Turkey will join the world marking a pivotal moment in its history this weekend, with ceremonies marking the anniversary of the nation’s military victory at Gallipoli.
The Ottoman Empire was already in decline 105 years ago when allied forces led by troops from Australia and New Zealand landed on the northern shores of the Dardanelles in 1915.
Their mission was simple; to take Turkey out of the First World War by pushing inland along the Gelibolu Peninsula and then marching on to Constantinople – modern-day İstanbul – opening up the Black Sea to the navy and severing Germany’s links with a well-resourced ally.
But a campaign that was meant to bring a swift end to the conflict took no account of the tenacity of soldiers fighting for the very survival of their homeland.
The battle descended into a bloody stalemate, with trench warfare every bit as brutal as Flanders’ fields claiming thousands of lives on both sides.
A famous victory
In the end, the allied forces could take no more punishment and withdrew. The decision allowed Lt Col Mustafa Kemal to claim a famous victory which was to influence his destiny to become the father of the modern Turkish Republic and, later, as its leader Atatürk (father of the Turks).
But it was a costly victory nonetheless – both for the Ottoman forces and for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) – who developed both respect for each other during the fighting and a sense of brotherhood in the years that followed.
But, despite the victory over the world’s most advanced armies at the time, Gallipoli didn’t dictate the ultimate outcome of the Great War.
Under Atatürks influence, Turkey chose to surrender when it became increasingly evident that Germany’s cause was lost and fighting on would simply further deplete Turkey’s resources for no apparent gain.
Nevertheless, it did invoke a significant sense of national pride and came to represent the stoicism and determination of the Turkish people and helped to underpin Atatürk’s reputation as the true leader of a country on the brink of a new era.
Dawn ceremonies are now held on 25th April every year all over the world to remember the ANZAC fallen but perhaps the most significant event is held at the battle site itself, where thousands usually gather to honour the dead from all sides.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant ceremonies were more muted than usual in 2020 and it’s likely to be much the same this year.
But it’s more than likely that Atatürk’s own words will be remembered once again – not least because they have come to represent the sense of reconciliation between the nations which fought on both side during the devastating battle:
“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.”
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk