It’s rare for me to want to stay in silence in the face of a rush of emotions.
And yet, standing on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula, at Kabatepe, more commonly known as Anzac Cove, it’s the only thing I felt I could really do.
It was my first visit to Gallipoli, and while what I felt is perhaps in no way unique, it resembles some significance as it really marks the start of this journey.
Growing up in Melbourne as an Australian Turk, Anzac Day would often be associated with a sense of frustration as much of the rhetoric would be associated with how our soldiers sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.
For the Turkish side, it represented a small part of the greater Turkish War of Independence. Modern-day Turkey, for centuries, possessed enormous strategic importance for powers wanting to establish influence and control over the Middle East, the Mediterrean and the Indian Ocean.
From the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the Ottoman Empire found itself having to defend its land from an alliance of powers.
From the Dardanelles campaign, to the Seddulbahir Battles, the Ariburnu battles to that in Anafartalar, Gallipoli was no stranger to war.
And yet the Anzac battle marked a turning point in the history of Turkey, and subsequently for young Australia.
For the Turks, the battle marked a victory that came at the height of defending their land against major invading powers. For the Aussies, it was a fight for the ‘parent nation’, the United Kingdom, which under the direction of Winston Churchill, wanted to open up the Black Sea for the Allied navies.
What eventuated is a story that has long been told.
Today, Gallipoli houses trenches, hills and gravestones, where young men – Britons, Frenchmen, Australians, New Zealanders and of course, Turks – perished, almost 100 years ago.
For Turkey and Australia, the battle of Gallipoli marks an important foundation of their respective, modern national identities.
Standing on Anzac Cove, the exact location where the First World War was meant to turn in the Allies’ favour, I was torn between my own two identities.
As a Turk, I looked around to the hills where my ancestors would have stood on the morning of April 25, 1915, and a sense of pride overcame me, for through the battle emerged a new sense of nationalism under the young leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who inspired and united a nation divided by grief, to form a modern, independent and secular country.
As an Aussie, I watched the waves crashing against the shore, and thought, like many others have before me, what on earth the government and military of the day were thinking. Our servicemen were sent to invade another country for entirely self-serving purposes of an empire which still had control over young Australia’s foreign policy. And through the blood of 8,000 Anzacs, somehow, a national identity was formed.
And so my desire to embark on this project was triggered.
Over the next year or so, I will spend time speaking with historians, politicians, lobby groups, and the like, but most importantly, to Australians, Turks and Aussie-Turks who identify one way or another with the Gallipoli battle.
My aim is not to uncover an untold truth or reveal some grand mystery – though that would be nice.
Rather, it’s an exercise in multimedia storytelling, from someone who is keen to explore the unknown.
My hope is that by the end of the journey, which will take place in Australia and Turkey, I will have learnt a lot, mostly about myself.