Reflection on Gallipoli and First Week

by tuftsigl
Jul 10

Written by Joe Sax, member of ALLIES in the class of 2015

This post is part of a series of student reflections from ALLIES Joint Research Projects around the world

 

The ALLIES Joint Research Project (JRP) spent a lot of time on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula this weekend, a location whose history calls to mind the phrase “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” While it is easy to imagine this rule made manifest in a highly complex operation such as the amphibious landings at Gallipoli, it would be wise for the aspiring researcher to pay heed as well. To educate others who wish to go on similar trips, I’ll tell the story of the almost comical gulf between what I expected to research here in Turkey and what the (no less fascinating and complex) reality of the situation actually is.

 

I had thought my research concept would be a sure hit. It was wide-ranging in impact but not too broad. It was bracingly current, such that it had not been covered in too much length by any scholar previously. It would study the polarizing effects of the Syrian civil war on Turkish domestic politics, tracking public spats between the opposition Republican People’s Party (Turkish acronym CHP) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) back to the Syrian unrest.

 

This concept did not so much fail to survive contact with the enemy, so much as it failed to survive first contact with reality. I first noticed that I was not entirely on track during one of our interviews. The exchange went something like this.

 

“Sir, what would you say is the current state of the opposition in Turkey?”

 

“Dementia.”

 

Later that evening, at a different interview, the look of horror on my face as another contact told us that “there is functionally no Turkish opposition party” was such that the student sitting next to me actually gave me a consoling pat on the shoulder.

 

My original research concept was, to quote physicist Wolfgang Pauli, “not even wrong.” It was a question whose presumptions had no basis in reality. As it turns out, the Republican People’s Party is in such a state of chaos that it does not pose a viable political alternative to the ruling party. Therefore, my topic in a sense simply does not exist. There is no partisan discourse to study; or, at least, one of the voices in the Turkish political conversation overpowers the other voice to the extent of pushing it off the map entirely.

 

So, unfortunately, I need a new topic. But this is one of the fun parts of international research: we are in a new country, one with, no less, an arcanely complex history of civil-military interactions which have profoundly shaped this nation’s outlook on itself and the world. We, as researchers, will rise to the challenge of making sense of this complexity in a way the commanders at Gallipoli couldn’t.

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