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Historical Canakkale and Gallipoli Peninsula Peace Run 2016


Gelibolu, Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park was established to honor the 500,000 soldiers who lost their lives on Gelibolu, also known as Gallipoli. In 1915, Mustafa Kemal, commander of the Turkish army, led a successful campaign to drive out allied powers from the area.

Mohammed Reza Amirinia/Turkey- Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula Historical National Park was established to honor the 500,000 soldiers who lost their lives on Gelibolu, also known as Gallipoli. In 1915, Mustafa Kemal, commander of the Turkish army, led a successful campaign to drive out allied powers from the area. The park includes memorials, monuments, cemeteries, the natural beauty of the Ariburnu Cliffs and Tuz Golu (Salt Lake) The beauty of the green hills, sandy beaches and blue waters provides an honorable resting place for the soldiers who bravely fought and died in this historic battle. You cannot help but sense the heart of the Turkish nation in the patriotic spirit of the place.



From Edirne and Istanbul, it can be reached from the Tekirdag and Gelibolu (Gallipoli) highways. From Canakkale, there are ferries to Kilitbahir and Eceabat. There is a small domestic airport in Canakkale.


Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula Historical National Park is known for the First World War cemeteries and memorials for the Turkish and foreign soldiers killed during the Canakkale Sea and shore battles in 1915. There are sunken ships, trenches, castles, towers and hundreds of remains of the war. In total, there are graves and memorials of around 250,000 Turkish soldiers, and 250,000 from Australia, New Zealand, England and France. 


Marathon runners from all over the world invaded the historical Gallipoli peninsula in the Thrace region, in the European and western part of Turkey by the Aegean Sea.  A century later after the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915, history unfolds before us. The story of the bravery of Turkish soldiers who stood against the aggression of Allied forces. The peace runners, from several European countries, including Australia and New Zealand, arrived in Canakkale to celebrate the memory of a costly and pointless battle, which took the souls of thousands soldiers from both sides.       



The Marathon Expo opened in the city of Canakkale on 2nd Oct 2016 in preparation for a four-category marathon and half marathon to take place in the Morto Bay in Gallipoli. The second edition of a 42-kilometer Marathon opened after its success in 2015, which has been sponsored by Turkcell, attracted many professional international athletics in addition to local sport lovers from Turkey.      


Canakkale in the Gallipoli region of Turkey has witnessed many bloody battles throughout its chaotic history, from the Achaemenid era to the battle of Troy, and commemorating then, the battle of Gallipoli, which took place only a century ago. The power struggles and political greed, which dominated the peace in the past, is now turned into a center point in uplifting of calmness and serenity, promoting the slogan of “Run for Peace”. 


The graveyards of the Turkish and Allied soldiers have not been forgotten. History is a lesson and very much a light onto the future. It is interesting to see how the story of the triumph and defeat is still alive. The cemeteries of dead soldiers have become green parks, laid across the unspoiled landscapes of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and all within green forests full of pine trees, edged with wild shrubs and olive woods, along the beautiful beaches of the Aegean coasts. The effects of the war has influenced all small fishing villages in the region and changed the life of local people forever.



What brings ordinary travellers, battlefield tourists, war experts and enthusiast to this region to pay tributes to unknown soldiers who spilled their blood on a foreign land? The memory of this epic battle is not only relevant to Turks, but also to British and Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who suffered heavy casualties. There is a magnet inviting visitors, historians and researchers to step onto a glorious land to discover a rich and informative remnant of the war. Gallipoli has become a big open-air war museum embracing monuments, graveyards and displays of war artifacts, cannons, guns and soldiers’ personal belongings.


The Gallipoli Campaign was the biggest test of history for the triumphant Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who led the resistance to Winston Churchill’s war plans to reach Istanbul and the black sea by naval forces, through the Dardanelles Straits in order to force Turkey out of World War I, which failed after nine months of fighting. The ground forces may have left but the corpses of their fellow countrymen were left behind. 


