A Tale in Red: A WWI Battle Field

When we began our travels through Turkey, I made a comment about how the travel guide-books were wrong about the Turkish roads. Fırat however, had warned me that not all roads were like the one that took us to Edirne. Now, I began to see that he was right. The road started to become quite difficult. It was snowing a lot, and as I was driving in the snow for the first time, I skidded twice. It was a result of the combination of ignorance about the road, lack of clear signage and incompetence behind the wheel.

The road we took, crossed between fields covered in snow, passing small villages and farms. Having swapped to the passenger seat, I was able to pay more attention to observing the communities around us. Since becoming an avid writer at the age of 15, I had developed a considerable interest in people and how they behave. I found it thought-provoking to observe them, as I developed an understanding of their different emotions as if given to me as small precious gifts. It was a door open to understanding, not just the other people, but myself, too, and to inform my ideas about the dynamics of Turkish society.

The snow had given way to a timid sun. The cold we faced in Edirne had softened, bringing ducks, geese and other small domestic birds to the side of the road. It was an old Ottoman bridge that caused us to stop in a small village. Fırat was very knowledgeable about the Ottoman Empire and was always curious to find out more – a ‘necessity’ to understand better their notable achievements in architecture We stopped the car near a group of lorries, and walked to the bridge, which we found was right in front of one of those Army installations that seemed to pop up everywhere around there. When the two soldiers who were on sentry duty saw us with a huge camera, of course they said we were not allowed to take any shots. But Fırat, who had also recently been in the army, explained that we simply wanted to photograph the bridge, and, as thanks for their understanding, gave them some cigarettes. It was snowing a lot, and those two young men standing in the cold looked a little bit sad to me.

The structure concerned, was actually the Gazi Mihal Bridge, crossing the Tunca River, originally built in the 13th century by the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII, and then rebuilt in the 15th century by the Ottoman frontier lord Gazi Mihal. In 1544, eight arches were added at the western end by order of Sultan Süleyman The Magnificent. Late, in the 16th century, Sultan Mehmet III added a span with two arches.

Returning to the car, we passed by a market, bank and a queue of elderly people. I wondered if they were waiting to receive a pension or some other benefit. Sometimes different cultures are so far away from each other, yet so close to the same problems.

Our next stop was quick, lasting just the time it took Fırat to smoke a cigarette. Perhaps I should break briefly here, to say something regarding my observations on smoking – Fırat smoked, which sometimes presented a problem for me. Why? Because the smell of cigarettes genuinely makes me feel sick, and not only that, I am also allergic to the smoke; it makes me cough unceasingly. `Nevertheless, after a few days in Turkey, I realised that ALL (an exaggeration of course) Turks smoke. Men and women of all ages smoke; you cannot escape it. Smoking is not permitted in enclosed places like hotels and restaurants, but otherwise, on the street, you’ll find a smoker every 10 metres or so. Sometimes I just couldn’t believe how many smokers I passed simply walking along the pavements. I mentioned this to Fırat, but he did not initially agree, although, after saying I was exaggerating like a typical woman, he came to realise, by observing his surroundings, that it was true. His comment: “You’re right, everyone smokes!”

Cigarettes were the first link I found between the Brazilian and Turkish cultures. In Brazil, cigarettes usually go along with a cup of coffee; in Turkey it was çay that took the place of the coffee.

The roads are narrow, even though the surfaces are not bad. Most of the time, there is no shoulder for a breakdown stop, and the desolation takes you. Fırat told me that the silence and solitude were a direct reflection of the season – it was winter; that, in the summer, those same roads would be full of traffic; transforming the entire region. We had arrived at one of the most meaningful places for Turkish, Australian, and New Zealand people: Çanakkale.

The Çanakkale Province has part of its lands in Europe and part in Asia. The European part is known as the Galibolu Peninsula (Gallipoli) and the Asian part is the region of Troad, in Anatolia. The European side is separated from the Asian side by the Dardanelles strait. The Dardanelles or Çanakkale strait connects the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. The region was the stage for one of the most import battles of the First World War: the Gallipoli Campaign.

I was stepping into an unpredictable, challenge, and a bloody moment in the story of WWI. I was about to visit places were hundreds, thousands, of young men died fighting in a war; many without even understanding the reasons behind it.

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