A visit to Gallipoli Memorial Park
We had the great fortune of being able to visit Gallipoli today and it was incredibly moving. Gallipoli holds a special place in the hearts of all Australians and New Zealanders; this is where thousands of ANZACs (i.e. Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) died during WWI, in a vain attempt to secure a route for the Allies through Turkey to the Black Sea. Gallipoli is also where the ANZAC identity was forged and is revered by Aussies and Kiwis as a historical site of some national significance, despite the fact it lies thousands of kilometres away on foriegn soil.
We left Istanbul behind us this morning by bus* and travelled due West towards the Gallipoli Penninsula. It took us more than 2 hours to leave the city of Istanbul behind, partly due to the traffic and also just due to the fact that Istanbul is a HUGE city (it covers more than 5,000 square kilometres)! Interestingly, the majority of the buildings we saw in Istanbul are no more than 4-5 stories high; there’s the odd high rise in the central business district, but planning regulations don’t allow residential high rises to be built due to the high earthquake risk in the city. Istanbul is very close to a major fault line and earthquakes are common – the last major one being in 1999. We’ve heard a couple of Istanbulians say they’re expecting “another big one” sometime in the next 10-15 years. They also expressed concern about the damage such an earthquake could cause as many of the buildings constructed during the past 30 years are of poor quality. Apparently many of these residential buildings were constructed very rapidly and with little adherence to planning regulations in an attempt to keep up with rapid population growth (the population of the city has increased 12-fold since 1985). From our perspective on the bus today, the city just seemed to go on and on and on…
*We’re travelling through Turkey by bus/coach as the country’s internal rail network is currently undergoing a major (and apparently long overdue) overhaul. It’s no hardship, from what we’ve seen so far the coaches here are clean, modern, comfortable and convenient – that is, they leave regularly and cover all the major tourist stops. They’re also quite cheap and a great way to see some of the countryside as we travel around. It’s not peak tourist season here at the moment and the bus was pretty empty, so Shane and I had a couple of seats each to spread out on the journey to Gallipoli today.
Outside Istanbul’s urban sprawl the landscape quickly changed, with fields lieing fallow for autumn and winter as far as our eyes could see (this part of Turkey produces a lot of sunflower seeds). It took us 5 hours in total to get to Gallipoli and we spent our whole afternoon there, visiting the various memorial sites. Like visiting Auschwitz, it wasn’t exactly a “fun” afternoon, but it was certainly memorable.
For those that may not know the history of the Gallipoli Campaign, basically it was an Allied capaign led by the British that began on 25 April 1915 and lasted 8 months. The campaign aimed to secure a sea route to Russia, by forcing a passage through the Dardanelles Strait and capturing the then Ottoman capital of Istanbul. The campaign was essentially a failure with the Allied forces gaining little ground and men on both sides dieing in their tens ofthousands. From our perspective we see that one of the reasons this event holds such special significance for Australians and New Zealanders is because it conicided with the development of, and perhaps even helped shape, both countries’ sense of nationalistic identity – independent of their former colonial ties with Great Britain. The courage, compassion and humour exhibited by the ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli embodied the values that Australians and New Zealanders saw (and still see) as being central to their national identities. That legacy is why, even today, we celebrate ANZAC Day (25 April) in Aus.
The Gallipoli Campaign is also unique in that it is one of the few war-time campaigns where enemies developed such a strong respect for each other. There was a memorial at Gallipoli today honouring a Turkish soldier who left the Turkish trenches to carry a wounded ANZAC back to the other side of the battle field so he could be saved. This incredible act of bravery exemplifies the mutual respect that the ANZACs and the Turks developed for each other.
Throughout the Gallipoli Memorial we could see the continuation of this mutual respect – there was no sense of the Turks being “the victors” and the ANZACs being “the enemies” or “the invaders”; there was just an overwhelming sense of peace and respect for those who lost their lives there. The mutual respect between the Turks and the ANZACs is best summed up, in our opinion, by the plaque at ANZAC Cove which captures the words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first President and one of the Turkish commanders during the Gallipoli Campaign. The plaque reads:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in 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 here 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.”
We did not realise, however, how significant the Gapplipoli Campaign was for Turkey. We learnt today that, Gallipoli is perceived as a defining moment in Turkish history – a victory in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The successful defence of the Gallipoli Pennisula by Turkish forces formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey 8 years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli and a national hero here in Turkey.
Neither of us are really “into” war, but today was one of the most memorable days of our trip so far. As tragic as it was, what happened at Gallipoli helped shape the Australia we call home. We feel very fortunate to have been able to visit the place where it all happened, to see the memorials and to experience the serenity of those soldiers’ final resting place.