The victorious Turks embraced the dead soldiers of its enemy and the cemeteries of the lone graves within a National Park. Today, the monumental shrines praise the human dignity of those whose souls perished in the battle. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) administer over 30 cemeteries of over 100 graveyards in the peninsula at the cost of half a million pounds per year. There are a lot of graveyards and memorials to see in the area where the memories of dead are very much alive.




I joined a tour of the Gallipoli to learn about the war heritage of the region and to find out more about the Marathon route, a day before the actual Marathon starts. We took a car ferry from Canakkale to the opposite village and the port of Kilitbahir. There was a beautiful distant view of the fishing village and Kilitbahir Fortress. As the ferry got closer, the 15th century castle built by Sultan Mehmet appeared mightier before our eyes, emphasizsing the importance of the stronghold just opposite Çanakkale's Çimenlik Fortress and which protects, protecting the narrowest section of the Dardanelles Strait.


We continued our journey towards south along a hilly road overlooking the Dardanelles strait. We passed Namazgah and Hamidiye Bastions and reached Mecidiye Bastion and Martyrs cemetery in the hill where you can still see gun positions in the steep mount. As I walked pass the souvenir stalls, there was a monument dedicated to sixteen soldiers who were killed by a fire from the Allied forces fleet in a heavy battle along the strait in 1915. The group burial location of these soldiers has been designated as the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Mecidiye. Next to the monument is the grave of Feyzi Efendi, an architect who was commissioned during the reign of Selim III to strengthen the protection of the Dardanelles strait. He was executed due to his failure, when a hostile British fleet crossed the strait in 1807.


In the Mecidiye Bastion, there is a heavy German artillery gun with a statue of Turkish soldiers and particularly Corporal Seyid who was very heroic, carrying heavy bombshells in defending his homeland against the British fleet in March 1915. His large statue is located downhill by the coastal road.



We continued our journey towards the south driving through green forests and passing the small villages that are close to the sites of the battlefields. We stopped in Alçıtepe, which used to be inhabited by Greeks in the early twentieth century. The village witnessed the Battle of Krithia during Gallipoli and suffered heavy damage to its mediaeval architecture and the destruction of two churches. But it resisted and was never captured by allied forces due to the bravery of the defenders The village is a nice place for tourists to refresh themselves perhaps by drinking Turkish coffee and eating sweets and there are shopping opportunities in the many souvenir stalls located in the main square of the village. 


The densities of the many cemeteries with their thousands of graveyards have empowered the whole region with the soul of deceased Turkish and Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the battle. It is just as if their spirits are still around us. I have never seen such a large national park dedicated to the departed souls. We could not stop in every cemetery to pay our respects as we were heading to reach the Çanakkale Martyrs' Memorial on Hisarlik Hill near Morto Bay. Our minibus entered into a tunnel of trees in a hilly road leading us to an intense forest full of pine trees. We walked up the hill and reached the top of the mount where there is in a large flat, open site edged with the trees in the southern part of the peninsula overlooking Morto Bay in the strait. 



A huge 42 metre monument standing on the four square columns was built in 1960 as the Martyrs’ Memorial in commemoration of Turkish soldiers from all regions who fought in the 1915 battles. A large Turkish flag is placed inside the ceiling of the structure and there are several statutes of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, wounded soldiers and inscriptions in the field around the monument. Opposite the monument, a large 45-metre wall with the Statute of Ataturk in the front depicts the timeline of the battles and the bravery of the Turkish army. Behind the wall and within the forests, there is a symbolic cemetery with the names of 59,408 soldiers who died in the battle. 


In the front of the cemetery, there is the grave of an unknown soldier and a marble stone inscribed by the famous words of Attaturk in 1934 to the mothers of Allied soldiers: “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. Here in this country of ours, you, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away 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”.



We continued our journey downhill to Morto Bay where, each October, a marathon is held under the slogan “Run for Peace.”  The preparation was underway to set up the starting point of Marathon. We passed on the same route of Marathon runners to the most southern part of Peninsula. Over 6,000 runners were on the same courses that allied soldiers used when advancing in a deadly, hide and seek game against the local inhabitants and soldiers defending their lands. The sounds of bombs, guns and shootings are now superseded by applause and the laughter of young and old from all over the world.


