The Forgotten Arabs


January 8 marked the anniversary of the end of the Gallipoli campaign during World War I, and Al-Jazeera's English-language website has an interesting story on the forgotten Arabs fighting in Turkish ranks.

?The Arabs are not mentioned much in the history,? says Selim Meric, a member of the historical society of the town of Eceabat, located close to the old battlefields…

?It is only in diaries of the time that you find reference to them. They have been forgotten.?

Why is this interesting? First, because, as a Turkish historian points out: "With an estimated 300,000 Arabs in the Ottoman forces in 1914, a third of the total men under arms, there were far more Arabs serving in the ranks of the Ottoman army than those who followed the banners of the Arab revolt."

Indeed, thanks to David Lean and Peter O'Toole, the Arabs were long associated in popular culture almost solely with the rebellion against the Ottomans in the Arabian peninsula, when the reality was far more complex: Istanbul was until the empire's end the Middle East's Gotham, and to this day the scions of old notable Arab families can be called upon to mutter words in Turkish.

Second, because it is never pleasant to see people airbrushed out of their own history. The Arabs not only fought under often brutal constraints, they were instrumental in defending Gallipoli, and the Ottoman Empire, thanks to their role in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's 19th Division that twice thwarted Allied attacks.

?Two thirds of the troops who made up his 19th Division that faced the first wave of the Allied invasion were Syrian Arabs, comprising the 72nd and 77th regiments of the Ottoman army,? says Turkey-based Australian writer and historian Bill Sellars.