Posted 26 October 2008 - 01:37 PM
This is the thread I hoped I would never have to open. Over the past week, Turkish bulldozers have cleared soil and undergrowth to a width of up the three metres and to a depth of up to one metre either side of the road running along the Second Ridge in the Anzac sector.
As a result of this, large quantities of human remains have been unearthed and then removed by Turkish officials. There has been no attempt to preserve, identify or even find out whether they are the remains of Allied or Turkish soldiers. Relics from the campaign have been destroyed and parts of trenches filled in with rubble or ploughed through.
I have been told by senior Australian officials that they had no prior knowledge of this work and had in fact been categorically told that no excavation work would take place in this region as part of Turkish work to put a layer of new asphalt on the existing road bed.
So, three years after an Australian Senate inquiry found road works at Anzac Cove had caused serious damage to historical sites on the iconic World War 1 battlefield, Turkish bulldozers have again ploughed their way through the heritage shared by Turkey, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Again, truck loads of spoil from the excavations have been removed.
The Turkish authorities are also carrying out a massive project near the head of Gully Ravine, putting new car parks and memorials on top of Fusilier Bluff that will cover 10,000 square metres. Again, traces from the campaign, including two mine craters, are to be destroyed.
I did a television interview for Australian state television today, tried to put the put the case why this site was important and why it should be left untouched. Soon after filming this, Turkish paramilitary Gendarmes arrived and demanded the tape be handed over by the crew. That didn't happen but filming stopped.
I have just been told that a full page article in Turkey's leading daily paper, including input from Turkish historians Sahin Aldogan, Haluk Oral and myself, detailing what has happened at ANZAC and Gully Ravine has just been pulled. No reason given.
As I write this, I have also just been told by a Turkish friend who was out near Lone Pine and who had also been interviewed for the Australian TV piece, that where a large quantity of human remains had been found there are now National Park workers digging feverishly, uncovering yet more remains to be hidden from prying press eyes. The work was being overseen by the Park director himself, who abused my friend for being a traitor and helping foreigners.
Australian officials were informed of this situation last Monday and did apparently manage to have the work halted Wednesday. By this time, the graders had cut through an area running from below Pine Ridge to 400 metres short of Chunuk Bair. For those who have never been here, that is far more than the area of the old front lines. The CWGC was also immediately informed of the human remains that were found and their location, though as I said, this site is now being cleared.
Three and a half years ago, in the wake of the Anzac Cove road fiasco, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand agreed to set up a committee of historians and archaeologists to conduct a complete survey of the Ariburnu battlefields. It was also agreed that no major work would be done till this committee completed its study.
That committee has not yet started its work. While Australia named its representatives to the committee in 2005, Turkish officials appear to have little interest and Australia officials have told me Turkey has repeatedly stalled the plan. And the digging goes on.
So many people have tried to raise awareness as to the issues of battlefield preservation and careful planning and even the need for battlefields archaeology here in Turkey, with absolutely no success at all. I really felt we may have achieved something in 2005, how wrong I was.