Gallipoli: Two Stories

IMG_0362This is Gallipoli. A National Park with many well-used walking trails incorporating a very few very small villages, one of which, Kocadere, we stayed in.

There were two stories here for me.

The picture below summarises one of them. These are the clay hills of Anzac Cove with The Sphinx in the top right hand corner. The stance, suggesting thoughtfulness and incomprehension, seems entirely appropriate.

IMG_0879IMG_0309In the other direction the Hellespont, 1.2 kilometres at its narrowest, swum by George Gordon Lord Byron on 3 May 1810 and now by many others on the annual anniversary. It has an undercurrent as well as a surface current — which go in different directions and also change direction — and is one of the most crowded and dangerous shipping routes in the world.

We were there 12 days after the centenary of the famous Anzac landing, and the residue of the impact of the centenary commemorations was everywhere.IMG_0318 This is the lone pine at Lone Pine for example.

And here are some of the fading wreaths.


This set has contributions from many of the major players. You can’t read them but the cards say: On behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany, The Turkish Republic, the Government and People of Canada, the Republic of India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Defence Forces of New Zealand, the Government of France, etc. But, as you might be able to read, one of the most visible is that from Ballarat Base Hospital Trained Nurses League.

Below is the sort of thing Australians might anticipate populates the area, Aussie mates, comrades, pilgrims, visiting a semi-sacred site, ‘where the country became a nation’. These blokes might have climbed up one of the many trails on the Peninsula through its, now, thickly-wooded ribs to get here — feeling it, spending time just getting a hint of what it might have been like.

They will have encountered, appreciated and might well have been comforted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s words:

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 at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

1934. What a man. How visionary, how conciliatory, how truly grand. And this becomes the second story.

[IMG_0307A footnote to hand here that will not invalidate the second story, but may cause trouble with the quote above that is actually set in stone at Anzac Cove (at left) and at three other sites in Australia, NZ and Turkey. Read this: Words about the Anzacs are shrouded in doubt

‘Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.’ ~Herodotus, The History of Herodotus]

Back to the story … This photo of a Gallipolean photo event is more typical.IMG_0323Or this one.IMG_0346The nation actually made here was modern Turkey.

IMG_03278,709 Australians died during these battles; another 18,000 were casualties — clearly the site of a major military tragedy. And yet the 2,779 New Zealanders who died (with 5150 missing or wounded) represented a higher proportion of their country’s population. The 22,000 British soldiers who died, not to mention the 27,000 French casualties, nor the Indians, nor the Senegalese, probably fought just as bravely as the Anzacs. 198,000 Allied casualties were evacuated from the Peninsula. This was one of the things going on at Suvla Bay (over on the horizon in the pic at left; the sign says something like ‘Ataturk’s lookout’ or ‘where A. supervised from’) where, as one commonly heard story has it, the English were having a tea party. It was actually the site of a vast makeshift hospital.

Despite — or perhaps because of, it is war after all — the deaths of 86,692 soldiers with nearly 170,000 missing or wounded, the Turks prevailed. (In truth, the Ottomans; Turkey didn’t exist.) Mustafa Kemal was their commanding officer.

IMG_0328He began the Gallipoli campaign as a Colonel in charge of the 17th Division, but after successfully predicting the movements of the Allied troops at two crucial moments he was given overall command of the Ottoman forces. One of these moments was during the initial Allied landing when he orchestrated the occupation and control of the ridge above the invaders. Without this action, the outcome could well have been different.

During the fighting Kemal (‘Perfection’, a name he may have been given by a maths teacher or, as seems more likely, by himself) was hit in the chest directly over his heart by a piece of shrapnel. He was saved by a pocket watch which was destroyed in the process, the remnants of which he later presented to Liman Von Sanders, his German colleague. This story is told in several languages by the plaques on the plinth of this statue.

Unknown-2Hailed as the ‘Saviour of Istanbul’, a few hours drive away, Kemal became a public figure and his political interests received a major boost. Such is his centrality in Turkish history of the last 100 years that it seems obvious to me at least that this — the Gallipoli campaign, and its result — is the launching platform for the new, post-Ottoman, Turkey — the modern, secular state. Still.

Postwar, in their customary enlightened way, the Allied powers stripped all Arab provinces from the Ottoman Empire (the Sykes-Picot Agreement establishing the conditions for many of the current problems in the Middle East), put the Greeks in charge of a region surrounding Smyrna (on the Turkish Aegean coast, now Izmir) and asserted economic control over what little of the country remained. At this point, Kemal was already a key figure in an independence movement based in Ankara, the goal of which was to end foreign occupation of Turkish-speaking areas and to stop them from being partitioned.

