Gallipoli: A tough place to visit
Trip Start Mar 16, 2009
47Trip End Jul 22, 2009
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"Fez Travel" is a Turkish tour company that caters to English speaking tourists, and bills itself as "The under 26 and student specialists." It offers a variety of strict tours, but we went with the more independent option of the hop On, Hop off Bus. The bus takes a set route, going through towns every second day. There are activities that the guide can book for you and he can book you into your hotel. We did a hop on, hop off thing in New Zealand, though there it was a bit easier because the bus left every day, the every other day thing means that every time you hop off the bus you are spending 3 nights in a place, whice makes it a bit tougher for travelers with shorter time frames.
Nevertheless, from what we could tell when we set up the trip, we had more or less enough time to complete the circuit in a manner that suited us and build in time for a Gulet Cruise of the Southern Turkish Coast. As with so many planned activities of our trip, and so many unplanned activities, the bus has been quite frustrating.
We were met at 7:00 am at the pick up point by an amicable you Kiwi named Hayden, who had left his job at Barclay's in Edinborough, or gotten fired, and started traveling. He ended up in Turkey three months ago, where he got a job working for Fez Travel. Hıs Turkish is minimal, but he has been trained as an English tour guide.
Our driver Ali, on the otherhand, was Turkish and his English was minimal. The interactions between him and Hai-Den, as Ali pronounced it, provided quite a bit of comedy for the first days of our trip.
In typical fashion, the bus that was supposed to leave at 7:00 left at 7:45... Most of the people on the bus were not "Hop on, op offers," they were people doing two and three day tours to Gallipoli and Troy or Gallipoli, Troy and Pergamun. As Hop On, Hop Offers, we were given a little packet with instructions on how the system worked. Contained in the packet were Fez Travel stickers emblazoned with "The Under 26 and student specialists."
Apparently most people on the bus hadn't gotten that impression. The crowd was quite a bit older than us, the most prominent of which was a group of white haired Kiwi ladies headed to Gallipoli. Of the bus of about 22, only 5 were the hop on people, Kristen and me, Julia and Cecil, an older couple from Capetown, South Africa, and a middle aged nursing teacher from Milwaukee. Julia and Cecil were very nice. Cecil had severe speech problems and was pretty much mute, so whenever you said anything to him he would just smile big and nod or shrug his shoulders. I am not sure he knew English very well, or at least I know he had an easier time understanding Afrikkans, because he had trouble following our tour guides at Troy and Pergamun.
The nursing teacher from Milwaukee would not stop talking about how she was a completely independent world traveler and that she never ever did tours or anything like Fez. She had the distinction of putting down the Fez bus as "Always an hour late" in front of Hayden before she realized he was our guide, waiting for the bus to come himself and already stressed out (not an easy job guiding when you don't know the language). For me though, what really put me off was that she had grown up in the States, lived in the States, but liked to pretend she was from somewhere else, I don't know where. She asked me if I was travelling because I had just finished "Uni." "Yes, I did recently finish COLLEGE," I replied. You aren't British...you don't need to pretend you are. Hayden was not sad to see her hop off after Troy, complaining all the while about how the bus was either too late or cramped her style too much as an independent...which was why she made us late with her wandering off several times. Come on.
I, of course, have my own problems with the bus as well, but I also don't feel the need to brag about how I have seen the whole world alone.
It was a long ride from Istanbul to Gallipoli and I read and read and read. We stopped for breakfast and had Golunduz, Turkish pancakes filled with feta cheese and flipped over on a skillet. So good.
There I had one of those experiences that reflects misunderstandings due to language barriers. My Golunduz was so good I went back for a second one. I ordered it from the guy cooking at the skillet who spoke no English. I really had to go to the bathroom and I knew it would take a few minutes and someone had ordered before me, so my Golunduz was 2nd up anyway. Of course, when I came back there were two golunduzs on the skillet, and the first one that had been on when mine was thrown on had been given away. A German tourist on our bus whose English was minimal was waiting and so was I. I knew my Golunduz had been put on first. But she didn't know that because I had left to go to the bathroom. So there was a bit of a mix up when we both went to pay. Of course, the Turkish golunduz cooker was absent from the conversation, not that there was one, just a series of awkward glances as she looked at me like ı was crazy to have tried to cut her in line, while she took away MY Golunduz! I wonder if I have ever done that to someone and been blocked by the language barrier from knowing that the person who seemingly wronged me was actually in the right.
