Posted 01 November 2008 - 07:52 am
for what it is worth, Turkey's leading English language paper, the Turkish Daily News, printed my response to the Turkish ambassador's recent article on the roadworks. The TDN had run the ambassador's piece, entitled Lessons of Gallipoli, on October 29, with the Sydney Morning Herald having originally carried the article on October 28. The SMH and the rest of the Fairfax media which carried the article by the ambassador has not responded to my request for a right of reply. At least the Turkish media has embraced the concept of free speech.
Anyway, for those who want to wade through it, here is my piece.
Unlearned Lessons of Gallipoli
By Bill Sellars
There is much in the opinion piece Lessons of Gallipoli written by Turkey’s ambassador to Australia, Murat Ersavci, and carried by the Sydney Morning Herald on October 28 with which I agree.
There is most definitely a strong bond between Turkey, Australia and New Zealand that has grown up in the years following the First World War. This bond is grounded in the shared heritage born of the experiences and suffering during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.
As the ambassador rightly said, Turkey does much to facilitate the visits by foreigners to the battlefields, most particularly around the time of April 25, Anzac Day.
Turkey has indeed entered into agreements with the governments of Australia and New Zealand aimed at protecting the battlefields of 1915.
Most of all, I agree with Mr Ersavci’s statement that Gallipoli is in Turkey.
Where we differ is on what the issues are in the current debate over the recent damage to historical sites on the battlefield.
Mr Ersavci wrote that the road to Anzac Cove was being repaired and somewhat widened to allow access for the increasing number of visitors.
The fact of the matter is that the recent work is being carried out on the road running along what is known as Second Ridge, the front line area from the first day of the fighting until the last, not on the coastal road running around Anzac Cove, some 800 metres below the hills.
The work to widen the coastal road took place in early 2005, and was the cause of the controversy over the destruction of historical sites at the time.
Turkey has agreed to work with Australia and New Zealand to protect the battlefields. One such agreement, coming in the wake of the damage to the Anzac Cove area in 2005, was to establish a joint committee of experts to conduct a full historical and archaeological survey of the area. There was also a commitment that no developments, particularly excavations, would be carried out till this survey, which has yet to begin, was completed.
It was this commitment that Turkish officials failed to meet when excavating wide ditches along either side of Second Ridge road.
I do agree though with the ambassador’s statement, made to the Australian media on October 27, that, “Somebody has been digging at the side of the road, digging things up”.
Someone was, and they were using heavy earth moving equipment belonging to the Turkish State Roads Authority. It is this work that has caused irreparable damage to the battlefield and disturbed the remains of some of the many thousands of the fallen who have no known grave, their bones being removed hastily from the site by Turkish authorities.
However, rather than staying with an “I said, he said” style debate, maybe it would be better to hear what “they” said, they being some of the Turks Mr Ersavci claims will be offended by statements that Turkish authorities were responsible for the damage to historic sites.
In an article carried by leading Turkish daily Hurriyet on October 27, Professor Haluk Oral, an academic at Bosphorus University and author of the book Gallipoli 1915 Through Turkish Eyes, quoted a few lines written by one of that country’s most famous poets, Mehmet Akif, to the fallen defenders of the peninsula.
“It would be worthy if your ancestors descended from the skies and came to kiss that clean forehead.”
“If their ancestors really did descend to earth, they would have a really hard time to find a forehead to kiss among skulls shattered by bulldozers,” said Oral.
The same article also quoted historian Sahin Aldogan, co-author of a bi-lingual guidebook to the battlefields, as saying after the Anzac Cove incident in 2005 and the protests of Australia and New Zealand it was agreed to find a joint solution to any problems.
“At that time officials from the three countries got together with historians and talked. There the decision was made to carry out no changes in the area without consulting with historians. It was decided that before any decisions, before any bulldozers entered that area, historians should go in first. But we see once again that no one cares about this aspect. The operators of the graders are working, digging everywhere with no care…”
Unal Omercioglu, the head of the Canakkale Chamber of Architects, said that, “respect for history can not be left to the initiative of a bulldozer operator”.
Interviewed by local newspaper Canakkale Olay on October 29, he also pointed out that plans for the recent work on Second Ridge had not been submitted for the approval of the Canakkale Nature and Culture Protection Committee, as was required by regulations governing the national park.
The October 28 edition of the same paper carried an interview with Yetkin Iscen, a well know writer and expert on the campaign.
“According to Iscen, this site, which should have special protection and should be managed by scientists and historians, is left in the hands of Forestry Ministry staff who have no connections with the issue and do not know the area at all,” the article said.
“With this mentality, work is conducted in a manner at a historical site as if a fire break is being opened in a forest. Without asking anyone, without asking historians,” Iscen said.
Perhaps here too the ambassador is right, at least in part. They do seem offended.
Maybe it would be best to conclude with a few last words from Turkey, a stanza from the stirring Turkish national anthem, the Independence March:
“View not the soil you tread on as mere earth, recognise it!
And think about the shroudless thousands who lie so nobly beneath you.”
Bill Sellars is an Australian writer who lives on the Gallipoli Peninsula.