The Sultan’s government in Istanbul sentenced Kemal to death in absentia, but he continued building both military and popular support. With the help of money and weapons from Soviet Russia, he conducted a series of successful military campaigns before turning his attention to the Greeks, who had left a bitter trail of destruction during their drive towards Ankara.

With Kemal at the head of the army, the Turks stopped this advance and several months later launched an offensive that sent the Greeks into full-scale retreat all the way back to Smyrna. A fire coupled with the depredations of angry Turkish soldiers drove several hundred thousand Greek and Armenian residents to evacuate, permanently. [One utterly absorbing account of these events can be found in Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings.]

Kemal then threatened to attack Istanbul, occupied by the British and other Allied powers. Rather than fight, the British agreed to negotiate a new peace treaty and sent invitations to both the sultan’s government in Istanbul and Kemal’s government in Ankara. But before the peace conference could begin, the Grand National Assembly in Ankara passed a resolution declaring that the sultan’s rule had ended. The last Ottoman sultan fled his palace in a British ambulance. A treaty was signed in July 1923 that recognized an independent Turkish state.

Unknown-1That October, the Turkish Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first president. (It was 1934 when the name Ataturk, ‘Father of the Turks’, was granted to him.) He then set about the task of turning Turkey into a modern country. Thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, business and industry were reformed, women were given equal civil and political rights and elected to parliament. These 18 women were members of parliament in 1935.

He also encouraged the wearing of western dress and was emphatic that the country’s development must be secular.


We were also at Gallipoli just prior to the recent Turkish elections. Our host at Gallipoli Huts, Eric the Belgian Turk, charming, chatty and angry, told us at some length of President’s Erdogan’s scurrilous plans to curry favour with poorly educated voters from the central and eastern hinterland. Erdogan appears at right in a carefully air-brushed campaign poster from a hoarding in Bergama. Eric, who might know, claimed that during the past few months 35,000 of these people had been bussed in to Gallipoli free of charge with an unexpected 200 Turkish lire in their pockets. At the same time membership fees of the Muslim League were paid by the government and women were being encouraged to wear headscarves.

This was a modest example of one of the many provided by Eric and Onur of Erdogan’s perfidy and corruption. (For example, here and here and here.)

So Erdogan, this odious man, is using the talismanic aspect of Gallipoli for his own purposes, in the shadow of Kemal but so obviously traducing his memory. This is happening now and, in terms of significance,  seems so much more immediate and telling than the connections Australians might want to establish here.


There are statues of Kemal everywhere in Turkey. They pop up in the most surprising places. But this one might be considered important as the central focus of Taksim Square where these sightless eyes recently watched the violent break up of a gay pride celebration at Erdogan’s instruction. Kemal had trouble maintaining personal relationships. I don’t know what his attitude to the LGBTI world might have been.

IMG_0298This is Gallipoli, a modern National Park where people frequently come for the sole purpose of bush walking, some every year, although Eric sells the Australian Department of Veteran’s Affairs 500 room nights of accommodation every year. The park has several petrol stations on its outskirts where first class food is served. Gallipoli Huts at Kocadere come highly recommended for both accommodation and food. In the last photo of a photo, Onur is obliging Eric the Belgian Turk, his wife and crew — something to include on Facebook or Trip Advisor. I can’t remember. Something to include in the modern world of which we, and the Gelibolu Peninsula, are a part.IMG_0333

IMG_0366As you leave the Peninsula on the ferry to go to Canakkale on the oriental side of the Dardanelles you look over your shoulder to see the fort at Eceabat, a symbol of the guard house this place has always been; but also something more literal. This.

IMG_0363As translated by Onur, loosely but absolutely to the spirit, it says: ‘Stop Traveller. You don’t know that this land you’re stepping on is a place where one era finished and another began. Stop and think about that.’

That’s the big story.

Next: Following the tracks of St Paul.

5 thoughts on “Gallipoli: Two Stories

  1. Pingback: Istanbul: Tourism | mcraeblog

  2. More wonderful writing and great photographs David. As I was reading the material about Kemal, I was thinking that a less noble view of the man is given in Birds without Wings and then you mentioned it in the text. Statues of Kemal turn up in odd places; we came across one in Albany in WA when we were on our evening stroll along the coastal boardwalk. Ruth had her photograph taken with him.

  3. Good stuff, David. Spot on. Such a very interesting place. We heard similar stories about Erdogan – both from Turkish people here and there. And agree the Turkish story about Gallipoli is very interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s