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Canakkale Martyrs' Monument

Famagusta, North Cyprus

The Canakkle Martyrs' monument, Famagusta
The Canakkale Martyrs' Monument

Canakkale is a town on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles, and is the name by which the Turkish know the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War.

The battle is seen as significant in Turkey. It was a final defence of the Ottoman Empire, and laid the foundations for the Turkish War of Independence, under the leadership of Ataturk, himself one of the senior commanders at Gallipoli.

In 1915, the supply routes to Russia through Europe were effectively closed. The only alternative was through the Black Sea, but that had also been closed when the Ottoman Empire had joined the Central Powers in October 1914..

The allies, therefore, decided to take Istanbul, in order to protect the sea route to Russia, and on the 18th March a naval bombardment was launched, targeting the Dardanelles, where the straights are just a mile wide.

The Canakkle Martys' graves
Canakkale Martyrs' Graves

This attack was repulsed by an unexpectedly strong force, and the allies were forced to retreat, realising that naval forces alone would not defeat the Ottomans. This laid the grounds for the disastrous Gallipoli landings a month later. By the end of the campaign, which lasted for nearly a year, the allies had over 141,000 soldiers killed and wounded, while the Ottomans had 195,000.

As Britain had annexed Cyprus when the Ottomans joined the central powers in 1914, they soon found a use for the island as a prisoner of war camp. Around 2000 Ottomans were held near Famagusta, many of them captured in the Dardanelles, and shipped there in 1916.

Conditions in the camps were harsh. Food was poor, and contemporary accounts tell of the prisoners going barefoot with torn clothes. Some 217 Turkish POWs died while in detention, some from the bad conditions, and some were shot while trying to escape.

These soldiers are known as the Canakkale Martyrs, as they were captured during the Canakkale Campaign. In the cemetery in Famagusta there is a memorial to them. Thirty three are in  individual graves, with the remaining 184 being in one mass grave.

Of the surviving POWs, some elected to remain in Cyprus, while others were repatriated to Turkey in 1920.


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