Winters grip has been slow to loosen on northern Turkey. A sign just flashed past, Istanbul 200km. Around midnight my bus will deposit me at a hastily booked hostel of which I don’t even know the name. Yesterday was Anzac day. I marked the day by not attending the dawn service at Anzac Cove. The comfort of a bed was more appealing than a crowded twelve-hour wait outside in freezing conditions. I salute those that made the pilgrimage. Instead my time was spent bathing in the flooded trenches of Pamukkale and chasing my camera as it charged down the carbonate Cliffside to go for its own swim. As Anzac day came to a close I boarded a bus from Selcuk to Canakkale. Running two hours late it arrived at the Canakkale port around 1.45am. Cold and tired I made my way onto the ferry that then took me across to Eceabat.
Istanbul 169 km.
At 3am I walked into the windowless closet that was posing as a six-bed dormitory in Eceabat. My bed, for the few hours of night left, was a top bunk that just happened to have everyone’s luggage and clothing strewn all over it. The other five sleeping occupants weren’t overjoyed when I turned on the lights in order to clear it, somehow finding enough space on the ground for everything. Finally climbing into bed, sleep escaped me. Within five minutes a bullfrog snore vibrated through the room and acted as a focus for all my nasty thoughts of the day. When, sometime later, I realised that I was trying to turn the snoring into a beat for a song in the hope that it would lull me into sleep, I took action. In the pitch black I gingerly lowered myself from the top bunk, landing with a surprisingly loud crash. At least the snoring had now stopped. Retrieving the earplugs stowed in my backpack I climbed back into bed and plugged them in. What seems like only moments later I woke up. It was time to get ready and check out. My post Anzac day Anzac tour started at midday.
…We have arrived in Istanbul. At some point I fell asleep and now groggily stumble off the bus to find my nights accommodation. It’s midnight and I’m staying in a bar. The bar lights are turned off and the rowdy crowd of Australian patrons have been rushed inside as police cars patrol the street ensuring no venues are operating outside of their midnight licences. Sitting in the dark I am embarrassed by my countrymen as I listen to their overly loud inane prattle, while the owners continually plead with them to be quiet for just a few minutes until the cops have gone.
It has been a long and emotional day. The post Anzac day Anzac tour was predictably filled with Aussies and Kiwis. As I walked the graves what stuck me hardest was the ages of those deceased; 21,25,18,23, 28 and so on and so on. So young. Many times I found my eyes brimming with tears, but never did one fall. I’d shed my share a week earlier over another young mans life that was taken before his time. Instead I began to feel angry. What a waste of life; a disgraceful waste of life, which continues, in one form or another, everyday around the world. Libya is massacring it’s own people. Syria has now joined the party. The self-immolation of a vegetable vender in Tunisia was a desperate act committed in protest for the freedom of a man’s family, his people and his country; fighting for a better future the only way he knew how. Every day more atrocities; some we turn a blind eye to while others we oppose, often for the wrong reasons.
Yet Anzac day, April 25th, is a day Australians truly come together. For a moment every year we all reflect back on the courage, mateship, and honour that each and every Digger exemplified, while also putting a face to the waste, horror and tragedy of war. For a moment each year we promise to be become more than we are, learn from the mistakes of the past and to build a better future for our children. For a moment.
Australia day in contrast, for me, is just a day to party, listen to music, drink and be overly loud and proud and Australian. It’s unity and identity through brute force and fake tattoos.
Ataturk was commander of the 19th division and oversaw the defence of Gallipoli. Had the allies crushed the Turks in the Gallipoli campaign then Turkish history would have been changed forever. Ataturk’s successes on the battlefront led to his rise in power and his eventual forging of Turkey into a new united country from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Had he died at Gallipoli or been crushed in defeat this would never have happened.
Our defeat at Gallipoli, as devastating as it was, has done more in the long term to help create a true sense of identity, to define and, particularly in Turkey’s case, to build our two countries than any other event in the last hundred years.