PM: Turkish Intl. Service Mehmetcik Memorial
EMBARGOED UNTIL 9.00AM TURKEY (6.00PM NZ)
SUNDAY, 24 APRIL 2005
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Turkish International Service
Sunday 24 April 2005
Every year, at this time, many thousands of people are drawn to the Gallipoli Peninsula.
They come, as we have today, to pay their respects to the brave men of many nations who served here in one of the most gruelling military campaigns the world has ever known.
Even at ninety years distance, what happened here continues to shock all who take the time to become familiar with the battle for the peninsula.
We know that more than 130,000 lives were lost.
We know that there were several hundred thousand casualties.
We know that men fought against incredible odds.
To walk on the battlefields of Gallipoli is to walk on ground where so much blood was shed that it has become near sacred soil.
What happened here became deeply etched in the collective memory of nations whose people fought here, and even played a part in shaping the peoples and the nations we have become.
For it was not only the great scale of the horror of Gallipoli which left its mark on future generations.
A battle, a catastrophe as great as this, had many other consequences.
What is respected to this day is the great courage showed by those pitted against each other in battle.
Younger generations of our people are reminded of that bravery, and of the support which soldiers gave to each other in desperate and dangerous situations.
This military conflict was also remarkable for the respect the opposing sides developed for each other, even though the battles were bitter and hard fought. The soldiers recognised qualities of courage and honour in each other.
Thirty three years later a New Zealander who was accorded the Victoria Cross for great valour at Gallipoli, Lieutenant Colonel Bassett, returned to the battlefield and wrote:
“I stood among men who once had been our mortal foes. We had hated them, but we had never despised them. We had admired their stubborn gallantry, their tenacity to endure. With such a race, loyal to themselves and to their country, we had become friends again. Between us lay the bond of mutual respect. Our dead had mingled, and in our mutual homage, I think we gained a lot that day.”
That feeling was reciprocated on the Turkish side. The generosity of spirit shown by Ataturk and his successors is all the more remarkable because the vanquished had come to invade Turkish soil.
In far away New Zealand, the Ataturk memorial bears his famous healing words to the families of those who died:
“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.”
Those are truly the words of a great man.
The defence of Gallipoli also had implications for the future of Turkey itself. It was here that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk earned his reputation as a formidable military commander, and from here that he rose eventually to found the modern Turkish Republic and become its first president.
For New Zealand, as for Australia, it was at Gallipoli that our young nations came of age. It was here also that the enduring bond between our countries was forged through participation in the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps, best known as the ANZACs.
Sorrow and a sense of great loss draw us all to Gallipoli.
We also come with pride in the courage our forebears showed in great adversity.
We come to acknowledge that what happened here had a profound impact on the nations involved, which the humble troops of 1915 could never have foreseen.
It is in these deep feelings and with this recognition that we discover the true meaning and significance of what happened at Gallipoli ninety years ago.