Merhaba from Gallipoli,
Turkiye is wonderful, especially after the grime and dilapidation of Athens. Here, everything seems clean, new and welcoming. That includes Istanbul which we´ll be returning to in about two weeks. In the meantime we have completed one of the targeted pilgrimages: Gallipoli.
One of the salient memories I have of ANZAC Day in Australia was always the lack of perspective from the enemies. I always used to wonder what the Turks thought about the Gallipoli landings or how the German people remembered their war effort. Our exposure at school and in the media was bereft of any substantial reportage from the other side. We should have remedied that a long time ago. Being here in Gallipoli has reversed some of those wrongs. Just to see the topography and the vegetation is to gain a new appreciation of the campaign.
the Gallipoli Peninsula
Firstly, I was genuinely surprised to find the Gallipoli Peninsula thickly vegetated with shrubs and trees. From the photographs and other images, it´s easy to think of the place as a barren wasteland, for which the only value for the allies in World War One was a strategic one. The reality in front of us is a long way from the preconception.
We joined a group – of mostly Australıans – who were traversing the sombre sites on the peninsula. Our voluble Turkish guide gave us exactly what we wanted: a perspective from both sides. He began by stating the three main reasons that Gallipoli is important to Turkish people today. He said:
1. It was the first time Turks had defended their homeland on home soil;
2. Kemal Ataturk was the commander of the Turkish forces and subsequently led the country valiantly into nationhood after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. He is remembered here as a national hero for his statesmanlike governance and for guiding Turkey into the proud secular republic that it is today; and
3. Every Turkısh family in the country lost at least one male in these battles.
Kemal Ataturk is also quoted on a memorial at ANZAC Cove from a speech he delivered in 1934 – as the national leader – on the occasion of the first commemoration of ANZAC Day on Turkish soil. It was such a magnanimous speech, I had to transcribe it.
Those heroes that shed theır blood and lost theır lives you are now lying ın the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.
The Nek and Lone Pine
Naturally, it was a moving experience to walk around The Nek and Lone Pine and other places where Australians died so pointlessly. It was a surprise to find quite a few ANZAC trenches and foxholes still extant. Many Turkish people were visiting the memorials on the peninsula in respectful numbers on the same day we were there. Their memorial includes a wonderful statue of their last surviving soldier who visited there in 2006 at the age of 109. The statue is of the old man holding the hand of a beautiful little female descendant of his.
complacent and incompetent
I wasn’t the only contemporary Australian here to feel the prevailing emotion of anger. It’s easy to understand – especially seeing the terrain first hand – the military objective and why it was so important. But the litany of mistakes and the remote patrician-like command of Ian Hamilton is unforgivable. If we wonder, as we are right to do, just why it is that we in Australia commemorate such a shocking disaster as our effective national day, we are probably likely to explain it by sayıng we Australians were brave and uncomplaining even though our imperial ´betters´ appeared to be complacent and incompetent and that the former quality will always trump the latter.
Murat – our Turkish guide – informed us that Hamilton issued orders from the island of Imros, which had been used previously for training purposes whilst Kemal Ataturk was in the trenches wıth his men. (Ataturk was actually badly wounded at one critical moment.)
One of the Turks (Ismail Hak) writing in the trenches in 1915 wrote this: ´What can I say to those who made us come here and fire upon one another?´ It´s a good question still today.
St. Gregory the Eliminator