Something to THINK ABOUT …
With his latest divisive outburst as he seeks re-election, Turkey’s Executive President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, underlined the chasm between him and his great predecessor, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Ataturk was one of the Turkish heroes of the Gallipoli campaign before becoming his nation’s first President in 1923. He showed his wisdom and compassion in 1934 when he addressed visiting Anzac and British veterans and said:
“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 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 living in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
Has there been a more generous sentiment of forgiveness and humanity from a victorious warrior to his foes?
Ataturk’s wonderful gesture of reconciliation opened the way for an uniquely warm relationship with our former enemy. Prior to Erdogan’s authoritarian rhetoric, Turkey made some remarkable overtures to the Anzacs. After all, how often does one nation name part of her beloved land after soldiers from two countries on the other side of the world who came to invade her?
That’s what the Turks did in 1985 when their government officially named the beach where the Anzacs landed on April 25 1915 as Anzac Koyu or Anzac Cove. At the dedication ceremony at Ari Burnu Cemetery at the northern end of Anzac Cove those words from Ataturk were unveiled and immortalised on a beautiful stone memorial.
That same year the Australian Government reciprocated by naming part of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra as ‘Ataturk Reach’ and by naming the entrance to Albany Harbour in WA, the departure port for the Anzacs, as ‘Ataturk Entrance’.
And, at the same time, the New Zealand Government dedicated the Ataturk Memorial on a hill at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, the departure port for the NZ contingent.
As early as 1951, two years after the Australian and Turkish forces fought side by side as allies in the Korean War, they co-celebrated Anzac Day. The Victorian RSL even has a Turkish Sub-branch that marches on Anzac Day.
But, since he came to power in 2014, Erdogan has been working to water down the influence and legacy of the great Ataturk, a noted secularist and social reformer who modernised Turkey, enabling the emancipation of women, abolishing Islamic institutions and introducing western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet.
While Ataturk pursued a policy of friendly neutrality with Turkey’s neighbours, Erdogan has whipped up sectarian division and hatred. His latest diatribe, where he showed footage of the Christchurch massacre at one of his local election rallies, while linking the Anzacs’ involvement in the Gallipoli campaign with some kind of religious crusade – Christians trying to invade Muslim Turkey – is consistent with his approach to taking Turkey back to an Islamic state.
Would that we had another Ataturk to lead our Turkish friends with wisdom and compassion.