Prayers in Çanakkale, whispers in Edirnekapı

Prayers in Çanakkale, whispers in Edirnekapı

In the historic Edirnekapı Military Cemetery in Istanbul, young soldiers lay side-by-side, resting in a sea of flowers and flags. Their mothers and fathers silently pray and shed tears; high school students greet them by giving flowers and hugging them. Most of the fallen soldiers were born after 1980. Their handsome pictures briefly smile from their tombstones. Killed in Şırnak, killed in Hakkari, killed in Northern Iraq… Their lives were cut too short, their stories still untold.

Turkey, probably for the first time in its contemporary history, is commemorating the battle fought in Çanakkale and its heroes on a grand scale. It is the first time that the Turkish government and public, regardless of political differences, are sharing the pride and grief of 1915. And we have to thank our Anzac friends for this. Without them coming to our shores every year, praying for their grandfathers, their loved ones in dawn ceremonies, Turkey could never be brave enough to face the losses of the Great War.

The Çanakkale centennial commemoration gives us an opportunity to reflect on our losses and our victories. It is chance for all of us to see the people who fought, their families, the economic difficulties and the military determination to keep the Ottoman Empire alive. Çanakkale was the beginning of the end of the Empire, and also was the first seed of a new nation emerging. Lt. Col. Mustafa Kemal and his soldiers understood the magnitude of the firepower of the Western Powers. They also knew defending a homeland means more than guns and warships.

To remember all of the fallen in Çanakkale, under the bright sun but brutal cold of this March morning, the mother and father of 1st Lt. Gökhan Yavuz came to his tombstone in Edirnekapi Military Cemetery.

In this place with ultimate serenity and peace, they prayed for the apple of their eye, their bright shining star. “He was one-of-a-kind,” his mother told me, wiping her tears. “He was so smart that he never studied at home, even during his days in Kuleli Military Highschool.” The son of a modest family living in the Kartal district of Istanbul, he could have chosen to be an engineer, a doctor or even a banker. Gökhan chose to be commando instead.

Next to Gökhan lies the Infantry Captain Sinan Eroğlu, who was killed by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fire in Şırnak. Near Gökhan’s grave rests Gendarme 1st Lt. Çağlar Canbaz, a young bright soldier who died while cleaning mines outside his barracks. In Edirnekapı lies a brave new generation that could have changed the future of this nation. As hundreds of people, especially young high school students, poured into the cemetery to pray and comfort the grieving families, I could not help but wonder if the Kurdish peace talks could have started there.

It should not be too hard to at least salute the fallen young, brave children of the Turkish side while sending a secretariat to Imrali prison for jailed leader of the PKK Abdullah Öcalan. It is not impossible to be an advocate for the families of martyrs while defending a more democratic society. And if this dove, the symbol of peace, needs to fly, both her wings have to heal and work.

As we slowly left the cemetery with the Yavuz family, there were whispers everywhere… “Look what they are doing to Kandil, look how kind they are to İmralıi” and “Did our children die in vain? Are we ever going to be remembered like Çanakkale?”

It is our duty to make Edirnekapı as sacred as Çanakkale.

There lie the flowers of our eternal peace.