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The Battle of Gallipoli and the Vatican's Secret Archives

2015-04-25

It was one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. For the Ottoman empire, the nine month battle of Gallipoli was a victory because it prevented the fall of the capitol. But in the end, it claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Turkey and abroad. April 25th, 2015 marks the centennial of this deadly battle. 

JOHN MCCARTHY
Australian Ambassador to the Holy See
"From Australia, New Zealand, France, Britain and Ireland came anguished messages from families and friends-where is our son’s grave, where is my husband buried.

Those letters and documents are now part of the Vatican's Secret Archives. In their desperation, the families of fallen soldiers contacted the Vatican hoping its global reach could help them. 

HASAN MEHMET SEKIZKOK
Turkish Embassy, Adviser 
"After the battle of Gallipoli, letters were pouring into the Holy See from families inquiring the whereabouts of the graves of their children who died or who were reported missing.” 
 
Turkey's embassy to the Holy See organized a forum along with the Australian embassy, to mark the centennial and to shed light on the role the Holy See played in helping find the fallen. 

Back then, Benedict XV was Pope. He along with his secretary of State, Cardinal Gaspari, reached out to nuncios, priests and religious to do what they could to help the families. 

JOHN MCCARTHY
Australian Ambassador to the Holy See
"These representatives of the Holy See gave practical and spiritual consolation in working to locate the graves and provide the knowledge of burial sites when that information meant everything to those who they sought to serve.”

Roughly 130,000 soldiers died from Turkey and its allies. From Britain 25,000. From France 10,000 and another 10,000 from Australia and New Zealand. 

The centennial of this battle comes a tense time between Turkey and Armenia. On practically the same date, Armenia is marking the centennial of the Armenian genocide, where roughly 1.5 million Armenians were killed under the rule of the Ottoman empire. 

Turkey denies it was a genocide and says the number of casualties were far less. In early April, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass to mark the centennial, describing the massacre a genocide. 


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Up: MPI