When we got to Ecebat, the gateway to Gallipoli National Park, we had lunch with Elliot and Kiley, two Aussies in their mid twenties doing the nationalistic thing and seeing Gallipoli. There were many Aussies and Kiwis in our group.
The Gallipoli campaign was waged by the Allies in WWI in order to attempt to take over the Dardenelles, which would have given then the shipping lanes to both cut off the Ottoman Empire from the war (which would have eased pressure in the Middle Eastern theater) and so that they would have easy supply lines to the Russians via the Black Sea. The 250 day campaign in 1915 cost over 500,000 lives, with slighly more lost on the Turkish side, but ultimately both sides lost, on average, a thousand men a day. The Gallipoli Campaign was an unequivocal success for the Ottoman Turks, despite the fact that they lost so many men and that they eventually lost the war, because they never did yield the Dardenelles to the Allies, who eventually were forced to pull out with their tails between their legs. The Turks were led by a young charismatic Lietenant Colonel, Mustafa Kemal, who later became Attaturk and the father of the Turkish nation. He is the closest thing Turks have to George Washington. His performance at Gallipoli made him a legend.
Some of the first troops to arrive at Gallipoli were members of the ANZAC, the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. This was the first time that Australia and New Zealand were fighting a major war as countries and not colonies. Though they did not comprise a majority of the fighters and they lost a fraction of men compared to the British and the French, their lolsses as a percentage of army size and population were huge. It is also believed that a mistaken landing on the first night at a cove a mere kilometer off course ultimately cost them their position and allowed Attaturk to sieve the peninsula's high point. Because of that mistake, thousands of young boys were thrust into a slaughter. Nevertheless, they fought bravely on the front lines of the conflict.
ANZAC day is in Australia and New Zealand akin to our Veterens Day, only it is far more celebrated and important. In many ways Gallipoli is as major a memorial sight for the Aussies and Kiwis as it is for the Turks.
I am not sure I have ever been to a stranger place in my life.
Usually in war to the victors go the spoils. Well at Gallipoli there was a winner, a big winner, the Turks, even though they ultimately lost the war. Their victory, forged on the back of over 250,000 deaths, seems like it was hardly worth it, and indeed after the war ended the Ottoman Empire was disbanded and the Turks didn't exactly have the easiest of times.
But Gallipoli is also not some place that the Allies can really celebrate. They too lost 250,000 men, 10,000 of which were Aussies and Kiwis, fighting a war half way around the Globe for their queen, but never once setting foot on the soil of mother Britain, which so many of the young men wished to visit. The Aussies and Kiwis though flock to the place where their grandfathers died, fighting in vain to gain a hill and peninsula that didn't ultimately matter. They lost. Southerners don't flock to Gettysburg...and in the end they DID win, because they are still Americans. At the Egyptian War Museum we visited on our last day in Cairo, the highly embarrassing 1967 war was conspicuouly absent, even though the museum covered virtually every other war that Egypt was involved in back to the days of the Pharaohs. Losses are much more easily forgotton than remembered.
And the spot, wow, it couldn't really be more serene and beautiful, with amazing views out across the turquoise blue Agean Sea or out across the Dardenelles. It was amazing to sit in that gorgeous spot and to think of what people can do to each other. At one point the trenches were a mere 8 meters away. A house can be 8 meters wide and not be the biggest house on the block. How could you kill thousands of people who were so close to you? What complete and total idiocy.
But Gallipoli is a place, as the various ,ANZAC day posters proclaim, where "Legends were born." We even found an ANZAC day brochure which showed a documentary with "legend" in the title was a part of the 2008 ANZAC day program.
"I just don't get it," I said to Kiley and Elliot. "So let me get this straight: ANZAC lost and thousands of people died. So why did this get so big and become so important. How did the myth grow?"
"Myth!?!" Kiley responded, visibly angered at my use of words, "It's not a myth! It actually happened."
I quickly backtracked, doing my best to explain what I meant. Why the "legend" (a word somewhat synonomous with myth) "of ANZAC," why a celebration and rememberence of a horrific loss?. Her answer was fairly unsatisfactory in my opinion. First, she explained away reality, "If they had just landed in the right spot, they would have taken the hill, they would have won." So it's a rememberence of a stupid mistake? I later met other Aussies who cursed those stupid British generals who screwed everything up and didn't care about just sacrificing the ANZACs. Of course Britain lost 200,000 men and ANZAC 10,000. I doubt the Britsh thought, "Oh well we can just sacrifice those ANZACs," everyone was dying.
