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    Gallipoli Spirit

    N. Murat Ersavcı20 March 2020 - Okunma Sayısı: 561

    As a Turk, every time I visit Gallipoli and the Straits of the Dardanelles, I am reminded of the way in which history touches our lives.

    Gallipoli touches my own in several ways. Both my wife and I are among those who lost members of their families.

    Her great-grandfather Major Mehmet Himmet, from Crete, commanded the 2nd Battalion, 36th Regiment and died on the Suvla Front, at Anafartalar. A very young third lieutenant Lutfu Guvenc, my wife's grandfather, survived to later become his son-in-law.

    My own grandfather and great-uncle were also veterans of that conflict.

    Gallipoli was the place where, in the mid-14th century, the Ottomans first crossed from Anatolia into the Balkans. Earlier, Alexander the Great also crossed the straits. This region was where the Trojan War, that earlier epic of a horrid tangle of warfare, tragedy and brutality was transformed into heroism.

    For me, the Gallipoli landings are a parallel transformation. They were war at its grimmest. We, as Turks, the invaded nation, of course see this with particular sharpness.

    In 1915, Turkey was engaged in a life-and-death struggle for national survival. For more than 100 years, Western powers had discussed the partition of our country. Gallipoli was one of the moments when that danger was at its greatest.

    I do not want to overemphasise this. Events turned out differently and the shadows went away, but Gallipoli was a potentially lethal invasion for Turkey and why we fought so hard.

    But Gallipoli was also one of the ways in which modern Turkey found its way as a nation and proved it was going to stay a force to be reckoned with.

    The struggle saw the birth of our national consciousness, just as it did for Australia and New Zealand. I think that is one of the reasons for the affinity between Turks and Australians and New Zealanders, which the Gallipoli story still arouses.

    Gallipoli was the battlefield on which it became apparent that Turkey had again produced a military leader of genius in Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, as he later became known.

    His successes foreshadowed victories against invading armies in Anatolia five or six years later, which were also crucial to our national survival.

    Ataturk, himself, always portrayed the Gallipoli campaign as a stark life-and-death struggle. You cannot boast about a conflict in which all sides suffered terrible losses, but then somehow retain the dignity and heroism to transcend the horrors of war.

    But in 1915, even to its own people, Turkey seemed to be a dying nation and memories of glorious military triumphs of the past were distant. Millions of people had been driven out of their homes in the Balkans and fled under most arduous conditions, without possessions, to safety in Turkey.

    Those who escaped the Balkan Wars were the great-grandparents of about half Turkey's present population.

    It is through their eyes that you must see the Gallipoli campaign, if you want to understand how Turks felt at the time.

    Even the horrible conditions at the front – the mud, the hunger, the lack of almost everything – echoed what our people had already endured after the 1912 exodus from the Balkans.

    These are stories every Turkish family remembers: a grandmother talking about the march from the Balkans; a grandfather telling how he was temporarily "buried" in mud at Gallipoli, but got up to fight on, when everyone around him was dying.

    That explains why, apart from being upset at the needless deaths of 750,000 young men from so many countries, we feel such a strong spirit of "never again" when we think of Gallipoli. The Turkish Republic began out of those ashes, in that spirit. It meant a complete break with the past and all the suffering and disasters it had brought. I believe it succeeded.

    Which is why not long after, Ataturk and his ministers were commemorating Gallipoli in a spirit similar to today.

    It is why Ataturk, in a famous quote, described the fallen soldiers at Gallipoli who lie in Turkish soil as sons of our motherland, even though they were an invading force. His comment showed the need to build a new, better world.

    It has been many decades since Ataturk uttered those words. In some ways we have built a better world since then, but in others we obviously have not yet succeeded and needless conflict continues. So the lessons of Gallipoli remain valid, even though it is now receding into a fairly distant past.

    War is tragic and heroic, but it is also futile, brutal and unnecessary. Commemorating the dead and all that our armies suffered, helps prevent us from forgetting that truth.

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