Monday, April 25, 2005

COMMENT: Gallipoli - A Lasting Friendship Baptised In Blood

By the time this gets published, the ANZAC Day holiday will be a faint memory for most of us. I will remember sitting in a Panania backyard stuffing myself with barbecued kifte meat and drinking it down with Indian tea cooked on the smouldering coals. We will recall watching TV images of old veterans marching on the streets, of dawn services in Turkey and of the usual speeches by politicians seeking to generate political capital from the whole affair.

And although the phrase of ANZAC day is “Lest We Forget”, the sad reality is that most of us will have forgotten it all. Even if the traces of that amazing failure of British intelligence continue to live with us.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the landing by allied forces on the coast of Gallipoli. Over 100,000 young men died in the entire campaign. Amongst them were Australians and New Zealanders.

But the largest number of dead came from the Ottoman side. These valiant fighters defended what was left of the frontier of the Ottoman Empire. They defeated the allies and saved Istanbul from foreign occupation, but not without enormous sacrifice.

Who was their commander? He was the young general of the 19th Division of the Ottoman Fifth Army. His parents had named him after their beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him). General Mustafa Kemal was without a doubt one of the heroes of Ottoman military folklore.

Ironically, Mustafa Kemal (today more commonly known by the title of Ataturk, father of the Turks) was the man who dealt the final political blow to the Ottoman caliphate. And for this, many Muslims refuse to recognise him as anything but a traitor.

Most Turks, on the other hand, love Ataturk. They also share with Australians a deep respect for the ANZAC’s. The largest Turkish congregation in Sydney has named their mosque the “Auburn Gallipoli Mosque”, largely in recognition of the deep friendship between Turkey and Australia. This friendship was baptised in the blood shed on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli.

The broader Muslim communities have every right to commemorate ANZAC Day. Among the dead on the allied side were Indian troops, a fair proportion of whom may have been Muslim. We also salute those fallen Ottoman troops led by one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest military strategists.

But more importantly, we have every reason to commemorate the sacrifices of the tens of thousands of young Australian men who fell in battle. We are Australians also. And by all accounts, these Australian troops held no malice for the Turkish foe. When the allies finally evacuated, the Ottomans found letters and messages left by the Australian troops. One such letter said: “Johnny The Turk, goodbye. We left lots of food for you, enjoy them”.

Half-witted journalists might try to find Islamist conspiracies in Turkish road workers building a road over the Cannakale coast (at the request of the Australian government!). But most Australians, regardless of their ethnicity or faith, will maintain enormous goodwill toward Turkey. And Australian Turks, by their generally exemplary behaviour and continuing contributions to Australian life, will further that goodwill.

Next time you go to an AFL or ARL game and see “Crazy John” adverts across the ground, remember that Crazy John would not have existed if the ancestors of a young entrepreneur had not migrated from Turkey to Australia. I am sure the fallen diggers would have been happy to see a Young Turkish Muslim at the heart of Australian life.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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