Some years ago my wife Delma and I were visiting Turkey on a tour we were leading for InnerFaith Travel and visited the sites of the early seven churches of the New Testament along with Gallipoli - Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, Dardanelles.
Turkey is both an old and a new place. The super hotels we stayed in as part of the InnerFaith tour were above 5 star. Some had enormous hall way sections fit for an emperor – at least five abreast "Ben Hur type horses and chariots."
The rural areas in many pasts of Turkey is a trip back into the past. A regular part of life in such areas of Turkey are donkey drawn carts and the farming had not much changed either. But as soon as the coach enters these celebrated tourist areas, it is as if a there was a line drawn across the road marking 'a thousand years'.
This imaginary line saw the divide as if there were railway gates separating one from the other or a flashing lights river bridge rising up allowing the large ships to enter in safety.
The Dardanelles saw another similar change, a third era. The Gallipoli peninsular is neither modern Turkey nor is it the Ottoman Empire Turkey. For the tourist, this is 1915 Turkey. The gun monuments, the crosses, the grave stones, the trenches, Shrapnel Gully – everything has been unchanged and left as it was when the ANZAC's came shore on the 25th April 100 years ago, tomorrow.
Still my heart races as I read of the various accounts of the chaplains / padres with the Australian forces on Gallipoli in 1915. The hearty Gospel singing of the troops led by the Salvation Army Chaplain William MacKenzie - the shooting stopped as the Turks enjoyed listening. The first chaplain to die at Gallipoli. To Patsy Adam-Smith book "The Anzacs" and her chapter on the Padres.
Here Adam-Smith records how one Padre wrote of war: "War is writing letters to mothers and fathers, wives, fiance's, girl friends ....."
Charles Miranda who was in Turkey for the lead up to ANZAC day, writing for News.com wrote:
"Both Australia and Turkey will commemorate but while Australia's marks the breaking away from the mother country and old empire to become its own nation, Turkey is to mark how its old empire created new promise and can do so again."
A different Turkey
In this article cited above, Charles Miranda speaks today of a changing Turkey. The Turkey of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who won the Gallipoli victory in 1915 and who recreated the old Otterman Empire into a Turkish nationalistic secular state, is slowly but surely being recreated into what was before, an Islamic focused country that sits astride between Europe and the Middle East.
This is a Turkey led by a pious Muslim President and an even more pious first lady who wears the Hijab and whose political support is from regional and rural Turkey, but not the major cities whose secularism of Turkey is sacrosanct – hence the uneasiness.
In this article Miranda gives chapter and verse as to how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is changing a host of traditional aspects of life in Turkey. One example is the education syllabus to words representing the old Otterman Empire rather than the secular state of Ataturk.
This is creating some alarm amongst the elites of Turkey especially the military who have a particular interest in maintaining secularism who for want of a word, can see national disaster looming if they find themselves being forced to defend a religious motif. An example - the Turkey of today last week cut off Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The signs are there right now. Hence the debate of what might be made of Gallipoli and the ANZAC commemorations, not least tomorrow (25 April) and its 100th year – which in part celebrates a clear unambiguous Turkish philosophical emphasis of a secular Turkey founded by Ataturk.
This symbolism is diametrically opposed by the idea of returning to a pre 1915 constitutionally religious political position which is being promoted by Erdogan, and with the Turkish military squeezed somewhere between these philosophies.
This is perhaps creating more concern for the West than the Middle East's problems such as ISIS. The reason are the USA air force bases in Turkey which are bases for the bombing campaigns against ISIS. Yet Erdogan is more aligned philosophically to the political ideas of the idealism of an Islamic Caliphate. The Turkish military it appears represents just the opposite.
In spite of these political machinations, nations come together tomorrow (25 April) to mourn and remember on Anzac Cove, the very place - where I preached the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in 1999 (three coach loads of our tour).
These nations will mourn publicly: for the loss of life. They mourn for the sacrifice. They mourn for so many bad decisions. They mourn for a generation lost. We too, wherever we are, will mourn likewise.
For those who follow Jesus Christ, there is also the notion of hope. This hope is bred into our consciousness as Christians hold to a sacredness of life, a value of life, where Jesus sacrificed himself for the sin of the world. The messages given tomorrow across Australia will reflect this overarching embodiment of spirit.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html