Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday extolled a historic Ottoman army victory over British forces a century ago, during World War I.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the battle of Kut al-Amara, which took place during between the Ottoman Army and British-Indian forces in the town of Kut, now in modern Iraq.
Speaking at an event in Istanbul commemorating the victory’s centenary, Erdogan declared his opposition to versions of history that begin with 1919, the start of the War of Independence that led to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
“I reject an understanding of history that starts our nation’s, our civilization’s millennia of history with 1919,” he said.
Erdogan said that the country’s history stretches back long before the Republican Era and includes past Turkish civilizations.
“Books or libraries would not be enough to tell the richness of the history of such a country,” Erdogan said.
“But what we have done — we have almost tried to cover up our own history with black cloth. We tried to bury our own history,” he said.
“Those who mention our successes in our own past briefly as if they have nothing to do with us or never mention them at all both disrespect our forebears and harm our future generations,” he said.
“Kut al-Amara Victory is a striking example of this,” he added.
Erdogan added that during the siege of Kut al-Amara, Arabs in Kut fought as members of the Ottoman Army and were martyred for the cause.
Speaking at the same event, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Kut al-Amara was an indelible victory.
“The understanding of the Old Turkey did not want to remember this victory — they wanted to forget it systematically, so to speak,” he said.
Davutoglu said that the “epic” victory at Kut al-Amara had served as an “elixir of life” at a time of decline and desperation not only for the Turkish nation, but for all other oppressed nations in the region.
“It gave ‘soul and meaning’ to the Turkish Republic which was to be established following the War of Independence,” he said.
Davutoglu also said that Turks had always obeyed the laws of war, and treated its prisoners in a humane manner.
“It is easy to be polite in times of peace. What is important is to be able to be magnanimous towards those who seek your life in conflict and war zones.
“Today Turkey is treating oppressed people fleeing from war and death in the same manner as it treated prisoners of war — without discriminating against anyone based on their religion, language, ethnicity, identity, or sect,” he said.
This year the victory at Kut al-Amara is being remembered through special events such as an exhibition and a new book with the memoirs of an Ottoman officer.