Thousands of Australians, New Zealanders and Turks gathered in northwestern Turkey early Friday to honor the memory of soldiers killed in the 1915 Gallipoli battle, one of the bloodiest in World War I.
An official ceremony to mark the 94th anniversary was hosted by the Second Army Command with Labor Minister Faruk Çelik, First Army Commander Gen. Ergin Saygun, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Deputy Australian Chief of Staff David Hurley, New Zealand’s Governor General Anand Satyanand, United Kingdom Land Forces Commander Richard Dannat and members of other countries present, reported the Anatolia news agency.
The ceremony started at 9:05 a.m. with representatives of all nations laying wreaths at the memorial. Speaking on behalf of the Turkish Armed Forces, Col. Murat İşözen said the Gallipoli battle was the scene of many firsts in terms of modern warfare.
The dawn ceremony on the morning of April 25 marks the 94th anniversary of the first landings of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC, at the Gallipoli peninsula in the ill-fated Allied campaign to take the Dardanelles Strait from the Ottoman Empire.
İşözen said the remarks of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, cemented the ties of friendship between these nations. Atatürk’s remarks inscribed at Anzac Cove read: "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living 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 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."
Çelik said that humanity’s most valuable treasure was peace. He said usually wars were forgotten with the passage of time but that there time had only helped strengthen the bonds of friendship.
Following the landings, in the ensuing eight months of fighting, about 11,500 ANZAC troops were killed, fighting alongside British, Indian and French soldiers. Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, puts its own losses at some 86,000. Every April, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders, many of them young backpackers, make the pilgrimage to the historic peninsula to commemorate the grueling battle that was their first real test of World War I.
The national anthems of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey were played after prayers and officials from the three countries laid wreaths at Anzac Cove.
Ninety-four years ago today, the Allies in World War I launched a sea borne invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and ANZAC was formed from the raw volunteers of new nations out to prove themselves.
The Ottoman Empire confronting them was in its death throes, and the Turkish officers of that army were out to prove that there still was some life left in it. The site that witnessed so much suffering 94 years ago is now a pilgrimage spot for many nations.
For Turks, the battle was a victory in a war lost. On the other side, for the Allies, the battle's only success was the withdrawal after nine months of agony. The withdrawal was amazingly accomplished without a single casualty. Turkey recognizes the Gallipoli Wars as the beginning of its long and agonizing process of nation building. For Australians and News Zealanders, Gallipoli was the battle that forged their awareness as distinct nations. What makes Gallipoli unlike any other battlefield and more than just a battle in a global war is the fact that every year an increasing number of Australians and New Zealanders go there to seek and find something precious for them, and in return Turks respect them for it.
Original ANZACs earned Turkish respect, and vice versa, through blood spilled. Modern day ANZACs add on to that respect with their annual pilgrimage, in the full sense of the word. Those who cry at Lone Pine and Çanak Bayır as they look at the tombstones share an experience with Turkish veterans and most of those present there from three young countries have so much to teach the rest of the world. Former foes show every year that peace and friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places.