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The Power of Words

ANZAC  historian and researcher  GEORGE DAVIS 
reminds Kiwis of the sacred dimensions of the Gallipoli
battles to the Turkish people.
Parish Bulletin  April 27,  2008


George Davis,  historian and Anzac researcher,  reflects on the contemporary significance of the Gallipoli battles of 1915

Over [our Turkish] home flows the blood of these heroes: you lie here a friend in [our] native land. Repose within, at ease and tranquil. Side by side with our Mehmets, you each embrace. Mothers of sons sent to battle from foreign lands far away: wipe away your tears. Your sons are in our hearts. They will sleep within so very calm and in peace. From the moment they gave up their lives in this soil of ours, they became our sons as well.1

These words seem familiar, but they are not the conciliatory words we readily recognise as belonging to Mustapha Kemal [Atatürk] written in 1934. What are these words then? According to Australian academic Adrian Jones they are the actual words read out to passengers on the 1934 pilgrimage vessel Duchess of Richmond visiting Gallipoli in late April. What are the differences from the now well-known and famous script found on the Anzac Cove monolith at Gallipoli? Well, “Mehmets” appear but there are no “Johnnies”. Does this matter?

Well, in the same way Turks feel deeply about the personal identification of their soldiers as “Mehmets”, Anzacs feel about the personal indicator of “Johnnies” – a little dated today, but still touching the heart. In addition, the original has an edge of management and possession of territory lacking in the well-known version: “Over [our Turkish] home…[our] native land…in this soil of ours…” becomes softened by “the soil of a friendly country… in this country of ours… lying in our bosom…” It was obviously intended by Kemal that the allies should be clear that the sovereignty of Turkey was not impugned by the existence of the Anzac Battlefields’ cemetery site. Memories of recent European desires to acquire parts of Turkey were fresh in 1934. While the general tone of sympathy and welcome still remains, the marginal differences count. Immediately below is the modern, poetic version found engraved in stone and seen by visitors to Gallipoli.

Those heroes that 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…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far-away 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.

The original was drafted by Mustapha Kemal in response to an appeal by women writing in a Melbourne newspaper seeking knowledge about the graves of their dead sons. The modern version was written as a 70th anniversary, political version to acknowledge the part played by the Anzac and Turkish soldiers and sailors in the 1915 campaign. The new response was carved in stone and placed at Ari Burnu in 1985, which the Turkish government allowed to be renamed Anzac Cove [Anzak Koyu] in the same year.

The original was a draft from Kemal, who was ill at the time. He was sensitive to the needs of Anzac’s mothers but he was keeping a weather eye to the politics of the times. In order to protect Turkish territorial sovereignty, he needed to make clear that the land in which the Anzac Battlefield cemeteries were situated actually belonged to Turkey. His far-sighted policy was justified, because before and after 1935, others have claimed possession of the Anzac site and acted as though the area was theirs.

Over-riding all other considerations, and made very clear in the 1985 version is the statement of gracious hosting that is part of Turkish, Islamic culture. Today, Gallipoli is the world Anzac Day shrine, and also the shrine to the Turkish Çanakkale Savaşlari – the 1915 Gallipoli battles which that nation won. Whether we look at the 1934 statement or its 1985 version, Anzac people must be clear that the area holds more Turkish dead, represents the last victory of the Ottoman Empire, and is the foundation place of the modern republic of Turkey. We are the beneficiaries of a special relationship which Mustapha Kemal helped establish. As such, we must acknowledge the graciousness of the Turks and be mindful on Anzac Day or when at Gallipoli, that we are guests in their land.

1 Ibrahim Artuç, 1915 Çanakkale Savaşi, Cağaloğlu, Istanbul: Kastaş, 1992. Reprinted in Adrian Jones, 2004.


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