Arango, Tim: Gallipoli and national identities

Arango, Tim

At Gallipoli, a campaign that laid ground for national identities‘, New York Times, 26 June 2014

An American views the Gallipoli legacy from both Turkish and Australian perspectives. He interviews Rupert Murdoch on the role of his father, war correspondent Keith, and Peter Stanley on the development of the Anzac myth. (The article links to the full text of Keith Murdoch’s letter.)

‘For the Turks and the Australians …’, the author says, ‘the Gallipoli campaign has taken on an outsize importance as the bloody event that became the foundation of a modern national identity.’ He quotes both Rupert Murdoch (‘It’s [Gallipoli] certainly seen today as the beginning of a real Australian self-identity’) and Stanley (‘Australians were looking for a blood sacrifice to sanctify their nationhood … In those days, people believed that nations were born in blood’).

On the Turkish side, the author notes how the Dardanelles campaign is being recast today by the Islamist Erdogan government as a holy war, which involves downplaying the role of the secularist Ataturk.

The article concludes with the claim that Ataturk wrote in 1934 ‘to Australian mothers’, assuring them that their sons were safe in Turkish care. This letter, if such it was, has been widely and fondly quoted. On the other hand, Stanley, in this article and elsewhere, casts doubt on stories of battlefield camaraderie between Turks and Australians and of exceptional Turkish solicitude since; the letter or statement itself has an interesting history.

The version of the statement linked to Arango’s article is one provided by the Turkish Embassy in Canberra and commences with the words ‘To The ANZAC’s’ (sic). The version of Ataturk’s words on the memorials at Gallipoli and in Canberra, however, commences, ‘Those heroes that shed their blood’. There is no explicit mention of Anzac. Even in the Turkish Embassy version the salutation is outside the quotation marks; there is no mention of Anzac within the quotation marks. Nor is there any internal evidence in the letter that it was addressed specifically to Australian mothers. Professor Sevinç Özer, Çanakkale University, Turkey, refers to the letter as being ‘to Anzac mothers’ but gives no authority for this.

The only possibly relevant reference in the Australian press in 1934 is an item mentioning a ‘message of greeting’ from Ataturk to the British Ambassador, Sir Percy Loraine, who hosted a dinner on 4 May for 700 ‘pilgrims’ to Gallipoli, including ‘Captain Wetherell from Australia’. At the time, relations between Britain and Turkey were at a crucial point. If the Ataturk message began as a diplomatic tactic it has taken on new life on monuments and as a pillar of Australia-Turkey relations

Stanton Hope described the 1934 pilgrimage in the Sydney Morning Herald; Captain H. Wetherell was a veteran of the 5th Light Horse. There is no mention in this article, though, of any message from Ataturk. In another version, quoting a Turkish book written in 1978, Ataturk wrote the speech for one of his ministers, Şükrü Kaya, who was to give a speech at Gallipoli, presumably during the 1934 pilgrimage. Peter Stanley and David Stephens discuss the letter/speech in depth.

(A later version of this post is here.)

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