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Turkey: The enduring resonance of Gallipoli

In my studies in Australia, I’ve come to realize that Australians see the Battle of Gallipoli as the birth of their nation, the event that distinguished them from the British, said Shirin Yasar in Today’s Zaman.

Shirin YasarToday’s Zaman

Why are Australians so obsessed with Gallipoli? asked Shirin Yasar. The World War I battle at Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey is the defining event in Australian history. Aussie schoolchildren are taught dozens of stories from the eight-month campaign, including “brave Simpson and his donkey, the gallant attack at Lone Pine, the self-sacrificing charge at the Nek, and various other incidents of Australian bravery.” Why this particular battle? After all, Gallipoli was a defeat for the Allies. Thousands of Australians died there, true, but more Australians died on the Western Front—and anyway, 10 times as many Turks were killed. The obsession, it turns out, has nothing to do with Turkey.

In my studies in Australia, I’ve come to realize that Australians see that battle as the birth of their nation, the event that distinguished them from the British. Their telling of Gallipoli contrasts “Australian perseverance and bravery” with “the incompetence and general lack of leadership” of the British, as shown in the 1981 movie Gallipoli, which portrays British officers drinking tea on the beach while Aussie soldiers were being slaughtered. What many Turks don’t realize, though, is that while Australians resent British actions at Gallipoli, they respect the Turks for having fought fairly and honorably. That’s largely why our two nations are such firm allies today. We “forged an imperishable bond through the unlikely event of war so many years ago.”

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