Turkey, Istanbul and Anzac Day: Part One

During my time on exchange I celebrated my 21st. It was odd having it so far from home, like most I had planned to have a party with my nearest and dearest. Instead I went out in Paris, had a few too many drinks, overslept, and turned up three hours late for a compulsory Saturday class (which I maintain is a stupid time to even have a class). So because I was to be away, I wanted to do something extra special, this ended up being a gift from my Mum to go to ANZAC cove for ANZAC Day, something I had always wanted to do.

Although as part of this trip, I also visited Istanbul, It felt appropriate in this blog entry to focus solely on my experience of ANZAC  Day, in order to treat it in a way that is becoming and respectful of what it is.

Many of my fellow exchange students asked why I was going to Turkey, whereupon I would try to explain what ANZAC Day was and why it was so important to Australians. This usually mean allusions to Bastille Day or Memorial Day. But, the truth is it is more than that. As Australians we have a relatively short history as a country, with a very mixed up national identity that was built on immigrant roots. When we entered the war, we forged a new identity and entered the world stage as an individual nation like never before. It was through those qualities Australians possessed, forged from our convict past , that defined and sustained our troops. That is; Loyalty, ingenuity,perseverance in the presence of adversity and of course, mate ship,

Like most Australians, I grew up attending the dawn services on ANZAC day every year, learning about the sacrifices  made by those that went to war, and the ANZAC legend they became. Although I had always respected and acknowledged the days importance, it was only the last few years that I really started to understand what happened, and why the sacrifice of those boys that landed on ANZAC cove, only to be slaughtered, stood out in my mind.  Those that went to war were usually my own age, if they were lucky, often they were younger. What these boys gave up was their youth and their lives, all in service to their country. I very much doubt, I would be able to do what they did, even though I am now older than most of those who inlisted. They paid the ultimate sacrifice. This was why like many young Australians and New Zealanders, I felt the urge to make that pilgrimage to ANZAC cove.

Getting to ANZAC Cove itself was an adventure, after a mix up in flight bookings, a rebooking, and a subsequent 16 hour layover in Kiev, I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey where I met up with my tour group. This is the most popular, and quite frankly easy, way of going about attending the service.  We were briefed, went for dinner in the city, before setting out early the next day for a five hour drive through country Turkey to get to the cove.

In a way it felt slightly like an anti climax, because there is a lot of waiting around, although we arrived at the cove early, most of the tour coaches were sent back to the nearest town to wait for the park to open. here we were able to visit one of the memorials set up, as well as grab some ice creams and playing cards (which turned out to be very handy) When we did enter the park in the long cue of tour buses, we trekked to the security check point, before (futilely) endeavouring to claim a spot  on the grass to sleep for the night. In the end we claimed some space in the grand stands and went about unrolling sleeping bags, throwing on our thermal wear and playing cards, with some patchy sleep in between. The weather at the cove is distinctly volatile, being very hot in the day, but freezing overnight with no wind cover and the breeze communing straight off the water, I was very glad for our tour-issued hoodies.

ANZAC cove is a funny kind of place to be the night before the dawn service, because nothing is really happening until 3 am when the dignitaries arrive. It has the feeling of a huge slumber party/market. Although alcohol is strictly prohibited, there was a real vibe in the air that was both upbeat and solemn, everyone was hunkered down in their sleeping bags and beanies clutching hot drinks and flags. During the night they showed different bits and pieces on the projection screens such as documentaries and inscriptions from the tombs of soldiers, these really set the scene, and reminded me why I was there.  Sleep was broken due to the hustle and bustle of people arriving well into the night, certainly the 1 am performance of the military band didn’t help. So me and one of the friends I had made on the tour went for a wonder to have a look at some of the smaller cemeteries just around from the cove. Despite there being several main memorials in and around the cove, there are lots of little ones dotted around the place which happen to be exquisitely charming. Somehow despite being just around the corner from where the thousands of attendees were, this particular cemetery was the epitome of tranquility. Situated right on the shoreline, the only noise came from the water breaking on the pebbled beach just metres away, pitch black bar for the moon off the water and our own head torches. This was possibly the most profound moment for me, a time to reflect and wonder through the gravestones and read about who lay there. What struck me was that there were all manner of individuals there. Australians, Turks and Indians all side by side. Poetically, at the entrance to this part of the cove, there was a commemorative statue which carried the words of the Turkish leader Ataturk, which goes as follows;

“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 now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.”

This possibly best sums up the current relationship between Turks and Australians, everyone I met while in Turkey had tremendous respect for Australians that came from the mutual loss.

Just before dawn, footage was shown of the services that had just been held in Australia and New Zealand.

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