Think Piece – The power of personal stories to transgress hostilities of the past

Source: Dr Azer Banu Kemaloğlu.

DrAzerBanuKemaloglu“The bodies of the deceased have refused to stay buried” is a quote from Stephen Greenblatt, Cultural Mobility, which encapsulates the sentiment behind the exhibition From Hostility to Lasting Friendship, Cultural Reflections from the Turkish and Anzac Soldiers’ Diaries’’. This exhibition explores the similarities between Turkish and Anzac soldiers at Gallipoli. It gives voice to their humanity and invites peoples of Turkey, Australia and New Zealand to gain a mutual understanding and remembrance in the year of the Centenary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015.

Thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s powerful and peace-making tribute to the Anzac mothers, Gallipoli/Gelibolu embraces many cultures and nations. Our exhibition takes from Atatürk’s initiative by bringing Anzac and Turkish soldier stories together. If personal stories are unearthed, the human voice will restore something never felt during the campaign.

When Turkish people discover Atatürk’s picture in an Anzac soldier’s diary they will be proud and feel respect towards the former enemy. In addition, they can sympathise with the Anzac soldier who describes beautiful Gelibolu sunsets and keeps flowers in his diary. Australian and New Zealanders can discover the naivety of the Turkish veterans who refused the veteran pay, claiming that it was their duty to fight for their country. In this way, the human voice will eventually establish an empathy and enable a transnational understanding in this centenary, transgressing the hostility felt in 1915.

My journey to discover the unheard human voices of Gallipoli started in 2009, when a descendant of an Anzac soldier read from his great grandfather’s diary at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. The reading was organised by the Australian Consulate to Çanakkale and it was moving. At that moment, I decided to do something to recover the voices buried in the Gelibolu Peninsula.

Firstly, I told my intentions to the Australian Consul Peter Rennert who encouraged me and put me in contact with Professor Raelene Frances and Professor Bruce Scates from Monash University.  In 2011, I received a six month research fellowship at Monash University, funded by the Monash and Gallipoli Memorial Club in Sydney. Thanks to the preliminary research I was able to carry out during this fellowship, I submitted a project proposal in 2012 for the centenary exhibition. TUBİTAK- The Scientific and Technological Council of Turkey, funded the rest of the research and so we now have an exhibition to open on Wednesday 25th November on the findings of this project.

The project team consisted of nine researchers from Turkey, representing disciplines ranging from history to literature, five advisors from Australia, and one from New Zealand. The project started in October 2013 and ended in June 2015, throughout which time I worked as the chief investigator.

Focusing on the cultural themes found in ordinary soldier narratives, the project aimed to remember Mehmetçik and Anzac soldiers together. Unable to find a Turkish diary during our research, we decided to add an oral history counterpart. The Turkish narratives are from 171 interviews made with the descendants of Gallipoli veterans sourced from 23 cities across Turkey.  The Anzac stories are from 81 diaries studied in Australian and New Zealand archives and libraries. A selection of ten Turkish and ten Anzac soldier narratives are on display within the exhibition presented in  bilingual format, making it accessible to an international audience. The human voice transcends national and ideological boundaries, revealing how similar the Anzac and Mehmetçik experiences at Gallipoli/Gelibolu were.

Feeling the relief and satisfaction to have answered the call of some of the buried voices in the Gelibolu/Gallipoli peninsula, I know there are more voices to be recovered. They want to be heard and remembered. Hence, our journey of remembrance will not end here.

 


Dr Azer Banu Kemaloğlu is Associate Professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey. She is also the Deputy Chair of the Turkish-Australian Culture Centre and teaches in the English Literature Department. Her research interest is the Gallipoli Campaign, which has been the focus of her studies for the past five years. Dr Kemaloğlu is currently working on Fictional Representations of the Gallipoli Campaign in British Commonwealth Literature.

 

 

Dr Banu Kemaloğlu is visiting South Australia as a keynote speaker at the 2015 Narratives of War Symposium-Reflections of War, taking place at the University of South Australia, Magill Campus Thursday 19 and Friday 20 November. “From Hostility to Lasting Friendship” was first launched in Çanakkale, Turkey as part of the Çanakkale/Gallipoli Wars 2015 International Conference (May 21-24, 2015). The exhibition was first exhibited in Australia at Monash University (October 28-November 13, 2015) with a preview on display at the Narratives of War Symposium at the University of South Australia (November 19-20, 2015). Veterans SA in partnership with the State Library of South Australia is presenting the exhibition from Thursday 26 November through to Sunday 6 December at the State Library.  Full details of the exhibition can be found at: From Hostility to Lasting Friendship.