Exactly 105 years after the Çanakkale Naval and Land Battles which ended with the great victory of the Turkish forces, on March 18, 1915, the bridge of peace and friendship set up between Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand is being bolstered.

Even though more than a century has passed from the Çanakkale Naval and Land Battles, researchers continue to work to shed light on the lost mysteries of the legendary battle. In 1915, in the middle of WWI, hundreds of people lost their lives in Gallipoli. To such an extent that historians described the tragedy as “Gallipoli was like a meat grinder!” Even though, the battle on land is famous, the most violent clashes actually took place in the sea. The imposing fleet of the Allies which tried to pass the Çanakkale Strait was stopped by the Turkish soldiers trying to defend the northwestern Anatolian shores. Many relics of this combat are found on the Gallipoli Peninsula. 

The Strait That Changed The Course Of History 

Why was Gallipoli chosen for this great war? The Çanakkale Strait is the only watercourse that opens from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. In 1915, the British Naval Forces made a plan to defeat the Ottoman State that had fallen into decline. This was how WWI would swiftly come to an end. The plan was defiant but simple: a huge naval fleet would push its way through the Ottoman defense and pass the strait and then the Anzac soldiers (an abbreviation formed of the initials of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - ANZAC) would take over the land battle and the trenches. Then, they would occupy Istanbul, the capital, to support the weakened Russian army by sending articles and ammunition. As a result, Tsarist Russia would keep standing and the impending Bolshevik Revolution would be averted. More importantly, Russians would be led to attack Germany from the east and change the course of history. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was assured that this plan would turn out to be a success. The aim was to capture the Istanbul Strait, which was of strategic significance, in only two weeks. However, this shortcut did not lead to victory but to a disaster. Australian naval historian David Stevens says the following about the Çanakkale Naval Battle, “Truth be told, until I concentrated my studies, I did not know that so many ally ships were sunk in Gallipoli. Within the scope of the extensive research we conducted in the region we saw that the sea bottom is full of sunken ships! This was something I had not heard of!”

Staying Up All Night At The Anzac Cove 

In the light of this striking information, I headed towards the Gallipoli Peninsula to track the traces of one of the most crucial combats in the history of humanity. Truth be told, this was not my first visit to Çanakkale. On each and every visit, acquiring new information on this region that I have visited myriads of times since the first days of my youth, feeds into my curiosity about Çanakkale and the battles that were fought here. Not only Turks show interest in the war of 1915, of course. Each year, thousands of Australians, New Zealanders, French, and British visitors come to Gallipoli to commemorate their ancestors who lost their lives in this war. The Turks commemorate the Great Victory declared on March 18, 1915. Every year, in Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand more events to pay respect and honor the historical battle are organized compared to the previous years. The grandchildren of the 10,000 Anzacs who lost their life in Çanakkale spend great effort for the memorials held on April 24-25 on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The media in their countries show great interest. Australia has officially requested an expansion of the ceremonial area in the Anzac Cove which remains within the border of the Gallipoli Peninsula National Park. It was announced that due to intense demand, the people who will take part in the ceremonies would be determined by lottery. Stating that they felt indebted to Turkey for the great amity and hospitality shown by the Turkish people during the commemorative services held to date, Australia declared 2015 “Year of Turkey in Australia.”

A Peninsula, A Ritual 

Australians and New Zealanders want to join in the traditional Anzac Day that will be held in Gallipoli with many activities. The rehearsals of the 105th Commemorative Service have already started. It is known that the groups vested with this task have started preparations and feasibility studies are being carried out in Gallipoli. Numerous teams from several countries are expected to take part in the rowing competitions to be held in the Çanakkale Strait. Famous names have been invited to attend the ceremonies such as stars of the Australian entertainment industry. April 25, the day when the land combat started in Çanakkale, is a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand. On the day, which is considered the onset of becoming a nation in both countries, tens of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders arrive in Gallipoli. The visitors who meet at Anzac Cove spend the night of April 24 here. The hour 04.30 a.m., when the landing started, is greeted at the cove. This ritual is broadcasted live by TV channels in Australia and New Zealand. The grandchildren of the Anzacs consider the Anzac Cove, and the areas of Kabatepe and Kanlısırt, where their ancestors experienced the greatest loss in the Çanakkale Land Battle, sacred. The kith and kin of the soldiers cannot hold back their tears, especially at Kanlısırt.
The reason behind this is the Lone Pine Monument which keeps alive the memories of more than 5,000 Anzac soldiers who lost their lives here. The pine tree that was brought from Australia and planted here symbolizes the loneliness of each soldier who lost his life on these lands. 

