Published: May 14th 2006May 14th 2006
With the town of Dogubeyazit in the background. Mt Ararat just out of shot.
So we finally managed to escape Istanbul (mid March), albeit visaless, and continue our Turkish travels after two somewhat frustrating weeks. We aren't complaining really (well not too loudly anyway) as Istanbul should be high on everyone's list of places to spend a little quality visa limbo time, but if I ever run into that Mr B again.....
With visa worries temporarily forgotten we set off for a destination I've been dying to visit for, well let's see now, just about all of my life - Gallipoli!
A mere 7 hour bus trip from the metropolis brought us to the village of Eceabat, home for the next few days. We thought a tour would be a good way to get an idea of the lie of the land so we signed up for one the next day and, fortunately for us, it happened to be with the renowned local guide - TJ (as in Tom Jones....something to do with his hair I think). I've read a few books on the Gallipoli campaign and, as it was always going to be one of the highlights of the whole trip for me, I was a little anxious before hand that we'd
be lumped with a bozo of a "guide" who knew less than I did about the whole thing (as has been the case a few times on this trip). But I needn't have worried as TJ was superb. He looks like an Aboriginal and speaks with a broad Aussie twang but is in fact 100% pure Turk. His anecdotes and his extensive knowledge brought the whole thing alive for us and we'd definitely recommend him to anyone else heading this way. Ok, plug over.
Our first stop on the tour was the small Gallipoli museum, just down the road from ANZAC cove. Although I did really quite like it I came away a tad disgruntled. The museum has tonnes of Turkish and Aussie material, a fair smattering of stuff devoted to the Brits and other combatant nations but NZ related displays are pretty much limited to a couple of small badges, and an old army uniform. I know we weren't the major players in the campaign (Australia wasn't either for that matter) but I did think the whole thing was pretty unbalanced. I really don't know why this is the case but I have a theory that it might
well be our own fault. Much of the stuff on display seems to have been donated by the Aussie government where as stuff donated by NZ was conspicuous by its absence. If anyone happens to read this and can enlighten me I'd appreciate it.
To add insult to injury I heard a British tourist say, upon seeing the NZ army badge, "oh, were the Kiwis here as well, I thought the ANZACS were an Aussie thing" (to be fair, he didn't really know the Brits were involved either). Now, I don't really blame him as you can't be expected to know much about every historical site you visit, but I couldn't help but wonder where he thought the NZ in ANZAC came from.
We had two full days to ourselves after the tour and Kar Po indulged me somewhat as we spent them both crashing around through the bush picking out landmarks and retracing the steps of various assaults made by the ANZACS during the campaign. "Pig in shit" stuff for me, a tad less exciting for Kar Po (she did enjoy it however), although she proved to be much better than me at finding treasure - several
pieces of shrapnel and a couple of Turkish bullets to my, well, nothing really.
Despite having seen plenty of maps of the area it wasn't until we were actually there that we were able to appreciate just how unbelievably convoluted the landscape around that part of the Gallipoli peninsula is. In one of the books I read the author suggests that the best way of visualising the area is to imagine it as a raised hand with all 5 fingers outstretched. The raised back of the hand is the highpoint of Chunuk Bair (pivotal to the whole campaign), whilst each of the fingers represents the ridges and narrow hill lines (with the space in between being valleys) that run from the coast up to Chunuk Bair. An oversimplification for sure but it gives you an idea.
It was up one of these ridge lines that members of the NZ contingent made their heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful, assault on the summit of Chunuk Bair in August 1915. Under heavy fire and sustaining heavy casualties they eventually made the lower reaches of the summit from where they were to provide covering fire for the Australian division entrenched on a lower
Memorial to a legend
Apparently a Turkish soldier braved the flying bullets in no man's land and carried a wounded ANZAC back to his own side
level ridge known as the nek. Unfortunately, when the promised relief force arrived it was too small and too late thereby giving the Turkish troops, led by Mustapha Kemal, time to sort themselves out and launch a determined counterattack that pushed the allies from the peak. On the hills below the Aussies bravely continued with their attack as planned, despite having no covering fire, and, unsurprisingly, were massacred by the Turks amassed in the trenches not too far opposite. This was the scene depicted in the Mel Gibson movie of many years ago.
We took a taxi out to ANZAC cove early one morning and, armed with a map marked with the old names given by the ANZACS to nearby geographical features, followed much of the same route as the NZ contingent along partially marked tracks from outpost number 1, over table top, along rhododendron ridge (a long, narrow ridge fully exposed to Turkish fire from the next ridge along) and finally to the summit of Chunuk Bair itself. A pleasant few hours stroll and a nice picnic lunch for us but a murderous and exhausting charge through the night for the ANZACS. These days there is a monument
to fallen NZ troops that stands alongside a large statue of Mustapha Kemal atop the summit. Check out the photo of the inscription on the NZ monument, that "From the utmost ends of the earth" bit is kinda nice don't you think?
