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Friday, April 24, 2015

Remembering Gallipoli

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well. -- Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, first president of the Republic of Turkey

Tomorrow (April 26) is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, a day that commemorates the tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in the battle of Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915 and early 1916.

The Australian cemetery at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, Turkey
I visited one of the Australian cemeteries (at Lone Pine) during a trip to Turkey last month. I also visited a nearby Turkish military cemetery. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a 100-year-old trench on the Allied side of the road. Although the battle of Gallipoli is pretty much unknown to most Americans, I had heard of it, having watched the Mel Gibson movie 'Gallipoli' many years ago. Still, the magnitude of the carnage has shocked me.

  • The United Kingdom and Ireland suffered 73,486 casualties. 
  • Australia: 28,150. 
  • France, 27,000 dead and wounded. 
  • New Zealand: 7,991. 
  • India 4,4479. 
  • Newfoundland: 142. 
  • Allies: 141,457.
  • Ottoman Empire: 251,309.
  • Total dead: 130,842. 
  • Total wounded: 262,014. 
  • Total casualties on both sides: 392,856

This battle was one of great historic significance, as it laid the groundwork for the Turkish war of
An Ottoman Turkish cemetery at Gallipoli
independence and the creation of the Turkish republic in 1923, led by Mustafa Kamal, a distinguished commander at Gallipoli. It is considered to be one of the greatest Ottoman victories of World War I. It also is reported to mark the birth of the national consciousness of both Australia and New Zealand. So this often overlooked battle was a momentous one, indeed.

I am glad we stopped at the Turkish cemetery. Although the Ottoman Empire, of which the country that was to become Turkey in 1923 was a part, was the enemy of the Allied forces in World War I, and although I don't know Turkish and therefore was unable to read the words on the memorial wall, I didn't need to understand Turkish to read the names engraved on the markers, or to see how young most of the soldiers were. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit these sites, to learn about them first-hand and to pay my respects to some of those who died there. It was a sobering experience even 100 years after the battle that robbed so many of their futures.

What struck me most was the realization that these thousands of young men, no matter their country of origin, left behind families who mourned them. They were somebody's son, husband, brother or father. Turkish, French, Indian or Australian, their families would never see them or talk to them again. Many were buried in unmarked graves, or they were buried at sea. Most were very young.

Nearly 400,000 young men were killed or wounded during the battle of Gallipoli. The Ottoman Turks held onto the land that cost so many lives, and the Allied attempt to defeat the Ottoman Empire failed to knock the empire out of the war. One hundred years later, does this battle really matter?

ANZAC Day is a major holiday in Australia and New Zealand. Groups of Turkish soldiers visited the Turkish cemetery when I was there. Turkey is hosting a high-level commemoration today, attended by Britain's Prince Charles and the president of Turkey, among others. I am saddened by the loss of life, the slaughter, that took place at Gallipoli, but heartened to see that the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought and died in Gallipoli -- on both sides of the battle -- have not been forgotten. May all who fought and died there rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saving Tomorrow

Today is Earth Day, and I would bet our precious Earth is crying.  Image result for clipart of crying earth
Humans are continuing to destroy the only home we have. Rain forests are disappearing, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting at a rapid rate, threatening the survival of polar bears. Poachers are killing elephants and rhinos at a rate far faster than they can reproduce, all so the Asians can have their ivory trinkets and 'magic potions' made of rhino horn (which is made of the same 'magic' substance as fingernails). Fracking is causing an unprecedented number of earthquakes in Oklahoma. The Gulf of Mexico and the animals that live there are still suffering from the massive, 200-million-gallon BP oil spill of five years ago. Air pollution in some major world cities is so bad it threatens the health of inhabitants. The war on apex predators (bears, bobcats, wolves, mountain lions) continues unabated. The use of pesticides and herbicides threatens human health. Monsanto continues to push its genetically modified food products and oppose all efforts to mandate labeling. The Republican-majority Congress continues its attacks on the environment, the Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act, among others. An Alaskan senator introduced legislation to open nearly 21 acres of pristine wilderness to oil and gas drilling, logging and other 'development.'

Fisheries are being overfished and various western states are engaging in land grabs as they try to take control of federal lands so they can sell them to the highest bidder for exploitation. Our oceans are polluted and home to massive islands of plastic debris, most of it dumped overboard from large ships.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are 44,838 species on the IUCN Red List, and 16,938 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. This includes both endangered animals and endangered plants.

On a local level, despite five years of drought in the high desert area where I live, city 'leaders' continue to approve permits to construct housing for some 90,000 new residents, with no apparent concern about where the water for these houses and residents will come from. Undeveloped lands continue to be 'developed', with still more restaurants, businesses and strip malls under construction, adding to the demand for water and to the already congested roads.

