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Articles Blog

Cannakkale, Turkey

Karyn Planett

A Chapter In Turkish History

Several chapters, really. Yet you’ve probably journeyed to this sacred place, for one or two of them – Troy or Gallipoli. Just know that the kind citizens of Cannakkale understand why you’re here. Filled with curiosity, perhaps some trepidation, you want to walk in the path of those who came before you and shed blood for their beliefs. 

Why was the heavy hand of history played out here as it was? Because, geographically, Cannakkale commands the Dardanelles Strait where it connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean. Since the dawn of time, nations have wanted to control this important piece of the geographic puzzle for it held the key to wealth and power. 

Perhaps you already know the events that played out on this rugged soil as the centuries came and went. 

Trojan Horse, Or A One-Trick Pony? 

Take the Trojan War, for example. In a nutshell, these events are intertwined in the storytelling by the ancient Greeks and such laudable poets and authors as Homer and Virgil. But layers of archaeological discoveries at the place known to us as Troy, (to the Greeks as Ilion, and to the Turks as Truva) span a period from 3000 B.C. to 400 A.D. Some say it is the very spot that was destroyed in 1180 B.C. then rediscovered and unearthed in the late 1800s. It’s all in Homer’s Iliad, which is probably in your rumpus room library somewhere. But, you remember the legend of King Priam and the Achaeans (Greeks). Look on the top shelf, perhaps, way in the back. Well, the whole mess between the Greeks and the Trojans began more or less over a snubbing at a wedding. Then a beauty pageant, some nasty fighting, high-stakes ransom, behind the scenes negotiations, more unpleasantries, and finally the horse. Sounds like a Brittany Spears newsflash (except for the horse part). 

Following an important battle, Greek soldiers including Odysseus hid inside the Trojan horse. A “fake” disgruntled Greek named Sinon tricked the Trojans into believing the horse was a rather large good luck charm so they dragged it into Troy to show it off as the centerpiece of their celebration (like an Academy Award of sorts). Bingo, ruse intact, out jumped the soldiers easily overcoming the Trojan revelers (who thought they’d already won the war). Or so the saga goes because stories vary, versions favor the storyteller, and the myth and mystery of war are often imprecise. Today, Troy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site worthy of your inspection.             

More Blood Shed, This Time in Gallipoli 

World War I raged. And in the 1915-1916 Battle of Gallipoli, Allied forces from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC), Britain, France, India, and Newfoundland fought against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire as well as some Germans. Many of these young men had never seen the ugly face of war before. Thousands of ANZAC troops had mustered on their country’s beaches then sailed thousands of miles to be mowed down as they scrambled ashore in rugged terrain away from their intended landing site, carried along on a treacherous current. They faced dedicated Turkish troops under the able leadership of their nation’s future leader, Atatürk. In one of those amazing “what-ifs” of history, he was actually shot during the battle but the bullet struck his pocket watch, preventing it from penetrating his heart.   

Many survived the initial landing only to perish later in the trenches from wounds or disease. But there was a curious respect between the two adversaries. Men traded cigarettes for food by tossing parcels to each other across no man’s land. Occasionally, a truce was called so each side could bury its dead. Then, after eight hellish months, the bugle sounded, the battle ended, the bloody chapter drew to a close. 

'Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You 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 faraway 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''.

--Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, ANZAC Cove 

Atatürk spoke of Gallipoli with these powerful words though the Turkish people call it Gelibolu. The mothers, whose sons were felled in battle here, call it hell yet a hallowed ground. 

Today, this is a peaceful place with dozens of cemeteries and memorials for the Allied dead, the same for the Turkish soldiers. Some of the dead were simply buried as and where they fell. The death toll was huge: more than 21,000 British; over 8,000 Australians; 10,000 French; nearly 2500 New Zealanders; 1350 Indians and 49 lads from Newfoundland. The Turks themselves lost approximately 80,000 of their own (some put the numbers between 60,000 and 250,000)*. At Cape Hellas, there is a soaring memorial. Pause and reflect on the following words: 

“Stop, O passerby. This earth you tread unawares is where an age was lost. Bow and listen, for this quiet place is where the heart of a nation throbs.”

Nearly 100 years have come and gone since some 500,000 soldiers of many nations were killed or wounded here. These brave soldiers, one and all, made the supreme sacrifice for family and nation. Lest they be forgotten. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett