Luckily, Turkey has Craig Roach, aka Roachie, an Australian expat artist, historian and tour guide devoted to the Gallipoli peninsula, which was the scene of one of history’s most legendary battles, referred to in English as the “Gallipoli Campaign” or the “Battle of the Dardanelles.” The Gallipoli Campaign took place during World War I in what is modern Turkey’s Gelibolu and was a conflict between the Ottoman and Entente powers seeking to control the Dardanelles. ANZAC refers to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps that served among the Allied forces in what was these geographically remote countries’ first foray into battle in World War I, which led to major casualties. Thus, every year April 25, the date that marks the landing of the ANZAC forces in Gallipoli, is commemorated in what has become a pilgrimage of national identity for Australians and New Zealanders.
Similar to the troops themselves, every year on April 25, thousands of Aussies and Kiwis fly halfway across the world to pay tribute to the soldiers lost in battle at the memorial site in Gallipoli. For many, visiting the memorials of Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair and attending the dawn service led by Australian and New Zealand government officials is considered a rite of passage and is the culmination of plans years in the making. Participants have even had to take part in a lottery to secure a spot as thousands fly out each year to visit the historical battlegrounds. Due to the pandemic, the past two years have been the first time in history that the official ceremony of Anzac Day did not take place.
The good news is that this year Anzac Day will resume, albeit at a smaller scale than usual. Speaking with Craig Roach, aka “Roachie,” I learned that the current situation as follows: “2022 has presented us with many challenges we’ve never seen before. Usually, the event is operated by the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs and they bring a whole bunch of unpaid Australian volunteers who work hand-in-hand with the Turkish authorities. They also provide advice, directions and registration of those attending. Taking into consideration the effects of the pandemic on visitors and locals alike, this year the DVA were unsure how they would commit to the event and only decided to jump on in late March.
"At our annual meeting of those involved, Tursab (the association of Turkish travel agents) the Australian Consular Mission, the jandarma (gendarmerie) and the DVA are usually in attendance, it was decided that the event should go ahead after the two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. They don’t hold out much hope for a large event and we expect a small figure of pilgrims, probably around 200 people. Those people will register as usual and receive their pass. This is all free and necessary so they can plan numbers ahead of time, however, those that have not registered can still do so on the site up until the evening of April 24. So, finally, we are good to go!” explained Roach, whom as you can see is deeply involved in the organization and history of anything Gallipoli related. In addition to his beautiful artwork inspired by the region, this Gallipoli artist also organizes historical and art-centric tours.
I asked Roach how to visit Gallipoli on Anzac Day or any given day. While during the commemoration he usually works as a Gallipoli guide for Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours based in Australia, he also provides tours that can be organized throughout the year. Roach also pointed out that there are other reputable agencies that offer tours as well.
“I consider myself lucky, I’ve experienced Gallipoli in many ways over the past three decades or more. The first time in the '80s we camped in the small pine forest and jandarma station near Kabatepe. Every day we would wander into the area and explored every beach, gully, trench and ridge. Great experience and exercise, phew! On later visits, we would catch the morning dolmuş (minibus) out there and hopefully catch the evening dolmuş back.
"These days the easiest way to explore the area is through one of the local tour companies. TJ’s Tours and Crowded House Tours operate day tours from Istanbul for those on a tight timeline. They include a five-hour drive, lunch, a guided tour around the Anzac or British Sectors then five hours back to Istanbul. I don’t recommend these – really, it takes a toll on you. I do recommend using these companies but spread out your time. They can pick you up from Istanbul, you can do ANZAC on that afternoon, then stay for a couple of days and visit the British Sector and let them take you to ancient Troy. You can then appreciate that this neck of the woods has been fighting over this real estate for about 5,000 years,” he said.
As for other tips for a Gallipoli trip, Roach says: “Gallipoli Houses in Kocadere has always been a great place to base yourself as a gateway to your adventures. Ozlem and Eric are wonderful hosts and can advise you on routes to enjoy. If you want to just rent a car and take off then there are loads of options. You can stay at Kum Hotel near Kabatepe and even enjoy a fabulous sunset and seafood dinner in the harbor. There really is so much to see and do. Your readers can contact me anytime, as you can see I love talking about everything Gallipoli."
Throughout the pandemic, Roach has been focusing on his Gallipoli Art, which he will be showcasing in an exhibition to be held in the lobby of the Buyuk Truva hotel in Çanakkale over the Anzac April 21-26. If any readers are in the area please drop in. I’ll be out with my group most days but in the exhibition most late afternoons.