It is not ordinary soil…
The way to approach the Dardanelles is by ship in the pre-dawn light. Beating steadily towards the entrance, lights at the tip of Cape Helles and on the farther Asian shore guide you in. Slowly, the grey shape of the Helles Memorial, the British Empire and Dominion Memorial to the Gallipoli campaign, emerges and the broken walls of the great fort of Seddülbahir, the Barrier of the Sea. The ship slows as a little boat comes out from Seddülbahir and the Straits pilot comes aboard. Picking up speed you can see, clear ahead atop a cliff on the Gallipoli shoreline, a fountain of light playing over the massive square pillars of the largest memorial on the peninsula at the head of Morto Bay – the Çanakkale Sehitleri Aniti (Çanakkale Martyrs Memorial). This is where the Republic of Turkey, in the 1950s, built its tribute to those who had defended the Dardanelles against foreign invasion in World War I.
For Australians it is important to realise the symbolism of the siting of this great Turkish memorial. It is a reminder that for Turkey the story of Gallipoli – the Battle of Çanakkale – embraces not only the land invasion of its territory at Anzac, Suvla and on the southern tip of the peninsula, Helles to the British, but also the earlier naval attempts to force the Dardanelles. Indeed, control of the Dardanelles was what it was all about from first to last not a few square kilometres of barren earth around Anzac Cove. The Çanakkale Sehitleri Aniti gazes out over a dazzling stretch of waterway the passage of which was denied to the Allies in 1915 by the death in battle of over 86,000 Turkish soldiers.
Even before the visitor reaches the memorial itself the significance of the area for Turkey is made clear. A sign beside a picnic area displays a poem by Mehmet Akif Ersoy (1873-1936), who also wrote the words of the Turkish national anthem:
Do not ignore the ground on which you have walked,
It is not ordinary soil.
Reflect on the thousands of people who lie beneath
Without a shroud.
You are the son of a martyr –
Do not hurt your ancestor,
Do not give away this beautiful motherland,
Even if you have the whole world.
Australians later acknowledged the great courage and sacrifice of the Turkish soldiers at the Battle of Çanakkale. Official historian Charles Bean, who had been at Gallipoli between April and December 1915, returned to Anzac in February 1919 and rode again along the old front line at Lone Pine, Johnston’s Jolly, Quinn’s Post and up towards the Nek:
I saw now, with something of a shock, standing out near the site of the vanished tree [the pine tree at Lone Pine], a white obelisk – a monument … put up by the Turks to mark the spot at which they had stopped the terrific August thrust … Obviously the Turks were very proud of their achievement. And … those who stopped the invading spearheads on Gallipoli well deserved commemoration as soldiers and patriots
[Charles Bean, Gallipoli Mission, Sydney, 1990, pp.48-49]
What the Battle of Çanakkale against the Anzacs had cost Turkey is well illustrated inside the museum at the Çanakkale Şehitleri Aniti. Here are many original evocative objects and photographs from the battlefield – belt buckles, a British wireless, shields used by snipers and even a set of false teeth. On the walls are placards with words by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In 1918 he was interviewed by author Ruşen Ünaydin for his book Interview with Mustafa Kemal, the Commander of Anafarta and on one placard is this quotation from that interview:
Meşhur bir alaydir bu, Şünkü hepsi şehit olmuştur.
Atatürk was referring to a unit he knew well, the 57th Regiment of the 19th Division. It was at the head of that regiment that he had set out for war on the morning of 25 April 1915 to meet the Australians on the slopes leading up from the beach to the heights of Conkbayiri (Chunuk Bair). In the days that followed, and subsequently at battles like Lone Pine, the 57th fought well but paid a terrible price for Atatürk’s words at the museum in the Çanakkale Şehitleri Aniti read in English:
This is a famous regiment, because all of them were killed in action.