The attack on Chunuk Bair and the charge at the nek were both, in part, supposed to divert Turkish attention from the centrepiece of the August assault the landing of a large British force at Suvla, just a few kms up the road from ANZAC cove. The ultimate goal of this massive assault was to finally break through the Turkish defences and seize the narrow shipping lane that in order to provide a supply lifeline to Russia, just a few kms away on the other side of the peninsula. The NZers atop Chunuk Bair caught a glimpse of the sparkling waters of the Dardenelles but that was the closest any of the allied troops got to their ultimate goal in the entire 9 months of the Gallipoli campaign.
The Brits landed ok but due to communication breakdowns, troops getting lost in the mazelike landscape (very easy to do even now, let alone in times of battle),
exceedingly poor leadership and staunch Turkish resolve, their advance was stalled, the Turks soon had them pinned down and the August offensive, like the entire campaign, turned to custard.
We all, in NZ and Oz, grew up on tales of what bumbling fools the (British) commanders of the expedition were but what we often forget is that the Brits actually lost more than twice as many men as the two ANZAC nations combined. Indeed, the French lost more than us as well. It is was also interesting to see just how important Gallipoli has become for the Turkish people. The two days we had to ourselves happened to be the weekend and the narrow roads through the battlefield area were clogged with hundreds (literally) of packed tour buses tooing and froing from the various Turkish monuments. The significance of Gallipoli for them is heightened by the fact that it was the first time Mustapha Kemal came to prominence as a brilliant commander. During the course of the Gallipoli campaign he famously told his troops "I order you not just to attack, but to die." Take a look at the photo of the plaque bearing his take on the Turkish
Turkish people praying
At the 57th (Turkish) division memorial
troops - gives you some idea of what the allies were up against. For those who haven't come across him before he later went on to lead Turkey to independence and came to be known as Attaturk - father of the nation. According to our guide the Times newspaper rated him the world's best leader of the 20th century.
Although many nations were involved Gallipoli is, of course, still seen as especially important for NZ and Oz and you've no doubt heard it said before that it is almost a pilgrimage type site for young (and not so young) people from both countries. Having been there myself now, I couldn't agree more. On this trip (and throughout our 5+ years away) we've seen plenty of amazing sites and visited places where events of monumental importance took place (pyramids, Normandy, Taj Mahal, Petra, just for starters). As important as it was, on the grand scale of things the Gallipoli campaign really isn't in quite the same league. But the few square miles around ANZAC cove are one of the very few places where you can look at it and say that NZ (and Australia as well for that matter) made
The narrow Gallipoli road becomes a bus park
Fortunately we spent most of our time walking off road
some kind of impact on the world stage in times gone by and so our few days there were really pretty special for me......and just to prove it I took bucket loads of photos that I will gladly inflict upon, I mean share with, all of our Auckland mates upon our return home. Chunuk Bair from a dozen different angles, ANZAC cove in various tidal and light conditions, that kind of thing......so, BBQ at ours anyone?
In December 1915, after 9 months of living hell, the allied troops, tens of thousands of them, miraculously managed to sneak (literally) off Gallipoli over the course of two nights without the loss of a single man. Our escape, after 3 rather pleasant days, went rather less smoothly. Being suckers for punishment we took yet another bus trip through the night (you can't travel overland almost half way round the world without a few of them I'm afraid) and, yet again, it was pretty horrible. The buses in Turkey are normally amazingly good. More leg room than an aeroplane, a bow tied waiter who keeps you plied with free snacks and drinks and, best of all, a service van at the destination to
Inscription on the NZ memorial
take you from the station to what ever part of town you want to get to. I can't be arsed going into the reasons why this one failed to live up to every other bus trips we made in Turkey but needless to say the bus station at Ankara at 7 in the morning was a very welcome sight.
Compared to the rest of of the country Turkey's capital, Ankara, is certainly not a favourite with the tourists but we were there for business and so it's lack of sites really wasn't much of a concern for us. After the shenanigans of Istanbul Mr B had suggested we head to Ankara and wait for him to notify the embassy there that he had confirmation (from Tehran) to issue our visas. This seemed reasonable enough but, of course, several toll calls to him didn't produce any joy. So on our second day in Ankara we thought we'd head down to the embassy, tell them our sob story, throw ourselves at their mercy and hope they'd sort Mr B out for us. But when we got there they weren't at all interested in our saga. Instead they consulted their rulebook, declared
The Chunuk Bair story
Hopefully the resolution is ok enough to read it
that I didn't need a letter of introduction (we knew KP didn't), told us to hand over our dosh and promptly issued the damn visa. We didn't know whether to feel more relieved at getting the little stamp in our passports or frustrated at the waste of time and money over the preceding couple of weeks. Relief won out in the end. So there's a good tip for NZ passport holders who might be reading this way - you don't need a LOI for Iran anymore.....of course the embassy you use might demand you get one as they may not know the rules, or they may not like you very much, but officially you don't need one.
