Ankara calling: the rush to build the Ataturk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra, 1984-85

‘Ankara calling: the rush to build the Atatürk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra, 1984-85’, Honest History, 26 April 2016

(Note: a summary version of this article appeared in Pearls and Irritations.; an extended two-part version, using more sources, commences here.)

The Atatürk Memorial has stood at the top of Anzac Parade, Canberra, since April 1985. It was unveiled on Anzac Day, 25 April. A few hours later another Atatürk Memorial was unveiled at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli. The two memorials bear the same words, over the signature ‘Kemal Atatürk’ in Canberra and ‘Atatürk 1934’ at Gallipoli.

Kemal_Atatürk_Memorial_Canberra_2007Atatürk Memorial, Canberra (Wikipedia)

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 far away 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.

Elsewhere on this site there is discussion of the provenance of those famous words. On the basis of research to date by Honest History and its associates, there is no strong evidence that Atatürk ever said or wrote those words. They are still lovely words (although Atatürk had plenty of better ones).[1]

This article does not further canvass the provenance issues, though Honest History will have more to say about them later as our research continues. Instead, the article looks at the events leading up to the unveiling of Canberra’s Atatürk Memorial. The sources for the article are some files of the then National Capital Development Commission (now held by the National Capital Authority).

Early manoeuvres

On 10 September 1984, John E. Gray, an officer of the National Capital Development Commission, sent a note to his colleague, Colin Stewart, passing on advice from Raelene Foley of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. ‘A plaque is intended’, wrote Gray, ‘worded by the Turkish Government which assured those who read it that those Australians buried at Gallipoli are well cared for’ (emphasis added). Ms Foley had the wording to hand but seems not to have passed it to Gray.[2]

Gray’s note opened the NCDC’s file on Atatürk in Anzac Parade but things were happening elsewhere in the Commission also. On 14 September, the Commission’s E. Davenport sent a note to Tom Uren, Minister for Territories and Local Government, who had ministerial responsibility for the NCDC.[3]

Davenport referred to then current consideration of whether the section of Limestone Parade in front of the Australian War Memorial might be renamed ‘Gallipoli’ or even ‘Atatürk’ in return for the Turkish Government renaming a stretch of water ‘Anzak Koyu’ (‘Anzac Cove’). Davenport passed on the suggestion that the Turks would expect more for their gesture than the mere redesignating of a stretch of road. Anzac Cove, after all, would show up on reasonably small scale maps of Turkey. Perhaps a memorial garden might be considered instead.

A month later the prime minister, Bob Hawke, took an interest in the matter, writing to Uren to advise that the Australian War Memorial had objected to the renaming of Limestone Parade for Atatürk and setting out a number of other possible options (gardens, memorials, monuments, and so on) to reciprocate the ‘Anzac Cove’ gesture.[4] There is then nothing much on the NCDC files for the rest of 1984; the public service and the government were in election mode, leading up to the poll on 1 December, at which the Hawke Government was returned despite a small swing against it and the loss of a few seats.

The PM takes command

Things were happening in Ankara, however. On 25 January 1985, John Bowan of the Prime Minister’s Office wrote to Faruk Şahinbas, Ambassador of Turkey to Australia, saying that Australia was attracted to a proposal from the Australian Embassy in Ankara (following the Embassy’s discussions with the Turkish government) that Turkey would provide a brass plaque bearing a depiction of Atatürk’s head and the text in English of his most famous saying concerning the Anzac troops who died at Gallipoli.[5]

220px-Gordon_Scholes_HD-SC-98-07512Gordon Scholes 1983 (Wikipedia)

So the plaque had been sourced but where was it to be placed? And when? The timing issue clearly exercised those involved. On 5 February, Giff Jones of Prime Minister and Cabinet advised RG Gallagher of the Department of Territories and Local Government (DTLG) that the prime minister wanted the plaque in place by Anzac Day.[6] The next day, the same message came to NCDC Commissioner, Tony Powell, from DTLG secretary, John Enfield: the prime minister’s ‘personal interest’ dictated haste.[7]

A week later, the prime minister himself wrote to Gordon Scholes, the new Minister for Territories, asking Scholes to take ‘personal responsibility’ for the project.[8] The letter is in bureaucratic language but, along with Enfield’s note, it adds up to evidence of close monitoring from suite M94.13, the prime minister’s office in the then Parliament House.

Reciprocity for ‘Anzak Koyu’ was appropriately circumscribed, however: the file records that the prime minister told the Turkish Ambassador that one Canberra memorial to Atatürk was enough.[9] Thus a section of Lake Burley Griffin is to this day known as ‘Gallipoli Reach’ rather than ‘Atatürk Reach’.

Target area uncertain

This still left the question of where the plaque was to be placed. Certainly not in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial, said Jim Flemming, its director, on behalf of the chair of the Memorial’s Council, Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot.[10] Atatürk was not Australian and it was inappropriate that he be recognised in the Memorial’s grounds, next to the Lone Pine, as had been tentatively proposed.

