CANAKKALE, Turkey (AA) – Over 1,000 visitors from Australia and New Zealand attended a dawn service in Turkey’s western Canakkale province Wednesday to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the landing of foreign troops on Turkish soil during World War I.
Nearly 1,300 Australians and New Zealanders made the trip to the former battlefields overlooking the Dardanelles Strait for the annual sunrise commemoration of the start of the eight-month campaign.
Participants stayed out overnight at the commemoration site in sleeping bags and blankets in cold weather, waiting for the service to start as they watched documentaries and interviews on the World War I Canakkale battle.
Patsy Reddy, governor-general of New Zealand, British Minister for Europe and the Americas Alan Duncan, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton , U.K. envoy to Turkey Dominick Chilcott, French Col. Valery Sens, Canakkale Deputy Governor Turan Yilmaz and a large number of domestic and foreign officials attended the ceremony.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Andrew Dalton from Australia said this was his first visit to Canakkale.
The 55-year-old psychologist said he was pleased to be at the dawn ceremony to commemorate his ancestors.
"It is a wonderful place here; I would like to thank Turkey for letting us experience this. As Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, we are all here together," he said.
The ceremony started at 5.30 a.m. (0230GMT) and lasted an hour.
Ceremony at Lone Pine
Australians and New Zealanders on Wednesday visited two of the Gallipoli battlefields where their countries’ men fought and died.
The ceremony was attended by Governor-General of New Zealand Patsy Reddy, Australian Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Australian Ambassador to Turkey Marc Innes-Brown, as well as thousands of people from Australia and New Zealand.
From Turkey, Sports and Youth Minister Osman Askin Bak, Governor of Canakkale Orhan Tavli and lawmaker Ismail Kasdemir, who is responsible for Gallipoli Wars' Historical Sites, were also present.
The Lone Pine ceremony marks where Australian troops mounted a diversionary attack on Ottoman trenches in August 1915.
In his speech, Dutton said the ceremony was being held to pay respect to the sides who lost their soldiers, veterans and those who managed to return home.
"Honoured to stand among our NZ & Turkish friends this morning at Anzac Cove to reflect on the service & sacrifice of thousands of people on all sides who lost their lives here," he tweeted.
Dutton concluded his speech by saying "Lest We Forget", a famous expression of ANZAC people to remember the Gallipoli Wars.
Chunuk Bair Memorial ceremony
New Zealand's Ambassador to Turkey Wendy Jane Hilton gave a speech during the ceremony at the Chunuk Bair Memorial, which is located on a hill that in August 1915 was one of the Allied forces’ main objectives and where many New Zealanders lost their lives.
Hilton said although she had been in Turkey for only a month, she "feels like at home, with friends".
The ambassador also cited the word "Taonga", which means "highly-prized object or natural resource" in New Zealand’s native Maori language.
"It is not a common thing to see this kind of a sympathy between nations," the ambassador said. "As we say in Maori language, this is a 'Taonga'."
Sports and Youth Minister Osman Askin Bak said every brave man who fought and died in those lands is called a "Mehmet" in the Turkish nation — a name that Turkey uses for soldiers.
Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in his 1934 speech to commemorate the Gallipoli War had said: "There is no difference between Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours."
Ceremonies across Australia
Hundreds of thousands of Australians also attended the dawn service across their country.
The dawn ceremonies for the Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers who lost their lives in the Canakkale battles were held in capital Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart, as well as in other cities.
Over 10,000 Australians filled a square despite the cold weather in Melbourne.
Separately, people across Turkey organized marches to commemorate the Canakkale Martyrs' Day.
The year 2018 marks the 103rd anniversary of the battle in the Canakkale (Dardanelles) Strait in Canakkale's Gelibolu district, which served as a turnaround in favor of the Turks fighting in World War I against the Allied Forces.
They started their attack on March 18 — the day commemorated as Canakkale Naval Victory Day — but the waters were filled with a network of mines laid by Ottoman vessels.
The events leading up to the momentous battle started in February 1915, when Britain and France decided to launch the Gallipoli campaign to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war as quickly as possible by reaching and capturing its capital, Istanbul.
On April 25, 1915, nine months into World War I, Allied soldiers landed on the shores of the Gelibolu peninsula. The troops were there as part of a plan to open Canakkale Strait on Turkey's Aegean coast to Allied fleets, allowing them to threaten the then-Ottoman capital, Istanbul.
The Allied Forces, however, encountered strong and courageous resistance from the Turks and the campaign turned out to be a costly failure. Tens of thousands of Turkish nationals and soldiers died, along with tens of thousands of Europeans, plus around 7,000 – 8,000 Australians and nearly 3,000 New Zealanders.
Victory against the Allied forces boosted the morale of the Turkish side, which then went on to wage a war of independence between 1919 and 1922, and eventually formed a republic in 1923 from the ashes of the old empire.
April 25 is also known as ANZAC Day in Australia — a significant national holiday that honors the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought and died in Canakkale on Turkey's western coast in 1915. Australia and New Zealand commemorate the event as Gallipoli.