Kiley's better answer was that it was the first time that Sussies and Kiwis fought for their own nations and not in the British empire.
That is the real reason for its importance and I do get that to a degree. What is confusing though, is also that it is all about ANZAC, not A-AC or NZAC. The Americans won the Revovolutionary War with the help of the French, we would not have won without them. Americans and French do not celebrate a American/French force, of course. Ok, it is not the perfect example or maybe even a good one, but the point is that I find işt interesting that the birth of nationhood for each nation is inextricably tied to another nation. The Aussies and the Kiwis love to hate each other, but on the celebration of ANZAC Day they each define their nationhood in concert with their Oceanic rivals.
Some would say simply that it isn't a celebration at all. Of course, I asked Kiley and Elliot what ANZAC day was like back home. "Oh it's huge," Elliot said, "Yeah everyone has the day off and there's this game that you can only play on ANZAC day in all the pubs called 2-up. You flip two coins at once and bet on it.1 Sounds like a somber day... The game was played by Aussies in the trenches before they went off to get slaughtered.
And now Aussies and Kiwis flock to Gallipoli to be led around by a Turkish tour guide and to sewe where the slaughter took place. Our tour guide was very knowledgable, only his English and vocals inflections completely resembled Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. That is the genius of the character; that it comes close enough to resembling a foreigner in sound to convince people Borat is real despite it clearly being a fictious creation. "Turks won at Gallipoli...Very nice!"
And so we were paraded to various sites on the peninsula to see various battle spots and memorials. At each one "ANZAC" was written on prominent monuments. It was all about a losing foreign army that had attempted to conquer and failed. Were we in Turkey? Those foreigners that had attacked intent on conquest and destruction were celebrated as heroes and legends--for those were the words used. How? Why?
The monuments reflected great magnamimity on the part of Attaturk. He was quoted poetically at one monument:
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.
The words were compassionate. But what was missing was the recognition of the uselessness of it all. Maybe we never want to say or feel that someone died in vain. But until we can admit the historical ubiquity of vain death, will we ever learn not to fight?
Henry Kissinger classifies as a meglomaniac as a Secretary of State and a politician, but as a historian and writer he is actually not so bad. In Diplomacy he offers an assesment of the causes of World War I, relating them to the formation of alliances between nations that created a system that could only be ruled reliably by the most skilled and gifted practioners of Realpolitik, namely Metternich and Bismarck. But what those leaders failed to do is create a system that stood on its own without great men like themselves.
Kissinger's assesment is, I believe, an incredibly useful one. The irony should not be lost that the completely unrealistic and Maniachan Kissinger then proceeds to argue that WWII resulted from the abandonment of Realpolitik and Europe's old system of alliances, the very system that plunged Europe into WWI...
At Gallipoli, the very notion that we all belong to nations or that we should belong to nations or that nations should "act" for our collecctive safety seems challenged even as it was celebrated. Attaturk's words rung through the place where bullets had killed so many, where Attaturk had killed so many, where people had slept less than 30 feet away only to kill each other the next morning. Whay had they fought? Because Kiwis should kill Turks and Turks should kill Kiwis because the Ottoman Empire and New Zealand, haşf a world apart from each other, were "enemies."
Which is, as I have alluded to, a remarkable thing about the location. In many respects, it wasn't even really their war!
ANZAC comprised a fraction of allied forces that died at Gallipoli. The Ottoman Army was a joke. The Ottomans had lost territory many times and been whipped on many fronts. The empire was, as our guide put it, the "sick man of Europe." It joined the fight out of neccessity, not choice.
Which is why the Turkish celebration makes so much more sense, but we weren't on the Turkish tour, we were on the ANZAC tourÁ Each year around 1 million Turks, or 1 in 75, visit Gallipoli. See Attaturk took the Ottoman army, the Turkish contingent, and won a battle that saved Turkey from outright conquer (at the time). His men knew that the would be finished if they didn't win at Gallipoli. When ANZAC lost, no one took over Australia. When the Ottomans lost WWI, the empire was finished.
But at Gallipoli, Attaturk proved that the Turks were not just the sick men of Europe. Despite incredible losses, there wasa clear Allied objective that was clearly not accomplished. The Turkish army that won there, though horrifically depleted, would later be the army of independence.
