Sunday, October 18, 2009


Last week, I accompanied the 11th graders on their classtrip to the World War I memorial site of Gallipoli. It was a 10 hour bus ride each way, with one day spent touring Gallipoli with a professional tourguide and 1 day touring the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. The Gallipoli peninsula is about 60 km long and 4-18 km wide, and despite the carnage it witnessed in 1915, now consists of beautiful green rolling country and thick scrub or pine forest, all overlooking the Dardanelles Strait, the narrow body of water connecting the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara.

This trip was very important to our students as it is the site of a very important defeat of the Allied forces by the Turks. It is also where a then-unknown lieutenant-colonel, Mustafa Kemal, rose to fame, and later became Ataturk, the founder of the presentday Turkish Republic.

Some history: Soon after the start of WWI, Winston Churchill thought the quickest way to emliminate Ottoman Turkey in order to open a Balkan front against the Central Powers, was to force the Dardanelles with a fleet and bombard Istanbul into submission. Churchill wanted to knock Turkey out of the war first in order to weaken Germany, while simultaneously exciting anti-Turkish sentiments in Bulgaria and bringing Bulgaria into the war. A combined Anglo-French armada made several attempts throughout 1914-1915 on the straits, and had to retreat several times. Finally, they regrouped for several months, and in the meantime, the Turks were able to stengthen their defenses and increase their supplies. The Gallipoli Campaign eventualy formulated as a simultaneous Anglo-French landing at several of the bays while the ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) assaulted Kabatepe beach 13 km north of them. The two forces were to then drive towards each other. The ANZAC troops landed first at dawn on April 25, 1915 (now known as ANZAC Day), but the scheme ran into trouble right away. The Anglo-French brigade were held down by Turkish fire for several days and were not able to advance more than 6.5 km inland. The ANZAC troops, due to a drifting signal buoy, landed at the wrong bay, a cramped and Turkish-dominated cove. 2000 ANZAC troops died on the first day alone. They advanced inland in staggered parties. The next day, Ataturk made his famous speech to his troops, "I do not order you to fight. I order you to die," and amazingly it worked; the ANZAC troops were halted. Both sides then settled into long-term trench warfares; sometimes trenches were no more than 12 meters from each other. The soldiers were caught in these trenches throughout the hot humid summer months and into the winter. Finally, on Christmas in 1915, the Allied troops gave up, and Churchill's career temporarilty eclipsed while Ataturk's took off. Allied deaths were around 52,000 (1/2 of the men) while incomplete records estimate the Turkish casualties to be somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000. 10,000 ANZACS were killed in Gallipoli, and a total of 60,000 were killed in the entire war, which is a staggering number considering the small populations of New Zealand and Australia.

The memorial site itself consisted of many cemeteries, some with symbolic graves, a Turkish memorial building, a very small museum consisting of letters, photos, guns, and bones, and a beautiful landscape. The site made tribute to all involved in the battle, especially Turks and ANZACs, and some rather touching plaques commemorated the brotherhood that now exhists between the ANZACs and the Turks.

Our students were deeply moved at certain sites, several of them even crying. It is a very important part of their history, and they were very moved by the fact that almost all of the soldiers buried in the cemeteries were their age when they died.

Since it was a school trip, the Turkish Social Studies teacher, Hakan, and I designed assignments based on Gallipoli. My A1 students (higher level-English) were on a hunt for figurative language and its effects; they also were seeking an experience that related to the quote: "Poetry is that which is lost in translation." My A2 students were on a hunt for one visual object (photo, painting, sculpture), and one text-based object (plaque), to analyze its parts in terms of media literacy and determining whether the media text qualifies as argument, persuasion, or propaganda. I completed each of these assignments with my students, and will include below some of my findings.

Firstly, here are some examples of figurative language:

Secondly, the experience I found that supports the quote, "Poetry is that which is lost in translation," involves the transformation of Gallipoli from grim battlefield of trench disease and carnage to a breathtaking landscape with peaceful, touching commemorative plaques. Humans pay tribute to lives lost in war by translating their massive casualties and bloody battlefields into beautiful, reflective parks: the complete opposite of the original battlefield. That which is lost in such a translation is the "poetry" of war. Because the experience is so hard to translate into words, the resulting understanding is a feeling, a heavy weight in your heart, and it is this pressing feeling that war poets use figurative language to try to portray.

Something you would never see in an American war museum:

The kids:

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