Gallipoli: Changes to Turkey’s national park laws spark concerns over potential development near peninsula battlefields
23rd April 2015
As the centenary of the Anzac landings approaches, changes to Turkey’s national park laws have sparked concerns about the potential for development on the Gallipoli peninsula.
While the central Anzac precinct remains tightly protected, outlying areas on the perimeter of the site will be subject to looser development rules.
The move provoked a debate about the potential for large-scale tourism development nearby.
The debate followed criticism of insensitive building projects, including new roads, car parks, memorials and a museum, some of which disturbed human remains in the area.
Selim Meric is a retired primary school teacher who lives in Eceabat, the gateway to the Gallipoli battlefields.
He is concerned that much of the new development is out of place.
“To bring visitors, new attractions are being created, and the original look of the area is changing, with more memorials and the like,” Mr Meric said (as translated from Turkish).
It’s the great contradiction … the more people that come, the more pressure it puts on the environment and the more damage it does to the locations that they’re coming to visit.Australian historian Mat McLachlan
“I am an environmentalist against development like this. I don’t want it.”
He also said the changes to national parks laws had major implications for local government planning.
“Gallipoli National Park was controlled under special laws, which meant you couldn’t build anything more on the Gallipoli peninsula,” Mr Meric said.
“Now, with the latest law, construction is allowed on parts of the peninsula and this will bring development and the area will be filled with buildings.”
Sulva Bay attractive to developers for proximity to Anzac Cove
There is specific concern about areas like Suvla Bay, which has limited relevance for Australians and New Zealanders, but is just a few kilometres from Anzac Cove.
The British did land ashore at Suvla, on the night of August 6, 1915.
There are four Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in the immediate vicinity, but it is the least visited and maintained part of the peninsula.
But the bay’s prime beachfront aspect in close proximity to the Anzac sites makes it attractive to developers.
Australian historian Mat McLachlan said large-scale tourism development must be avoided.
“I don’t want to see large-scale development of hotels in the area,” he said.
“I think the views from the heights, especially across Suvla, are an essential part, an absolutely essential connection with the history.
“I’d be very disappointed to see hotels and tourism precincts going up in that area.”
Mr McLachlan also runs battlefield tours and this year he and his team of 65 historians and guides are hosting more than 1,800 people on 40 coaches who are visiting Gallipoli for Anzac Day.
About 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders go to Gallipoli each year.
“It’s the great contradiction that people are coming to live the history and to learn about the history,” Mr McLachlan said.
“But the more people that come, the more pressure it puts on the environment and the more damage it does to the locations that they’re coming to visit.
“So it’s something that does need to be very well managed and there are many more people coming here now compared to times in the past.”
Across the Gallipoli peninsula, where thousands died on the battlefields and were either buried in mass graves or left where they fell, any infrastructure development is sensitive.
Construction of a large-scale new road tunnel is underway and a series of new Turkish memorials have been constructed.
A new museum being built on the site of an old tented Turkish war hospital has also caused substantial local concern.
It is believed there is a mass grave of 3000 Turkish soldiers in the near vicinity.
But not everyone is worried.
Development near battlefields unlikely: tourism operator
Tourism industry leader Hanifi Araz started a cafe and guest house in the 1980s, and now also runs a restaurant and tour company.
While there is money to be made, he is fiercely against development in the immediate vicinity of the battlefields and does not think it will happen.
“I don’t believe any authority can do that and I know [the] new authority doesn’t want to make anything about that, but people are talking because this is [a] beautiful area,” Mr Araz said.
Regardless, what is almost certain is that visitors will keep coming.
Gary and Ruth Nichols are among the thousands of Australians who have made the trip this year for Anzac Day, in search of the burial place of Gary’s great uncle, Charlie Bale, who was killed during the landing at Gallipoli on April 15, 1915.
“They were heading towards the Fisherman’s Hut [at North Beach, Gallipoli] which was a site just a little bit off shore and they were under heavy machine gun fire and rifle fire and I believe that’s when he finally got shot and he was identified later on by that hut,” Mr Nichols said.
Their emotional connection is no different to that of the Turkish tourists who also come to the Gallipoli peninsula en masse, to connect with their ancestors in numbers of up to 2 million each year.
The increase in numbers is partly because the Turkish government subsidises trips for many of its citizens having adopted a policy that every Turk should visit at least once in their lifetime.
Tourists like Hakan Canak value the opportunity.
“I wanted to see where my ancestors sacrificed their lives for my country,” he said.
“So in my opinion visiting this place will drive us to work harder for our future, for our children.”