Stephens, David: Turks did the heavy lifting: a longer look at the story of the Ataturk Memorial, Canberra, 1984-85: Part I

David Stephens

‘Turks did the heavy lifting: a longer look at the story of the Atatürk Memorial, Canberra, 1984-85: Part I’, Honest History, 11 October 2016 updated

This material revises and extends an article published in April 2016 and based mainly on the files of the then National Capital Development Commission. Everything that was in the earlier article appears here also but this extended material draws upon new sources. The material is in two parts; the second part will be published later in October. My thanks to Honest History distinguished supporter, Dr Burçin Çakır, for translations and advice. DS

Part II.


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 identical words, over the signature ‘Kemal Atatürk’ in Canberra and ‘Atatürk 1934’ at Gallipoli.

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.

as_kemal_ataturk_2Atatürk Memorial, Canberra, original configuration, 1985-2007 (Wikipedia). Refurbished design, 2007.

Elsewhere on this site there is extended 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 better ones).

This article and Part II do not go much further into the provenance issue, except to ask if any questions were raised in 1984-85 whether the words on the memorials were Atatürk’s. Instead, the articles look at the events leading up to the unveiling of Canberra’s Atatürk Memorial. They look again at the question ‘how did Canberra come to have in its main ceremonial avenue a memorial to the founder of modern Turkey?’ The articles draw upon the recollections of some who were involved on the Australian side, as well as on a long article published in Turkish in 2001 by BN Şimşir, Turkish Ambassador to Australia 1995-98, who made extensive use of the Turkish Embassy archives.[1]

The reciprocal commemoration idea is floated, 1981

In July 1981 Canberra Times journalist Frank Cranston met with Ergün Pelit, Counselor at the Turkish Embassy.[2] A separate Honest History article has shown how this meeting was important in the dissemination of the ‘Atatürk words’; Pelit gave Cranston a copy of Uluğ İğdemir’s 1978 booklet, Atatürk ve Anzaklar (Atatürk and the Anzacs). At this meeting the seeds of another idea were sown, as Cranston’s subsequent article showed. Cranston noted that Australians and New Zealanders had called a part of the Gallipoli Peninsula ‘Anzac Cove’ ever since General Birdwood dubbed it thus in 1915.

What a tribute [Cranston wrote] it would be to the memories of those who fought and died there, and to the friendship which has since existed between the former foes, if on the 70th anniversary of the landings the authorities in Ankara were formally to accept the Australian and New Zealand version [Anzac Cove] as their own.

A reciprocal gesture would be appropriate, Cranston went on, perhaps the naming of a suburb of Canberra as ‘Gelebolu’ (sic).

The approach to Prime Minister Hawke, 1984

While the Turkish Embassy in Canberra immediately responded positively to Cranston’s reciprocal renaming concept – and told Ankara that the proposal would be easy to implement but influential in promoting Turkish interests – the idea lay fallow for almost three years.[3] Then Charles Bingham of the Gallipoli Legion of Anzacs, veterans of the campaign, spoke to Ian Gollings, then National Secretary of the Returned and Services League, who spoke in turn to Sir William Keys, RSL President, who approached Prime Minister Hawke. (Sir William and the Prime Minister had a cordial relationship and met a couple of times a year.) Sir William put the case to the Prime Minister that the stretch of water at Gallipoli should be officially renamed Anzac Cove; there was even a claim that some veterans travelling in Turkey had experienced difficulty finding the historic location.

Frank Cranston publicised the argument for renaming and the Canberra Times had a supportive editorial. The Turkish Embassy was quick to respond to the hints in the press, pointing out again to Ankara that a favourable renaming agreement would ‘have a very good effect and evoke sympathy for our country’. Şimşir quotes from the Gallipoli Legion’s letter of 23 February 1984 to Hawke, a copy of which the Legion had given to the Embassy while seeking its support.

