Thursday, June 16, 2005

Thoughts of an Australian about Turkish Hospitality and Anzac

It was my great delight to be able to spend 3 years in Turkey and I have come home leaving a little of my heart there with the wonderful friends I made.

As an Australian I had mostly heard about Turkey because of our link with Gallipoli (Gelibolu). Every year here on the 25th April, in all our towns and cities, we celebrate ANZAC day. That stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. That was the day our soldiers landed on Turkish soil in 1915, the aim being to finally take Istanbul. However the conflict was a disaster for us but a victory for Turkey.

So why do we remember it as a National day? In 1901 Australia had become a federation or union of seven States but still did not think as one nation. The Gallipoli campaign was the first time Australians came together as one, so even though the campaign itself was a failure, it fired the Australian spirit of mateship and togetherness.

It was only after being in Turkey that I also came to know that it was an important time in the life of your great leader Kemal Ataturk, who was to be so important after the war to bring Turkey to a Republic and prevent it being divided and later as its President to make many sweeping changes.

Now I knew why Ataturk's photograph was in my classroom and his statues so prominent everywhere in Turkey!

I was very pleased to visit Galipoli and was amazed at the small area where so many men lost their lives.To stand with feet in the calm pebble and look back up at the escarpments and gullies. To stand high on Chunuk Bar and look out to sea helped me realise what a hopeless task our men faced, much due to leadership bungles and how important for Turkey to save.

It seemed peaceful to me now, yet somehow special, as if the land itself knows that many brave men died there, and it is special.It was interesting to see how close the lines were and easy to imagine soldiers tossing food, and sometimes grenades, to each other!

I was especially aware of how well the whole area was cared for by Turkey. The day I went workmen were busily repairing damage done to the lawns by many visitors on Anzac day. All the memorials were tidy and great respect shown. Similar words were on all graves. War is sad in any language isnt it?

The monument which really moved me, was the sandstone wall where Ataturk's words were written to Australian mothers, who had gone there in 1934, to see where their sons had died. They were beautiful words and brought tears to my eyes and must have been great comfort to those women. I have copied them, and when I give my talks to groups about Turkey I always read them, and they evoke deep emotion.

Because of those words I changed my idea about one of the stories we had always been told here in Australia.

When it became obvious that no headway was being made to capture the area and it was decided to evacuate, our soldiers set up guns in such a way, with water and string that every now and then a gun would fire. This was supposed to make the Turks think soldiers were still there. They also put bags on the wharves to keep down noise. And so they left without losing any men.

However, my Turkish guide said that of course they knew the enemy was going but they had orders from their leaders to let the brave and courageous men leave! The war had been won and they had no further fight with them.

Having read Ataturk's words,I now believe that is the more likely version of how it really was. The war had been won and to fight further was unnecessary. So thank you!! It showed enormous strength of character to think in such a way.

I do hope that arrangements and changes will be made so that ANZAC days in the future do not result in the area being harmed by so many people at the one time.

Most Turks knew about Gelibolu and it opened many doors of friendship for me. In shops when I said I was Australian they would exclaim 'Gelibolu" and immediately show warm hospitality, which meant big smiles and a wonderful hot drink of cay!

It is good to know ,that out of loss and pain, friendships can be forged and I am proud to be able to call Turkish people my friends.

Jean Ison
NSW Sydney Australia