The NCDC files are not clear how the decision was made in favour of Anzac Parade but it must have been made quickly, as time pressed. Synnot’s veto of the position in the Memorial grounds had arrived barely two months before Anzac Day, the prime minister’s deadline.

The final push

The NCDC files on the final stages of the Atatürk Memorial campaign are a little disorganised but they disclose concerns about delays, strike action and a strong feeling that the prime minister’s wishes about Anzac Day could not be met. There were also some turf issues between DTLG and the NCDC.

A note for file some time in March mentions strikes in Canberra affecting the landscaping works for the memorial but of more concern were the delays in the delivery from Ankara of the bas relief head of Atatürk. Prime Minister and Cabinet, however, were disinclined to press the Turkish Ambassador.[11]

By early April, the NCDC’s Michael Grace had seen and photographed the stone plinth being worked upon in the workshop of Melocco Brothers, Annandale.[12] His photograph shows a template of the text in place but Grace was worried about the missing head. ‘The space above the text is for ATATURK BAS-RELIEF which PM&C advise me today is “on its way”’, said Grace hopefully. ‘This is what the Turkish Ambassador has told PM&C.’

Grace had been keeping his superiors informed and his apparent concern about the deadline had affected NCDC Commissioner Powell, who hand-annotated a note from Grace, as follows:

There is no indication that PM&C have made the P.M. aware that the April 25th date is no longer achievable but perhaps that has been set aside because of the desire to now keep any opening date clear from April 24 this being a significant date for the Armenians.[13]

Was someone in Prime Minister and Cabinet trying to use the Armenian Genocide as a means of denying the prime minister his wish to have the tribute to Atatürk unveiled on Anzac Day, the day after the anniversary of the beginning of the Genocide? The National Archives of Australia and Prime Minister and Cabinet say there are no relevant PM&C files surviving so we are unable to further research these final hectic days from these files but will look further afield.

779Vahit Halefoğlu (

As it turned out, despite the concerns, the Atatürk Memorial was unveiled on 25 April in the presence of the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vahit Halefoğlu. The Australian Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Gordon Scholes, said, ‘The inscription on the memorial is Atatürk’s own moving tribute to those Anzacs who did not return from Gallipoli’. There was tight security because of recent activity by ‘Armenian terrorist groups’. Pro- and anti-Turkish government demonstrators shouted at each other.

Did anyone check?

The NCDC files hint at a lack of attention to whether the words to go on the memorial were really Atatürk’s and, as the compressed timeline spooled out, a slide towards assuming they were his. Perhaps those involved took the view that has been taken since (including by some historians) that the words were so memorable that their provenance did not matter or, on the other hand, that such great words just had to come from a great man. Or perhaps these officers were just pushed for time.

On 31 January 1985, the Australian Embassy in Ankara sent a cable to PM&C: ‘We have seen the proposed text and consider it a satisfactory version of Atatürk’s saying’.[14] There is no indication of what checking the Embassy undertook but it seems that the words they were looking at came from someone in Ankara, presumably someone from the Turkish government, given that John Bowan in the PMO a few days earlier had referred to text being supplied by the Turks.

The next day in Canberra, RG Gallagher of DTLG was perhaps a little more cautious than the Ankara officer, referring to ‘the saying attributed to Atatürk’ (emphasis added).[15] Three weeks later, Michael Grace at the NCDC had heard from PM&C that the text had arrived from Ankara.[16] Grace described it as ‘a quotation attributed to Kamal [sic] Atatürk dictated by PM&C officers over the phone 19 February 1985’ (emphasis added). When Commissioner Powell sent the memorial plans to Synnot at the Australian War Memorial he also said ‘attributed to Atatürk’ (emphasis added).[17] (Attributed or not, they weren’t going to appear on the grounds of the Memorial, as noted above.)

If the use of the word ‘attributed’ indicated some caution at the NCDC this attitude did not survive further iterations. The Commission’s draft media release included this sentence: ‘This tribute was written by Atatürk in 1934 in connection with the anniversary of the Gallipoli battles’.[18] The note from Giff Jones at PM&C a week later said, ‘The words inscribed on the Memorial are Ataturk’s tribute to those Anzacs who did not return from Gallipoli’.[19] Nothing about attribution, no caution, no questions. Simple.

Going further

The NCDC files are not, of course, the last word on how the Atatürk Memorial came to Anzac Parade, which is why Honest History is doing further research. One sentence, however, stands out from the NCDC files and hints strongly at a further line of inquiry. On 19 February 1985, Michael Grace of the Commission recorded a conversation with Margaret Fanning, a senior adviser at PM&C: ‘She confirmed that the Turkish Ambassador is adamant that his Government provide the plaque(s) for this Memorial’ (emphasis added).[20]

downloadPrime Minister Hawke’s telephone (MOADOPH)

The reference to ‘plaque(s)’ presumably means the bas relief of the head but it could also include the template which Grace observed in Melocco Brothers workshop and which was apparently used to engrave the words onto the stone. (The files show the text of the words had been available in Canberra for some time but that it came from Ankara.[21]) Either way, the word ‘adamant’ is interesting as an indication of the anxiety of the Turkish government to control the process.

