The ANZAC legacy after 100 years: some intellectual problems

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The ANZAC legacy after 100 years: some intellectual problems

This is my first time in Australia. I am here for the international symposium on the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) legacy convened by UNESCO Chair Fethi Monsouri at Deakin University. I have had the opportunity to hear leading Australian historians such as Peter Stanley and Robin Prior. Indeed, the ANZAC legacy plays a critical role in the formation of the Australian identity. In a sense, the battle fought by the Anzacs (this is the very reverent Australian and New Zealander tag for the soldiers who served in the ANZAC) is one of the major events in the modern history of Australia. The Australian government has prepared a five-year plan to commemorate the legacy wrought by the Anzacs for the centennial of World War I.

Frankly, as a Turkish citizen, I was impressed by the Australian states’ governments and other experts’ high levels of consciousness of the centennial of the World War I. Swamped in its peculiar problems of authoritarianism, the same cannot be said of Turkey. In fact, the legacy of the World War I is equally important for Turkish people. Despite this, Turkey is doing less to commemorate its centennial.

So, after 100 years, what is the meaning of the Anzac legacy for Turkey and Australia in terms of bilateral relations? For both nations, the Gallipoli Campaign was a key segment of their identity-formation process. One cannot argue that Gallipoli created the Turkish and Australian nations. However, it played a formative role. Thus, its legacy is a potential soft power-producing mechanism between Turkey and Australia.

Thanks to this historical event, the Australian states, their governments, and the Australian federal government take a lot of interest in Turkey. In view of this, the absence of a satisfactory Turkish study of the Anzacs is unfortunate. There are many experts on the Gallipoli Campaign and its impact on Turkey. But a Turkish understanding of the Anzacs is needed. Turks should differentiate the Anzacs in the Gallipoli Campaign context, for studying that war is not enough to understand their role. Thus, a more detailed focus on the Anzacs from a Turkish perspective is needed. Filling this gap requires many new joint studies of Turkish and Australian scholars and institutions.

Meanwhile, the credit given to Turkey by Australian society, thanks to the Anzacs, is at risk. At the symposium, Peter Stanley, a leading Australian historian, recalled the events that took place between the Ottomans and Armenians in 1915. According to Stanley, the Australian focus on the Ottomans excludes various events, such as those of 1915 between the Ottomans and Armenians. “The Armenian issue” has a tendency to grab the attention of Australian historians.

Another dynamic is rising authoritarianism in Turkey. An authoritarian Turkey is likely to ruin its social prestige in Australia. Australia is a highly open society. I was impressed to see how closely Australian experts are following recent developments in Turkey. We have yet to find out how this new dynamic will affect the Australian perception of Turkey.

Turkey can do better on the issue than it is doing. Turkey is the place of, and the partner in, the formation of the Anzac legacy, a most important Australian legacy. The Anzacs’ case is a kind of rare event from a military history perspective. A piece of Turkish land has become the place for one of the most important events of another nation, Australia. Thinking realistically, Turkey can generate more effective economic and cultural outcomes through the ANZAC legacy. Given its huge impact on Australia, one cannot say that Turkey has done enough to benefit from this by fostering good relations with Australia.

Finally, the Anzacs’ case is a potential field of study for Turkish scholars. Australia is an advanced, English-speaking country. So it surprises me to see that few Turkish scholars have taken interest either in this case, or in Australia. In fact, there is a big opportunity here. Turkish scholars who can provide a Turkish perspective on the Anzacs will find a shortcut to an academic reputation in Australia. It is very clear that more Turkish doctoral students should focus on the Anzacs in the upcoming years. In a sense, the ANZAC legacy is sheer uncharted territory for Turkish academics.

GÖKHAN BACIK (Today’s Zaman)

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