The Center of National Glory in Russia in cooperation with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture has started a project for restoring the common memorial in the former Russian cemetery in Gallipoli, Turkey. Vladimir Yakunin, chairman of the Center’s patrons board, explains the historical significance of this project as well as its budget and implementation term in an interview with Interfax-Religion.
- Vladimir Ivanovich, how the idea to restore the memorial to the Russians who had to flee from the civil war in their homeland in 1920 was conceived?
- You will agree that a few have heard about a place in Turkey called Gallipoli or Gelibolu as it is called today. I assume a few know that our compatriots, first of all General Petr Vrangel’s Russian Army officers and their families, stayed there under trying conditions for over a year.
Leaving the Turkish cost, our compatriots erected a memorial to those among them who died of wounds, epidemics, cold and hunger during their forced stay in Gallipoli. The memorial and the cemetery were destroyed in an earthquake in the middle of the last century. An idea to restore the memorial was suggested. The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs held negotiations with their Turkish counterparts for several years. As a result, all the necessary permissions were obtained for building a memorial area in Gallipoli. The ministry asked the Center of National Glory in Russia as a public organization known in Turkey to organize and coordinate a project for restoration of the memorial. We have already started carrying out this important project.
- Why do you believe it important?
- A strong country would always care for its compatriots abroad, both living and dead. In the same place in Turkey, there is a cemetery for the French soldiers who died in the Crimean War in the 19th century 50s. Besides, Gallipoli Peninsula is a place where one of the fiercest battles of World War I took place when the Turkish Army under Kemal Ataturk’s command clashed with the Anzak Allied corps made of British, Australian, New Zealand, French and other soldiers. Today the peninsula is a common memorial where cemeteries for Turkish soldiers adjoin those for Allied troops. These cemeteries are kept in an ideal state. The French, British, Australians - all look after the burial places, allocating funds and employing locals to ensure cleanliness and order there. Every April, on the commemoration Anzak Day, hundreds of descendants and ordinary lovers of history come to that place from various countries to pay homage to the dead soldiers.
The positive precedent thus created is also important. Look, the Estonian authorities transfer the War Memorial and burial places of Soviet soldiers, while in Turkey there is an understanding on national and municipal levels that the memory of ancestors is sacred. That is why the Turkish authorities have given permission to restore a memorial which has not existed for over 50 years now, namely, the memorial built in 1921 at the burial place of Russian soldiers and civilians.
- Who were those people who were buried in the Turkish soil?
- In 1926, nearly 150 thousand Russians left their homeland aboard 126 ships. It was a consequence of the civil war which brought division into our society in the beginning of the last century. Most of them were officers of various ranks in General Vrangel’s Russian Army and their families. After much red tape the arrivals were allowed to go ashore in Turkey. The First Army Corps under Alexander Kutepov’s command, the largest one (48 thousand troops), was quartered near Gallipoli.
The situation was extremely hard as people had to stay in old, half-ruined barracks and ordinary tents in winter. Pandemics broke out. There were no medicines. About 250 people died in December and January.
Despite it all, the commanders exerted incredible efforts to maintain discipline. Maneuvers, parades and military trainings were held and military courts functioned. A church was arranged in the camp; a newspaper called “Verbal” was issued, and two theatres were formed.
Negotiations were held all this time with governments in the Balkans countries about an opportunity for the army to relocate. Late in spring 1921, appropriate agreements were concluded. The “Gallipoli sitting”, which lasted for over a year, drew to a close. The last “Gallipolians” however managed to leave Turkey only in May 1923.
For three years Russian soldiers had to undergo such severe trials as departure from their homeland, stubborn “Gallipoli sitting”, starvation and privation. But they stood up against all that. They remained loyal to their banners and defended their honor and dignity.
- What is the fate of the memorial?
- Before leaving Gallipoli, General Kutepov entrusted the Russian Cemetery to the care of the city council and handed over to the city mayor a deed entrusting to the city the task to protect the Russian sacred place.
The memorial was there till 1949 when it was seriously damaged in an earthquake. For a long time it remained half-ruined and was finally dismantled.
- Does your project have anything to do with the recent reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church?
- Overcoming an historical division in our society is not a one-day task. The signing of the Act of Canonical Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church inside and outside Russia, the reburial of the remains of Ivan Ilyin and Anton Denikin - all these are significant landmarks on the way toward the healing of deep wounds inflicted on Russian society in the early 20th century.
Certainly, the restoration of the Russian memorial in Gallipoli is also aimed at overcoming the historical division and our reconciling with our own past. Incidentally, the ROCOR Bishops’ Synod, which is held these days in San Francisco, will hear a report about our project. It will be given by Bishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe, a son of a Don Cossack who, just as the Gallipolians, had to stay for some time in Turkey.
- When do you plan to complete the restoration of the memorial? Who is engaged in it and what is the project budget?
- We expect to open the memorial in a solemn ceremony in November, in time for the anniversary of the Russian disembarkation in Turkey. Moreover, we intend to create a memorial area. Along with the memorial itself to be restored in its original form with the help of surviving drawings and photographs, we plan to build a small museum devoted to the stay of the Russian Army in Gallipoli.
A project patrons’ board has been set up and is now working hard. It includes Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Culture Alexander Sokolov and other distinguished people.