Under Erdogan, the Gallipoli re-enactment ritual has become more and more significantly an Islamic celebration. It was renamed the Loyalty March for the 57th Regiment and follows the eight km from the then regiment's base to the Gallipoli highlands. It was this regiment of the Ottoman Army led by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later Ataturk ("The Father of Turks"), and the founder of modern Turkey, that prevented a Turkish defeat at Gallipoli.
Local university students first organised this commemoration in 2006 partly in response to the increasing numbers of Australian and New Zealand young people on the battlefield for Anzac Day. In 2005, the previous year, the Australian and New Zealand pilgrimage reached its zenith with about 17,000 participants. Within three years, there were 6,000 participants in the Turkish commemoration and numbers have grown considerably since.
Erdogan quickly recognised the domestic political benefits for his party and assumed control of it, His government began funding the cost of travel and living expenses of participants through the Ministry of Youth and Sports and it took over official registration and program coordination. The government has put emphasis on assisting youth from stronghold areas of Erdogan's party and he describes them as the "pious generation".
To further strengthen the fundamentalist Islamic tone of their celebrations, the government has imposed mandatory prayer sessions at the beginning and end of the march which it claims simulates the actions of the ordinary men of the 57th Regiment. There is also an increased recognition of individual martyrs through a focus on firsthand accounts of the religious zeal of Turkish soldiers fighting against an infidel invader of their homeland.
We have our Gallipoli heroes such as Simpson (and his donkey) so, understandably, do the Turks.
There were an estimated 250,000 – 350,000 Turkish casualties at Gallipoli and they remained in mass graves after the war reflecting the stigma of Ottoman history in republican Turkey. Turkey became a republic after the overthrow of the last Sultan Mehmet V1 Vahdittin in 1922.
There are three major memorials to British and ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, the Helles Memorial, Lone Pine Cemetery and the Chunuk Blair Cemetery.
However, since 2005, eleven cemeteries have been built for the Turkish fallen and they have become popular sites for prayer for the one million plus Turkish visitors to the battlefield every year and another fifteen are proposed along with plans for accompanying outdoor mosques.
Erdogan and his government know that they cannot completely obliterate the history and memory of republican Turkey and its founder Ataturk, the heroic leader of the victorious 57th Regiment. The republic was founded as a secular state which Turkey remains at least in theory if not entirely in practice.
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