The NCDC files do not disclose whether anyone in Canberra knew that the key clause in the translation of Atatürk’s words – no difference between Johnnies and Mehmets – had been produced by an Australian, Alan J. Campbell of Brisbane, working with Uluğ İğdemir of the Turkish Historical Society, and had been available in English in this version since the publication of  İğdemir’s Ataturk ve Anzaklar (Ataturk and the Anzacs) in 1978. (Versions without the reference to equal Johnnies and Mehmets had surfaced from time to time after 1953. See particularly this related article.)

How this version of the words got from İğdemir’s booklet back to Australia, via the Turkish government’s contacts with the Australian Embassy in Ankara and the ‘adamant’ Turkish Ambassador in Canberra, is obviously a matter of interest. It seems clear that most of the heavy lifting was done by Turks.

Honest History is working on this piece of the jigsaw. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that İğdemir’s Turkish Historical Society (Türk Tarih Kurumu, sometimes translated as ‘Turkish History Institution’), always close to government, had become a government body in August 1983 under the terms of article 134 of the Turkish Constitution of November 1982:

G. The Atatürk High Institution of Culture, Language and History

ARTICLE 134- The “Atatürk High Institution of Culture, Language and History” shall be established as a public corporate body, under the moral aegis of Atatürk, under the supervision of and with the support of the President of the Republic, attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, and composed of the Atatürk Research Centre, the Turkish Language Institution, the Turkish History Institution and the Atatürk Culture Centre, in order to conduct scientific research, to produce publications and to disseminate information on the thought, principles and reforms of Atatürk, Turkish culture, Turkish history and the Turkish language. (Emphasis added.)

Similar language could no doubt be found in many countries, setting out charters for institutions tasked with spreading national culture and promoting the country to the world. It is a reasonable working hypothesis that the Turkish officials who pushed the ‘Atatürk words’ in 1984-85 would have had Article 134 very much in mind. To hypothesise further, at a time when Turkish relations with ‘Western’ countries were patchy (poor with Europe, reasonable with Reagan’s America), there may well have been attractions in using the ‘Atatürk words’ in cultural diplomacy with an American and British ally in the Southern Hemisphere.

Turkish efforts found a ready market in an Australia that was, after a lull of some decades, becoming more interested in the events of 1915 and had a prime minister who appreciated the Anzac story, the story Australia shared with Turkey. The red stone memorial at the top of Anzac Parade, next to the stretch of road that might have been called Atatürk Avenue, is an indication of how successful these Turkish efforts were.

Harry-and-Prime-Minister-731x1024Prime Minister Hawke and Anzac Harry Newhouse, Gallipoli 1990 (Johnnies and Mehmets)

In a unique act of honour to fallen foes, the people and Government of Turkey have dedicated this ground [Lone Pine] as a memorial to the eight thousand seven hundred Australians who died on Gallipoli.

In making this Pilgrimage today, we first pay the tribute of honour to the fallen of Turkey, fighting on their own soil, dying in defence of their homeland, inspired by the indomitable leadership of a Man of Destiny, Mustafa Kemal known to history as Kemal Ataturk …

In all the story of heroism and human waste that was Gallipoli, nothing is more honourable than the custodianship of this hallowed ground by the people and Government of Turkey for seventy-five years.

RJL Hawke, ‘Speech at Lone Pine Ceremony, Gallipoli, 25 April 1990

David Stephens

[1] For example, his words in 1931, ‘Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh’ (‘Peace at home, peace in the world’). These words are also about settling issues between nations but they do not necessarily require blood to be spilt first, as do the ‘Those heroes …’ alleged words.

[2] Gray to Stewart, 10 September 1984, NCDC 84/1626/1/1.

[3] Davenport to Uren, 14 September 1984, NCDC 84/1626/1/6.

[4] Hawke to Uren, 17 October 1984, NCDC 84/1626/64.

[5] Bowan to Şahinbas, 25 January 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/22.

[6] Jones to Gallagher, 5 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/30.

[7] Enfield to Powell, 6 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/30.

[8] Hawke to Scholes, 15 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/59.

[9] NCDC 84/1626/1/125.

[10] Flemming to Powell, NCDC, 21 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/122.

[11] NCDC 84/1626/1/166.

[12] Grace to J. Mackintosh, NCDC, 5 April 1985, NCDC 85/596/1/140.

[13] Powell to M. Latham, Deputy Commissioner, NCDC, on Grace to Powell, 12 March 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/125.

[14] DFAT Ankara to PM&C File no. 84/0962, 31 January 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/27.

[15] Gallagher to Grace, 1 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/24.

[16] Grace, note for file, 19 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/189.

[17] Powell to Synnot, 20 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/70.

[18] Draft media release, 18 March 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/129. The NCDC file does not include a final of the release.

[19] Jones to NCDC, 26 March 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/162. Jones’ words were reflected in Minister Scholes’s address on 25 April (see above).

[20] Grace, note for file, 19 February 1985, NCDC 84/1626/1/190.

[21] See notes 5 and 16 above.

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