Anzac Day in Turkey

I was feeling slightly apprehensive about my decision to visit Anzac Cove and Lone Pine.

I’m very proud of my Australian heritage which goes back to the early days of European settlement, and as you can see from this website, I have a strong interest in genealogy and history. To the best of my knowledge, I have no direct connection with the Gallipoli campaign, although I have some distant relatives buried at Lone Pine.

But when a friend and colleague suggested I should visit on Anzac Day, as part of my broader travel plans, I instantly began researching how I would do this. I also made some arrangements so I could cover the event for ABC Radio. Generally, ABC Radio does everything remotely (due to the travel costs), but I figured having someone on the ground for the day itself (and looking ahead to the 100th Anniversary) would be a good thing for the organisation I work with.

The idea of visiting Anzac Cove and Lone Pine on Anzac Day is a dream many Australians have. This year, according to official figures, about 5,200 people did just that. And these aren’t dodgy made up figures. As you enter the precinct at Anzac Cove you go through security gates, and are then given a “sample bag” which contains brochures, a poncho in the event of wet weather, and a beanie to protect your head from the cold. Thus, the figures they quote about the number of people attending are quite accurate.

Anzac Day in Turkey - Sleeping Bags
Anzac Day in Turkey – Sleeping Bags
Anzac Day in Turkey - Looking out to the Aegean Sea
Anzac Day in Turkey – Looking out to the Aegean Sea

After you enter the gates, you walk down a path, and the first thing you notice is the large number of people sleeping out. As I’d researched how best to get to and from Anzac Cove from Istanbul, I weighed up the various travel options. There was everything from three and four star accommodation to sleeping out. In the end, I chose to travel independently. As much as I would have loved the idea of sleeping under the stars, I’ve reached the age in life where I much prefer a comfortable bed. Younger people, of course, are much hardier and there were probably a couple of thousand people sleeping under the stars.

When you arrive at just after 1.00am (like we did), it’s still dark, and you don’t really get a sense of the place until much later in the morning. But when the sun begins to rise and to expose the Aegean Sea in front of you and the cliffs behind, you really begin to get a sense of place. Yes, the cliffs, where the Turkish soldiers were able to trounce the exposed, vulnerable, Australian and New Zealand soldiers. When you see the cliffs, it all becomes very obvious.

Anzac Day in Turkey - Looking out to the TV sceens with the cliffs in the background.
Anzac Day in Turkey – Looking out to the TV sceens with the cliffs in the background.

The interesting thing for me was the respect paid to the Turkish people in all this. The Australian Government Minister, Warren Snowdon thanked the Turkish people for their care for almost 100 years of the graves of thousands and thousands of people buried in mass graves. There were also a reference to the comments of Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal) – the “father” of modern day Turkey – who said the following…

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 now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.

Anzac Day in Turkey - with the cliffs in the background.
Anzac Day in Turkey – with the cliffs in the background.

Although important for Australians and New Zealanders, the area is also historically important for the Turkish people with a number of battles waged in the area, and many thousands of Turks also buried there in mass graves.

My apprehension about my decision to visit Anzac Cove and Lone Pine on Anzac Day was two-fold. From what I’d read, I was quite worried it would be over-commercialised and slightly jingo-istic. I feel quite uncomfortable with the fervent nationalism that’s developed in recent years in Australia, particularly as it relates to a rejection non-Anglo culture.. The site of someone wrapping themselves in the Australian flag and those awful chants, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” is something which makes me feel uncomfortable.

Although there were lots of people draped in the flag, I didn’t get the sense, or see any evidence of the ugly type of nationalism that is often associated with this type of thing. Instead, I thought attending the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove was quite beautiful, and most definitely respectful of the sacrifices made by all those involved.

In short, it’s a really wonderful experience, and well worth doing.

Throughout the day I chatted with a number of ABC Radio programs, and also did a couple of crosses with ABC News 24. The audio of the chat I did with Tony Delroy is featured below. It adds a little more to the story, I hope…

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