This year I was honored to be invited to attend the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day Ceremony held on April 24th at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It was a humbling tribute to the young Australian and New Zealand soldiers that sacrificed life and limb for their countries almost one hundred years ago. April 25th is a day of national reflection and remembrance for two nations, and a day of humility for all nations. While the tribute is in honor of the ANZAC which fought in the Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, it is a day dedicated in tribute to all soldiers that gave their lives for their countries.
The young soldiers of the Commonwealth nations known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, landed on the beaches of Gallipoli with the charge of taking Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire, they were told was a threat to democracy, freedom, and to the Commonwealth. They expected to easily secure the beach and provide access for the Allied Forces into the Black Sea. What they encountered was nothing like what they expected. They engaged a military force of determined Turks, lead by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, fighting to protect their homeland. After eight months of battle and high casualties on both sides, the ANZACs withdrew. They did not win the battle, but they did not leave as losers either. Gallipoli will forever remain a place for reflection, and a lesson in humanity and humility.
ANZAC Day reminds us every year about what it is to be sovereign; a sovereign nation, a sovereign people, and mostly a sovereign democracy. It is a day to remember that a nation can be only as strong as the will of its sovereign. In a dictatorship or monarchy, it is represented by the will of its ruler, but in a democracy, it is represented by the will of its people. I believe the lesson of the Gallipoli Campaign commemorated on ANZAC Day was in accepting this fact. The ANZAC Corps entered the Gallipoli Campaign because it was the command of the sovereign ruler of the British Empire to protect freedom. The ANZAC left Gallipoli learning that freedom required the will of its people.
Humanity requires that we learn lessons from history, and ANZAC Day I believe is a day to remember the lesson of Gallipoli. The ANZAC soldiers travelled half the way around the globe to fight a battle to protect freedom, not understanding that the people they were fighting were also fighting to secure their own freedom. A horrific loss of life for both sides, with the Turks suffering twice the casualties as the ANZAC, and with all dying to protect the same thing. Freedom! They were each fighting in honor of their sovereign and to protect their sovereignty. Understanding ANZAC Day requires an understanding of sovereignty. A sovereign country is defined as an independent self-governing country. It is a land that our own blood relatives sacrificed their lives to protect, so that we may enjoy our freedom. It is the land our ancestors lived and died on. . It is a place of the most sacred and hallowed ground, where our roots are laid, and have been for generations. It is more than a just a spot of land. It is where our relatives are laid to eternal rest. It is the home of our forefathers and the home of our children. It is our culture and it is our history. It is our home.
It is in this context that the words of Atatürk bear deeper meaning. Engraved on what is now hallowed ground for the ANZAC troops on Turkish soil are these infamous words of Atatürk:
“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.”
The nations of Australia and New Zealand have learned what it means to be a sovereign nation to Turks by the experiences of Gallipoli. Unfortunately, Turkey today has forgotten the meaning of sovereignty! Turks have not embraced the value of the sacrifice of our forefathers, and do not understand that it is within its citizens that sovereignty reigns. To this day, Turks look to a leader to be guided, and refuse to embrace democracy. They fail to understand the gift that Atatürk gave to them and charged them to protect – at all costs. It is my sincere hope that all Turks commemorate ANZAC Day, and learn the lessons that the ANZAC and their nations have learned. A true sovereign nation belongs to its people, and the people shall honor the home of their forefathers, their children, and the generations to come. A sovereign nation will protect its freedom at all costs from all enemies, foreign or domestic. This is our highest oath, our most solemn promise.