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Kevin Myers: The peoples of Turkey and Ireland both suffered from the war-mongering of Winston Churchill

The President's blunder over the mythical tales of food shipments to Ireland from the Ottoman Empire is relatively unimportant; it's what happens when goodwill outruns common sense.

It's also a useful example of how an anecdote exists simply because it suits the current needs of the teller. Last week it was time to be nice to the Turks, but without losing any British friends in the process. So what Mary McAleese did not say, and what the Turks would probably have preferred her not to, was the inconvenient truth, as in the following speech:

'The peoples of Turkey and of Ireland have much in common; both suffered around the time of the Gallipoli invasion from the war-mongering belligerence of Winston Churchill. It was he who peremptorily ordered the confiscation of two battleships, the 'Sultan Osman I' and 'Reshadieh' that were building in Tyneside shipyards, in 1914, for the Ottoman Empire.

This caused immense and understandable anger amongst the people of Turkey, who had raised the money for them by public subscription. On the very morning of the formal handover, in a fairly typical gesture of needlessly insulting melodrama, Churchill sent in British soldiers -- Sherwood Foresters, with fixed-bayonets -- to seize the battleships in their shipyards. No single deed did more to propel the Ottoman Empire into the arms of the Kaiser -- who promptly responded by giving the Ottomans two battleships to compensate them for their loss.

The resulting war between the Ottoman empire and the Anglo-French Entente was a tragic turning point in world history. For the Ottomans alone had the sophistication and the knowledge to govern some of the most difficult and complex parts of their empire. To our ears today, they sound like the headlines on a very bad morning: Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait.

How much better for the world had that belligerent egomaniac Churchill not propelled the Ottomans into the arms of the Kaiser, and to war. This strategic calamity was followed by Churchill's folly of executing military operations against the Gallipoli Peninsula, which could not possibly have succeeded.

The squandering of so much Irish blood in an imperialist war that few Irish families could empathise with -- for was this not a war for Belgium and other small nations? -- had a profound effect on the leaders of a tiny group of republicans in Ireland. To them, a continued association with Britain could only mean that Irishmen would continue to be cynically used for future imperialistic wars.

Of course, these republicans were in their own way mad, and so, in a truly insane and quite immoral pact, threw in their lot with the Kaiser, whom they even called 'our gallant ally'.

I should remind you here that 'our gallant ally' had conquered and subdued Namibia and Tanganyika by methods even more barbarous than those of the British in taking their own African empire. These were foolish times of course, and only an idiot today would look back to the bloodshed of these years with pride.

I am happy to say that in Ireland, we have put the 1916 Rising well behind us, and we refer to it merely as an example of the sorry lunacy that can seize the souls of otherwise good men, when madness becomes fashionable. So, at least some of the seeds of the 1916 Rising were sown in the Dardanelles. It was a cruel paradox that the first regiment to arrive from Britain to put down the Rising were the Sherwood Foresters -- who, if you remember, had been used to 'secure' the Turkish battleships, the seizure of which had helped propel the Ottomans to war in the first place.

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Winston Churchill's terrible impact on Turkish history continued well after 1915. For once the Great War had ended, he urged Greek attacks on your sovereign territory, and upon your new republic, formed by that great national hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Would that we ever had a leader so single-mindedly dedicated to the principles of secular democracy!).

At around the same time, either as British secretary of state for war, or as secretary of state for the colonies -- for he was successively both -- Churchill was responsible for ordering savage military reprisals against civilians in post-Ottoman Mesopotamia, or Iraq as we now call it, which had become one of the British imperial-spoils of war.

The consequences live with us still. Alas, we cannot accuse Churchill of lethargy at this time, for it was he who proposed the formation of a new counter-terror police force in Ireland, known generically as the Black and Tans.

Yes, in the loathsome figure of Winston Churchill -- an imperialistic war-monger and egotistical bully -- the Turkish and Irish peoples are united by a common and imperishable loathing.'

Now, through some inexplicable oversight, the Department of Foreign Affairs did not give this speech of mine for the President to make at Gallipoli. Why not? The British tabloid headlines the next day would have been the purest joy to read.

And as for the President's comments about Turkey's proposed membership of the EU, which have clearly vexed many of you, more tomorrow.

kmyers@independent.ie


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