1985 is the 70th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign [the letter ran]. It would be appropriate for the Australian government to convince the Turkish government to recognise Anzac Cove in the maps of the Gallipoli Peninsula. With this gesture future generations would remember the numbers of our people who died and were buried in this sacred place. In return, there could be consideration to name a district in Australia after Atatürk.[4]

hawkedownload-1Prime Minister Hawke, 1987 (Britannica)

Having heard the arguments, Prime Minister Hawke gave instructions that the new Australian Ambassador to Turkey, Philip Peters, should make the reciprocal renaming a priority. Then, on 16 April, Turkish Ambassador Faruk Şahinbaş met prime ministerial adviser John Bowan to discuss a letter the Ambassador had written to the Prime Minister. Bowan assured Şahinbaş of Hawke’s support for the reciprocal renaming and Şahinbaş and Bowan agreed in principle on the proposal, with the details to be sorted out later.[5]

Şahinbaş clearly saw the renaming plan as good for strengthening Turkish-Australian friendship – and he told Ankara this – but he was concerned that whatever Australia offered in return should be commensurate with the greatness of Atatürk. He wondered whether Australia might consider renaming Mount Ainslie in Canberra as ‘Mount Atatürk’ – there were some similarities between the look of Mount Ainslie and the Çankaya area of Ankara where Atatürk had lived and worked – and he passed this idea to Ankara without mentioning it to the Australian side.[6]

On the day before Anzac Day 1984 Prime Minister Hawke announced that Turkey would be asked to officially rename the site of the 1915 landing as ‘Anzac Cove’.[7] He said the proposal by the Gallipoli Legion of Anzacs had ‘a great deal of merit’ and was fully supported by the government. He noted that the Legion had suggested reciprocal renaming of some part of Australia. Ambassador Şahinbaş, for his part, cordially expressed his support for reciprocal renaming and said the idea had been raised with Ankara. Meanwhile, those who had done their history homework noted, as Cranston had done three years earlier, that General Birdwood had first used the name ‘Anzac Cove’ in 1915.[8]

President Evren, General Üruğ and the idea for an Atatürk memorial

When new Australian Ambassador Peters presented his credentials to Turkish President, Kenan Evren, on 3 May 1984 he raised the reciprocal renaming issue with the President. Then, late in May or early in June, the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, General Necdet Üruğ – formally the fifth-ranked person in the country but informally probably more powerful – became involved in Turkish domestic discussions about renaming.[9]

Initial talks among Turkish civilian officials had assessed that a change would be easy, since the name ‘Anzak Koyu’ already appeared in some local maps and documents and some villagers in the area used the name. But then the officials began to anticipate public opposition. ‘The Anzacs had been their enemies’, Şimşir writes. ‘Patriotism might lead to questioning how patriotic is it to give the name of the enemy to this soil where their fathers shed blood?’ There was also some concern that other old enemies like Bulgaria or Greece might make similar requests. So, after six weeks of consideration the officials brought General Üruğ into the discussions and he drew a map – covering a smaller area than had been originally considered – and all agreed that the area enclosed should be officially designated ‘Anzak Koyu’ (‘Anzac Cove’).

URUG NECDETGeneral Üruğ (turuncosohbet)

General Üruğ agreed that an Australian renaming in Atatürk’s honour was an essential part of the deal. But he believed it was not enough. Şimşir records what came out of the General’s intervention:

As well, a bust of Atatürk (Atatürk büstü) needed to be erected in a square of Canberra. Below the bust, a plaque (kitabe) bearing statements (sozlerini) of Atatürk should be placed. It was also specified which statements were to be included. These were the unforgettable words which were written by Atatürk in his own hand on the occasion of a ceremony held in 1934 for the Çanakkale martyrs, that Şükrü Kaya, the Minister for the Interior at that time, read in front of the foreign press at that ceremony. A plaque bearing these statements would be appropriate for Canberra.

Elsewhere on the Honest History website we provide the evidence from our Turkish associate and distinguished author, Cengiz Özakıncı, that Kaya was not present, nor did he speak, at the ceremony for the Çanakkale martyrs. But that clearly was the official Turkish position in 1984 about how the ‘Those martyrs that shed their blood …’ words came to be said and it remains so today.[10]

Şimşir summarises the significance of General Üruğ’s intervention:

Briefly, our Chief of the Turkish General Staff (Genelkurmay Başkanlığımız), in response to the fact that the Turkish government was to officially recognise “Anzac Cove” on the Gallipoli Peninsula, wanted to erect an Atatürk memorial in Canberra, the capital of Australia, and he laid this down as a condition for the renaming. Previously, giving the name of Atatürk to a place in Canberra had been proposed but no-one had proposed an Atatürk memorial. The Chief of Staff did so.[11]

Eventually, a deal emerged: Anzac Cove would be renamed in return for an Atatürk memorial and the renaming of two stretches of water in Lake Burley Griffin and at Albany, Western Australia. It is not clear at exactly what point the three-part package was agreed by the Australian side but the passage to it was not immediate or smooth. Former Ambassador Peters recalled that President Evren, offered a choice in May of one of the three quids pro quo – some form of memorial plus two renamings – had insisted on all three. Üruğ’s insistence – some time in May or very early June (Şimşir’s footnote refers to the record of a phone call from Ankara to Canberra on 5 June) – on a memorial is in line with this recollection.

On the other hand, we have not been able to find further evidence that a memorial or monument option had been suggested from the Australian side this early in the process. As we shall see, the Albany renaming option was not formulated till much later in 1984 and the Canberra end of the Australian side seems from the file evidence to have been rather uncertain about what it was offering.

It is not surprising that Evren, a former general, and Üruğ, his top military man since late 1983, would have had the same view about the Australian deal. They would necessarily have been close: Evren was Üruğ’s predecessor but one as Chief of the General Staff; Evren’s junta had come to power in the coup of 1980; both men were Kemalists, committed bearers of the Atatürk legacy. ‘The junta of 1980 hailed it [Kemalism-Atatürkism or Atatürkculuk] as the sole true path, obligatory for everyone’, says the Turkish scholar, Mete Tunçay. Summarising the position over decades, historian Feroz Ahmad wrote in 1993 that ‘the Turkish army perceives itself as the guardian of the republic and its Kemalist legacy’.[12] Memorialising Atatürk on the far side of the world would have been an attractive proposition to these officers.

Meanwhile, back in Canberra, Ambassador Şahinbaş was very much on the same page as his superiors in Ankara. In December 1981 he had given an interview to the Canberra Times.

The ambassador said the military regime was appealing to the principles of the republic’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, for national revival. “Only through the implementation of Ataturk’s ideals can Turkey preserve her place in the modern civilised world”, he said. “Any deviation from these principles could take Turkey back to the darkness of the Middle Ages.”

1431350317537-1President Evren and General Üruğ, right, c. 1985 (Daily Sabah)

Ramping it up at the Turkish Embassy in Canberra

The story reverts now to Canberra. Ambassador Şimşir’s detailed record, using the Embassy archives, shows how closely his predecessor, Ambassador Şahinbaş, pursued the Anzac Cove-Atatürk project through the middle months of 1984, how closely he kept in touch with Ankara, and how frustrated he became at what he saw as the dilatory Australians.[13]

On 6 June, the day after he received advice of General Üruğ’s requirements, Ambassador Şahinbaş buttonholed Prime Minister Hawke at a reception and informed him of progress on the Anzac Cove renaming. Hawke was pleased at the positive Turkish response and said he would discuss the details with the relevant Australian authorities.

