The 100th anniversary of Anzac Day: ‘Mateship’ between Australia and Turkey

The 100th anniversary of Anzac Day: ‘Mateship’ between Australia and Turkey

This year’s Anzac Day marks the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, a significant historic event for both Australia and Turkey.

Each year thousands of Australians take an emotional pilgrimage to Anzac Cove to commemorate the landing of the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) on April 25, 1915. For Australians, visiting Turkey is almost equal to visiting Gallipoli, being at the top of their tour agenda. 

On April 24 and 25 each year, many local Turkish people also participate in the ceremony together with Australians from the Dawn Service to war memorial services. During the Gallipoli Campaign, Australia, being on the Commonwealth side, fought against Turkey, the then-Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. Interestingly enough, the two former enemies of the same battle come together to pay tribute to their fallen men every year. 

“This is absolutely unique in our history. During the long centuries, different armies attempted to invade different parts of Turkey. But never was a piece of Turkish national land named after an invading army. Only the Anzacs were honored by Turkey in this manner,” Reha Keskintepe, Turkish Ambassador to Australia, told me.

People from other countries may ask such question as “how can the former enemies commemorate such a fierce battle together?” feeling puzzled by the warmth between Australia and Turkey.

The short answer to this is that Turkey is “not the same old enemy, but a different state,” the secular state created out of the old Ottoman Empire, says Dr. Karl James, senior historian of the Australian War Memorial. In our talk, he further explained that the battle of Gallipoli was the first major international operation for Australia since it became an independent state – it had only been 16 years after the independence. The battle therefore contributed significantly to both countries’ nation-building process, shaping each of their national identities.

In fact, the Turkish veterans are sympathetic toward Australian soldiers as Australia was “used” by the British-led invasion to some extent, said Kenan Çelik, Turkey’s leading expert on the Gallipoli campaign.

Also during the battle there was mutual respect from both sides. Dr. James said that “the same miserable condition, food and dust” fostered a shared experience among soldiers, which can be summed up as “I endure it and you endure it, too.” Prior to the war, Australia held negative views toward the Turks, particularly as the “Sick Man of the Europe,” but during the Gallipoli experience, this “dismissive view shifted into respect for the Turks’ bravery in defending their homeland,” explained Dr. James.

Unlike many other wars in world history, Australia and Turkey quickly came to reconciliation in the aftermath. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander in the battle of Gallipoli and founder of the Republic of Turkey, famously said, “Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives … you are now lying 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.”

Keskintepe emphasized that this was 1934 “when the wounds of human losses were still fresh in the minds of the loved ones of the fallen.”

In 1936 when then-Prime Minister Stanley Bruce chaired the League of Nations Montreux Conference, he successfully negotiated on behalf of Turkey in regards to returning the control of the Dardanelles to Turkey. 

Later on, Atatürk sent a gold cigarette case with his signature on top to Bruce to express gratitude. Çelik noted that given both Atatürk and Bruce being the veterans of the opposite side, this is “truly remarkable sign of friendship and peace.” 

The battle of Gallipoli “has its unique position for Australians as well as Turkey,” said Dr. James. “There is this level of familiarity, community and warmth between the two countries. You just don’t get the same level of common engagement from Germany or Japan,” he added.

The spirit of Anzac will continue to be received positively from the both sides but “this should [also] set a unique example to the world, especially at a time of increased division between the Muslim and Christian worlds, the shared identification with the Gallipoli heritage between Turks and Australians can make a positive contribution to world peace,” said Çelik. 

* Julia Nho is involved in the refugee settlement and integration field in Australia. She had previously lived and practised journalism in Istanbul.