Nerertheless, Attaturk's very magnanimous statements make one think about the ridiculousness of it all, of the horrors of war and death. His quotes at the Turkish mounuments describe the courage and honor of the Turkish troops who knew they would die and threw themselves into battle, becoming martyrs. I thought about Falstaff's brilliant speech in Henry IV Part I in which he calls out for life and deems honor to be merely "a word."
I weas also struck by the way I could also relate my thoughts to Shantaram when Lin and his mafia mentor talk about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. For while war seems so wrong, and generally the reasons for war are just as wrong as the act itself, I can understand why those who could be conquered fight back. That does make some sense to me.
What also felt wrong at Gallipoli though, were the many posed photographs of smiling tourists with ANZAC monuments or memorials. It just didn't seem like it should be a happy place. First we stopped at the beach the ANZACs were supposed to land at. Then we moved down the beach in 500 meter increments, traveling by bus, of course, to the various cemetaries and monuments. Later we drove up the hill where the fight had been waged to more monuments and some barely visible trenches.
At the top, the Kiwi ladies bough New Zealand hats for Ali, our Turkish driver, and our Turkish guide. Ali loved the hat and was still wearing it several days later when we left his bus.
What a strange world we live in. Thousands of men die, for nothing- and then 94 years later, the descendents of the losers buy hats bearing their country's name and symbols from the descendents of the winners. They then give those hats to other descendents of the winners.
I think ultimately, what allows Gallipoli to have so much significance for both sides is also what makes that significance confusing. The ANZACs and even the Ottomans, as I have noted, were secondary players in WWI. They did not start the war, they did not control it, they did not end it. They simply did their duty, to the best of their ability. The tragedy lies far more in what was asked of them than in the actions themselvs. We can only hope such tasks are asked of fewer and fewer people as the years go on.
Which is, of course, the fundamental problem with finding ways to memorialize the fallen soldier and with any battle site that has now become a tourist site. There is a tension that exists at each of these places. Can you faithfully honor the dead of war without honoring the act of war itself? Can you rightly criticize and destroy misplaced the glory of war that has existed for millenia without disgracing those who simply did their job? I think it is possible, but it doesn't happen at battlefields, which in my mind should be places of deep sorrow and mourning, places that invoke fear and terror, but in the act of honoring the dead become serene and just too nice.
I think the Vietnam War Memorial does a terrific job, actually, of treading the line that is so hard to find. It is not extremely obtrusive or flashy, you can't even see it from the road because so much of it is underground. There is no sign of glory in it, no large statue of a heroic fighter. Its power, to me, is that its szve hits you. There are just so many names. So many people who died for nothing. And they are etched one after another after another, roughly equally, with so little distinction that there is a book where you have to find the name of someone who died, because looking at the monument alone, it is almost impossible for one to just jump out at you.
At Gallipoli, I think one of the best and the worst monuments is of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded ANZAC troop. Apparently there was an incident in which a Turkish soldier carried a fallen foe back to his camp, risking his own life, so that that foe might find some peace. It is a powerful monument in that it reinforces the notion that we are all in this together, and that we can find common ground. It shows the compassion and humanity of the ground troop, asked to do a horrific job. I also think its a terrible monument that gives too much humanity to the situation, a situation in my mind marked more by idiocy than compassion, and one that we should remember as such. The emphasis should not be on the honor of the Turkish troop but on the ridiculousness that the next day, after saving a man's life, he went back and was told to go kill others...and to keep his head down, for that man's buddies would surely kill him.
I recognize I am tough on Gallipoli. I think I am tough on war in general. But as we drove back to Eceabat, I just felt torn up by the whole experience.
At dinner that night, eating delicious meatballs at a restaurant by the Dardenelles, I laughed and joked with Hayden and an Aussie, Bianca, and Kiwi, Ken, traveling together that we met, but the fascination with Gallipoli remained fresh in my mind. Hayden said it was just simple: "It was the first time we went to war as Aussies and Kiwis." That is the answer to it all: Gallipoli is and remains a symbol of Aussie and Kiwi nationhood. That is why we have met travelers who have already put down $500 deposits to be at the 100th anniversary ANZAC day service in 2015. But having been to Gallipoli, having seen that beatiful spot, I really hope in the future that the locations where new nations celebrate their birth are marked by something other than blood.