Our next stop was to visit Cape Helles, the largest Memorial built by the British in Gallipoli near the Sedd el Bahr Front. The memorial is dedicated to the Royal Navy losses. The names of soldiers and information about the warships and troops are inscribed on the stones around the square monument, which is dominated by a 32.9 metre high column.




We continued our journey to the north of peninsula passing several other cemeteries and monuments. We reached the North Beach in Ariburnu Bay where the Anzac Commemorative Site near Anzac Cove is located. The memorial was opened in 2000 in the presence of the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand. A short story of the war is depicted on the memorial wall.


From there, we headed towards the forest by following winding roads in the steep hills. We reached the Chunuk Bair Hill, one of the highest points in the Sari Bair range, where the site of the battle between New Zealand troops and Turkish defenders is located. On the hill, there are five Mehmetcik Monoliths symbolising a hand with written inscriptions on the story of the battle from the landing of enemy forces on 25th April until their defeat on 10th August 1915.  


Further up in the highest point of the Chunk Blair Hill, the CWGC built in 1925 a 20.5-metre polygonal monument in the form of a belfry in honour of 856 New Zealanders who lost their lives on the slopes leading to the summit. The New Zealand cemetery is to the east of the monument further down the slopes. In the Chunk Hill, there is also a bronze statue of Ataturk who commanded the assault on 10th August 1915. Today you can still see the trenches and ditches and these encircle the monument. Standing on this hill, you have a fantastic and panoramic view of the Aegean Sea, the beaches and the coast to the west with the hilly green forests sitting above.



The next day, we returned to Gallipoli to watch the Marathon sponsored by Turkcell. Over 6000 runners including 600 professional athletes participated in one of the biggest peace campaigns in Turkey. On a sunny and bright day, the runners run in the memory of the lost souls, raising the slogan of “Run For Peace”. Many sponsors with the help of over 300 hundred volunteers, mainly from Canakkale University supported a memorable day in the historical setting of Gallipoli.


I learned a lot in my short stay in Canakkale and Gallipoli. There is a lot more to see and experience in the old town of Canakkale from its history to its traditions. You could discover the Bazar, Hamams, museums, the castle and taste a variety of cuisine and pastry in city’s cafés and restaurants. You can also do a day trip in land to visit the ancient ruins of Troy and Assos or take a ferry to two nearby Islands of Bozcaada and Gökçeada. For the sports lover, it is a great opportunity to visit the Gallipoli during the Marathon in October 2017 and an opportunity to pay respects at the war memorials.


Nations, armies, commanders and heroes, however, changed. A large collection of major historical personalities ranging from Xerxes, Agamemnon, Priamos, Alexander the Great, Çaka Bey, and Mehmet the Conqueror, to Churchill, Liman Von Sanders, Ian Hamilton, Enver Paşa, Kazım Karabekir and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk have been involved in the area, either to attack, to defend, to fortify or to cross.



There are national commemoration services and there are those with an international character. Not only Turks but also the Australians and new Zealanders come to commemorate the Gallipoli battles and their fallen. The events of 1915 are deeply engraved respectively in the national consciousness of the members specifically of these societies, without necessarily accompanied with feeling of enmity to the other side, but of respect and understanding.


troyHomer immortalized Troia (Troy) in his stories of King Priam, Hector, Paris and the beautiful Helen. Archaeological excavations have revealed nine separate periods of settlement including ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple and a theatre. The ancient harbor of Alexandria-Troas was built in the 3rd century BC. St. Paul passed through twice, and then on his third missionary journey, he continued on to Assos.


The largest of the Turkish islands, Gokçeada (Gökçeada) is ringed with pristine bays. Its hills, covered with the greens of pine and olive trees, are dotted with sacred springs and monasteries. Regularly scheduled ferry boats make the trip from Canakkale (Çanakkale) and Kabatepe. In August, islanders and tourists gather for colorful local fairs.





Mohammed Reza Amirinia


Mohammed Reza Amirinia is a freelance writer and journalist who has a passion for documentary photography, social photography, and photojournalism. www.amirinia.com

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia