Apr 25 2019

Anzac tourist numbers dwindle in Turkey - Deutsche Welle

Remembrance of the World War One battle for Gallipoli, the peninsula in northwest Turkey overlooking the Dardanelle straits, has for decades been an event bringing Turks together with Australians and New Zealanders, who year after year travelled halfway across the world to remember the tens of thousands lost in the fighting.

Until this year, when a speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has run the risk of cutting visitors to the April 25 Anzac Day memorials down to a trickle, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service reported on Thursday.

In 2010, as many as 17,000 people visited Turkey for Anzac Day, the memorial for the approximately 11,500 Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who died at Gallipoli.

That number has dwindled to just 1,100 this year, as tourists react to travel warnings, both of which advise travellers to exercise caution throughout Turkey and cite the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks.

Turkey suffered a string of major bombing and shooting attacks starting in 2015. A gunman linked to the Islamic State killed 39 people in the last major attack, which occurred in a nightclub in Istanbul on January 1, 2017.

This year tourists from Australia and New Zealand had further cause for concern, after Erdoğan made a speech comparing the Anzac troops to the gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Your grandfathers came and saw that we're here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins. If you come with the same intention, we'll be waiting for you”, Erdoğan said on March 20.

The Turkish President used footage from the Christchurch attack as a prop during his campaign for the local elections on March 31, showing it to crowds at his rallies and viewers at home as a demonstration of the world’s ill will towards Turkey.

Canan Karaarslan, a manager at a tourism company that operates in Gallipoli, told DW the true effects of Erdoğan’s speech will become apparent next year.

“Gallipoli and the Anzac spirit are very important for Australians and New Zealanders. We’ve insulted a big part of their identity, and that will definitely have an effect. But I don’t think it’s the reason for the decrease this year”, she said.

The Turkish president returned to conciliatory words on Thursday, calling on future generations to protect the “message of friendship” the memory of the battle had developed into.