There were emotional scenes at a special commemoration event in the British capital on Thursday night. The Gallipoli Friendship Concert, held at one of London’s leading classical music venues, featured the international premiere of Can Atilla’s Gallipoli Symphony, the 57th Regiment – named after the soldiers sacrificed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the first Gallipoli attack – and orchestral works by three leading English composers, helping to rekindle for the bonds of friendship between Turkey, Britain and the ANZACs.
An estimated seven hundred people attended the concert at Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, on April 5th, organised by the Yunus Emre Institute, London, under the auspices of the Turkish Presidency. The event, hosted by actress Nalan Burgess, started with a speech by the Turkish ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgiç. Referring to heroes on both sides of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-1916, the ambassador recited the immortal words of Atatürk:
“There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side 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 theme was reinforced by Louis de Bernières, the international best-selling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The novelist started by explaining how his maternal grandfather, a seaman in the British navy, had been sent to Gallipoli but became seriously ill with dysentery. It was through retracing his grandfather’s steps that de Bernières created his 2004 masterpiece Birds Without Wings.
A reading from the book, which is partly set on the Gallipoli frontline, served as the perfect scene-setter for this moving evening. The words of a character called Kara Tavuk (Black Hen) reminded us of the mutual respect and affection which arose between the British, ANZACs and Turkish foes even in the heat of battle:
“By the next noonday the stink of the 10,000 dead in the hot sun was so bad that we couldn’t bear it…We came out of our trenches with our stretchers, and collected the wounded, working alongside the Australian and New Zealander Franks…It was strange to be working peacefully at a merciful task alongside those who had been killing us. Some of us swapped badges and cigarettes with the Franks.”
The musical programme opened with Can Atilla’s thunderous but poignant symphony dedicated to the Ottoman 57th Infantry Regiment. The music, presented in four parts, created an atmosphere in which not only the sad facts of war could be remembered, but also the pride of a nation awakening, bringing tears to many in the auditorium.
The programme also included Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, and Elgar’s Nimrod & Finale, which reinforced the evening’s First World War ethos.
Turkish conductor Burak Tüzün was masterful as he led the world-renowned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. There were stunning solos by cellist Onur Şenler and soprano Angela Ahıskal, who was simply spellbinding as she sang Atatürk’s magnanimous tribute to the fallen heroes of Gallipoli.
The commemoration was attended by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, who thanked the Republic of Turkey for “honouring the spirit of our common humanity”. Others in attendance included Dr. Şeref Ateş, President of the Yunus Emre Institute, senior diplomats from various missions, and a host of distinguished guests from the world of arts and culture, civic society and business.
The concert also served as a fundraiser for the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation (CWGF). The Yunus Emre Institute will be donating a portion of the concert’s ticket sales to the CWCF –the charitable arm of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The organisation commemorates the 1.7 million men and women from the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, and also maintains the graves of almost 50,000 troops on the Gallipoli peninsula in perpetuity.
All photos © David Jensen