The Epic of Gallipoli And the Turkish National Anthem


When Allied Powers have embarked in Çanakkale with all their might, the poet Mehmet Akif was in Berlin. The Germans had requested that the Ottoman Empire send its influential religious leaders to convince those Muslim soldiers, who had been captured and gathered in their camps from the colonies of England and France and inform them that they were fighting on the wrong side. Akif, who had been sent to Germany by the Special Organisation (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) for the purpose of warning these soldiers who were fighting against the Ottoman Empire unknowingly, was following the recent events from there with bated breath. This battle was truly a clash between those ‘armored with walls of steel’ and those ‘guarded by the mighty chest of a believer’. However, Akif had complete faith that we would be victorious at the end of this battle. In his opinion, it was dishonourable to look out at the future in complete darkness and to lose all tenacity; we had to resist until the last fallen soldier because if Gallipoli was crossed, then it would have all come to an end. In his Memoirs of Berlin, he wrote “Fear not!”, which would later become the first words of the National Anthem and with these words what he meant was, “Do not lose hope, do not worry!”

Fear not!

Even if it is hell that approaches, we shall extinguish it on our chests;

This is the path of the All-Truth; we shall not turn back, yet walk ahead:

Did you think that a single stone of the honourable house would collapse?

Before the last waging soldier falls dead.

Akif who had recieved news of the victory from a telegraph sent by Enver Pasha to the President of the Special Organisation Eşref Sencer Bey, cried to his heart’s content. These tears of Akif would later welter into the dough of the magnificent mausauleom he builds with his words for those thousands of martyrs who had performed miracles at Gallipoli.

World War I had come to an end, leaving behind great pains and ruins. The Ottoman Empire was defeated despite the fact that it had shown a magnificent resistance fitting of its history. Neither the Gallipoli victory, nor the efforts of the Special Organisation could prevent the predestined aftermath. Following the Armistice of Mudros, the fleets of the Allied Powers, which had been smashed at the Çanakkale strait the day before arrived without any hindrances and set off their cannons, anchoring themselves at the Istanbul Bosphorus, and facing the Dolmabahce and Yildiz Palaces. Akif too, just like Mustafa Kemal who had said “They shall leave just as they came!”, had never lost hope. However, he was in a state of deep sor-row. He was saying:

‘Even the frustration in my wailing Safahat is silent.‘ However, he was able to compose himself swiftly. A sentence in one of his articles, published in Sebilürreşad, ensouls the philosophy of the uprising which had started at that time in Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal and which later on would inspire the National Anthem that would follow in the coming years: “It is a historically positive truth that the Turks are a nation who have been able to preserve their independence for twenty five centuries (…) History too has depicted that the Turk has never been able to live without his independence.”

I have been free since the beginning and forever shall be so.

What madman shall put me chains! I defy the very idea!

These sentences, which would later become lines of the National Anthem do not seem to belong to an Islamist poet but rather a Turkist writer, clearly depict Akif’s stand. Akif had never felt any hesitation in relation to the National Struggle and from the start kept his posi-tion actively within this struggle using his journal and pen.

In fact, what had won the National Struggle was the spirit that had kindled in Gallipoli; the unique expression of this spirit is found within ‘Asim’, the sixth book of ‘Safahat’, in the part where Gallipoli is explained from the words of Köse Imam. The National Anthem is the stilled state of this explanation. It is impossible to understand the National Struggle without understanding Gallipoli, and impossible to understand the Turkish National Anthem without understanding the Epic of Gallipoli. What I am trying to state can be comprehended much better if the poems, which had been written for the National Anthem Writing Competition in 1921 by those poets who had been invited by the Military to visit the Gallipoli trenches in July 1915, are read.

In June 1915, a group of approximately thirty persons of poets, writers, artists and composers with Tevfik Fikret amongst them, had recieved an invitation from the Intelligence Headquarters, and after some of them had gone on a journey to the battlefield in mid-July 1915, they had all interpreted what they had observed in the language of their own art. Although many artists were invited, those who had taken this journey of observation were only a few: They were Ağaoğlu Ahmed, Ali Canip [Yöntem], Hamdullah Suphi [Tanrıöver], Hakkı Süha [Gezgin], Mehmed Emin [Yurdakul], Hıfzı Tevfik [Gönensay], Orhan Seyfi [Orhon], İbrahim Alaeddin [Gövsa], Enis Behiç [Koryürek], Ahmet Yekta [Madran], Muhiddin, Çallı İbrahim, Nazmi Ziya [Güran] and Selâhattin.

The poems written by those poets, who spent ten days in the battlefields of Arıburnu and Seddülbahir, witnessing the conditions of the defence by approaching the trenches closest to the frontlines under heavy shelling, were later published in a special series reserved for the Gallipoli wars in both the War Journal and New Journal. These poems are surprisingly dry and one can instantly percieve this lack of excitement within the first lines.

It is difficult to understand the lack of spirit and the insensitivity in the texts of the literature at the time when the nation was faced with struggle of life and death. It is unfortunate to see that the same could also be said about the poems that were sent for the National Anthem Competition. It is a complete shame for our literature to see that amongst the seven hundred and twenty four poems that were sent to be presented to the National Assembly, there were ton-gue twisters such as “Advance, march forward, march forward/ Leave the bastards of the country behind”, “This nation is Turkish/ This country belongs to the Turk”, “Say farewell to your tears/ Oh beautiful Anatolia/ He shall protect his right/ The firm arm of the Turk”. When one considers the level of these poems, it can easily be assumed just how wretched the other seven hundred and eighteen eliminated poems must have been.

We do not know whether the prominent poets of the time were unaware of this competition or whether they simply lacked an interest in it.

The National Anthem, without a doubt, could have only been written by Mehmet Akif, the author of ‘The Voice of the Truth’ and the Epic of Gallipoli. Hamdullah Suphi Bey, who was appointed by the Government in Ankara to the Ministry of Education after Dr. Riza Nur, knew this very well; he was also amongst the group of literary men touring the fields of war of Gallipoli and thus, had a deep knowledge in relation to the poems written after this journey. This was the reason why he insisted that the National Anthem be written by Akif. There is absolutely no doubt that it was Akif who sincerely cried for the collapse of the empire and the loss of lands of five hundred years and it was also Akif who was able to express the spirit of the National Struggle that had surged in Anatolia…

The fact that Hamdullah Suphi, a Turkish nationalist who had been the leader of the Turkish Hearths, had asked a poet such as Mehmet Akif, who was an adamant defender of the Islamic Union, to write the National Anthem, depicted the quality of the founding fathers and the kind of Turkey that was desired. The New Turkey would be built altogether.

This is one of the most crucial messages of the Turkish National Anthem.

About the author

Beşir Ayvazoğlu

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