In 1934, Turkey’s leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk wrote to Australian mothers who had lost sons in the 1915 Gallipoli battles.
The words were offered to give some comfort to the grieving families.
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives,” the letter read, “you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace.
“There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us, where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.
“You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your 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.”
More than 80 years since the letter was penned, and a century after the Gallipoli battles, Australians and Turks maintain strong ties and friendships.
‘Seeds of friendship’ have been planted on Australian and Turkish soil; the two groups stand side by side during dawn services; and veterans march together, in peace, at Anzac Day commemorations.
Strong relationships and alliances were formed during the war, says Ramazan Altintas, president of the Turkish sub-branch of the Victorian Returned Services League.
Cigarettes were traded, wounded ‘enemies’ helped, and water shared on the frontlines.
Mr Altintas said there was no sense of hostility between the two groups, who were both fighting for their country and people.
“Despite the lives lost, Australians and Turks never saw each other as the enemy,” Mr Altintas says.
“And today, Australian Turks remember, not only our grandfathers who lost their lives in Gallipoli, but also the Australians.
“As Australian citizens, with a Turkish background, we must share the country’s good and bad days and stand united in commemorating our ancestors on Anzac Day,” he said.
Mr Altintas and other members of the RSL’s Turkish sub-branch will attend dawn services and the Anzac Day march in Melbourne later this month.
For more information about the RSL’s Turkish sub-branch, call 9694 3252.