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Turkey remembers the Battle of Canakkale

(Transcript from World News Radio)


As Australia gears up for next month’s centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, Turks have been commemorating the 100th year since their naval victory against the Allies.



As Kristina Kukolja reports, the Turks remember what they call the Battle of Canakkale as a great national victory.


(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)


The Last Post echoes over sacred land on the Gallipoli Peninsula.


Life has stopped on this day in Canakkale – the city that houses battlegrounds of the First World War.


It’s been 100 years since Turkish soldiers achieved the impossible – defending their land against the enormous armament of Allied forces that laid siege on Canakkale.


Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressed the large crowd gathered in the city’s main square.


He says the Battle of Canakkale resonates with every Turkish citizen.


(through translation) “There is not a single person of our great people who can’t trace a connection back to the Canakkale battle 100 years ago. There is a fallen soldier from Canakkale in each of our families. In each of our memories, there are the scars of Canakkale.”


The Allies’ plan was to capture Istanbul, the then capital of the Ottoman Empire.


For this, they had to first cross the Dardanelles – the channel that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara.


If warships could make their way through the channel, Istanbul would be captured.


The already-shrinking Ottoman Empire would then crumble indefinitely.


But it wasn’t to be.


Turks had laid mines in the Dardanelles.


Despite the Allies advancing well through the channel on the morning of March 18, the afternoon was disastrous.


Three British war ships were sunk, and the fourth severely damaged.


Around 700 Britons were killed.


Turks suffered 118 casualties from British fire.


Turkish historian Hatice Basarin, a Gallipoli expert, says the battle remains of profound importance for Turks.


“For Turkey, Canakkale means the start of a process that caused the final stage of the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire but also it’s the first step towards becoming an independent republic, a sovereign state. So, it’s the very beginning of the end, as well as the beginning of the very beginning of the Turkish Republic today. And as such, it’s rather important, it’s a landmark event, and I suppose it will remain so.”


The March 18 victory for the Turks marks the end of months of the Allied attempts to cross the channel.


One of the Turks seen as a hero in the naval battle is Corporal Seyit.


In the afternoon of March 18, 1915, all the redoubts went silent.


Even the mines weren’t doing so well.


There was an only one cannon standing in the Mecidiye Redoubt.


Its cannonball crane was broken.


Corporal Seyit lifted the 276 kilogram shell and fed it into the cannon, inflicting a huge wound on Britian’s Ocean battleship.


Seyit’s great grandson, Muhammed Ikar, works at the museum built for the Corporal in Havran, a small town in Turkey’s west.


He says his great grandfather’s story is one of bravery.


(through translation) “During the battle, Seyit said this is where hope is lost. But I’ll lift this shell by whispering a prayer I learned from my mother. There’s no one around except his friend Ali from Nigde. He recites the prayer, places his palms on the soil three times, and lifts the shell.”


When the naval operation failed, the Gallipoli Peninsula was invaded by land on the morning of April 25, Anzac Day.


Turkey’s attention now turns to the large-scale ceremonies planned for that day.


Australian Consul to Canakkale, Nicholas Sergi, says, like Australia, the battle was an important part of Turkey’s foundation narrative.


“This was the campaign where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk drew a line in the sand and became the colossal figure of history who went on to become the founding president of the Turkish republic and the modern Turkish state. So in a very real sense, this campaign is inextricably linked to each country’s sense of itself and the foundation of narrative of each country, as I said.”



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