A Turkish-Australian friend, Banu Erzeren, sent me this photo on ANZAC Day, from the dawn service in Melbourne. There, quite by chance she met Turgut Kacmaz, the son of Huseyin Kacmaz, the oldest veteran of the Gallipoli campaign (he died in 1994 at the Turkish delightful age of 110). It’s fair to say Turgut would have been pretty hard to miss, dressed in Ottoman uniform, smiling and waving a blood red Turkish flag. He told Banu he was out here as a guest of the Australian Turkish Institute. You have to marvel at our country sometimes – a place where even representatives of our past enemies are welcome, nay sponsored, to come and commemorate our most solemn of days.
It cuts both ways too. Turks welcome thousands of Australians each year, to visit the battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula and attend the dawn service there. The bond isn’t a recent one. It started in May 1915, almost a month after the landing at Anzac Cove, when the two sides called an Armistice to bury their dead. The ANZAC brass were nervous, they wanted the men to be kept as far away from the Turks as possible. They didn’t want any fraternising; when you start seeing your enemies as people it makes it harder to kill them.
Ordinary soldiers from both sides met in no man’s land, exchanged a few cigarettes, busted sentences and wry smiles, while they recovered their bloated dead. When the bugle sounded for the resumption of hostilities it look some time before a shot was fired. No one, it seems, could bring themselves to break the spell of silence and momentary peace.
Even after both sides resumed the carnage, between battles they threw chocolate, cigarettes, jam, canned meat and souvenirs to each other across no man’s land. When a gift fell short of its target, soldiers were able to clamber out of their trench un-accosted to fetch it. Snipers from both sides played target-shooting games with each other. A begrudging respect developed between combatants: on one side invaders who could not be shaken from their precarious perches on the cliffs, and on the other side fearsome defenders who refused to give up their homeland. Both the Turkish and Australian national identities were minted in the conflict at Gallipoli and it’s gratifying to see Turgut here to remind us.