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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 05 May 2016

Location: Cannakale, Turkey

MapI’m sure that a visit to Gallipoli is confronting for any Australian, taking away many thoughts, impressions and emotions with you as you leave. Our guide Barish began the morning by stating that he would not be giving us any numbers, as he thinks it’s disrespectful. One death is as important as a thousand. I liked that reasoning, particularly when you consider that the death toll of this nine month campaign in 1915 was horrendous.

We saw Anzac Cove, Ari Burnu, Lone Pine, The Nek, Chunuk Bair, all the famous battle grounds from the Gallipoli campaign. Seeing these actual theatres of war brought home to us how impossible the task was, and how pointless all those deaths were. These areas are surprisingly small, the trenches would’ve only been metres apart, and it’s easy to imagine the stories of Anzacs chatting to the Turks and exchanging cigarettes and biscuits in between the fighting, they would’ve easily been within talking and throwing distance.

This place is important to Turkey as well, as they not only celebrate their victory but also the beginning of their path to becoming a republic in 1923. The guy who led the Turkish forces at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, would go on to father the new nation, in a remarkable story of history. Some of our group were visibly moved by reading Ataturk’s famous speech - “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country …”. It was a remarkable thing to say in 1934, less than 20 years after Australia, as the invader, was at war with Turkey. We learned of how Ataturk was shot during a Gallipoli battle, but the bullet struck his watch that was in his pocket sitting over his heart. If he’d not had his watch that day, we’d probably be visiting a very different Turkey today, especially if it were to go down the same path as neighbouring Syria.

A hundred years ago, this area was just beach and hilly scrubland. Now there are roads leading all over the peninsula to several cemeteries and memorials, encroaching onto the beaches and into the headlands. When these roads were widened a few years ago to help cope with the intense tourist numbers, it reportedly exposed many wartime skeletons. The new road work and its violation of the old terrain was evident as we drove into Anzac Cove, so it’s a little sad that this sacred ground is not as it was, solely because of the number of visitors.

I felt both sad and angry after our Anzac experience. For example I looked at a headstone for a 17 year old Australian guy, and wondered why did he have to die? Why were we even there in the first place? Yes, it helped shape our nation, but weren’t we just pawns for the British generals playing their wargames from London? They say we should learn from history, but have we learned anything from Anzac considering our recent involvement in overseas conflicts?

Leaving the Gallipoli Peninsula, we caught a ferry from Eceabat across the Dardanelles to Cannakale, effectively crossing from Europe into Asia. All of these little towns – Geribolu, Eceabat, Cannakale – are tourists centres for the Gallipoli battlefields, with hundreds of hotels and restaurants. Cannakale is also the closest city to another great Turkish historical treasure: the ruins of Troy. They’ve discovered a total of nine cities here, all built on top of each other, spanning 3,000 BC up to 500 AD. Barish led us around this remarkable city, relating its story that’s too long to even summarise here, but to stand amongst stone structures that were built 5,000 years ago was extraordinary.