An international symposium hosted by the UNESCO Chair, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice

The ties that bind Turkey and Australia are at first strange, for they begin with enmity and an exchange of blows during the course of WWI. The Australians and Ottoman Turks confronted each other on the battlefields of Gallipoli. The Turks carried the day at Gallipoli in a campaign that took a heavy toll on both sides.

Naturally, one would be inclined that such an encounter would have fostered long lasting hostility between the Australians and Turks. But quite the opposite took place; a deep mutual respect sprung up between the two sides. There was even a certain playfulness, as each side exchanged gifts and cigarettes between the frontline trenches, and nicknames for each other. As one Anzac would later recall, “They tried to drive us into the sea . . .  They were a very brave enemy . . . We had nothing against them. He was fighting. Johnny Turk was fighting for his country and we was fighting for our country. No, there was nothing personal, no.” A veteran from the Turkish side, interviewed in 1987 said, “We didn’t hate the enemy. . . Their duty was to come here and invade, ours was to defend. No, I never hated them, never. And now my friends we’re brothers and I want to send my regards to all of them, my regards to the Anzacs.”

This sense of camaraderie has lived on since the end of the fated campaign at Gallipoli. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), a Lt. Colonel who served as a Division Commander throughout much of the campaign at Gallipoli and later became the founder of modern Turkey, made a stunning gesture of recognition and reconciliation towards the invaders in 1934 at a speech written to be delivered before a delegation from the Allied War Commission:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives 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.

For Atatürk, like the Turkish veteran noted above, the foes of WWI were now brothers in arms and to be remembered affectionately as brave soldiers that fought passionately for their country rather than colonial invaders. Since then many Australians have and continue to accept the hospitality initiated by Atatürk and make the pilgrimage each year to pay homage to those that fell on the beaches of Gallipoli and see the plaque on which those famous words have been engraved. However, while the relationship has moved from one of enmity to friendship it has remained over the years a purely cultural one, as opposed to a substantive one politically and financially. Thus this international symposium will look to explore the following themes and questions:

  • Can the bond of Gallipoli be the foundation for building greater political and economic ties?
  • Is the relationship destined to remain purely cultural on account of the tyranny of distance?
  • Where does Gallipoli sit in the social and political imaginary of both Australia and Turkey? And has the goodwill endured?
  • Can alternative more critical reflections on the Anzac Myth be sustained?