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Turkey hosts battlefield commemorations on eve of Gallipoli centenary

Turkey has begun to host a series of events remembering the Battle of Gallipoli. The wasteful World War I Allied offensive remains particularly emblematic for Australia and New Zealand, as well as modern Turkey.

Families of soldiers who served at Gallipoli were joined by world leaders in marking the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign, which became synonymous with British military folly and waste of life.

Friday's events at cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula were scheduled ahead of the main anniversary on Saturday, marking 100 years since the dawn landings from the Dardanelles strait by Allied troops, many of them from Australia and New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his New Zealand counterpart John Key arrived for ceremonies at cemeteries on the peninsula, joined by the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, and his son Prince Harry.

Erster Weltkrieg Schlacht bei Gallipoli 1915

The Gallipoli campaign was beset by problems from the beginning, with soldiers landing at the wrong cove

The nine-month battle saw German-backed Ottoman forces fiercely and successfully resist the Allies - who included Australian, British, French, Irish, Newfoundland, New Zealand and Nepalese Gurkha troops - as they sought to take and hold the strategic peninsula on the western edge of Turkey.

Prime target: Constantinople

The Allies' aim was to break through to Constantinople - modern-day Istanbul - and, with the use of naval power, force the Ottoman Empire out of the war. However, the British-led operation suffered the first of many setbacks from the very onset, when Allied troops were landed at a cove farther north than where they had planned to come ashore.

Gallipoli holds great symbolism in Australia and New Zealand, with both countries having suffered considerable losses for such a distant cause. Australia lost an estimated 8,700 troops, while New Zealand suffered some 2,800 fatalities, a fact remembered each year in both countries on April 25, also known as Anzac Day.

Key chapter in history of Turkey

Some 21,000 British and Irish died in the fighting, as well as almost 9,000 French. However, the biggest loser in terms of casualties was the Ottoman Empire, with 86,000 Turkish troops killed in fighting for the thin strip of land. However, the battle is of great importance to Turks, with the successful resistance of their troops seen as paving the way for the modern Turkish state.

"We paid a high price for the Gallipoli victory," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a message ahead of the ceremonies. "Yet we should not forget that we owe our current independent state to that spirit and perseverance that we showed."

The juxtaposition of centenaries to commemorate the start of the Gallipoli Campaign and the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I has caused controversy, with Armenians accusing Turkey of

seeking to overshadow memorial events in Yerevan.

rc/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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