22 Apr 2014 04:00
As the centenary of the battle for Gallipoli nears, visitors flock to the memorial sites that dot the peninsula. April 25 marks 99 years since allied troops first landed at ANZAC Cove in an unsuccessful attempt to take the peninsula and push forward to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
Of the foreign tourists, the vast majority are Australian or New Zealand citizens coming to pay their respects to the ANZAC allied forces who died in this epic battle of the First World War. But each year, around 1.5 million Turks also flock to the memorial sites that celebrate the victory of Commander Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who later went on to become Turkey's first president and founder of the Turkish republic. They also come to mourn the more than 86,000 Turkish fighters that lost their lives in the successful defence of their coastline. During the First World War, Turkish forces fought on nine fronts. The only victory was at Gallipoli.
132,000 died in the nine month Gallipoli campaign. Among the dead were more than 8,700 Australians, over 2750 New Zealanders, around 10,000 French, almost 22,000 British soldiers and more than 7,500 Indians.
Next year, during the 100th anniversary, tour operators say they expect to see unprecedented crowds with around 3 million visitors expected throughout the year.
By Tracey Shelton
GALLIPOLI, Turkey – Ninety-nine years ago, on a pristine beach off the coast of the Gallipoli Peninsular, 132,000 men lost their lives.
Every Australian and New Zealander knows the tale. We are taught it in school. We watch movies depicting the massacre, and every year on April 25 we pay our respects to the fallen war heroes.
But as the centenary of this historic event nears, it is not only allied forces that are making the pilgrimage to Gallipoli.
Standing among a small tour group of five Australians and one New Zealander last week, buses loaded with Turkish visitors stopped to swarm the memorials and peer at the statues depicting both foreign and Turkish troops.
“This is an important part of Turkish history as well,” said Turkish tour guide Ercan Yavuz. “We study about this battle from primary school to college. In World War 1, the Turkish army were fighting on nine different fronts. This was their only victory.”
Yavuz said an average 2 million people visit the Gallipoli memorials annually. Around three quarters are Turkish.
The Turkish tour route differs somewhat from that of the well-worn ANZAC trail. A visit to the local museum that tells a victorious tale from the Turkish side is generally not included on foreign tours, Yavuz explained. Neither are many of the Turkish burial grounds. But the tour paths frequently overlap.
One statue depicts the story of a Turkish soldier who emerged from the safety of his bunker to save a dying enemy fighter. According to the account retold later at the scene by Australian governor Lord Richard Casey, the man had raised a white flag tied to the muzzle of his rifle after he heard his enemy screaming in agony. He carried the man across enemy lines, delivering him to his comrades in the allied trenches before running back to continue the battle. Such stories of bravery and mutual respect between enemies lead to the common reference to the battle of Gallipoli as ‘the last gentlemen’s war’.
A large monument, situated near ANZAC Cove, drives home the solidarity between enemy sides that developed soon after the war ended. It immortalizes the words of the then newly appointed president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who rose to fame by leading his men to victory at Gallipoli, “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.”
In almost nine months, the allied forces failed to gain significant ground from any of the multiple positions they held along the coastline. On January 9, 1916, the last of the allied troops withdrew. They had lost over 46,000 men including more then 8,700 Australians.
It was a major victory for Ataturk and the Turkish people, but more than 86,000 lost their lives to win. In a famous speech, also enshrined on a wall at the Turkish memorial site, Ataturk commanded his men, “I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”
Yavuz explained that for Turks, a visit to Gallipoli is not just about celebrating a victory but also mourning a great loss. And adding to the sadness and frustration, it is almost impossible for Turkish descendants to find the graves of their ancestors. Yavuz explained that prior to 1934 and the establishment of the ‘Surname Law”, there were no family names in Turkish culture. Gravestones simply contain a first name and father’s first name, making it almost impossible to determine family ties to the names carved on the memorial stones.
“It is an emotional place for you and it is also emotional for us,” said Emin Yurdalan, operations manager at ANZAC Hotel for the past eight years. “Even for us Turks it is a sad place. We won the battle, but war is war. It is always sad.”
Yurdalon said the feedback he gets from his guests who visit the Gallipoli site is always positive. The solemn atmosphere of the site, which is a national park, provides a fitting atmosphere to pay respects, particularly during the April 25 service. This year, numbers are expected to double, but next year, Yurdalon says he expects the centenary year to be a busy one with an estimated 3 million visitors throughout the year.
When asked if they still had rooms available for April next year Yurdalon answered, “We sold out three years ago!”
The number of visitors for the April 25 morning memorial service for 2015 is limited to 10,500. Tickets were awarded to 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders via a lottery draw. Official guests will fill the remaining 500 places.
Many of those who didn’t make the draw, like 29-year-old Mark Dean, are making their journey this year.
“It is pretty amazing to be standing right here after hearing the stories since I was kid,” Dean said as he stood on a ridge overlooking ANZAC Cove last week. “I have two relatives that fought here, so this is a special moment for me and I must admit, I even got a bit emotional at the gravesite. I will definitly be coming back for another visit next year.”