A month later, on 3 July, Şahinbaş met Hawke’s adviser, John Bowan, and John Chessells from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), to advise them officially that Turkey accepted the renaming in principle. He showed them a copy of Üruğ’s sketch of the cove. Then he asked which location in Australia would be given Atatürk’s name, noting that the place should be worthy of the Great Leader. ‘He [Şahinbaş] said that the place in Canberra where the Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade are located would be suitable.’

Şimşir then devotes a couple of paragraphs to describing for his readers the importance to Australia of the War Memorial and its vicinity. He compares Anzac Parade with the Champs Élysées. Then he goes on to paraphrase what was said at the 3 July meeting:

Ambassador Şahinbaş wanted the Australian government to give the name of Atatürk to this area [that is, somewhere near the War Memorial]. He added [taking his cue from General Üruğ] that it would be appropriate to erect a memorial to Atatürk on the place to be named after him, with an inscription bearing Atatürk’s 1934 statements about the Anzacs. He tabled a book, Ataturk and the Anzacs, including Turkish and English versions of Ataturk’s statements to the Australians. [This was the booklet by Uluğ İğdemir, the same one Counsellor Pelit had given to Frank Cranston in 1981.]

Bowan told Şahinbaş that Australia was pleased at Turkey’s rapid decision about Anzac Cove but said Australia had not made a definite decision about which area should be named after Atatürk. A committee would be set up to consider the matter and decide. The committee would include the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister for Territories and Local Government, Tom Uren. (This may, in fact, have been the existing Canberra National Memorials Committee which had been established in 1928 but had been moribund for long periods since.) Bowan put his personal view that it would be appropriate to give the name of Atatürk to the vicinity near the Australian War Memorial and to place a plaque there. The representatives of the two sides then looked at a map of the area.

Location was still an issue. ‘It would not be possible’, Şahinbaş cabled Ankara the next day (4 July), ‘to rename Mount Ainslie behind the War Memorial’. Renaming Limestone Avenue was still a live option, however. ‘If this plan is put into action it will be possible to erect a memorial opposite the War Memorial on Anzac Parade.’ At this stage, it seemed that Şahinbaş was focusing on Üruğ’s idea of a bust or similar memorial but the Australian side had not proceeded beyond the plaque option.

Canberra catches up – slowly

Word of these high-level negotiations filtered down to the Canberra public servants who had to do the work. While the Turkish end of the deal had been workshopped around by the President, his top-ranking soldier and other senior officials, in Canberra the nuts and bolts were being tightened by middle-level bureaucrats under nominal ministerial control. It took a while and the push came from the Turks.

The National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) was the lead agency for construction in and around Anzac Parade yet its files suggest that it had not been fully informed of discussions that had happened elsewhere in Canberra, particularly with the Turkish Ambassador. On 10 September 1984, NCDC officer John E. Gray 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 or to have said anything about what the plaque was to be attached to.[14]

Then on 14 September, the Commission’s E. Davenport sent a note to his Minister, Tom Uren, discussing whether the section of Limestone Parade in front of the Australian War Memorial might be renamed ‘Gallipoli’ or even ‘Atatürk’. Davenport passed on the suggestion that the Turks would expect more for their Anzac Cove gesture than the mere redesignating of a stretch of road. (He would not have known that Şahinbaş had been musing earlier in the year about the possibility of renaming Mount Ainslie for Atatürk.) Anzac Cove, after all, would show up on reasonably small scale maps of Turkey. Perhaps an Atatürk memorial garden might be considered instead.[15]

Uren wrote to Prime Minister Hawke on 5 October, setting out a number of options but favouring renaming as ‘Atatürk Road’ the section of Limestone Avenue in front of the Australian War Memorial. [16] If the Evren-Üruğ preference for a monument had by this time been communicated to the Australians in Ankara it seems not to have been passed on to Uren or his advisers, either by Ankara or PM&C or by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) following the discussions with Ambassador Şahinbaş.

