Ottoman military graveyard found on Greek island off Gallipoli

Ottoman military graveyard found on Greek island off Gallipoli

Ottoman military graveyard found on Greek island off Gallipoli

Hürriyet photo

Days before the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Gallipoli Campaign, Ankara has discovered a military graveyard for Ottoman soldiers on a Greek island where Turkish and Egyptian soldiers were buried by British forces.

Britain, the leader of the multinational invasion attempt on the Ottoman peninsula of Gallipoli in 1915, had chosen the nearby Aegean island of Lemnos as a military logistics base.

A hundred years after the campaign ended with a Turkish victory, Ambassador Kerim Uras recently discovered during a visit that the island had also a military graveyard for the Ottoman soldiers who died in the war.

Winston Churchill, who planned the Allied invasion as Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, had set up his headquarters and lived for two months at the village of Portianou in Lemnos. 

The island now has three cemeteries for those who fell during the Gallipoli campaign. Until recently, Ankara knew about only two of them: The first one for the 352 Allied soldiers in Portianou and the second one for the 148 Australian and 76 New Zealander soldiers in the town of Moudros, where the Allied forces signed an armistice with the Ottoman Empire, which ultimately lost World War I.

First Turkish diplomat to visit in 97 years

Uras recently became the first Turkish diplomat to visit Lemnos after Ottoman Minister of Marine Affairs Rauf Bey, who signed the Armistice of Moudros in 1918. Uras discovered the existence of the Muslim cemetery on behalf of Ankara, thanks to local Greek officials who pointed to it during the visit.

A granite monument marks the Muslim cemetery of Lemnos, which was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Two of the three placards on the monument inform visitors in English that 170 Egyptian and 56 Turkish soldiers were buried here. The third placard presents the information in Arabic.

Ottoman military graveyard found on Greek island off Gallipoli

The name of the soldiers who were buried here are currently unknown, but it is thought that they were among the 715 Ottoman prisoners who were kept in Lemnos and died between 1917 and 1919.

Turkish army launches study on archives

Turkey’s General Staff commenced a study of its archives following the discovery. Ankara also asked Greek authorities to restore the graveyard, turn it into a “martyr’s memorial” and help identify the late soldiers.

There are Turkish military graveyards in at least three more Greek islands. As the successor of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s Defense Ministry keeps a large number of overseas military graveyards from Estonia to Myanmar.

The status of Lemnos is still controversial as Turkey and Greece disagree with each other’s interpretation of international law. Turkey cites the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 to demand the demilitarization of Lemnos, but Greece argues that the Montreux Treaty of 1936 gives itself the right to position troops and arms on the island.

Greece has also been insisting for years on including its troops on Lemnos in NATO military exercises. As Ankara has persistently vetoed this proposal, Athens has continued to withdraw from NATO exercises in the Aegean Sea.