Starting in the early hours of Monday, people of three nations, together and separately at times, remembered their ancestors who fought a fateful battle 107 years ago.
Travelers from Australia and New Zealand joined dignitaries from Turkey and other nations at the former World War I battlefields at Gallipoli, or Gelibolu in Turkish, for a solemn service at dawn Monday to remember troops killed during an unsuccessful British-led campaign that aimed to take the Ottoman Empire out of the war.
As the sun rose, participants held a minute of silence to reflect on the sacrifices of tens of thousands of soldiers from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, known as the Anzacs, who landed on the beaches at Gallipoli, in the province of Çanakkale.
"At this time 107 years ago, on ships that covered the ocean off this tiny bay, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders were preparing to land on this rugged coast,” New Zealand army chief, Maj. Gen. John Boswell, said during the ceremony. "For all but a few, this was to be the first experience of the horrors of combat. Most were convinced that, as one New Zealand soldier wrote in his story: ‘It will be the greatest day in our lives.’ The sunrise they witnessed that day was for all too many to be the last they ever saw,” he continued. "Across our countries, home after home was plunged into mourning.”
The Gallipoli campaign aimed to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean Sea to Istanbul through the Dardanelles, and knock the Ottomans out of the war. The April 25, 1915, landings marked the start of a fierce battle that lasted for eight months. More than 44,000 Allied soldiers and 86,000 Ottoman soldiers died.
The battlefields and cemeteries at the site in Çanakkale have become a place of pilgrimage for many Australians and New Zealanders who sleep on the beaches until the start of the dawn service. But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic kept the number of visitors small this year.
Among those who made it to the ceremony was 27-year-old Taylor Murphy from Victoria, Australia, who said the pros of being at Gallipoli "outweigh the cons of the pandemic."
"It feels quite surreal to be here,” she said. "We are feeling quite emotional.”
Some 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) northwest of Gallipoli at the other extremity of Europe’s front line of World War I, Australian and New Zealand officials gathered in Flanders Fields in Belgium to remember, but equally to assess the present by centering on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. "War has returned to Europe in the form of Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Once again, our people, Belgians, Australians, New Zealanders and our friends and allies stand shoulder to shoulder with one another in our support for freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” said New Zealand Ambassador Diana Reaich. The war, which has entered its third month, was also on the mind of Australian envoy Caroline Millar, who said that the cornerstones of the post-World War II era were being put to the test.
"We also recommit in the words of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Tragically, we are called to honor that commitment again today with the terrible violence of Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Millar said.
In Australia’s largest city, Sydney, downtown Martin Place was filled to capacity with tens of thousands at its dawn service. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and deputy opposition leader Richard Marles acknowledged Ukraine’s fight for freedom when they spoke at a service in the northern city of Darwin, which was devastated by Japanese bombing during World War II. Australia did not restrict the numbers attending its commemorations for the first time during the pandemic. The service in Auckland, New Zealand, was initially planned to be closed to the public, but a veterans’ association intervened and a smaller-than-usual crowd was allowed to attend. A Ukrainian flag was flown above the Auckland War Memorial Museum ceremony.
Monday was the first such commemoration of casualties of all wars since both Australia and New Zealand withdrew troops from Afghanistan last year.
The tragic fate of troops from Australia and New Zealand in the Gallipoli campaign is believed to have inspired the two nations to carve national identities distinct from the British. Anzac Day is marked as a coming of age for the two nations.
Gallipoli is also considered to be an important turning point in the history of modern Turkey. It was at Gallipoli that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rose to prominence as a commander of the Turkish forces and went on to lead Turkey’s War of Independence and found the Turkish Republic.
Also on Monday, hundreds of Turkish students marched along a 5-kilometer (3-mile) track to honor the soldiers of the Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment, who were among the first to defend against the Gallipoli landings. Atatürk – who was Lt. Col. Mustafa Kemal at the time – is known to have ordered the regiment: "I do not order you to attack, I order you to die."
At an event organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, students set out from a camping ground in Kocadere village and ended their march at Conkbayırı or Chunuk Bair, the scene of a grueling battle that pitted Ottoman troops against the invading forces. Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu was among about 3,000 people who attended the march, including local administrators and generals deployed in Çanakkale and Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Ahmet Misbah Demircan. One of the oldest participants of the march was 86-year-old Turgut Kaçmaz, son of Hüseyin Kaçmaz, a veteran of the war 107 years ago who passed away in 1994. The march in the early hours of Monday was quiet, with silence occasionally broken by the sound of bombs and flares as organizers sought to evoke the feelings of the soldiers 107 years ago. Some among the participants also staged a reenactment of the battle. Participants carried a 107-meter-long Turkish flag during the march that took about two hours. Participants recited poems and sang songs about the battle during the breaks along the way.
On Sunday, several ceremonies were held in Çanakkale, on the first day of commemoration events, including remembrance of Turkish soldiers at a memorial and commemoration events dedicated to French and British soldiers. Also on Sunday, the remains of 17 missing French soldiers were handed over to French military officials and put to rest alongside their other fallen comrades during the ceremonies. Their remains were found during restoration work on a castle and surrounding areas on the Çanakkale Peninsula. Only one out of the 17 French soldiers – Cpl. Paul Roman, of the 1st Engineers Regiment – has been formally identified.