In 1934, the President of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk learned that a ship carrying relatives of fallen British, French, Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who had died in the battles at Gallipoli in Turkey, during the First World in 1915, had docked near the battle sites to visit the graves of the fallen. The battles were the result of a failed allied invasion of Turkey, which was on the German side in World War 1. Ataturk had lead the forces resisting the invasion. He sent this message that is now inscribed on a monument near the battle ground:
‘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 in this country of ours….You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Yours 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.’
It is hard to imagine another country’s leader writing this of those 56,000 soldiers killed invading his country and being repelled at the cost of 68,000 Turkish lives. I think it has something important to tell us about forgiveness.
And an historical note: Gallipoli is just across the strait known in the ancient world as the Hellespont and today the Bosporus from the site of Ancient Troy made immortal in Homer’s Illiad, The battle there was most likely fought over access to the straits as Gallipoli was, not over Helen….