Poignant tribute to Anzacs chiselled off Gallipoli memorial
The removal of a much-loved Gallipoli tribute to Anzac soldiers has sparked fears a hardline Islamist narrative is endangering Kiwis' warm relationship with the Turkish people.
This week, a Gallipoli tour guide posted a photo of the effaced Ataturk Memorial at the north end of Anzac Cove. "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives," it had read. "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."
The words, wrongly attributed to Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, have become entrenched in Anzac mythology. They are inscribed on monuments in Wellington and Canberra, and have been repeated by a succession of New Zealand and Australian prime ministers each Anzac Day.
But they have been roughly chiselled off the Gallipoli monument as part of a sweeping "renovation" of all Turkish memorials and epitaphs on the peninsula, beginning last month.
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More than 30,000 Kiwis visit Turkey every year, and have traditionally received a warm welcome. But security in Turkey is increasingly tenuous as Erdogan carries out the harshest crackdown in decades after a failed coup attempt by a section of the Turkish military last year. About 50,000 people have been arrested, and another 100,000 sacked from their jobs.
New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises against all non-essential travel to both Ankara and Istanbul due to a heightened risk of terrorism and the potential for civil unrest. Those visiting Gallipoli are advised there is "some risk" to their safety, after a terror threat ahead of this year's Anzac Day commemorations.
Turkish sources told the Guardian the removal of the tribute to the Johnnies reflected "a growing Islamist interpretation". President Recep Tayyip Erdogan' government was casting Gallipoli as a clash between invading "crusaders" and "jihadi defenders".
Vietnam war veteran and Auckland RSA president Graham Gibson called for the words to be reinstated. "It would be a shame to rub out 100 years of history," he said.
"Those words are beautiful, they will still be remembered in New Zealand and Australia – Australians and Kiwis will still go to Anzac Cove and echo those words."
"It would be good if common sense prevails and the Turkish people ensure these words are returned," said Gibson.
University of Auckland international relations professor Stephen Hoadley said this kind of action by Erdogan's government could make relations with New Zealand more problematic. "This is an indication of the changed orientation of Erdogan's Turkey in a direction I think we find disturbing. A re-emphasis on Islamism, a willingness to co-operate with Iran and Russia and Qatar."
Hoadley said the memorial's refurbishment could be considered another "logical step" in Erdogan's apparent agenda, and raised the question of how welcome Kiwis would be at annual commemorations at Anzac Cove.
"The Turkish government has been very hospitable up to this point, they've provided security, assistance, and encouragement because of course it's good for tourism and income."
University of New South Wales history professor Canberra Peter Stanley said the visitors' centre Gabatepe now depicted Gallipoli as a clash between Islamists and crusaders, and described the dead Turks as "martyrs".
"Turkish memorials on Gallipoli have praised Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's leadership. Their destruction signifies a new, theocratic interpretation."
New Zealand historian Christopher Pugsley, however, believed the deletion was only temporary, and the famously conciliatory words would be restored at the site where many New Zealand soldiers lie buried.
"It's a storm in a teacup by visitors simply thinking the worst of the present Turkish administration."
Pugsley visited Gallipoli last month and said workers had been moving their way around the monuments stripping them back to their foundations. "It appeared to me to be refurbishment, rather than affecting change."
He has visited the site for the past 30 years, almost yearly and said it had evolved from being under military control with no memorials to either party, to a well-established place for Turks and Kiwis to remember their fallen.
He believed the Turks had made a big gesture by giving up more than three square kilometres to a national memorial site for New Zealand and Australia, "to someone who was the enemy, and allowed us to commemorate what happened there every year, treating it as sacred ground."
Pugsley believed there was an inherent hypocrisy in criticising references to Islam in Turkish memorials.
"We've got to be careful, in New Zealand look at our Anzac services, they are depicted as essentially secular – look how often we mention God."
Stanley disagreed: that while there were also pervasive Christian references in memorials in New Zealand and Australia, he believed the narrative remained largely secular as opposed to the Turkish message centred "absolutely on Islam".
"Given the nature of the Turkish regime, I think it's naive to think they won't replace Ataturk's words," he said.
"Erdogan's government pays a fortune to bus thousands of people to the peninsular every weekend and this cleaning up of the memorials is an opportunity for them to say something different about Gallipoli."
Williams Sellars, an Australian writer based on Gallipoli peninsula for 15 years, is adamant there is no ill-intent by Turkish state agencies.
"The stone cladding has been removed and will be replaced in the exact same form as the original," he predicted.
The memorials were erected in the 1980s and had been worn over years, he said, with the same wording falling off and stones becoming discoloured.
There was a notification of the restoration project on the Turkish Culture Ministry's website that included photos of work being undertake and there was no indication the words wouldn't be replaced.
A statement released by Turkish authorities on Friday night said work on 15 sites at Gallipoli is under way.
It said the renovations were being carried out due to to wear on the stone, to the point where some of the wording was falling off and endangering the public.
"With regards to these monuments history is not being destroyed or rewritten and Ataturk's words will not be lost," it read.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the restoration work was routine maintenance work due to be completed in time for Anzac Day commemorations in 2018. "New Zealand and Turkey have a warm relationship based on our historical links to Gallipoli and we value the cooperation we have with Turkey, including at Anzac Day events."
- additional reporting Hannah Bartlett
- Sunday Star Times