Shortly before the sun rises over the UAE this morning, hundreds of people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will have gathered to commemorate a military disaster that happened nearly 100 years ago. Citizens of countries that were once bitter enemies in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey will stand side by side to remember the nearly 400,000 casualties of the eight-month battle that began at dawn on April 25, 1915.
Similar gatherings will be happening on all seven continents and attendance in the UAE and elsewhere has been steadily rising at the annual commemorations, despite the deaths of the last veterans of the Anzac campaign within the last decade. Janet Bryan, one of the organisers of the service for the Australia New Zealand Association of the UAE, said Anzac Day - named for the joint Australia and New Zealand Army Corps that took part - remains as relevant now as it ever was because of what it represents about the two antipodean nations' senses of identity.
"Anzac Day is a day for the people of Australia and New Zealand to remember all of our fellow countrymen and women who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations," she said. "The spirit of Anzacs - with qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice - continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity." In the UAE, Anzac Day includes representation from the other nations that were involved: Turkey, Britain, Canada, France and India.
"On Anzac Day, ceremonies are held in towns and cities across Australia, New Zealand, at Gallipoli and wherever Australians and New Zealanders live around the world," she added. "It's a way for people to acknowledge the service given to our nations by our veterans." The two dawn ceremonies are at the Hiltonia Beach Club in Abu Dhabi and at the Westin Hotel in Mina Seyahi in Dubai. A closed event is also held at the military base used by the Australian military outside Dubai, while in Abu Dhabi, the expat group Aussies Abroad has organised a dusk commemoration at The Club at Zayed Port.
One of the organisers of the sunset ceremony in Abu Dhabi, Mohanned Hourani, said the timing of the service was intended to be family friendly. "We want our children - Aussie, Kiwi and Turkish children - to get together and hopefully avoid anything like this ever happening again," he said. "The whole purpose of the event is to establish camaraderie between the Australian community and the Turkish community.
"All this happened a long time ago and suffering took place on all sides. We'd like to move forward, regardless of which side we were on in World War One." The Gallipoli campaign was intended to open a second front in First World War and bring a quick end to hostilities, which had become bogged down in the trench warfare on the fields of France and Belgium. By taking the Dardanelles, the strait between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, allied forces would be able to create a reliable and effective supply route to Russia. The strait was controlled by the Ottoman empire, which was allied to the German side.
The leader of the Ottoman forces was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who successfully fought off the allied invasion and, after the war ended, fought a war which eventually led to the formation of the Republic of Turkey. Bryan said the spirit of Anzac Day and the link between formerly bitter enemies was exemplied by a declaration penned by Atatürk in 1934 and now enscribed over the war cemeteries on the battlegrounds.
"Following the hardship and waste of human life seen at Gallipoli in 1915, I think Atatürk shows the bond between Turkey and our Anzac tradition in his poem," she said. "He said that those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country and can rest in peace." The statement continues: "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."
Similar services are being held on all seven continents. At New Zealand's Scott Base in Antarctica, the dawn service will go ahead even though the sun set there a few days ago and is not due to broach the horizon again until the end of the Antarctic winter in late August.