Number 195 | May 7, 2012
Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Australian counterpart, Julia Gillard met in Ankara, Turkey and agreed to work closely together to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign. The two leaders announced that 2015 would be proclaimed the Year of Turkey in Australia and the Year of Australia in Turkey. Both countries have an established practice of paying national tributes to each other to honor the memory of the 1915 campaign, which claimed tens of thousands of lives.
For the Australians, Turks and New Zealanders, in particular, the Gallipoli campaign is not just one of many battles fought during World War I. Rather, it occupies a special place in the national memories of these countries. In fact, Ms. Gillard referred to April 25 -or Anzac Day- as “Australia’s most emotional day” while attending commemorations in Gallipoli, Turkey last week.
It was on this day that the newly formed Australian and New Zealand army corps (ANZACs) landed on the peninsula joining the effort of Commonwealth and French forces to open the Dardanelles and capture Istanbul- the capital of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. After great hardships, and heavy casualties suffered on all sides, the allied forces were finally evacuated after eight months towards the end of 1915. During the Gallipoli campaign, the Turkish forces were inspired by the leadership of their commander who, after World War I, became the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Despite having fought against one another, when the last surviving soldier from Gallipoli, Alec Campell passed away in 2002, his death was mourned together by Australians and Turks alike. How was it that these peoples, adversaries during the war, were to then come to embrace one another?
The Turks, as well as the Australians and New Zealanders, have shown the ability to understand the realities of war, the strength to set aside animosity, and the humanity to empathize with the experience and suffering of the other.
When memories of the battle were still fresh, Ataturk stated the following:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives …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 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.”
All too often enmity is passed down to future generations in the wake of conflict. Turks and Australians, however, have sought peace and displayed the ability to familiarize themselves with Gallipoli beyond their own experiences.
On the centenary of 1915, the Turks and Australians alike will solemnly remember the bravery and sacrifice of all those who died at Gallipoli, but they will also draw strength and pride from the example they have set: the quality of building a unique bond and friendship from the ashes of war.