A beautiful tiny town lies on the windy northern coast of Dardanelles, carrying the name of the long peninsula reaching from the Marmara Sea to the Aegean: Gallipoli. This place made its name in modern history with the great land and naval war during the early days of World War I. But, when it comes to history, every inch of the peninsula has a different story to tell.
The town of Gallipoli is more than 60 kilometres away from the famous battlefield of World War I. It is located on the other side of the Dardanalles, where it opens onto the Marmara Sea.
Used as a shipyard and as an important naval base by the Byzantinians, it became one of the first places where Turkish armies stepped into Europe in the 14th century. And the town of Gallipoli(which is derived from Greek name meaning ‘beautiful city’) or Gelibolu in Turkish, became the home of the commanders of the Ottoman Navy. Today many Turks spend their summer holidays in this town.
At the heart of the city a long, white tower rises to mark the location of the French Military Cemetry. Cradled carefully by its Turkish guardian, there lie many graves telling their own story about the history of that particular place and of the journey of world politics more than 150 years ago.
A big marble cube structure, with a cross on top of it, preserves the remnants of 5,000 French soldiers who died during the Crimean War(1854-1856) along with their Turkish and British allies who fought against the Russians. A special tomb is also in the cemetery for the commander of the brigade, General Felin Ney.
It is strange to think there are other French memorials on the other side of the peninsula for the soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Turks during World War I. It is interesting to see how things changed and how Turks and French turned on each other and became enemies within 60 years and 60 kilometres.
Gallipoli during the Ottoman’s reign was composed of Greeks, Armenians and non-Turkish Jews and many foreign countries had their consulates in this little town. One of them, F.J. of Andria and his wife Caroline were also buried in the French Cemetery. Eleven Senegalese soldiers who served in the French Army, as well as a Greek and a British officer are among the people who chose to stay in Gallipoli after their deaths.
Each year French diplomats who join the anniversary services of the Gallipoli War visit this cemetery before going to other war memorials, which helps them to keep in mind that once they were good friends with the Turks.