Turkish people are fascinating. The merchants of Turkey engage you in conversation, showing an interest in you as a human being before they try to sell you something. There’s one conversation I’ll never forget.
He had camels for hire. I mean, the camels were rather obvious. He walked with us for a bit. Learning we were Australians, he asked, “You’re visiting Gallipoli?” Gallipoli is the stuff of legend. The ANZAC troops landed there in World War I to capture the strategically important Dardanelles for the British. They held out bravely, though thousands lost their lives. 100 years later, Australians still remember the ANZACs with a public holiday each April.
But what many Australians don’t pause to consider is the tens of thousands of Turks who died in that conflict too. They were defending their country from attack by foreign invaders. And we were the invaders — the Australians and New Zealanders who landed on their shores and fought to take their beaches from them.
I couldn’t look the cameleer in the eye. “No; we’re not going to Gallipoli. I’m not proud of what our people did, invading your country.” His silence told me he was unsure how to interpret my words. He’d never heard an Australian acknowledging what that conflict might have meant to his people. He needed to hear more, so I continued, “I’m so sorry. If you had come to invade our country, I would be upset with you. We were wrong to invade your land and kill your people. I’m sorry we did that to you.”
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. He stretched out his hand in a gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation. I had offered an apology, and he accepted it. He spoke quietly, opening his heart: “My grandfather was killed in that war.”
I searched his face, and took his hand. I wondered what difference that death had made to his parents, his aunts, his uncles, his grandmother. My heart melted. I had no words.
Eventually he broke the silence. “You may photograph the camels if you wish. No charge.”
How could we label a man like that an “enemy” and send our troops to kill him?
ANZAC Day has something to teach us, about the vanity of war. But I find it easier to celebrate Armistice Day. At least Armistice Day is about the end of war.
What others are saying
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: SPCK, 2004), 38 (emphasis original):
Those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these ‘beatitudes’ in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.
Update 2017-4-25: Minna Muhlen, My grandfather died fighting for Hitler. What should we make of his legacy? (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 2017):
As a kid, I knew my grandad had fought in World War II. There were reminders of him around the house: the old wristwatch, the strange old, scratchy, grey wool blanket that he supposedly sent back from the war.
But it wasn’t until Anzac Day at primary school that I realised he hadn’t fought on the same side of the war as other Australian grandads. …
Now, some 72 years later, I’ve been trying to understand the impact of my grandfather’s death on my family.
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