Why is ANZAC Day Important

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With ANZAC day a week away, Australians and New Zealanders will soon begin flooding into Istanbul before heading down to  the Gallipoli peninsula for the remembrance day celebrations.  Every year on April 25th, hundreds of people show up without fail to honor the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand soldiers that lost their lives. It begins with Dawn Service at 5:30 in the morning. Military, politicians and priests lead the services, making speeches about the attacks, remembering those who perished and praying for their souls. Over 100 years have passed since that fateful day and people still gather to pay their respects. So why is ANZAC Day so important that people still congregate?

At dawn on April 25, 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers sailed toward the Gallipoli peninsula to begin a major attack against the Ottoman forces. The goal was to take the peninsula, thereby giving the Allied forces access to the Dardanelles which would give them access to Istanbul. From there, they would be able to get supplies to their Russian Allies. The ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) forces landed at 4:30 AM to try to take the enemy by surprise. Unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire was expecting an attack. They didn’t know when but they were not completely caught off guard. The young Ottoman army colonel, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had set up camp in the middle of the peninsula so as to easily be able to get to whatever point the Allies attacked first. As soon as he got word of the landing, he sent some of his troops to help the first defenders. The terrain was against the ANZAC forces. It was rocky and full of brush, not to mention that they landed at the bottom of a hill. Therefore, the Ottoman forces had the great advantage of height. As a result of this, the ANZAC attack was not successful. However, the fighting was far from over.

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Over the next 8 months, the ANZAC and Ottoman forces engaged in trench warfare. But ultimately, the Ottoman forces succeeded. The ANZAC forces began being evacuated on December 15. Both sides suffered extreme casualties. The Australians lost over 8,000 men, the New Zealanders about 3,000 and the Turks lost about 86,000 for their victory. At this time, Australia and New Zealand were still ruled by the British government. They were eager to join the war and show that they could be taken seriously as a country. Gallipoli was the first major battle of the war for Australians and New Zealanders and the death toll and their defeat hit their countries hard. The ANZACs immediately became heroes who died fighting for their countries. On April 25, 1916, the first ANZAC Day was held in Australia to honor the soldiers who laid down their lives.  Since that day, ANZAC Day is Australia’s Veteran’s Day. It’s become symbolic of all the soldiers who have lost their lives during all wars since and is a day of remembrance for them all.

After the end of WWI, the Ottoman Empire fell and became what is modern day Turkey. Turkey became a democracy and the young army colonel who won the battle at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became the first president of the republic. In the years that followed the end of the Great War, Turkey built graveyards and memorials for all of the soldiers that lost their lives at Gallipoli. On ANZAC Day in 1934, Ataturk made a touching speech to the Allied mothers and fathers who lost their loved ones at Gallipoli. He told them not to cry, because their sons were at rest in a friendly country. From then on, it became a sort of pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders to visit the memorials at Gallipoli and visit their loved ones final resting places.

During my visit to Gallipoli last month, I was shocked at how beautiful it was. The water was the clearest blue, everything was green and lush and you could see the Greek islands in the distance. But, you could also feel the weight of what had happened there. As I stood in one of the lovely cemeteries the Turks so gracefully created for the Australians, I could almost picture what had happened there. The tour is wonderfully done and speaks from both perspectives. I learned so much from the guide and was moved by everything I saw.

Click here to get more information about the Gallipoli Tour

For the Australians and New Zealanders, ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance for the military heroes that gave their lives for their countries. For the Turkish, ANZAC Day is a day to remember the father of their country’s victory. It is one of the greatest acts of peace and friendship that these countries can come together to honor and remember their loved ones that didn’t return home.

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