Turkey marks 100th anniversary of Canakkale victory

On March 18, 1915, Ottoman soldiers repelled an attempt by the British and the French to invade Istanbul via the Canakkale straits.

Turkey marks 100th anniversary of Canakkale victory

World Bulletin / News Desk 

The 100th anniversary of March 18, 1915 – the day which would later be celebrated in Turkey as "Canakkale Victory and Martyrs’ Day" – has brought together thousands of people across the country and abroad.

This poignant day of remembrance marks the cataclysmic, months-long violence of the Gallipoli Campaign when Ottoman forces suffered huge losses defending Turkish shores from the invading Allies in WWI.

The Anadolu Agency spoke to some ordinary men and women who had come to Canakkale to remember the sacrifices made for Turkish freedom.

One 70-year-old Turkish man cycled all the way from the capital Ankara to Gallipoli, a 740-kilometer feat which took him seven days. "I have been doing this for nine years, and will continue until I am 80," Fahri Yilmaz said.

He prefers to cycle despite his old age because he wants to show the young that "he carries the spirit of Gallipoli," in which lots of Turkish teenagers also fought to save their homeland.

During his bicycle tour towards the historic site, Yilmaz spent the nights at hotels and gas stations, sometimes hosted by relatives. The last day of his tour is the day before March 18, when Allied attempts to take the straits by naval power failed.

March 18 is considered to be one of the most significant victory days in Turkish history and been commemorated with Turks cherishing their martyrs and war veterans.

"All the martyrs are my relatives," the old man says, even though he did not have a grandfather, or a close relative who died in the campaign: "I am following my inner voice, which tells me: 'Stand for the spirit of Gallipoli, and represent Turkey.'"

Yilmaz was just one of the thousands of people who arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula to visit the martyrs' symbolic graves, and pray for them. Among them was the 60-year-old grandson of one war veteran.

"My grandfather fought in Gallipoli and devoted his life to the survival of this country,” says Dogan Kaleoglu, who came from Turkey's southern Gaziantep province.

Having founded an association together with relatives of some other war veterans and martyrs to keep the war memories alive, Kaleoglu says: "I have been visiting Canakkale on every March 18 for eight years now and I have witnessed the self-sacrifice of a generation each time.

"Our grandparents are lying down here and we do not call them dead because they are not dead. They are martyrs to whom we owe a lot," he says.

The March 18, 1915 victory gave the country a massive moral boost that enabled it to wage a war of independence and eventually, in 1923, form a republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

"It is undeniable that the freedom and liberty that we have today is the heritage of our martyrs and war veterans,” says 85-year-old Mahmut Tamsel, son of another war veteran. He has come from eastern Kars province and is visiting Canakkale for the first time.

"Now I see that I was really late to witness this epic. Gallipoli was not won with heavy weapons or high technology; it was won with faith and patriotism."

writting Ottoman turkish: God Allah with us

Reminding that thousands of Ottoman soldiers lost their lives in the battle, Tamsel said: "I have come here to express my gratitude to these fearless lions."

"There were even 16-year-old soldiers who sacrificed their lives without thinking for a second. I think they deserve more than our respect."

"We should be doing the same against enemies to have independence, liberty, and peace at home," agrees 19-year-old Syrian student Nagham Abdul Karim.

She came to Turkey's central Eskisehir province over two years ago to escape the nightmare in her hometown, which has been in ruins as the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year.

"I can very well understand what a war means. I had neighbors and relatives killed in the war. But all the fighting is for liberty, which was also the goal in Canakkale," Nagham said."However," she adds, "there is a great difference between the Gallipoli campaign and the war in my country; the enemy in Canakkale was from abroad, but in our case it is one of us."

Studying pharmacy at Anadolu University, Nagham says fighting against cruelty will always be necessary to have full liberty. Her peer, Juliette Bellas, an Erasmus student coming to Turkey from France, told AA that the message of the Gallipoli Campaign is "'Do not do it again.'"

"All sides had losses here at the campaign, and worry is the same everywhere," Juliette stresses. "I feel sorry because all this is about a war, but I am glad that we are here with lots of people from different countries, with old and young." It is good not to forget history, so that we do not repeat the same mistakes, she adds.

Juliette and her friend Julia Bregere, 23, have come to Canakkale on an official invitation sent to their universities. They are now studying at Anadolu University in Eskisehir province and will return to France in June.

"Before we were invited to visit the site at first hand, we did not know what the Gallipoli Campaign was and that there were French soldiers who died here as well," Julia said.

"But now we are here, and I can see that it is quite important to travel the world and discover other cultures," she says. "If we can respect all different cultures in the world, there will be no wars." 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Mart 2015, 13:09