Thousands gather at Gallipoli for dawn ceremony

Reconciliation is the theme of the moving event to remember the 1915 Gallipoli conflict, a campaign 'fought without bitterness'.

Thousands gather at Gallipoli for dawn ceremony

World Bulletin / News Desk

Silhouetted by the rising sun, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders stood in an emotionally charged silence amid the graves of their countrymen in western Turkey on Friday morning to remember the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

Disembarking from the ferry to Gallipoli reminds visitors how 99 years ago the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - the Anzacs - stormed Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula where today’s Anzac Day remembrance ceremonies took place.

The conflict became a source of national identity for both the Anzac countries and Turkey. The losses were a coming-of-age moment for the erstwhile British territories of Australia and New Zealand, while for Turks it marked a heroic defense of the homeland.

Gallipoli, six hours south of Istanbul, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year who come in April to commemorate 1915’s Battle of Gallipoli, known by Turks as the Battle of Canakkale. It is a campaign which is considered as a heroic war of defense for Turks but a catastrophe for Australians and New Zealanders who were fighting on behalf of Britain.

The campaign took place between 25 April, 1915, and 9 January, 1916. Britain and France wanted to secure the strategic region for their ally, Russia, as the peninsula provides a sea route to what was then the Russian Empire. Their aim was to capture Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire’s capital. As Turks repelled a naval attack, there were many casualties on both sides after around eight months of fighting. When a land campaign also failed the invasion forces were withdrawn to Egypt.

Around 13,000 New Zealanders and 50,000 Australians fought during the war and at least 2,700 New Zealanders and 8,700 Australians were killed in the fighting. Ottoman forces lost almost 60,000 soldiers. Around 1,700 Indian soldiers, fighting for the British crown, also lost their lives.

There was a poignant silence ahead of a dawn ceremony; thousands of people were silhouetted against the rising sun amid the graves of so many young men cut down in battle.

Reconciliation was a recurring theme during the ceremony. Speaking at the dawn event Sir Jerry Mateparae, governor-general of New Zealand, said: "Now, remembrance ceremonies like this one bring us together. Each year, New Zealanders, Australians and Turks come from the four corners of the earth, to this place where our grandfathers, great grandfathers and great-great grandfathers fought, and where many of them died."

Paul Claran, a 63-year-old from Marrickville, Australia, says he came to Gallipoli with his 11-strong-family, his wife, children and grandsons. With teary eyes he says that although he hadn't lost any family members during the war, the scene was still emotional.

His son David, a 34-year-old teacher from Sydney, said it was a great privilege to be in Gallipoli: "To have this opportunity and to share it with my family makes it more special.

"The camaraderie you see here tonight among all three countries is one of the things I have learned tonight is very similar to the camaraderie which existed in 99 years ago. We have stories of Turkish soldiers throwing cigarettes and supplies to the Australian soldiers... They understand that there is camaraderie tonight but it definitely existed back 99 years ago," he adds.

Many of the people attending from Australia had Turkish roots. Osman Goreli, a 38-year-old football coach from Sydney, says he came to Gallipoli with a young amateur football team: "Most of the children on the team are have dual citizenship, they are both Turkish and Australian."

Kerim Bugdayli, a 12-year-old Turkish-origin Australian student, said he was happy to be in Turkey and to see the ceremony live, "not on TV."

The deaths suffered by Australia and New Zealand during their Turkish campaign became defining national moments for both countries, something that propelled a sense of identity for two places which have since moved on from their positions as British colonies.

"In Australia's history prior to that point, we had been told that the English were better than us and generally superior people and Gallipoli was the first time that regular Australians had met regular Englishmen and we found out that they weren't better than us and we got paid more and got better rations," Mike Honing, a 32-year-old academic from Melbourne, told The Anadolu Agency.

"There was a sense that Australians found themselves at that point and this was galvanized through the hardship of warfare," he adds.

Andrew Priestley, a 32 year-old journalist from Sydney who visited the site in 2011 told The Anadolu Agency that Gallipoli holds a very special place in Australia's history: "It is a place where the Australian identity was formed."

"At Gallipoli, I felt a mixture of awe and sadness. While feeling pride and sadness for the Australians at Gallipoli, I was also touched by the stories of friendship and compassion shown by Turkish troops.

Turkey and Australia in particular have moved closer in recent years, even to the extent of military cooperation.

"Turkey and Australia are countries bound together by our history," Priestly said. "Where once we were on opposite sides of a global conflict, we are now brothers with the shared experience at Gallipoli."

"One of the remarkable things about the Gallipoli campaign was that despite the fact that the Turks and the Australians knew very little about each other, the fighting was never bitter. The two sides were communicating across the trenches and sometimes trading rations," he says.

To be able attend 2015's centenary ceremony there is a ballot in New Zealand and Australia and around 40,000 people applied for 10,000 tickets.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Mayıs 2014, 16:22