CANAKKALE, Turkey (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered by a beach near the former World War I battlefields on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula on Tuesday to pay homage to soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who lost their lives in a disastrous campaign 108 years ago.
The Anzac Day services began as the first light broke on the peninsula in northwest Turkey, with a mournful Aboriginal didgeridoo performance and the singing of hymns and solemn songs.
The annual ceremonies mark the first landings of troops from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, known as Anzacs, at Gallipoli at dawn on April 25, 1915.
The landings were part of a failed British-led campaign to take the Ottoman Empire out of the war. More than 44,000 Allied soldiers and 86,000 Ottoman soldiers died during the campaign that lasted for eight months.
Around 1,700 people — dignitaries and others who made the annual pilgrimage — held a minute of silence to remember the fallen soldiers. The service also included wreath-laying ceremonies and the singing of the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand national anthems.
“As the dawn breaks on Anzac Day, we come to places like these solemnly, silently and respectfully. We do not come to glorify war. We come to acknowledge high respects and to honor all who sacrificed life and limb, mind and spirit in battle,” Australian Veterans’ Affairs Minister Matt Keogh said.
Keogh also expressed condolences for the victims of Turkey’s devastating earthquake in February, which left more than 50,000 dead.
The Gallipoli campaign aimed to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean Sea to Istanbul through the Dardanelles, and knock the Ottomans out of the war.
The battlefields and cemeteries at Gallipoli have become a place of pilgrimage for many Australians and New Zealanders who sleep on the beaches until the start of the dawn service.
The battle helped forge Australia and New Zealand’s national identities as well as friendship with their former foe, Turkey.
A Turkish army major read a message that modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — a former Gallipoli commander — dedicated to the mothers of the soldiers who died:
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway 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.”
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.