Attaturk – memorials and heritage interpretation

Beware of simple solutions and clear cut categories.

Maybe beware particularly when you are dealing with conflict. Black and white are hard to sustain.

I am prising apart the roles of heritage interpretation and remembrance/ memorialisation as I believe the two often become conflated.

In my last blog post  I explained how I have come to the view that the main difference lies in memorialisation having a narrower focus and usually a single narrative whereas interpretation takes a more inclusive stance and tends to be polyvocal (has many voices).

Of course, that is not always true.

I think that in general memorialisation is about the past and interpretation addresses the present.

But that is only ‘in general’.

Just as I was getting these thoughts clear, I came across a memorial that reminded me, forcibly, like a sledgehammer, that nothing in conflict and our treatment of it is clear cut or simple.

Fittingly, as it is the centenary 1914-1918 war that stimulated my pondering on heritage interpretation and commeration, the memorial remembers that conflict.

As part of my researches I sought out the memorials to the First World War at the National Memorial Arbortetum. There were very few. I found the Gallipoli memorial and, on it, part of Attaturk’s letter to the ANZAC mothers. (Attaturk was the founder of the Modern Turkish Republic and, before that, the commander of the Turkish armies during the battles in Gallipoli where so many Allied men, particularly Australians and New Zealanders died.)

The text of this letter strikes me as remarkable. I broke down (not once, but several times) when I read it. It took me a lot of practice to be able to read this aloud in a steady voice. When I did, I saw the audience found it as powerful as I had.

Attaturk wrote to the Australian and New Zealand women who had lost their sons:

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” 

This writing shows how the commemoration of war can be personal and universal. It is in my view a rare example. It gives me hope and an example. I would love to hear of others.

If we aspire to be create inclusive interpretation of our conflicts we can learn much from this letter. In particular, we should remember in our 21st century world our audiences are multi-cultural and that ‘there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets’.

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