The Prime Minister replied to Uren on 17 October, advising that the War Memorial (and other parties) had objected to the renaming of Limestone Parade for Atatürk but setting out other options, two of which were for a memorial garden – either on the War Memorial grounds or across Limestone Avenue from the Memorial, between Fairbairn Avenue and Creswell Street – but both including ‘a memorial stone bearing a plaque or inscription attributed to Atatürk’.[17]

The Hawke list also included the Lake Burley Griffin renaming. The Albany renaming at this stage was only a suggestion from the RSL, although Canberra had taken it up with Western Australia. (An option to rename some Australian Capital Territory coast at Jervis Bay fell by the wayside.) Uren wrote back to Hawke on 8 November, agreeing with the options for a stone and inscribed plaque on the War Memorial grounds and the Burley Griffin renaming and that Fairbairn Avenue-Creswell Street was another possible site for a memorial garden, stone and plaque.[18]

The idea of a memorial, including a bust of Atatürk,still seems to have been held just by the Turkish side – and Şahinbaş had not yet delivered on this for the formidable General Üruğ. But by this time the Australian general election campaign had intervened and everything was put on hold.

Part II will be posted later in October

i5203-wdGloves Off: Tom Uren, 1996 (National Portrait Gallery/Ralph Heimans)


[1] Conversations and correspondence, May-October 2016: John Bowan, former adviser to Prime Minister Hawke; Margaret Fanning, former officer of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; Ian Gollings, former National Secretary of the Returned and Services League; Philip Peters, former Australian Ambassador to Turkey; Bilâl N. Şimşir, ‘Kanberra’da Atatürk aniti tasarısı’ (‘The Atatürk memorial project in Canberra’), Atatürk Araştirma Merkezi Dergisi (The Journal of the Atatürk Research Center), XVII, 51, 2001, pp. 633–726 (translations by Dr Burçin Çakır, Glasgow Caledonian University). Şimşir refers to a number of Australian newspaper articles and we have read them all in the original.

[2] Şimşir, pp. 635–36.

[3] Şimşir, pp. 636–39.

[4] Of course, this paragraph has been translated from the Turkish translation of the original English so the words may differ slightly from the original.

[5] Şimşir, pp. 643–45.

[6] Şimşir, p. 646.

[7] Peter Gill, ‘Hawke wants Turkey to call it Anzac Cove’, Age (Melbourne), 25 April 1984, p. 1; ‘Proposal to rename Gallipoli site’ (24 April 1984), Commonwealth Record, vol. 9, no. 17, 23 April 1984, p. 739.

[8] Graham Reilly, ‘Birdwood named it Anzac Cove in 1915’, Age (Melbourne), 26 April 1984, p. 1.

[9] The following paragraphs are based on Şimşir, pp. 648–49. General Üruğ is described by historian Feroz Ahmad as a very political general and ‘perhaps the most powerful single individual in the [1980] junta’ though he was unpopular with the business community of Istanbul because of his administration of martial law there. When Üruğ became Chief of Staff in December 1983 he placed his supporters in key positions. Ahmad describes Evren’s role in the junta as that of a mediator between moderate and extreme Kemalists, rather than a powerful figure in his own right (Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey, Routledge, London & New York, 1993, pp. 182, 215-16).

[10] David Stephens, ‘Martyrs’ Day in Turkey and what probably did not happen on 18 March 1934: recent research from Cengiz Özakıncı’, Honest History, 15 March 2016; Turkish Embassy, Canberra, ‘Atatürk’s words to the Anzac mothers’.

[11] Şimşir, p. 649.

[12] Ahmad, p. 213.

[13] The following paragraphs are based on Şimşir, pp. 650–52.

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

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

[16] Uren to Hawke, 5 October 1984, NCDC 84/1626/60–62.

[17] Hawke to Uren, 17 October 1984, NCDC 84/1626/63–64.

[18] Uren to Hawke, 8 November 1984, NCDC 84/1626/1/57.

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