Today marks Turkey’s National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. The day commemorates the formation of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 1920 during the Turkish War of Independence – when the Turks initially formed militias and eventually regrouped into a new standing army and kept on fighting after the end of World War I. It resulted ultimately in the removal of the imperialist Allied invasion forces and their proxies from the country.
Two days later on April 25 each year is Anzac Day, commemorating the heroism, honor, courage, friendship and sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), or shortly Anzacs, at Gallipoli, which was also a battle that forms the basis of the Australian national legend.
Interestingly, as with the closeness of the dates, the Gallipoli battle also laid the groundwork for Turkey’s War of Independence and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
Akin to how diamonds are formed under extreme pressure, the horrific trench warfare laid the foundations of Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.
Accordingly, this background makes the Gallipoli battle important for the national identity of the three countries, who have cultivated this connection with mutual respect for over 100 years.
Despite the deep mutual political connections at the fundamental level of nationhood, and together with a long military alignment since the Korean War, the potential commercial relationship between the countries is arguably underutilized when compared to Australia’s commercial relationships with the United Kingdom or the United States, and previously, with China.
The most significant large-scale commercial activity between the countries includes Turkish white goods company Beko-Arçelik, which dominates the European Union and U.K. markets, and in Australia could potentially contribute to its fledgling manufacturing industry; likewise, an Australian investment firm made an AU$1 billion ($770 million) investment in Turkey’s Port of Mersin.
The rest of the annual $770 million trade volume between the countries is mainly due to the connections between the countries provided by Australians of Turkish descent.
Otherwise, the relationship is severely underutilized given the military and political solidarity between the countries and that Australia and Turkey are both in the G-20, having the top 20 economies in the world.
The countries are also members of MIKTA, the seemingly low profile grouping of influential, multi-civilizational and economically growing middle-power countries comprising of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia.
Nevertheless, there is huge potential for improvement in commercial relations, especially given that Turkey is now a major high-tech weapons producer and exporter – interestingly co-producing an indigenous light tank with Australia’s neighbor Indonesia, which also sports a British turret.
This is important because historically the development of a country’s manufacturing industry is based on its defense industry.
The Turkish defense industry is now a major world player with seven companies listed in the top 100 weapons companies globally. It has indigenously developed and produced NATO-grade – and better – missiles, machine guns, multiple hand grenade launchers, short-to-medium range air defense systems, smart missiles, guidance systems, radars, electronic warfare tools, armored vehicles, the fuselage and other major parts for the F-35 and indigenous attack helicopters.
It has also recently fired up its own indigenously developed prototype helicopter turbofan engine, builds and exports battleships, and battle-changing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with extremely accurate and devastating missiles.
These are some of the weapons systems that Turkey builds and exports today. There are also other weapons development programs including the Hürjet, a light jet fighter, the TF-X, a fifth-generation indigenous stealth fighter program and a space program, among other big-ticket items.
The people-to-people relations in terms of the military seem to be at the best level possible given the special exceptions provided by each country to one another, including allowing descendants of Turkish forces to march in the Anzac Day Parade together with the Australian Returned Services League (RSL) – an honor not even officially permitted for descendants of Australia’s fellow Western nations of Italy and Germany, the current close cooperation between the three countries at Gallipoli, and the Atatürk Monument at Anzac Parade, Canberra, the only one in Australia dedicated to an enemy commander.
This closeness, however, sometimes does not trickle down to day-to-day interactions between average citizens.
Unfortunately, as indicated by the U.N. recently, the world is experiencing a generalized trend of rising global polarization and intolerance. According to the University of South Australia International Center for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding, which was the brainchild of the late Bob Hawke – an Oxford University Rhodes scholar and one of the longest-serving and most loved Australian prime ministers to serve in the post – found in a 2018 study that Australian Muslims are severely discriminated against in the labor market, are less likely to be called for a job interview, earn less and are more likely to be unemployed or under-employed, despite having equal to higher rates of education levels than mainstream Australia.
The study found that: “Despite their high levels of educational achievement, Muslims are less likely to work in professional fields. All these indicators suggest that a significant proportion of Muslim Australians occupy a relatively marginal position in Australian society, both socially and economically.”
The study concluded that: “The discrimination that Muslims are experiencing in the labor and employment markets, in particular, pose important public policy challenges for Australia. They require appropriate remedial policies to promote social and economic inclusion,” and that the matter is “urgent.”
Furthermore, in terms of “social distance,” which the report defines as “the relationships that exist between people of different ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds that coexist within the same society,” the study found that despite 70% of respondents saying they would accept Muslims as family members, they were last on the list of religious groups they would accept as family members.
Contrast this with the attitudes of the Anzacs on the battlefield in Gallipoli.
The reality-check of this study is difficult to digest. It does not quite fit into the humanistic and close actions displayed toward each other by the Anzac and Turkish soldiers at Gallipoli, despite the extremely horrific conditions.
As the Spanish Inquisition and other widespread persecutions have shown, bigotry targeting Muslims is like the proverbial canary in the mine – it ultimately indicates the beginnings of, or accompanies, widespread and institutionalized persecution of the “other.”
Ultimately, no one is safe, and this herd mentality will eventually affect all parts of society, similar to how the Spanish Inquisition eventually did. Subsequently, this will soon be a major problem for Australia given that it is home to people originating from 150 different countries.
One of the best ways to commemorate the Turkish and Anzac soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for us could be to proactively stop people in society, especially the mainstream media, from accepting and normalizing Islamophobia and any kind of discrimination based on ethnic or religious differences.
Considering the overwhelming evidence of the extreme humanity, honor and respect for the individual and human life shown by the Anzac and Ottoman soldiers in the most horrific conditions imaginable – which usually bring out the worst in people – it is safe to say that they would not believe in the world’s, and perhaps Australia’s, current trajectory.
Despite this, the relationship between the countries is unparalleled, especially given that both countries are members of two separate civilizations as identified by the highly influential academic Samuel P. Huntington – the Islamic and the non-Orthodox-Christian Western civilizations.
At the Gallipoli Battle, the Turkish and Anzac soldiers did not let their cultural differences disrupt their humanity, dignity and principled mutual respect as humans and warriors. Two of their many acts exemplifying this, which are etched in Australian, New Zealand and Turkish history, included exchanging cigarettes and pausing the battle to bury the fallen, as well as friendly interactions during this cease-fire.
These actions were rarely seen in the past nor in the present day anywhere in the world. This is no doubt a shining example of the good things humans are capable of, and the Anzacs and Turkish soldiers hold a special place in world history.
Although both the Anzacs and the Turks fought against each other in one of the most devastating, harsh and brutal battles in history, remarkably neither side developed enmity toward the other at the time or after Gallipoli – another example to the world.
The interactions between the Anzac and Turkish soldiers, who represent the Western and the Islamic civilizations, should be remembered, honored and replicated. Their conduct in such desperate conditions is a model for how to fight against today’s increasingly polarized world.
In an inspiring speech, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said in tribute to the Anzacs: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
*Copy editor at Daily Sabah
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