Visas finally in hand we headed down to the train station to book our seats on the Asian Express (Ankara to Tehran direct, by all accounts a fantastic trip), which we had planned on taking and knew to be leaving in a couple of days. Naturally, there were no tickets left. So plan B kicked in - the Erzerum express, not quite the same ring to it but they did have berths available.
Before we left Ankara though we had a
spare day or so and we spent a nice morning with Dave Webster's sister, Kirsty, and her daughter, Papatya (hope I've got the spelling right). She works for the NZ embassy and was a great help with getting our package of excess books shipped back to NZ.
Kirsty directed us to one of the main tourist attractions of Ankara - the mausoleum of Attaturk (aka Mustapha Kemal). As I mentioned Kemal is known as the father of the Turkish nation as he led the country to independence in the 1920's. Even now, more than 60 years after his death, the Turkish people still revere him and his image is everywhere - portraits in offices and restaurants, road side posters, statues in town squares etc. The mission statement of the school Wayne Barnett teaches at in Tarsus even talks at length about how it aims to instill his virtues and vision into its pupils. So he's pretty damn big in Turkey, and quite rightly so. The mausoleum itself is impressively vast and houses an equally large museum dedicated to the life, times and many achievements of the great man. Now I don't want to upset anyone here (if anyone is
Doesn't look that special I know. Was apparently a bit wider in 1915, prior to them building the road that now snakes around the coast.
still hanging on in there that is) but I found the whole thing just a wee bit "North Korean" for my liking both in terms of the building itself and some of the displays in the museum, particularly in regard to the massacre of the Armenians. I'm no expert so there's no point going into too much detail other than to say that when we visited the Armenian cathedral in Esfahan, Iran a few weeks later, a somewhat different perspective was presented. The cathedral display didn't, for example, constantly refer to the Armenians as traitors or collaborators as the Ankara museum did (in every single instance - absolutely without fail).
Leaving Ankara the Erzerum express took us deep into eastern Turkey, where people are supposed to be far more conservative and staunchly Muslim. The trip itself was luxury on wheels and the mountain scenery was spectacular. It wasn't quite Saudi Arabia but the people in Erzerum were noticeably less western in appearance than everywhere else we'd been in Turkey and there were far more women wearing the veil. Still friendly as though.
It's fair to say that Erzerum wasn't the highlight of our time in Turkey but it
Another quiet ANZAC cemetery
One of the many dotted around Gallipoli
was an important town during the hey day of the silk route and so had some very nice almost thousand year old medressas and caravan serais (kind of a cross between markets and resting points for traders along the silk route - there are hundreds of them dotted all around the Middle East and Central Asia).
After a night in Erzerum it was a 4 hour bus trip to Dogubeyazit (10 points for anyone who can pronounce that correctly), a town near the Iranian border and our last stop in Turkey. The balcony on our $15 room had probably one of the more spectacular views we'll come across on this trip - Ishak Pasa (a magical 17th century fort perched atop a rocky hill a few kms out of town) to the right and Mt Ararat (5000m+, reputedly the resting place of noah's ark) to the left. Not too shabby at all. Before crossing into Iran the next day we had time to spend a few hours up at Ishak Pasa. Naturally, as it is in one of the more remote regions of the world, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Our pics don't really do justice
Looking toward Chunuk Bair (trees at very top of shot)
From number 3 (gun) outpost, 200m inland. Nice walk for us, much less fun for the ANZACS
to the vista (especially as we've had to seriously downsize their resolution to fit them on this site) but check them out anyway as they give some idea of the amazing beauty of the place - a fitting way to end our time in Turkey.
Although the visa hassles in Istanbul meant that our time here was often frustrating we absolutely loved Turkey. Of all the countries we've been to it is the one that we'd probably return to first as there is so so much to see (it hasn't quite knocked Syria off its number 1 most favourite perch though). The food was great, the people were friendly, the scenery was spectacular - what more could you ask for? The delays we experienced meant that we didn't get to see such highlights as Ephesus and Troy, but that gives us all the more reason to come back.
Well I've had another bout of verbal diarrhoea I'm afraid. Hopefully you're still here and haven't found it too much of a dull read. We've had a few days in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where we managed to pick up our last two visas without fuss (hallelujah) - a new experience for
us. And now we're in Osh, Krgyzstan. We've also changed our route quite dramatically and instead of the Trans Siberian we'll now be heading to Beijing via the wilds of Kyrghzstan and Western China. So we'll be able to see the silk route from start to finish - from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. Kinda cool I reckon.
There are more photos below