An online petition organised by the ‘Greek Genocide Resource Centre’ to the City of Melbourne and the Victorian RSL is asking for a quotation attributed to Kemal Ataturk to be removed from a new memorial near Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, despite the quote being used on Anzac Parade in Canberra.
The Turkish-Australian Friendship Memorial, that was unveiled this week by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, includes a text – often referred to as Ataturk’s ‘Ode to Australian mothers’ – attributed to the Turkish commander at Gallipoli. The text is an extract of the inscription on the Kemal Ataturk memorial in Canberra which reads:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … 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.”
However, some hardline critics in the Greek Australian community say that while the Seeds of Hope monument is an initiative of reconciliation, the inclusion of the quote “promotes false history” and makes the memorial’s design “antithetical to core Australian values”.
Mr Aris Tsilfidis, who runs the Greek Genocide Resource Centre (a website and Facebook page with 4,000 followers), told Neos Kosmos that studies by Australian historians have revealed that there is scant evidence that Ataturk ever made the statement.
“Since Dr Peter Stanley, one of Australia’s most active military-social historians … seriously doubts its validity, then it really should be removed until credible evidence is found that Ataturk actually said it, and actually addressed it to Australians,” said Mr Tsilifidis.
“Can we have a friendship between two countries based on myth? I have nothing against a Turkish-Australian friendship memorial. It’s just the quote we’re questioning.”
Genocide Studies lecturer Panayiotidis Diamadis told Neos Kosmos that the call to have the text removed from the Kings Domain monument was driven by the need for historical accuracy.
“Memorials of this sort play an important role in shaping public memory. Accuracy in the messages they convey is therefore of the utmost importance. Mustafa Kemal never said nor wrote those words. Therefore, they have no place on any memorial in Australia.”
Mr Diamadis added that a question remained as to whether memorials should be created in Australia “to an individual who established and operated a one-party dictatorship from 1920 to his death in 1923 … and an individual responsible for the deaths of so many Christian – Hellene, Armenian and Assyrian – citizens of the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the Republic of Turkey.”
The 3.8-metre sculpture Seeds Of Friendship is a Turkish Australian community project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015, and honours the close relationship between Australia and Turkey.
Commissioned by the Turkish Sub-Branch of the Victorian RSL, the sculpture includes two hand-carved granite seed cones, a pine from Turkey and a casuarina from Australia, to represent the fallen, the seeds of friendship and the future.
Trentham-based sculptor Matthew Harding – who was awarded $300,000 to create the sculpture – describes the monument as “a symbol of regeneration and vitality and of the living memory and embodiment of hope.”