16 April 2009

2807) Second International Gallipoli Symposium: Gallipoli and National Imagination

Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to address this distinguished gathering here today on the coming 94th anniversary of the Anzac day, (which I will accompany Hon. Mr. Smith in Turkey) and I would like to thank Prof Amin Saikal, Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies for inviting me. I would also like to present my appreciation to Prof Mehdi İlhan for organising such a timely and important event. .


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will not attempt at detailed analysis in front of such scholarship, however allow me to point out some of my thoughts.

The Anzac day marks the unique relationship between Turkey and Australia which derives from our encounter in war at the Gallipoli Peninsula - Çanakkale- where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, first gained his worldwide reputation.

What began as an invasion of my country, and what proved to be a hugely expensive loss of human life for both sides, nevertheless turned into a heroic and epic story for both our nations, in which each found its national identity for the twentieth century. (i.e. no more Sultans soldiers but fighting for and defending their country- no more subjects but Australians and New Zealanders). This enabled us to part with lasting mutual respect and affection, a rare event for any war in human history.

That respect comes to a great degree from the qualities of Ataturk himself and for the concern which he felt for the rest of his life for all who had died at Gallipoli. You might have heard his words many times before, I know, but they are worth hearing once again.

THOSE HEROES THAT SHED THEIR BLOOD AND LOST THEIR LIVES... YOU ARE NOW LYING IN THE SOIL OF 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.

Those words, I would remind you, came from the commander who had been in the storm-centre of the battle himself, just 19 years later. They were delivered to the first group of Australian and New Zealanders. Memories were fresh. Nerves must have been still raw. Grief had certainly not settled down. But this was his vision and it is his legacy to our two countries.

Ataturk’s aspiration however, though he was a soldier by training, was never one of war but of building a better country and a better world. He would have been delighted that today Australia and Turkey sharing the same values, stand together and, that for example in Afghanistan Turkish and Australian soldiers are side by side in the struggle for peace and security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On February 9, 2009 with the participation of Honourable Alan Griffin, Minister of Veterans Affairs, the RSL, and the NCPA we have unveiled a new plaque at the Ataturk Memorial here in Canberra which is enhanced by new columns, highlighting what Çanakkale (Gallipoli) meant for both our nations.

That memorial will stand for many things: as a symbol of reconciliation and friendship between two nations, as witness to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s qualities as a statesman and a general; and I think also as visible proof to later generations that the young soldiers of our two countries did not die entirely in vain and something good for all of us came out of their sacrifice.

It is something which is impossible to think without emotion, without one’s heart being stirred. I suppose we all think sometimes of what those who gave their lives would have thought had they been able to know that we have kept their memory alive and we still commemorate their heroism. We must keep faith with them and by doing so we are also serving generations of Turks, Australians, and human beings everywhere yet unborn. (remarks about family history: wife’s great grandfather/in an unmarked grave-grand father-my great uncle fighting in Çanakkale; encounter of Turkish and Australian ambassadors in Abu Dhabi/Turkish doctor treating Australian wounded).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding, I would like to draw your attention to recent attempts by some local ethnic lobbies (in this country) to try to hijack the Australian public opinion with regard to alleged events that took place in the course of the WWI. Anzac day commemorations are now used by these groups for hurling accusations to Turks and to our friendship. Others question the extended hand of reconciliation by Ataturk. Yet I would just answer by recommending them to attend an Anzac service in Turkey (which I had the privilege to join Governor General Michael Jefferey) to see how the thousands of young Australian and Turks embrace each other and exchange their flags).

May the Anzac spirit continue with its ties of respect and friendship which unite Turkey and Australia.

With these thoughts, I would like to thank once again Prof Saikal, Prof İlhan and all those who have contributed to this important event.

Thank you.

H.E.Murat N. Ersavci
Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey
April 15, 2009, Canberra

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