An Australian In Gallipoli 

Let me try to convey to you what Çanakkale means for the descendants of the Australians, by reciting a personal anecdote. It was about a decade ago. I was going around the historical combat zone in the area with a photographer friend of mine. I met Kerry Brain there. A history teacher from Melbourne, Ms. Brain was standing dumbfounded beside a tombstone. Thinking she might have a problem, I asked if I could help. Later, I learned that Ms. Brain had just, at that very instant, found the tomb of her grandfather that she had been searching for a very long time. In those emotional moments, I left her alone with her grandfather’s memory… Putting aside these poignant stories, let us go on a route of exploration that offers an answer to the question, “How do you tour the Gallipoli Peninsula?” From antiquity, the Gallipoli Peninsula has been a gate for the Anatolian civilizations to the European continent. There are 32 ancient cities on this peninsula, with Troy coming first. Gallipoli, one of the most important historical settlements on the peninsula, was the first land in Europe conquered by the Ottomans in 1354. With Turks spreading far and wide in Europe, the income generated by the victories started to pour into Gallipoli. When the city started to thrive, scholars, poets, and artists from all over Anatolia rushed to it. In the 15th century, Gallipoli became the most important Ottoman city following Istanbul, Bursa, and Edirne. Piri Reis drew the world map that evoked universal admiration in 1513 in Gallipoli. Most of the shrines and houses of worship date back to those times.  

A Great Outdoor Museum 

There are around 70 monuments and hundreds of tombs for the Turkish, Australian, French, British, and New Zealander soldiers in the Gallipoli Peninsula National Park which is an outdoor museum that carries the traces of the Çanakkale Battles. For those who will be going there by car, it is recommended to start the excursion at Akbaş on the coastal road that leads to Eceabat. Following the village of Bigalı, which houses Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s museum house, you can visit the area between Conkbayırı and Arıburnu, the location where the combat was the fiercest. Kanlısırt, where the Anzacs suffered the greatest casualties of war in the Çanakkale Battle, is one of the most important places to visit for Australians and New Zealanders. The route that continues from Anzac Cove to Kabatepe and Alçıtepe, finally ends at the great Victory Monument rising at Cape Hisarlık. Throughout the tour of the Gallipoli Peninsula, you can visit many museums, castles, and monuments like the Simulation and Information Center for the Legend of Gallipoli; the Gallipoli War Museum; the Çanakkale Piri Reis Museum and Gallery; the Gallipoli French Cemetary; the Rumeli Mecidiye Bastions of Gallipoli; the Şahindere Turkish War Cemetary; 57th Infantry Regiment Cemetery and Memorial; and the Sergeant Yahya and Corporal Seyit Monuments. The tour will conjure feelings of honor and respect for the history of humanity deep within you…

Did You Know?

In Gallipoli, the Mawlawi Lodge dating back to 1620 on Hamzakoy slope is a stately architectural example of the era. This symmetrical and rectangular stone building is known to be the world’s greatest Mawlawi Lodge with its 900 sq m interior. 

A  Stop Of Culinary Delights Break 

Your Gallipoli tour accompanied by local culinary delights will be unforgettable. Besides fried sardines and calamari, it is worth to enjoy seasonal fish and fresh seafood, peynir helvası, tomato jam, and savory dishes prepared with olive oil. 

Other Articles from This Issue

Skylife Archive