Like the Anzacs, I didn’t mean to go to Gallipoli. It just happened.
photo of a photo of the trenches in Gallipoli, Turkey. Don’t need instagram, it’s real lomo.
I was passing through Çanakkale, a town and seaport in Turkey on the coast of the Dardanelles. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, although I amused myself by taking long walks, perusing the markets and befriending locals. I still remember one family owned restaurant that plied me with food and coffee until the early hours of the morning, laughing and chatting about the world and how similar we all are and refusing to take any money as I came to leave.
I was travelling alone, which seemed like a mad, crazy idea for a 21-year-old female at the time. Apart from a few incidences I rarely felt unsafe and I never felt alone. I was lucky to be staying in such a hospitable, beautiful and welcoming country which stole my heart right out from under me.
The hostel I stayed at was themed almost entirely around Anzac Day. Yeah. I know. But in my defence I was limited in my accommodation choices due to a stubborn refusal to plan anything prior to travelling. I remember deliberating with myself for 10 minutes over whether sleeping on the street was a viable option, before deciding I could deal with the rampant patriotism for a few nights. They showed the Gallipoli film on repeat, which was okay, because I liked that film the first 5 times. But by the 20th loop I was ready to go in there and shoot Mel Gibson myself.
It would be an understatement to declare I was somewhat guilt-tripped into going on their little packaged tour to visit Gallipoli and the Troy site. It must have been some kind of hidden disclaimer about staying there, that one was forced to submit to Tourist Nirvana, hanging their soul up on a rack as they left each day for their tour. Troy is three hours of my life staring at abandoned, speculative soil that I’ll never get back. I did have much respect for the giant wooden horse used in the Troy film however, displayed in the centre of town. I do like a good horse gag.
I’ll admit though, the trip to Gallipoli surprised me, rocked me a little. I relished in our Turkish tour guide and his explanations of the Turkish side of battle. I remembered the friends I had met earlier in my trip explaining to me that in Turkey, Anzac Day is a non-event. I already knew why. Why commemorate a tragedy, even if you are the victor? And then why commemorate it when you have epically failed?
I took photos of the trenches using film. I documented deep mounds of soil missing in the ground where humans hid, young boys, waiting for the slaughter. You can see the tall trees against the grainy black and white. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a battlefield.
I like this photo of an imposing and commanding Ataturk statue. His famous speech was carved in stone. I concurred with everything Ataturk statue said (my massive crush on the blue-eyed leader should be noted. Stone cold fox. Literally).
Ataturk – stone cold fox.
I can’t remember if I felt any emotions that day. It’s likely I did, because I recall my left wing friend chastising me for selling out to cheap nationalism. There was just something in the air. An unexplainable sadness, a tiny tug in the heartstring, a little sigh asking why.
I remember a beautiful, pristine beach. I would have liked to swim there. It looked like the beaches back home. This is where they had intended to land, all those boy soldiers. As our tour guide took us further, we eventually came across a jagged cliff side of rocks. This is where they landed. That has to suck, I thought. Suddenly the air felt cold, despite being the middle of summer. I had no desire to swim here.
The graves were hauntingly beautiful, littered throughout the site. It felt wrong taking photos, so I just stared out at the sea.
There is a fervour that sweeps us up; cradles and comforts us, like a thick string of emotive nationalism connecting us, if only we could just hold on. But we are not perfectly aligned or defined so easily and we did not land on a beautiful beach. We are jagged rocks leading up to a sharp cliff’s edge. War, or senseless murder, is what happens when we as a collective nation allow ourselves to be thrown off the cliff into the dark waters of war below. We shouldn’t forget what happened, this is true. But as we rode back to the main town, I could only think of words etched out on a brochure and echoed across the sea.
‘The toll in human destruction was high, yet the Gallipoli campaign ended up mattering little in the overall breadth of World War I.’
Human destruction – this alone is our greatest enemy, and we don’t need to travel back in time or across continents to find it, although I’m glad I did.