Tuesday, 24 April 2018 21:35

A Brief Consideration of Gallipoli and its Hellenic Connection

As Australia commemorates ANZAC Day, it is appropriate to briefly remember Gallipoli’s Hellenic links. The disastrous Gallipoli campaign, which commenced on 25 April 1915 as an attempt to seize the Dardanelles and open a sea route to Constantinople (Istanbul) to enable Britain to establish a southern front against her enemies and alleviate Russia’s southern supply problems by knocking Turkey out of the Great War, is regarded by many as a turning point for Australia: Our young nation’s “baptism by fire”. For most Australians it conjures up images of bravery, mateship and honour; not to mention death, destruction and sacrifice.

To the Turks, the Gallipoli campaign is considered a defining moment for Kemal Ataturk and modern Turkey as the foreign invaders were repelled. For the British, it is another example of poor decision-making while running a war from a room/bunker in London. For the people of Lemnos (about which I have written elsewhere), it is the hospital, recreation site and base for the Allied campaign of 1915.

Gallipoli is derived from the Greek term, kali poli: good town. In Turkish, it is known as Gelibolu, which is a play on the Greek name. Gallipoli was settled in the 600s BC by Ionian and Aeolian settlers. Twelve towns were established on the peninsula of the Hellespont, the body of water now called the Dardenelles (another Greek link with Dardanus being an ancient Hellenic polis on the Asian shore of the strait, which in turn took its name from Dardanus, a son of Zeus and Electra.) Not far from Gallipoli, at Aegospotami, the Spartan commander Lysander defeated Athenian forces in 405BC bringing an end to the Great Peloponnesian War. The Hellenic character of the region did not change much over 2,600 years. What did change was who controlled the area. Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans have all claimed the peninsula.

During the Balkans War of 1912-13, Bulgarian forces unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge the Ottomans from the area. Greek settlements suffered because of this conflict. Nevertheless, there were still approximately 32,000 Greeks living on the Gallipoli peninsula at the outbreak of the First World War. When the British and Allies invaded Gallipoli in 1915, local Greek inhabitants faced persecution, deportation and relocation. Many Hellenes, however, volunteered and fought for the Allies during the Gallipoli campaign. Some historians identify over 300 Hellenic volunteers who fought under Cretan leadership. There were a further 13 Greeks who fought as part of the Australian contingent at Gallipoli.

On 30 October 1918, at Mudros on Lemnos, the Allies signed an agreement (the Treaty of Mudros) with the Ottomans, aboard HMS Agamemnon, ending the war. This agreement gave the Allies access and occupation of key towns and ports in the area including Gallipoli. However, the defeat of Greece’s army in the Asia Minor War of 1922 ended the last vestiges of a Hellenic presence at Gallipoli and its surrounds.

Map: Charles Bean Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Melbourne, 1924.


Dr John N Yiannakis

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