The city of Albuquerque just last year provided recycling bins to each household in the city. Why wasn't this done years ago? When I lived in California, recycling was a way of life. Every house had a recycling bin, and everything, including glass and Styrofoam, was accepted. Not here. Nationwide in 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.5 percent recycling rate according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is pretty pathetic for such an 'advanced' and 'educated' nation. I routinely pick up fast food trash and discarded bottles and cans in my neighborhood, often in the same location. This leads me to believe the same people are tossing trash out their car windows on a regular basis.

I know we have made progress since the first Earth Day 45 years ago. Hybrid and electric vehicles are much more common than just a few years ago. Recycling is more accepted than it was.  The fight against coal and other environmentally dangerous fossil fuels is picking up steam.  Solar energy is becoming more affordable. But we still have a long, long way to go to protect our precious planet and try to reverse some of the damage we have caused. Our planet is very resilient, but the damage we humans inflict on our 'blue marble' is too much for Mother Nature. This is the only known habitable planet in the solar system. It behooves us to take better care of our home. We need to start doing a better job of saving tomorrow.

 The Blue Marble

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ancient Lands, Modern Problems

I recently returned from a wonderful, awe-inspiring trip to the Middle East, during which I visited Israel, Jordan and Turkey, and saw some amazing sites and places filled with history. Imagine walking through the ancient city of Troy, which was founded some 3,500 years before the birth of Christ. Or walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, that retraces Christ's route to his crucifixion in Jerusalem's Old City.
Woman at Jerusalem's ancient Western Wall.

View from the Golan Heights.
More impressive than the ancient ruins, however, was the knowledge of the area's geopolitics that was shared with our group by both our Israeli and Jordanian guides. On a visit to Israel's Golan Heights (seized from Syria in the 1967 war), we could see both Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, we heard explosions in Syria as we stood high on the hill near an Israeli army bunker.

Along the shallow Jordan River, we saw both the Israeli baptismal site (very commercialized, with a fee for everything) and the Jordanian baptismal site (left as it was 2,000 years ago, and open to visitors free of charge, although permission to enter must be granted by the Jordanian military as it is a border area). The sites were separated by the river, which was about 12 meters across. Three meters on one side were Israeli, three meters on the other side were Jordanian, and six meters in the middle were international waters. The same countries both border the Dead Sea.

From Israel, we could see the ancient biblical city of Jericho, now part of the Palestinian Authority's lands. We crossed into the city of Bethlehem, now also ruled by the Palestinian Authority, past the
massive white security walls erected by Israel to protect its citizens from attacks by Palestinian terrorists. Our visit to the Church of the Nativity, which was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Christ, was led by a Palestinian Christian. He is a graduate of Bethlehem Bible College. We ate lunch in a Palestinian restaurant, then we visited a local gift shop run by a Palestinian Christian family. Understandably, tour guides and similar positions are predominantly Christians, not Muslims. Our bus driver, an Israeli citizen, had to wait with the bus and was limited to only 3 hours in Palestine.

Hearing about the complicated history and political and religious divisiveness of this ancient land deepened my knowledge of the conflicts but did little to help me understand the ongoing hostilities. Jordan, one of the Arab countries that fought against Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, now has a good relationship with its Jewish neighbor. Our Israeli guide pointed out areas captured from Arab countries during the war: the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. We saw new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, an area whose ownership remains highly contested.

Building in the city of Tzfat with bullet holes from the 1967 war.
We passed buildings pock-marked by bullet holes during the war. We heard about how the Golan Heights are still considered under international law to be occupied territory, and we saw the remnants of Syrian bunkers as we drove to the overlook. We passed a group of Israeli tanks in a wooded area practicing military maneuvers.

A visit to a kibbutz revealed signs warning of live mines, placed in years past as defense
against possible invaders from Lebanon. Israel is not at war at the moment, but the evidence of past wars, and preparations for any future needed military actions, are never far away.

One final thought: hearing about happenings in the Middle East on the news is one thing. Visiting the countries and seeing how small some of the areas are, and how much border area they share, presents an entirely different view of things. I better understand the fragile nature of peace in the area, as evidenced by the ubiquitous Israeli military and police. All Israeli citizens must serve in the military at age 18, men for three years and women for two years. In Jordan, a member of the tourist police accompanied us every day. Several people have asked whether it was safe to visit those countries. I always answer with an unequivocal 'yes.' At no time did I feel threatened or in danger. All our hotels had security, which ranged from someone staffing the front door to an x-ray machine that scanned each person and their luggage.

I would encourage anyone interested in ancient history and modern geopolitics to visit these fascinating countries. Not only did it make the religious stories I learned as a child in Sunday school come alive, but it gave me a real appreciation for the area as a whole.