and citizens as a sensation around which nations – Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand, in particular – can coalesce to both reconcile and draw attention to the horror and senselessness of war in general and WWI in particular. Consequently, in the great range of Gallipoli-based visual representations in Turkey today, one can observe a distinct antagonism between, on the one hand, Turkish state and grassroots transnational reconciliatory depictions spurred as much by the quest for tourist dollars as genuine reconciliation between WWI foes and, on the other, less prevalent grassroots ultra-nationalist anti-foreign imagery stimulated by historical enmity as well as present Turkish sovereignty concerns, and for which the ‘Spirit of Gallipoli’ is primarily a marker of Turkish eminence.

Using Turkish and British archival documents and newspapers in conjunction with recent Turkish films, comics, and YouTube videos, this paper will establish why Gallipoli has come to dominate at the expense of other WWI battles in Turkey, and will explore the sometimes overlapping but often divergent historical underpinnings of conflicting present-day Turkish visual representations of the battle. Finally, I will argue that despite the primarily visual nature of the representations under discussion, audience consideration as often exhibited and determined by language choice (Turkish or English) provides an important barrier behind which alternative Turkish conceptualizations of WWI more hostile to foreigners can exist and even thrive without disrupting or devaluing meaningful and profitable globally-shared visual representations of the First World War as an ultimately reconciliatory event.