Thursday, June 3, 2010


Gallipoli was a learning curve for me. I have never really been that interested in it up until now - to my shame! It was great to be there and get a lesson on what it was all about. As I understand it, the Allies tried to land on the Agean side of the peninsula so that they could overthrow the Turkish (Ottoman) forces, clear the Peninsula, and allow the English fleet to sail unopposed up the Dardanelle Straight and into Istanbul. From there forces could go through the Bospherous into the Black Sea and work with the Russians to create another front for the war. It was expected that the Turks would lie down easily being greatly weakened and having just experienced defeat in the Balkans and Africa. However, they did not do so. The ANZACS landed in the wrong place, they made some progress initially, but effectively got shut down for 9 months by the Turks who dug in on the hills. I hadn't realised how the French were involved as well.

10,000 French died, 2,700 Kiwis, 8,700 Aussies, 21,000 or so English. What a tragedy. Overall 500,000 fought on both sides, with both sides having 250,000 casualties with 70,000 or so killed on each side all up. It was a small area for a million people to run around shooting each other. We heard of amazing stories of allies throwing chocolate to the Turks and the Turks returning cigarettes. We heard of a Turk putting a pair of undies on a rifle as a kind of flag, climbing out of the trench, and going to the aid of an injured member of the Allied Forces. We heard of a Turk singing in the trenches on night. Then the Allies returned a song. The next night after heavy fighting there was no song. So they Allies resolved not to sing again out of honour for the lost Turk. There was a strange humanity in the war.

Visiting the site raised all sorts of questions. What were they thinking landing in ANZAC cove? It seems a very difficult place to launch an assault? Why did they underestimate the Turks? People are at the hardest to overcome on their home patch fighting for kith and kin. The whole thing was a tragedy. They should have got out early after realizing that it was not going to be easy. It had little impact on the war at all!

One wonders what might have transpired had they succeeded. Would this have led to the Russians taking Turkey? Or Greece? One thing we ran into in Greece is the historical enmity between Greece and Turkey due to Greeks invading Turkey aeons ago and the Ottoman dominance of Greek for 4 centuries until around the end of WW1. There is no love lost there.

The bigger question is whether war is ever justified. I suppose in a perfect world there would never be war. Sadly we don't live in a perfect world. Jesus came to end war. He stood against all that was expected of a military Messiah. He took death before taking up the sword, to save the world, and show us the path of true humanity. The problem is that evil people rise up and seek to take the world. This trip has been a lesson in this: the Lydians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans. In more recent times Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and so on. While the ideal of peace and non-violence must be our dream and goal, at times, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for war. Gallipoli shows what war does. It takes young men (and now women) in their 20's (one kid was only 14 who died!) and makes them vassals of powers vying for position and gain. The ages on the graves was shocking. Oh that war would end and that people could live out their days in peace.

The final thought is the place of Gallipoli in the hearts of the Turks. For them it was a defining day of victory. The Ottoman Empire was crumbling at the time. Mustafa Kemal is credited with being the key man for the Turks. He inspired their defence. He himself was almost killed by shrapnel, his chest watch saved him. He led the victory. After the war he brought Turkey together and inspired them to drive out the Greeks who had assumed parts of their land. He is Ataturk, the Father of Turkey. He led reforms including the end of the Harem, the Sultanship, secularised Turkey, they now use the Latin alphabet (thankfully as a traveler). For them, Gallipoli was a great victory in which they defended their land. When we were at the site we had a real experience. Without any introduction as we walked the graves at the Turkish memorial amongst thousands of Turks a group of school kids began singing what I learnt later was the Turkish national anthem. It was rousing. Then a young Turkish boy began to speak. He gave and impassioned speech full of power. It was a speech about the anthem. What struck me was a blend of being impressed and concern. It was powerful and I understood none of it. He was so passionate, like a Maori warrior. Yet the nationalism was fearful!

Lurking beneath the veneer of secularism is a powerful nationalism and Islamic passion. I saw this at Gallipoli. It was powerful.

All up the experience will stay with me forever and will redefine for me what it means to be Kiwi. I will go to the dawn parade next year. I hate war and resist it; but there is a time for war.

We met this guy in Kavala named Konstantino. What a guy. I gave him a book. His family had shifted from Turkey to Greece in the formation of the modern Turkish state when all the Greeks came home from Turkey as the Turks drove them out. It was an interesting point of connection with Gallipoli.

I was amazed at how moved I was thinking of NZ and Australian blood shed. Seeing the graves was powerful.

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