22 of December may be remembered by most virtual monglers as the day we survived the Mayan end of a calendar. We may have survived an apocalypse, who knows, may be we were lucky; unlike thousands of young men who were dispatched to fight a brief war in the Eastern highlands of the current Turkish Republic, on this very day, back in 1914, and at the onstart of World War I.
The dead of winter
Sarikamis, today a beautiful natural reserve with prime quality powder snow (some say it is one of the finest powder snows to ski in, and through personal experience I can second that) is a small town between Kars and Erzurum, in Eastern Turkey. The area is surrounded by rolling hills with the longer of the ranges called Allahu Ekber mountains. And the terrain, albeit its harsh winter conditions, is a true winter wonderland. From April through June, the white peaked scenery turns itself into soft rolling hills, while the land, rocky and steppe-like, stays brazen. This beautiful natural safe haven of the white winter fox and several other sensitive, endangered, rare species of wildlife hosts only the occasional ski resort, and a few, scattered, small and peaceful villages.
Today, a visitor with no historical knowledge of the area, will not see any signs of the tragic deaths of tens of thousands of Turkish foot soldiers from 98 years ago. On these hills there are no towering monuments to the nameless soldier, nor are there any signs of long battles. There are just rolling hills with millions of beautiful, snow covered, pristine yellow pine trees. Driving through them makes one think that this is not a bad place to die and be buried after all, as long as you have lived a meaningful life, and luckier yet, if your death serves a purpose. As long as it was not meaningless, and your life didn’t end because of someone’s bad planning, disillusion; or due to a faulty military strategy – not thoroughly thought out and properly orchestrated- in turn bringing a doom and a defeat far worse than what any military men/adviser/commander could fathom.
For those who died, not in combat, but rather by freezing to death in these mountains during the Battle of Sarikamis, young men barely in their twenties, with their whole life ahead of them yet unlived, with families, wives and kids, their death serves solely to mark one of the most tragic defeats in the pages of Ottoman-Turkish combined military history. And turns this beautiful winter wonderland into a natural monument standing tall in their memory.
Russia then, Russia now
Today, as the Turkish virtual media is looking back at this military tragedy of a failed strategy against the Russian troops, comes a comment from Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on yet another war being fought almost a hundred years later in a neighboring land. And as usual, the battle ensues not only on the ground with guns, but across the region behind closed doors, through diplomacy. Lavrov says -in the end- there will be no winners on either side in Syria.
Thinking back on Sarikamis, I dare ask, in which war are there -has ever been- winners?
Isn’t it true that in any war, where lives are lost, there can be no absolute winners? Especially when one thinks of all the families that are left behind, cold as the mountains in Sarikamis, and forever touched by the tragedy of a young life lost in combat…