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What's Anzac Day Like for Australian Turks?

We're always told Gallipoli is central to the national psyche. But that means different things to different people.

by Mahmood Fazal
25 April 2017, 2:41am

Images of Australians attending the Anzac Dawn Service in Gallipoli, Turkey via the Department of Veterans Affairs

Throughout my childhood, my parents never told me that we lost the battle at Gallipoli, which is probably why I could never work out why Anzac memorial services were so gloomy. I grew up in a house where my dad fled the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, and was hyper-patriotic about his new Australian citizenship, which subsequently meant he followed the Australian cricket team religiously—and in the 90s, we won everything. I thought we were a nation of winners.

My parents also held back the fact that the war was against Muslims. We were always bitter toward the Turkish kids at Saturday school because they were better looking than us Afghans and Persians that had been lumped together in the same class. They were Muslims with pale skin and bright eyes. They always stood united and rarely dated anyone outside their nationality. They were more culturally sophisticated, less fresh off the boat.

Turks first migrated to Australia from Cyprus in the 1940s for work. The second wave migrated during the Cyprus conflict between 1963 and 1974, where Turkish Cypriots were forced to leave their homes and flee seeking refuge abroad. They brought with them an array of culinary delights like doner kebabs and gozlemes, for which I'm sure the post-pub community will always be grateful.

So in light of all this, I thought I'd speak to some Turkish immigrants about the weird duality of being Aussie Turks on Anzac day—a day that celebrates Gallipoli as central to the national psyche.

Ceyda, 22, marketing student

Last year I went to the service in the city with two of my friends from uni. It was a really beautiful memorial and we all began tearing up. But on the train back to Narre Warren a few thugs started yelling at us to take off our headscarves and that we were a disgrace, they said their grandfathers didn't die fighting for this country just to have us take over, as if we were handing out brochures and recruiting on the train.

After that incident, my father told me to stay indoors on Anzac Day. Kind of sad really because he thinks it's a day where we should feel a bit ashamed or something, so we stay indoors with family. I don't know though. The majority at the parade were really lovely and proud that we were there honouring our fallen soldiers as Australian citizens.

Adnan, 56, real estate agent

Anzac Day is great as it is important to remember the sacrifices the soldiers have made regardless of whether going to war was the right thing to do.

I like the fact that both sides respect each other and that there isn't any hatred and feels that young people should hold similar thoughts. Overall I don't feel too much about the day itself but I do like the fact that people are taking time to remember and pay their respects to the fallen soldiers, war heroes and their families.

Murat, 27, accountant

In primary school I guess Anzac day was the day I was treated more as a Turkish person than an Australian. Any time we heard about the battle in class I was always being stared at by my classmates. It was hard comprehending as a child how I was from the "bad/evil side" when Australia was the invading force but that was just down to kids being immature and after finishing primary school it never really happened that much.

As a Turkish Australian I don't feel any strong emotions regarding Anzac day itself but I do understand the significance for Australians and know that the events during and after WWI defined Turkish history. I like that there is no animosity or hatred between the two sides and that both countries respect each other.

Regardless of how you feel, all Turkish people living in Australia should be grateful they are living in such an amazing country and with that respect the traditions and values of the local population because I know people living in Turkey envy the high living standards and freedom we enjoy here.

Mehmet, 26, construction foreman

Growing up in a Turkish Muslim family we were very religious which meant that nationalism was not encouraged in our family, as Islam aims at removing nationalism from the world. So the war was not much talked about in our family. I learnt most of the information about Anzac Day in school as opposed to from my family.

Being in my mid-20s now, I am torn about the way I feel about Anzac Day due to the current climate of our society. On the one hand I am Australian and proud of that fact and would defend this country till my last breath. So I have a lot of respects for the fallen soldiers. However, in the suburbs Anzac Day has become synonymous with right wing patriotism, there's a group of bigots that don't hide the way they feel about my culture and religion.

So ultimately I want to celebrate this day, but a part of me feels as though I am not included or wanted in the tradition as my people were like the enemy. I keep my opinions and feelings about the day to myself because I feel if do explain how I feel it stirs a lot of people upend takes away from a day in which we mourn for people on both sides who fought a war they didn't want to.

When I was young, my grandfather told me that the Australian and Turkish soldiers used to play cards and exchange snacks when they would break from fighting and then it would be business as usual, I don't know if it's at all true but the idea is nice. I feel like we have gone backwards from those days and the division between the people is far greater.

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