When I think of Gallipoli, I think of Australia and New Zealand. Or at least that was the case until I visited the peninsula in 2019. Many more British and Irish soldiers died in Gallipoli than those from Australia or New Zealand. This was not a war fought in the defense of Australia or New Zealand. The Anzac did not bravely defend their own lands, but instead attacked those lands rightly belonging to Turkey.
In Gallipoli there were 130,840 deaths. Approximately 4,000 of these men were Irish. By far the biggest loser in terms of men who died was the Ottoman Empire. 86,692 of their men died defending Gallipoli. In addition to those who died, 392,856 men were injured during the campaign. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers died in the campaign.
So why the annual expedition by so many Australian and New Zealander’s to Turkey. I think there are two obvious reasons. The first is outlined on an Australian Government website for why it became relevant:
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future.
However the site does not reflect on the damage done to the local Turkish population, and only looks inward:
Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.
The second reason is the incredible warmth of Turkish hospitality. I wonder how welcoming Australians would have been of Japanese tourists had the latter tried to occupy Australia in the same way as the Australians did in Turkey. Of course, the Turks welcome the Anzac tourists also for commercial reasons. On a monument in Gallipoli is attributed to Ataturk, and which is often quoted elsewhere
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 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.
However it seems unlikely that Ataturk ever spoke this line about treating Anzac and Turkish remains in the same way. This is discussed in more detail in a Guardian article. I think the quote probably evolved in modern times when more and more antipodean tourists made their way to Gallipoli. And perhaps also as Turkey sought out closer relationships with other European countries. The region has a long tradition of being a place where people from Europe and Asia could meet, and this openness can be seen on the ground in Gallipoli with its array of both local and foreign military cemeteries. As I have written in other articles, there is a close link between tourism and the use of war memorials over time and this is especially the case in Gallipoli. In 2010, there were 17,000 visitors to Gallipoli for Anzac Day.
For many Australians and New Zealanders Gallipoli is a place to visit to connect with their origin story. However, this is only the origin story of the recent settlers to that region and not the Aboriginal and Maori people who came before. Are they seeking out something authentic that they might otherwise not have? I can hardly criticize those who make this visit, seeing that I made the same trip myself. The commemoration of war says so much more about how we want to see ourselves, than it says about our attitude to war itself.