Friday, 25 April 2014

Anzac parade

Desperate times etc. Who couldn't resist an Anzac Day post, what with the Turkey-Australian connection staring you in the face?

Mural on the boardwalk at Bondi beach

It's a funny thing, this Anzac Day commotion. Certainly in Australia, the greater the distance from 1915, the more noise is made about Gallipoli. I don't like it. I know that thousands of (mostly young) Australians and New Zealanders make what's now referred to as the "pilgrimage" to Gallipoli in April, but I don't know why. Probably because I distrust patriotism.

The North Bondi RSL and war memorial

This time last year when Alex and I headed up the coast of Turkey, we intended to sail as far north as Cannakale (the port town closest to the Gallipoli peninsula).  The Anzac myth exerts a strong pull if you're an Australian or New Zealander. But the further north we got,  the less interested we were in staying the distance up to the Dardanelles.  Partly that was to do with the last big leg from Ayvalik.  It's a slog. But partly it was because we started feeling uneasy about being battlefield tourists. The commercialism around Gallipoli is pretty blatant.

Drinks with comrades at the North Bondi RSL (and below)

Alex reads a bit of popular military history. I don't. But he and I agreed that we'd skip Cannakale and the Anzac business. No regrets.

Girls on their way to the North Bondi RSL bar

I was walking along Bondi beach yesterday and saw a family playing at the edge of the water.
One of teenagers, a boy, wore a tee-shirt with the words Proud to be Indian. Mmm. I thought about the soldiers in fatigues I'd seen a few minutes earlier. They were hosing down the war memorial in front of the North Bondi RSL. Everything spick and span for the big ceremony, including new plantings of rosemary. Proud to be Australian? I don't feel that way. I like being Australian, very much, just as I like being a New Zealander (I do in fact feel as though I "am" both), but I don't buy into group pride on the basis of national identity.

Definitely not in the Anzac spirit 

On Anzac Day around Bondi you can also surf...

...walk the pooch
...hang out with your dad through sand
...or join the feeding frenzy

So Anzac Day is my least favourite public holiday. Over the past 10 to 15 years, it's become more about banging the drum for nationalism and less about remembering that war should be the option of last resort and that everyone loses in war, even the winners. We will always have war with us (they say that about the poor too). Syria is a nightmare. Sudan too. Ukraine is teetering on war. Why do we remember Gallipoli each year with increasing fanfare? I don't get it. How much was really learned from what happened there? What's to celebrate? End of sermon.

Wreaths  were laid for soldiers killed in recent action

Today's Hurriyet buried its report of the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in its online edition. That's about what I'd expect. I was frankly quite surprised to see any coverage of the ceremony. There wasn't much text supplied to accompany the predicable stiff group shots of uniformed men and of women with large bags crouching in front of war graves.

I was most interested in the Ottoman military band, known as a mehter band, which I assume played for the occasion. As I understand it, the modern Turkish state has long kept a distance from its Ottoman history. But I suspect there's a bit of Ottoman revisionism happening in Turkey now. It's not hard evidence, but in the world of magazines, interiors and food, Ottoman is very fashionable right now. 

Ottoman perfection - a reading room fit for a sultan

It wasn't Turkey but the Ottoman empire that the Anzacs (as soldiers of the British empire) were pitted  against when they stormed the Dardenelles (to use the language of war heroics). Today's photos of dignitaries at Gallipoli included modern Turks wearing the fez, the Ottoman hat which Ataturk outlawed because he deemed it too Eastern (i.e. not Western enough). They were standing alongside their Australian and New Zealand military counterparts, paying their respects to their respective dead soldiers who died fighting for now-dead empires. As I said, an odd business. 

1 comment:

  1. Well said, D. "Lest we forget" often seems code for "we never comprehended in the first place."