Gallipoli and Troy

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Flag of Turkey  , Canakkale,
Sunday, June 15, 2008

The circuit of Turkey had one last stop, a visit to Chanakkale, the gateway to Gallipoli and Troy, where two major battles were fought. As in all battles, there were reasons and then there were the reasons for war.

First, I went to Troy, where the imagination was needed to picture the Homeric epic, as the ruins from that era were sparse and in poor shape. A couple citadel walls were left to see. As Troy occurs in at least ten different layers piled on top of one another, interpretation was difficult. Sometimes you'd see layer one, then nine, then six, then seven. And archaeologists can't agree which layer was the Homeric battle layer, six or seven.

In any case, this was a war fought maybe because the gods planned it that way, after their beauty contest with Paris as the judge. Because Paris picked Aphrodite, the was able to have the most beautiful woman in the world even if she turned out to be married to Menelaus. The war, sparked by attraction to beauty then by lust and passion, then exploded under the weight of greed and power, as Agamemnon sought to defeat his Trojan rivals for control of the Aegean.

On the battlefied, Odysseus, Achilles, and dozens of others demonstrated the courage and trials of the warrior, as they fought valliantly (for the most part). The gods took sides and tempted fate to bend the paths of arrows to hit or miss according to their whims.

A similar battle was fought in Gallipoli. World War I was sparked by distrust between peoples and a will to power, with competition for resources and territory. Winston Churchill saw a quick way to remove the Ottoman Empire from the war: by reaching Istanbul from the shores of Gallipoli.

Thousands of British, French, Nepali, Indian, New Zealand, and Australian troops invaded these shores on April 25, 1915. Soon a bloody trench battle led to months of stalemate with the Turkish army, led by Attaturk, the first president of the soon-to-be Turkish Republic and their greatest hero, commemorated on every bill and coin.

By December, the battle was over and the Allies retreated, unable to advance beyond the first hills.

Three nations were especially honored in this battle: New Zealand and Australia, for fighting under their flag for the first time; and Turkey, for their brave fighting under a commander that would soon lead their new republic.

Today, Kiwis and Aussies visit on April 25, ANZAC Day, in remembrance.

I wanted to pay my respects to the brave fighters who died, no matter which nation. Seeing the sights firsthand, you get an vague idea of what the soliders were experiencing, because now the shores and hills are a peaceful national park, with eroded trenches some of the only battle remains. Still, you could see how close the two sides were fighting and the strategic layout of the land.

I walked the ANZAC Cove and hilltop sites with a Dutch man also staying at the ANZAC hostel. Following a trail and audio guide designed by the Australians, we listened to battle descriptions downloaded onto his cell phone memory card, complete with soundtrack and quotes from soliders.

The scenes of gravestones and statues commemorating heroes were moving, whether the brave ANZACs defending a hill or a Turkish solider who picked up a wounded Australian solider and brought him to safety. Equally moving was this quote by Attaturk, that says much about him as a heroic person, as well as the soldiers who fought:

"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."

~Attaturk, 1934.

Both Troy and Gallipoli were bloody battles that show that wars are started for reasons that in the end don't seem to make much sense, with much blood shed in the end. But at the same time, these battles show the bravery of the individual fighter and the warrior spirit, whether Attaturk or Odysseus.
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