Anzac Worries: Specter of Terror Clouds a Day of Honor for Australia, New Zealand
Commemorations of battle for Gallipoli draw concerns amid antiterror raids, Islamic State threats
By Lucy Craymer in the Wall Street Journal
Fears over the possibility of terrorist attacks are overshadowing plans for Australians and New Zealanders to commemorate the historic battle for Gallipoli, a day that shaped their nations’ identity.
April 25 marks the 100th anniversary of a World War I landing in Turkey that began a bloody battle known as the Gallipoli campaign. Thousands of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops, known as Anzacs, died during a failed attempt to reach Constantinople—modern Istanbul—from the sea.
The flawed Allied campaign helped forge the national identity of Australians and New Zealanders, many of whom had previously seen themselves as British. Every year, thousands travel to Turkey for a dawn service on the shores of Gallipoli peninsula, flags draped across their shoulders in a show of patriotism. Anzac Day is also a public holiday in Australia when military veterans are remembered across the country at dawn services and street parades.
But tensions are running high over this year’s commemorations, both at home and abroad.
Five Melbourne teenagers were arrested during antiterrorism raids in the Australian city on April 18 after authorities said they uncovered a plot to attack police during Anzac Day commemorations there. The same day, police in Britain arrested an unnamed 14-year-old in the northern English town of Blackburn on suspicion of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Australian authorities said the British arrest was connected to their long-running probe into the alleged holiday plot.
The pilgrimage to Turkey has also become more risky, security analysts say, as Turkey’s porous 500-mile border with Syria has made it one of the main gateways for the influx of thousands of foreign fighters to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
Anzac Day “is the premier target in terms of national identity. If you were going to make a splash this has got to be on your wish list,” said Al Gillespie, an international relations expert at Waikato University.
“The region is just going to be flooded with high-value potential targets,” added Mr. Gillespie, who advises the New Zealand government on foreign affairs.
Turkey’s border has become a strategic problem for Western nations seeking to defeat Islamic State and preventing battle-hardened militants from returning to their home countries to commit terrorist attacks.
Six Minnesota men were charged Monday in connection with attempts to join Islamic State, after a 10-month investigation into a network of young Somali-Americans. The six repeatedly tried to travel to Syria, including via Turkey, despite being stopped by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and warned about the consequences. Authorities arrested the men on Sunday.
Australia has been one of the largest per capita Western source countries for Islamic State recruits because of the country’s history of taking migrants from northern Lebanon with strong antipathy to Syria’s ruling Assad regime. At least 20 Australians have been killed in the Syria-Iraq conflict, according to the Australian government.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in Turkey for the Anzac Day commemorations, met with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and agreed to boost cooperation to counter terrorism, tackle its financing and mitigate threats from foreign fighters.
“With over 100 Australians fighting with [Islamic State] in Iraq and Syria, and the arrest this week in Melbourne of young men intent on bringing the violence to Australia, Australia will continue to do all it can to stop foreign fighters,” Mr. Abbott said on Thursday.
Terrorist activity has become a growing domestic problem for Australia. Police carried out raids across the country last year after an alleged Islamic State-inspired plot to behead local citizens, arresting at least 15 people. In December, three people including a gunman were killed when police stormed the Lindt Café in Sydney after a 17-hour hostage standoff.
The Australian government has warned travelers to Turkey to exercise a high degree of caution. Since 2000 two Australians have died in Turkey in terrorist attacks, although neither was related to World War I commemorations. Turkey is sending 3,700 police and paramilitary police to the Gallipoli peninsula for the Anzac Day centennial, where about 10,500 Australians and New Zealanders are expected this year.
“Wherever you go in the world today, there is a security issue and countries such as ours are living with heightened threats,” Mr. Abbott said this week. “Certainly, at Anzac events in Australia over the next few days there will be a visible security presence, and on the Gallipoli Peninsula.”
Brad Gavin, a 26-year-old from Sydney, is in Gallipoli to honor his great-uncle, who served in the first infantry to land on the peninsula and was wounded in the campaign.
“Gallipoli means a great deal to me. I believe it is very important to pay respect to those who came before us and put their lives on the line,” he said. “The very least I can do as an Australian is pay my respect.”
For Diane Melloy, an Australian who was married to a World War I veteran, Bob Melloy, for 27 years, attending the centennial commemorations is an important part of remembering the war.
“I just trust it will be all right,” the 71-year-old from Brisbane said. “The world must not stop because of terrorists. We can’t just curl up.”
—Emre Peker and James Glynn contributed to this article.
Here are two comments:
*An additional "cloud" over the Gallipoli commemorations is that is coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the attempted systematic destruction of the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people by the Ottoman Empire starting on April 24th 1915. In years past, Gallipoli was commemorated on April 25th, he actual day that the battle began.
But this year's commemoration was "mysteriously" moved a day earlier to distract from the genocide's worldwide attention. Last week the Pope called the Armenian Genocide "the first Genocide of the 20th century" and called on Turkey to acknowledge its past crimes.
*"The world must not stop because of terrorists." Diane Melloy has stated the crux of the matter. It is a personal decision that we all have to make when faced with travelling or attending an event.
In most cases the odds are with us, but the reality is that acts of violence remote or not, may be possible. Still life must go on, else we become quivering prisoners of our fears, which can be a different kind of death.