One hundred years ago, a force of Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on a beach in Turkey, as part of the Middle Eastern campaign during World War I. Kemal Atatürk’s army wielded fierce resistance, and between them the two armies successfully killed more than a hundred thousand people at Gallipoli.
For the young Australian nation, losing 8,709 soldiers was a massive tragedy, and the event was a strong unifying force. Ever since, April 25 has been celebrated as Anzac Day commemorating the tragedy.
As with WWI in its entirety, many have wondered what, exactly, they were fighting about. Thus, while Anzac Day can serve a patriotic purpose, it should also be a reminder of the atrocities of war. Eric Bogle’s chilling song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” captures it well:
“And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, what are they marching for?
And I ask myself the same question.”
Today, 10,000 people, mostly Australians are gathered in Anzac Cove in Turkey for a memorial service. Turkey and Australia became friends and allies soon after the war, and they acknowledge a shared tragedy in Gallipoli.
It is ironic that modern Turkey welcomes today’s commemoration, but vehemently opposes the one yesterday: the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Same war, same empire, different enemy. Across Europe, Turkey’s envoys raise the same objection whenever the massacre of the Armenian people is remembered: “hey, we didn’t do it”.
The foundation of peace in Europe is built on forgiveness between neighbours who readily acknowledge their previous mutual aggressions. It would become Turkey if it could live up to its atrocities towards neighbouring people, and not only those on the other side of the world.